Things I Learned Building my first SaaS Product.

August 28, 20150 Comments


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Some of you will already be aware that my time has recently been spent been coding away on this piece of software for holiday management. It’s a lot of fun starting from scratch with absolutely nothing, and ending up with a site that has already started to serve a customer base.

Here’s the 30 second elevator pitch.

If you run a business of any size, you will have undoubtably have some sort of system for your employees to request leave. Typically most people use spreadsheets and tallies of who is off when, and how much holiday entitlement employees have left. Deckchair aims to meet the needs of small businesses who want to save time on managing holidays via painful spreadsheets.

I have learned loads about launching a product. Here’s just some lessons worth sharing:

I launched too late.

A landing page before shipping would have been sensible, just to get people aware of the brand, and interested prior to shipping. There’s a couple of decent sites for pre-launch products I could have utilised to build a decent email list and have been kicking myself for not going down this road.

  1. – Specialises in pre-launch products and startups
  2. – Accepts pre-launch into their submission list
  3. – Gets early user feedback on what you are building

Rookie mistake for not setting up a landing page, consider solutions like LaunchRock exist to get going so quickly.

I shipped too early.

Sounds like a contradiction. (But it’s not). Every software handbook tells you that you need to get product out into the market before doing too much development on it. As the saying goes if you are proud of what you’ve produced, you’ve shipped too late. This is solid advice I firmly believe in for conceptually new products/ideas/startups that are trying to find product market fit.

If however, you are entering an established space, you are going to have to find the minimum number of features your competitors already offer before people will convert. I got feedback pretty quickly from a few channels on what those features were; but ended up missing out on a few people who may have purchased. In short my MVP was too minimal. I guess no one ever really gets this right for everyone, but my gut was telling me I was going to need a few other features, and I didn’t listen to it.

I wasn’t prepared enough

I wish I had of setup my social profiles (1)  more proactively and built up an audience on them prior to launch. Linking to that atm is pretty embarassing. Social proof may have helped encourage more initial growth in terms of signups, although there’s something exciting about feeling you are one of the first few users on a system and communicating with a new brand without much of a following helps to establish that. I also wasn’t prepared for some of the traffic from Hackernews to spill over into ProductHunt, and therefore it was the middle of the night before I realised I’d been featured on there without the ability to answer questions or respond to feedback quickly. Have all of your ducks in a row and if possible lead the submissions around the web. ProductHunt for example requires that you are an active member of the community with a decent rep to become a hunter. I should have started to build reputation there prior to launch.

I’ve become more disciplined

It’s been even more of a journey personally to become disciplined enough with my time to get something like this out the door myself whilst working full time job and having a full time girlfriend. I’ve managed to cut waaay down on the amount of time I spend consuming content, and instead focused solely on creating without distractions. If you are in the same boat, don’t even think about trying to do two things at once; this blog has been put on hiatus for that very reason. If you are launching a product, direct all of your spare time and focus on that, and don’t piss your time up the wall reading a Twitter or Instagram stream.

Here’s how to put your social media consumption on a diet:

  1. Turn off email notifications. No exceptions.
  2. Turn off alerts of any kind (push notifications etc.)
  3. Set aside dedicated time for your social media fix – I highly recommend RescueTime as it compiles on what you are doing online and helps you cut down.

I’ve been sharing progress on Instagram with the hashtag #onemanproduct as a historic catalogue of progress to stay motivated and keep working at it. There’s nothing quite like the expectation of friends and family to produce something that they’ve seen develop from a concept.

I also set dedicated time aside once a week to do some coffee shop working. Getting out of the house and away from the distractions of tv and life helps immensely to focus you on the end goal – shipping something.

I’ve learnt something new

Deckchair is built on top of CakePHP, and although my professional programming experience to date is more strongly typed (.NET / Java) I’ve had to do a fair amount of reading and learning about that particular framework to get it off the ground.

Recurring billing is built using Stripe. The Javascript front end architecture uses requireJS and a couple of other libraries I hadn’t previously worked with. Personal projects always end up either showing you a better way to do things, or presenting new problems that add new strings to your professional bow.

I’ve learnt the language isn’t important. Learning fast is, so choose a framework on the strength of its documentation and maturity.

I’ve learnt it is possible to do it yourself

The internet is a beautiful place, and there’s lots of help and advice out there if you look in the right places. (Thanks to communities such as HN!, Reddit and Stackoverflow). There’s two things you need to ship a product, an idea and will power to see it through to the end. I personally found getting going initially on intial architecture code the hardest bit, as you’ll be staring at something that looks well..a bit shit for a while.  Once things start to take shape visually it becomes easier to work on polishing and improving. It took a little over 8 months on and off to get to where I am now with a functioning product on the inter webs, but anything I do ship now I’ve the motivation of an active customer base with potential for more behind me.


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