The non-tech founder’s guide to building SaaS products

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There is a skepticism out there that non-tech founders cannot build successful software products. However, organizations like Etsy, Groupon, and Airbnb, are examples of SaaS companies that had non-tech founders. 

So, while it may be true that you don’t need to be a technical pro to get a great idea, given increasing competitiveness, rising customer expectations, and rapidly evolving market conditions, creative visions must be brought to market fast. 

It’s a fact that while the SaaS industry is booming, almost 92% of SaaS businesses fail within 3 years owing to challenges such as an incorrect product-market fit, poor design, and less than optimal management amongst other things. 

So, what must non-tech founders consider to quickly build SaaS products that last? 

Here is a ready list, a guide for non-tech founders who wish to build SaaS products, if your will:

Establish the right product-market fit 

Clearly, this is THE most important aspect of building any software product, SaaS or otherwise, to make sure that you don’t end up in the start-up graveyard. It’s essential to understand the drivers of a great product-market fit by first getting a deep understanding of the customer, their challenges, and how the product is expected to solve these. It obviously helps to nail down how customers are addressing those pain points today and measuring the utility of your solution against that. Do understand that sometimes, the biggest barrier to break may be helping the customer understand that they are suffering when they don’t have to! 

This first step also helps in identifying the required core functionalities of the product to be built into the MVP to make sure that it can go-to-market fast, assess customer response and then progress along the path of product evolution.

From engineering to over-engineering 

Customers care about the product. They don’t care about the code. But a code barrier exists between the idea and a successful product. Having the right engineering practices, technical vocabulary, software architecture all become essential for product success as these make sure that the product can evolve according to the customer demands and needs. 

Well-formed code is essential for SaaS product success and hence having the right team to develop a product development and evolution road map is essential. Having strong product engineering competencies can help in developing an MVP to evaluate the product-market fit fast. At this stage, it is also essential to develop a workable product vision, map the features and functionalities, and develop the right user journeys that help the user achieve the end goal in the least number of steps. It is judicious to not get carried away at this stage and over-engineer the product as it is always prudent to keep scope for phased product improvement. 

Keeping the technical debt in check

While the non-tech founder might not have an extensive technical vocabulary, he/she needs to know how to check for technical debt. While a certain amount of technical debt is inevitable, non-tech founders need to be aware of the bigger debts that impact the product’s stability and functionality. 

Learning about ‘code smells’ that emerge from objects that shoulder too much responsibility or emerges as inconsistent implementations, spaghetti code, difficult and complex logic, etc. all contribute to technical debt. The higher the technical debt, the harder it is to pay back and the more it impacts the product’s stability, performance, security, and evolution path.

So, non-tech founders should have the right plans in place and employ the right engineering practices, have an elevated focus on testing, especially for security, develop strong refactoring capabilities while making sure that avoid source code complexity. It is also essential to have strong mechanisms to measure and manage technical debt proactively. 

Agility has to be the core of the product 

The advantage of SaaS products is that these products are built for scale, high-load performance, and global reach. However, to achieve these goals, non-tech founders need to ensure that they do not compromise speed for security and that these products are enduring yet nimble. 

Employing the right architecture, creating the right development plan, having robust testing suites, and a strong QA focus while keeping the user in the center to identify how user needs could evolve help in building agility into the product. 

Even non-tech founders, thus, have to become a party to sound technical decisions that can positively impact the product, increase its effectiveness, and drive adoption and product advocacy.

Keep an indelible focus on UI and UX 

UI and UX are critical focus areas that either deliver product success or run it to the ground. Users are now familiar with elevated, well-defined, and refined software experiences. SaaS products also have to deliver the same. UX has become a strategic concern for all SaaS products, especially enterprise products owing to the consumerization of enterprise software and the rise of the hybrid workspace. 

Non-tech SaaS founders thus have to look into the usability aspect of the product to make sure that the product is attractive and easy to use. This may demand a look at the influencers of UX. Elements like product architecture, technology choices, network and bandwidth requirements, performance-related contributors, user, and access management, product security, etc. have to be looked into for their impact on user experience.

Uncompromising approach to security 

Baking security into SaaS products is now non-negotiable, especially as more and more enterprise applications become SaaS products. SaaS product development has to adopt an uncompromising approach towards security and take into consideration all the static and moving parts that impact product security. Elements like end-point security become essential checkpoints as do having well-developed, elaborate and comprehensive test automation frameworks. It is essential to bake security into the SaaS products and make sure that the product engineering practices ensure the same. 

The non-tech founder has to thus develop a high-end quality focus and adopt robust test automation practices to increase product security. For non-tech founders, it becomes essential to remember that ‘speed of delivery’ is not opposed to ‘secure code’. Adopting practices like DevSecOps can come in handy here as this development methodology employs the ‘everyone is responsible for security’ mindset and ably distributes security decisions at scale and speed to those who have the highest level of context. You will notice that many of these decision points have a tech element. To understand, evaluate, and pick from these technology choices, one of the smartest things a non-tech founder can do is to forge a strong technical partnership. The partner should have the right depth of experience to guide these technical decisions. Such technical partners or technical experts can help the founder develop the right product design, create the right development roadmap and employ the correct development methodologies. They should be able to drive the product development journey and partner the founder as an amorphous idea gets fleshed out into a full-fledged, robust SaaS product that ‘sticks’. 

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