Lessons Learned Developing a SAAS App

In 2003 and 2004, as we were developing our cross-media LookWho’sClicking SaaS application, I had the privilege of developing our software in a way that has now become a part of my work-process: getting embedded at a Client’s location.

Early on during development, we succeeded at licensing our software for $4,500 to a local marketing services company (once we found our product/market fit, we eventually raised the price to $9,500).  The company was located about 20 miles from our office, and I started making frequent trips in order to do training and on-boarding. Since they were one of the first on our platform, there was a lot to learn (on both sides).

At noon each day, I’d drive to their office and help users with learning how to use our software.  In addition, I became very interested in how their business worked, and how our software made an impact on their clients, revenue, and margins.

Over the course of a few weeks, the practice of visiting their office became a daily occurrence, and eventually, I was able to grab an unused desk and set up shop.

Here’s what I found extremely helpful about getting embedded with a Client:

  • Get a hands-on, unvarnished view of how Clients use your software. It’s one thing to receive emails from faceless people with terse descriptions of their issue. It is entirely another thing to be able to sit behind them as they work, watching, observing, and coaching as they work. I kept a log of nearly everything that was problematic, and would rapidly interpret this for our project manager and developers for inclusion in the next update.  (In those days, I worked closely with 1 project manager and 3 developers.)  Through this method, we were able to smooth out a lot of the rough edges (it took about 7-9 months).
  • Hear how sales reps encounter objections, or have demo requests. Back then, our sales model placed us once removed from the end-customer. Being embedded allowed me to hear from the front-line sales team as they worked the phones, did demos, and answered questions. Similar to watching the actual users of our software, I was able to learn things about our software that would otherwise be unknown.
  • You may need to have thick skin, especially during the early days, as there will be plenty of bugs, frustrations, and rough edges. I recall numerous situations where we had bugs (in some cases, completely debilitating bugs!) — that’s never fun, especially when phones start ringing and you know people are after you.

Today, we’re blessed to have thousands of Users in 24+ countries, so it is a little harder to embed ourselves within their businesses. Even so, I still really enjoy working closely with Clients using GotoMeeting and our webcams.

This practice provides an incredible amount of oxygen for your development, but also  requires great balance and focus, as it is easy to get derailed. You need to pick the Clients carefully to ensure they’re aligned with your overall product vision and roadmap.  This takes discipline and buy-in from your stakeholders; for example, we used to build one-off features for clients, but with our marketing automation platform, we no longer do that.

What about you? Have you developed a SaaS software product by embedding yourself at your Client’s location?  If so, what has it done for the quality of your software?  How about your revenue?

About David Rosendahl
Husband, father of 4, co-founder of MindFireInc, two-time Inc500 software company. I love building things and helping you generate more leads and grow sales predictably.

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