May 28, 2020

I wrote a SaaS product because I wanted to get Uber Rich...why that didn't work

Stetson Blake @stets

Hey all -- sharing the condensed version of what I wrote on my blog about building EarlyBrd.io and why it didn't make me rich, check out the original here if you like:

https://blog.stetsonblake.com/thoughts-on-learning-to-design-build-and-launch-a-saas-business/

  • Don't charge 5-10 bucks for your product. It's not really worth it and the customers who pay that are generally cheap-asses anyway. Go for B2B if you can. Freelancers aren't rich.

  • Solve a real need and research it prior to building. Either build something tiny and get feedback or get feedback before you even start building! I stuck with EarlyBrd because I wanted to learn how to write code better.

  • Framework / Language really doesn't matter that much. Choose what you're comfortable with, even if it's php. If your project is promising or makes money, you can usually rewrite or make it suck less later.
    Set a schedule for working on your thing if you have a real job and limited time.

  • Share as much as you can in public (something I'm trying to get better at)

  • Don't hire people for stupid things. Adobe cloud is 20 bucks a month, read a few books, watch a few videos and make simple designs yourself. -If your thing takes off, you can always hire for better later.

  • Keep good documentation and keep your stuff organized. You might want to sell your SaaS later on and having things together will make it a lot easier.

  • Put basic monitoring and "playbooks" in place. Back up your database, monitor your service and keep an eye on things. Give customers good support. It doesn't have to be quick, but make expectations clear between you and your customers.

  • JFS - Just F&*$ing Ship!

  1. 11

    What did you mean by "even if it's PHP?" PHP 7 is faster than Python and Ruby, and with frameworks like Laravel, is an amazing web-first language to build a modern app.

    1. 5

      there is more garbage php written than any other language...

      bad devs have used php almost since the inception of the internet...

      the only other contender for vast dumps of heinous code is javascript...

      both languages are fine tho, and if you're a great dev you'll make both languages shine

      ... in the end it's just funny to shit on php (and javascript too) because of its rich history of bringing migraines to the developers of our planet and causing them to give up entirely and get a sane job instead like driving a bus

    2. 3

      That was a minor trigger for me, too, lol. Modern PHP is pretty great. It has nothing in common with the old include 'footer.php'; days.

      1. 2

        how can you live with concatenation using the . symbol

        1. 2

          Simply by not caring about it. I've been coding for about 13 years now. All I care about is how quick I can build something, how sustainable it is and how non-buggy it is.

        2. 1

          Is this really your argument? There are inconsistencies in every language. Look to the improvements that PHP has made over time, and the ecosystem that it has provided for developers.

          You don't need to pull in thousands of packages with bundlers and crazy deployment pipelines to get a working app.

          PHP as a language has its inconsistencies. So does JavaScript. I use both.

          Completely depends on how you use the language. A bad developer isn't going to magically become good by using a language with cute syntax.

          1. 1

            Woah! Slow down there, cowboy!

            I was just saying many other programming languages use the . to access object (such as classes, fields) methods and properties (Java, C#, C++, Python, etc.). I can see & or + for concatenation but dot is just silly.

            PHP as a language has its inconsistencies. So does JavaScript. I use both.

            I've been developing PHP for a couple years but to me the uglyness just overweighs the good stuff. Concurrency, Scaling, Poor error handling, weak typing, ...

            I'm not saying anyone has to. I switched. Never going back, even if PHP devs make double.

            1. 2

              The fact that you're nitpicking something as simple as concatenation just baffles me.

              I'll end it with this. The onus is more on the developer than the programming language. People can build crappy applications in any language that don't scale, don't handle errors well, etc.

              There is lots of great work being done in the PHP community. And for what it's worth, I'm not bashing other languages. Each language has its advantages and strong points. I just strongly dislike it when people jump on a PHP-hate bandwagon even when it has paved a way to pay their bills in the past.

              You don't need to use it, and I'm sure you're a competent developer, but don't influence others by saying it's a bad language.

              Because it's not.

              Sorry if it seemed like I was attacking you. I'm just really passionate about the PHP ecosystem because I got into it when I was 12, and I've seen it shape up very well.

              Have a good day bud!

    3. 2

      everyone shit talks php. just having a bit of fun. I'm migrating to Laravel now actually -- love it! Not sure what the exact benchmark numbers look like but the point is that it doesn't matter.

      1. 1

        You're going to get so excited by the entire laravel ecosystem and community. Looking forward to a post from you about laravel in the future!

        PS. You popped up on my twitter feed too with your HN post haha.

        1. 1

          ahaha I feel like a celebrity 😎
          Cool stuff.
          Already loving what I've seen. A friend and I wrote a link tracking app over night with it @ https://linkpig.co

    4. 1

      Laravel has some really bad design practices. But for quick prototypes its nice.

      1. 1

        I disagree completely.

        Laravel powers some of the most modern applications and provides a complete full stack framework and ecosystem to get you up and running efficiently.

        It builds the foundation for a scalable business and codebase.

        1. 1

          Maybe big biz uses it, but the bad design practices are facts, you can find many information on how Laravel abuses bad design practices, Like everything is a Facade and everything is called with static methods.

          Symfony in that aspect has a lot better design practices, but I like both frameworks.

          But anyway, I'm not using php anymore, Im using java+springboot now.

          1. 1

            Agree to disagree because I think Laravel actually promotes good design practice. Facades return an instance of a class as an object.

            It's a matter of preference, but I think sticking to a "bad design practices" argument doesn't do justice to what the framework actually provides.

            1. 1

              Im not hating Laravel, I really like it and used it a lot, but it has stuff that I really dislike, like heavy usage of static method, that just makes your code more coupled and you cant unit test it correctly.

              1. 1

                You're talking about Facades. It's really use to test Facades. And if you don't like facades, you can still use dependency injection.

                Laravel makes testing a breeze. You should try it again. You'll be happily surprised.

    5. 1

      Off topic - how does Laravel compare to CakePHP? I have a project built in CakePHP but my trusted developer has not really worked on this. He proposes to move it entirely to Laravel - which I think is unnecessary because it's a cost for me with no visible front-end outcome.

      1. 3

        Trust the dev. Laravel will save you money on the long term.

        Changes will be quicker, builds will be more stable and finding other developers will be easier.

        1. 1

          Thank you. I am going to check with him on the cost.

      2. 1

        How much of your project is already built? What is the cost? I LOVE Laravel but you should not refactor an existing codebase over to it just because of your developer.

        Real story: my old startup was built using Yii2. We still maintain it because it drives business value.

        Get customers. You will learn a lot more about your customers and product. THEN refactor.

        No need to refactor for the sake of an improved codebase if you have an almost complete product with no users.

        1. 2

          You are spitting truth

        2. 1

          love that bit "because it drives business value."

        3. 1

          Hey Hassan, so this app is a free tool that does one simple task. Now,it's been around for over ten years.

          But I'm looking at adding some features and creating a paid tier. So the app itself is completely ready although I need the new developer to redesign and add stuff to it

          1. 2

            Okay, that's more context. Definitely go the Laravel route then. There have been MAJOR changes in the last 10 years.

            A Laravel + Tailwind + Vue combo would increase design and development by a huge factor.

            1. 2

              @hassanprocesslogic

              Hey Hasan, need a quick opinion on something. What do you think of Symfony vs. Laravel? My original developer (the person who built this in CakePHP back then) says he can redo the entire thing in Symfony. So just wondering if it is better or worse than Laravel in your opinion. Thanks a bunch

              1. 2

                Hi. I'd recommend Laravel. While laravel was originally built using Symfony (and still shares a lot of the same great features), it's got a much broader community and has a lot more support.

                It's also more fun to write and maintain.

                Good luck!

                1. 2

                  Awesome, thank you Hassan

                  1. 1

                    My pleasure!

            2. 2

              Thanks Hassan. Super helpful. Will talk to my developer about this.

    6. 0

      If you're using it as an API provider (aka Backend). Please don't use PHP templating for the frontend, as reloading on every click is definitely. not. modern.

      1. 2

        I'm not here to be modern, I'm here to make money.

      2. 1

        This is such a biased answer.

        You don't need to make API requests for every single page of your application.

        For pages where you need reactivity, sure. But you can get away with optimizing your queries, caching your assets, and limiting your JS / DOM elements on the frontend to provide just as fast of an experience.

      3. 1

        three words: "excessive network queries"

  2. 4

    “even if it's php”

    I love this kind of ignorance. It makes me laugh which I hope was the intention.

    Today, right now, some of the biggest and most highly trafficked sites on the internet are either wholly or significantly built on PHP.

    1. 3

      That's because PHP was basically the golden standard for the past 20 years. It has stayed kind of the same throughout, meanwhile JS syntax is being rewritten every 25 minutes or so.

      1. 1

        PHP has not stayed the same. PHP 7 was 50% faster than PHP 5.

        PHP has all the concepts you would expect of a modern higher level scripting language.

        It just works.

        1. 1

          I don't know why you push your PHP-agenda in this thread so dogmatically, dude. FYI I was defending PHP in that comment.

    2. 2

      Yeah, it mainly was. I don't really care about the latest xJS framework. I care about making products that work and get me paid.

      1. 1

        "products that work and get me paid."

        Amen 🤘

  3. 3

    I actually have come to realize, that customers who like your product, will pay whatever you ask, if it gives them value (get their job done, of course keeping it realistic).

    Just yesterday I removed one item pricing from $5 to $10 (I'm in the email business, Kingmailer.co)

    I have observed the companies using my service, are (or would be) able to pay the $10 p/mo or higher, also they enjoy the value my company provides very much.

    So, now I'll go with $10 starting price and monitor sign ups/and number of people actually trying the service, to see how it goes.

    Thank you for the great post.

    1. 2

      thanks for your words and you're totally right

      1. 2

        A bit saddened that most users here are discussing the technical aspect of your post.

        Anyway, I was thinking today and yesterday about this post. It makes so much sense.

        If the goal is to earn more (higher average revenue per customer), than having freelancers won’t help much, or you’d need 1,000+ of those, to make a Nice income.

        For example I’d need 1,000 customers that pay me $10 p/mo to earn $10,000 per month (revenue)

        Having 1,000 customers is a lot a lot.

        Or if I’d charge $50 per customer, I need only 200 customers (easier to manage those also) ...

        Stuff to think about.

        Having a $10 paying customer is of course way easier to achieve ...

        1. 1

          Yep. Deconstructing X customers at X price is very motivating. However...what if a $10 customer and a $50 customer are not that different at all? Businesses can spend $50/mo all day long. Target them in the beginning, the sales process is probably largely the same. Same effort, better outcome.

      2. 1

        💪 💯

  4. 2

    Just opened your landing page, curious as to what happened after HN?

    1. 1

      I got some email signups to my personal list and a few people interested in the SaaS as well. What did you expect?

  5. 1

    Thanks for sharing your story Stetson 🚀

    Maybe you didn't get uber-rich but you've got some useful experience. You actually shipped it 👍

    Generally speaking, it isn't the best idea to start from SaaS development, without doing any deeper market research earlier. And I've to admit - I constantly remind it myself.

    As a software developer, you always see endless niches to fill, things to improve or even some 'easy' tools to do 😄
    Making things work using code is actually the 'fun part' of it. But making people buy it... Well that's another story 🙂

    Take care!

  6. 1

    Good points. I use perl5 for all my SaaS projects, design my own logos, etc. The only thing on your list I don't do as much, is post updates.

  7. 1

    @stets some great insights here. may I ask what your plans are right now with earlybrd.io? Would you be interested in selling the domain?

    1. 1

      I mean the app is up now. I'm not real keen on selling it unless you have a big offer. PM me

      1. 1

        No worries dude. I don't want it since you're not keen + neither do I have deep pockets

        I was actually going to create a platform for people to invest in SaaS companies and become early adopters. Kind of like AppSumo + Kickstarter

        Feel free reach out in case you ever want to sell

  8. 1

    You got a good point with the first tip. I was thinking to start pricing around the same for my upcoming product.

    But you maybe right. People might lose interest in the product and will forget it, if they are paying less money.