Consider becoming an indie maker/hacker? Do not start with a SaaS, but start with a one-time purchase—this could be a book, course or plugin. As it helps tremendously in starting your entrepreneurial journey.
After years of creating and running solely SaaS businesses, I recently launched Sjabloon. A Ruby on Rails template to focus on your core product right from the start. I had no previous experience with selling a similar product. In essence, I took the template I used myself to create successful web products for years and made a product of it. Using this very template I built a dashboard around it that lets you add or remove several features from the template. Giving you a customised template to quickly build your next web product. It's such a great motivational and productivity booster to get to work on your core product right away.
Since launch, and with minimal marketing efforts, I've seen on average one sale per day. At an early bird retail price of US$39 currently (started with US$29, but quickly raised to US$39 for the better part of the month) accumulating into about US$1000. Often weekends and the holidays were quiet and then some days I saw four sales.
Why your first product should be a one-time purchase
People get their credit card quicker out their pocket for one-time purchases than for recurring (monthly) payments. Knowing they won't get charged again next month takes away much of their doubts (if any).
You don't have to do that much convincing (aka marketing): content/blog posts, social media outreach, email drip campaign, email threads and chat conversations. The famous “slow SaaS ramp of death” is real. You are very unlikely to get to US$50 in revenue in your first month, let alone US$1000 a month with any new SaaS venture. Granted: any form of well-executed marketing will always make a big difference—this is no different for one-time purchases.
A one-time purchase, like a book, course, a plug-in is easier and faster to create than any SaaS business (even if you stick to the core of your product!). The time from idea to creation to market is way faster, giving you that magical rush of your first sale with something you made yourself. A quick search on IH gives you an idea of how powerful a first sale is.
Most one-time purchases are done when they are for sale. You might have to change some typos, rewrite some parts or even do a bugfix, but since, by definition, a one-time purchasable product is small in scope, this will be way less effort. This is unlikely the case with a SaaS product, which often is never finished.
Ideas for one-time products/purchases
Any kind of (expert) knowledge you have can be put together into an actionable ebook, pieces of code can be put into a reusable plugin or template. Some ideas to get you started:
- ebook with some specific knowledge, eg. integration with an API, how to get started with the latest JS framework, etc.;
- template for an existing CSS framework (Bootstrap, Bulma);
- starter kit/template for a framework (Laravel, Django);
- a set of nicely designed icons for a niche market;
- PDF with a list of actionable tips to write faster and better;
- guide to find keywords for SEO.
Downside of one-time purchases
Remember I wrote about the revenue Sjabloon did its first month? Well, that's not recurring revenue. Now instead of needing to sell maybe to two persons (taking some churn into account) to get that $1000 again next month, I need to sell Sjabloon again to 30 people. This is by far the biggest downside of non-saas products.
So should you never start with a SaaS? No, if you really want to build a SaaS business, by all means, go for it. I'm not here to tell you what and what not to do. But for a first-time founder and people who have been trying for a while, the lessons learned from one-time purchasable products are invaluable. Lessons in marketing, user acquisition, sales, talking to customers is useful for the rest of your entrepreneurial life. And since you are more likely to go to market with your product quicker, you will learn these lessons quicker too.
Quicker to build, quicker to sell too. All accumulating in that much-needed confidence that you actually can create meaningful and useful products.