18
28 Comments

What I Learned After Working With Five Failed SaaS Products —And How You Can Avoid It

Everything written here is based on my experience as a SaaS Copywriter who has failed and succeeded in building and scaling products.


It took me quite a while to understand what it takes to make a product-market-fit.

Personally, I don’t directly develop the products, but rather work on the team as a copywriter.

As such, it makes you part of the team, which means you have to put in lots of hours writing and iterating different versions of the copy.

If you've ever launched or developed a product, then you'd know the sleepless nights it takes writing the code and testing it— only for the market to not accept your product.

Yeah... Imagine that.

It brings you to the actualization that you can’t win all the time, but to succeed you need to learn from your losses.

Here are two key problems I found was the reason behind the failed products

The problem

  1. Idea of “Market-fit”

With solo-founders, the product is always based on “the idea” that this product is what the market wants.

And, NO, that’s entirely wrong.

You can’t have just an idea of how different people would react.

In my job, I get contacted by solo founders and startups mostly for copy or content.

For startups, the problem wasn’t really about the product or the market itself, positioning and messaging solves most of its issues.

However, solo founders don’t have the luxury of working with a team.

They literally do everything from coding the product itself, designing the website, all down to even marketing itself.

After all, it’s the product of their dreams, funded by their money, paid for by their time.

Due to this, key decisions on the product are made based on bias thoughts and “ideas” of what they feel is right.

This thought process is dangerous and doesn’t take into account if the product fits the market —instead of the founders’ expectations.

  1. Over-expectation

Here is the dream killer — the man, the myth, the legend!

Milestones and goals are fundamental to success but all should be based on real results with resources available.

As a solo founder, you shouldn’t put your mind on hitting $100k MRR in 4 months…

What the **** are you thinking?...

And no, I’m not saying it’s not possible, but there’s a saying I came across a while back.. I think on Twitter or something, can't recall.

It goes like this:

“To win, you have to lower the stakes, and increase your odds”.

Instead of $100K MRR, why not focus on getting $1K?

Then move to $3K, and then $5K… it all keeps going until you get to $100K.

Every layer of every single thing built starts with a first layer. So, start with the first layer.

The Solution

The most painful thing about shutting down a product you’re working on is the time spent on it, and the money wasted.

After a product gets shut down and I talk to the founder, most of the things I hear are:

“If I had spent this time on another product, I’d have done X by now”

“Maybe I should have done this instead”

“Joseph, I felt people needed this, but I don’t understand why we’re not getting customers”

“We checked all the boxes in the growth-hack playbook, where did we go wrong?”

And it keeps on…

But just like with every problem, the solution goes back to its root.

If the root is bad, sooner all later, what was built on it will have to come down at one point.

The root of every failed product is not the market, it’s the product.

Here’s one thing you should know, the market is NEVER wrong.

They tell you what they want, and respond to you based on how you listen.

If your product solves the problem, they WILL pay for your services.

So, what should you do in developing your next SaaS product to reduce to chances of failure?

Ask the market what they want!

Before you spend hours writing a single line of code on that computer of yours, let the market guide you.

Here’s a roadmap to help you out:

  1. Run a market research

Do your research in Identifying a problem in the market, and the audience facing that problem.

A place like Indie Hacker, Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, Slack, Discord Groups, and literally any public forum should get you started.

  1. Identify a probable Solution (Test 1)

After your market research, draft a working solution that your product can solve.
And, no you don’t have a product… at least yet, but simply putting into reality how a probable solution solves the problem in that market.

  1. Analyse the market (Test 1)

Now you know how where your audience hangout, your approach is to analyze your audience through a quantifiable survey —NOT just an idea.

Don’t get the thought of " this is what they want", run a survey and let them speak for themselves.

There are different forms online to get you started in your survey, Google forms and Typeform are my personal favorite.

I love the Typeform interface though.

After running your survey, collate the results and see where you stand.

Here is where it gets interesting, and where you can start to code your SaaS product —but not fully developed.

Don't rush buddy, pump the brakes

Your market survey already gave you an idea of where your audience’s heads at; which means you can see how they’d react.

Gather people who have shown interest in your proposed solution (beta testers)—don’t use friends or families, they would hardly tell you if your product sucks or not.

Launch a mockup of your product to those beta testers, not everybody.

Using the language, this stage is called an “MVP” —Minimum Viable Product.

Note down the reviews of your beta testers and move to the next step.

Why I disagree with launching for everybody is because launching your product to everybody defies the purpose of your survey and changes your product direction.

  1. Probable Solution (Test 2)

Using both your earlier survey of the market and reviews from the testers, readjust your solution but don’t deviate from your main plan.

It’s good to listen to the market, don’t get me wrong.

But it should be based on quantifiable data of what a high percentage of the market wants — not due to a single person or a small percentage of individuals throwing tantrums on what they want.

  1. Market Analysis (Test 2)

Run another survey on your audience, but this time it’s based on your pre-adjusted solution.

Account for one thing in this survey, audience behavior.

Audience behavior in this scenario is how your audience interacted with certain changes made to your proposed adjusted solution.

Take note of how they also responded to it.

After this, compare the results of your first and second market analysis to identify the stages each of your prospects are in.

  1. Develop A Customer Profile (Buyer Persona)

You shouldn’t expect your prospects to be at the same stage.

Some will be at the top of the funnel, some in the middle, and others in the last.

That's fine.

But what remains constant is that there’s a need to tackle every stage of interaction and to do this you need to create a customer profile for each.

  1. Product Development

With your data, developing the full product is your next item on the list.

This guides you and takes the guesswork out of your whole plan.

It’s no longer “I feel/think this is the solution the market wants” but rather, “This is what our audience facing the problems want to be solved and here’s how they want it”.

As you go on, you keep taking feedbacks and improve your product to fit the market wants.

If your product doesn’t hit all of these, I don’t advise going all out and spending time and money on it.


Oh wow, this was longer than I expected. If perhaps you have any questions, i'd be happy to answer them in the comments.

  1. 3

    I think marketing is the biggest issue not the product.

    1. 2

      Hey @timekeeperbank

      You can't market a product without having an audience to market for. Hence, developing a buyer persona and identifying an ideal market, which is what I said in the post.

      Moreso, If you're taking a bad product to the market, it won't be long before the market knows its bad and then turn their backs on you.

      Sure you might get lucky and hit it big with the marketing, but sooner or later once your customers figure out that you don't solve their problems, you'd be fighting two front battles: customer acquisition and retention.

      Marketing is the least of your worries if your product doesn't align your perceived audience.

      As I said in the post there's something called "market-fit", your product has to fit the market and then marketing comes in.

      If you have all the data and analysis of your market down, you'd know where and how to market to the right people.

      Do you get my point or what else do you have in mind?

      I'd love to discuss ☺

    2. 1

      Any of those works, when executed inadequately, breaks the equation of potential success

  2. 2

    TL:DR now I read listen around 4 to 5 hours of this similar content that find your audience,market there major pain point "ready to pay if your product solves that" and then only start building

    # some issue I face during this

    • first to find audience you need to have something in your mind like which market you need to target and where such peoplw suxh exist
    • most of time maybe happens with me not so many people response to validate
    • as a engineer my mind always moves towards building things and when I spen so much time in finding same I just frustrated and again doing some coding to satisfied myself

    Is there is any solution for same 🤔🤔

    1. 1

      Check out The Mom Test. Here is a good summary.
      https://nucks.co/notes/the-mom-test-rob-fitzpatrick/

      You need to find out if your idea/product will solve problems/get job done. If you can't find your initial audience, then it is possible the problem your product is solving is not painful enough. When the problem is not painful or needed enough for various reasons, then it is just harder to make your product successful. A good product can make marketing much easier.

      1. 1

        I need to work very hard for that 🤔🤔

    2. 1

      Hi @Itsanishjain

      1. Trust me when I say I understand how frustrating it is to spend months on a project only for it to no work out.. 😩😩.

      To avoid this, there's a great need to allow outside validation.

      So far so good, the internet has opened us to different opportunities, and I don't think there's something you have in mind that doesn't have an audience.

      Let's say you have in mind to create a SaaS product like Cardd or Dorik, both of which are no-code website builders.

      Your audience spans through a whole of people that will most definitely validate it.. Check reddit, slack, heck type it on Google and you'll find a group of people who wants to built website without stress.

      1. I don't think the problem is "not so many people respond to validating your idea" I simply believe it's the market you're targeting that's wrong.

      Psychologically people are inclined to liking things easy, once they encounter something bad or difficult, there will always be a, desire to take the weight of their shoulders and let someone else handle if for them.

      So in your effort to validate your idea, position your idea based on a common problem it solves and that is where your Unique Value Proposition comes in.

      1. I think I already answered no.3 with all I've said. But before running through and typing those lines of code, analyze the market.

      I hope all I've said helps. Let me know if there's anything you'd want me to clarify. ☺

      1. 1

        Thank you very much thats really help

  3. 1

    This is actual gold! I'm in the midst of launching a product for copywriters right now and hitting a few obstacles to find the market. I've posted on Reddit, IH, etc, and get generally good feedback by getting traffic (and therefore signups) has been challenging. Any tips on how to best do that?

    (The product is called Wordblot by the way - an AI-powered copywriter)

    1. 1

      What you use for Sentiment analysis?

    2. 1

      I have seen a few AI-powered content generation/assistance. I have test-drived a few. I don't use them and I won't pay for it. The idea is interesting. But I don't think it is actually solving the problem well. The product is just not ready yet. For example, I want to write a good article/content for SEO. This is the task. The goal is to rank well on google search. I can't see how any AI-powered content tools can help me write content that will rank well. So in a way, you don't have any strong case studies and tangible results that show your product is useful enough to pay for. Juts my 2 cents. Sorry to be direct.

      1. 1

        Thanks for the honest feedback - no apologies needed! What if I were to combine something like Wordblot and ContentRank? Would that be helpful?

    3. 1

      Hi @Shamoons

      I believe your idea is great for a start.

      Try reason why you're getting traffic and no sign-ups stems from the copy of your homepage.

      Like going through your website, there's no compelling reason for me to try it out. I understand that it's an AI power copywriter but why should I as a user care about that??

      Will it make work faster for me?
      Will it make my leads convert to users?

      And the questions keep on coming. But if the copy on the landing page doesn't do justice to an extent in convincing a lead, then they'd most certainly not want to try it out.

      Personally, I believe your traffic presently are based on curiosity by your market, but when they get to the website they're not convinced on why they should try it.

      If perhaps you need a hand, hit me up on twitter and let's discuss.

  4. 1

    Where do you see cases of products that have to "make a market" fit within this framework? The market doesn't exist and the solution isn't yet "accepted" by society. In other words, the problem/solution encounters cognitive dissonance that has to be overcome; people have to be persuaded this is a "good idea".

    Few examples that come to mind are AirBnB and perhaps Peloton. In these cases, the solutions are easily dismissed. Ask anyone before AirBnB - "would you let a stranger rent a part of your house?" Quite sure that the answer would be mostly "No." With Peloton - "do you want to have live exercise at home?" Again you would probably get a lot of "No, I have classes at my local gym."

    But as the companies pushed these two ideas - they became more accepted. Now, the idea of renting out a part of your house is more or less accepted by society as everyone heard of OTHERS doing it. Similar with Peleton - my neighbor has it so maybe I should try it too.

    1. 2

      Hey @Ghidra

      This concept is usually flawed based on assumptions of "since they did it this way, then sure we can do it same way".

      No, I doesn't work for everyone.

      You're running the risk of "maybe when I finish developing it, then they'd love the idea and stick to it"... As someone that works with data, the odds of success when you think this way are low.

      About AirBnB, you perhaps might think they never ran a market survey but I'm 100% sure they did.

      Now, it might not be in the way you described it "walk up to a stranger and ask them to rent you a part of their home" - I don't think that's how they positioned it.

      Rather, I believe they positioned it in a way that allows the introduction of "cost benefit" to people renting out their homes.

      More like, "HI Joe, I love your house and I must say it's quite beautiful. Your paintings and curtains are such as perfect match.

      With a beautiful house like yours, I'm sure you must get lots of compliments about it. ☺

      I was thinking instead of just compliments, how about you get paid for it?... Then the pitch follows"

      Now some would say yes and others might have gone with a no with AirBnB, but I'm sure the survey they had allowed them start the business.

      Investors are not dumb, they can't just throw money away, they need data, and validated ideas not a single person with personal belief on his or her own idea...

      You her my point??

      In all ways, validate your ideas to avoid running the risk of a burnout.

      1. 1

        The idea of airbnb is just luck. They tried something simple when they thought there was a need. They tested it with a MVP. It worked and they developed further. Getting people to pay for your simplest MVP is the best validation:-) But many ideas/products are not so lucky:-)

        Story of airbnb
        https://www.businessinsider.com/how-airbnb-was-founded-a-visual-history-2016-2

        1. 2

          Oh wow @net2tim

          Thanks for this! 😂 😂

          Funny how I never read the story of AirBnB, but I just had an idea of what their thought process would have been.

          And as you said "many ideas/products are not so lucky" and this was my main reason for writing this post to avoid mistakes like that.

          Validation is key in all things.. ☺

          Thanks again @net2tim

      2. 1

        I agree with your points and validate where you can is of course the best course of action. My main point here is that there will be instances where early validation can lead to false negatives (or very weak positive signals) - I think this is particularly true if your "making a market" for something a product, service, or market place. In these instances - society (aka market place) needs to be convinced of their value; something to take into consideration.

        In the AirBnB case - their early market signal was probably quite weak in terms of how many "YESes" to "NOes" they got (definitely NOes from investors who mostly rejected them). At that point - you need to convince the market participants of the value of the service which will not be straightforward.

        1. 1

          You're spot on @Ghidra

          But in the end, I prefer to weigh risks according to profitability.

  5. 1

    Big yes to the whole thing. Too many indies assume because they have a killer idea, any rising problem is about the market. But validating your idea and testing it with your real community is a primordial process you have to go through, no matter how long it takes. I recently wrote an article about how to validate your B2B business idea, if you're interested in checking it out and giving me your opinion about it :)
    Overall, very good post man!

    1. 1

      Thanks for the compliment man. 🤝

      Please share me your post. I'd love to read. ☺

      1. 1

        Thank you for your enthusiasm :)
        Please let me know what you think of it: https://www.indiehackers.com/post/my-method-to-validate-your-b2b-idea-582180c961

        1. 2

          I loved every bit of your post and had it bookmarked.

          Heck would share it on Twitter ☺
          .
          .
          But you need to work on Corepo big time.

          Hit me up if you want to write the copy. I've got some ideas I'd love to share with you. ☺

          1. 1

            We're currently working on reshaping it with my team, we only started again recently but I'm very enthusiastic about the directions we want to give to our project. :D

Trending on Indie Hackers
How do you decide what idea to work on? 79 comments Rant about the link building industry 18 comments Small creators were preferred over big brands for Black Friday & Cyber Monday 4 comments Job Board For Space Industry - Cofounders Needed 4 comments Any indie hackers creating tools for the nonprofit sector? 2 comments We decided to go wild on the upcoming product trailer. Thoughts? 2 comments