How to Build a SaaS Product While Having Limited Technical Skills

Published October 03, 2016 by Jane Portman
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Being a SaaS founder is no easy feat if you don’t possess necessary technical skills. Today I’m answering a question by Tobey Tozier, a designer from Portland, Maine:

“Say you have a big idea for a SaaS project, but many of the skills needed to execute it are outside your expertise as a designer. Where do you start?”

Hi Tobey, thank you for the question! It actually contains two problems I see very often:

How to build a product that customers will actually buy

Before you set out on the long journey, make sure your idea is solving a real customer pain (it hurts so bad someone will actually pay you money). The best way to develop a product is to start backwards: by researching customer pains.

I highly recommend the system by Amy Hoy (here’s her blog) called “sales safari.” You can go out and research forums (and other “watering holes”) where people speak up about problems with existing software or business situations. Here’s a good video to watch.

How to approach a SaaS product with limited technical skills

Now, the execution part. There are plenty of options, but each of them has pros and cons.

Find a technical co-founder. This is the most popular route: it doesn’t require any cash, and unites passionate individuals. The only drawback here is the necessity to compromise: you have to take all the decisions together. Also, partnerships tend to sour up when someone contributes more (and this happens all the time).

Save up and fund the development with your personal money. This is my own path of choice, should I ever start my own SaaS. Do some client work, save up, and then pay experts to develop and run the project for you. This way you won’t sacrifice any decision-making freedom.

Ask experts to work for equity. This is a shady path, as equity might translate as “working for free.” Only a limited number of startups actually launch, not to mention bringing profit. However, I heard there’s a nice place called Vestd (recommended by Andy Parker) where you can find experts and pay with equity.

Raise an investment round. This is very hard, and probably not worth pursuing. I must admit my opinion is biased here, because I love the model of bootstrapped (self-funded) products.

Clarify the technical part

But before you engage in any of the above, try getting a brief consultation of a technical (and business) expert. This way you’ll learn whether the idea is technically viable, and how much money (or time) you need. If you have spare cash, ask someone on Clarity. Or if you don’t, just find an experienced technical friend who’ll give you a hand for free. The community is super-friendly!

Drawing up mockups upfront will help to explain your idea, but don’t go too deep before you research the audience and verify the technical decisions.

Hope this helps, and good luck!

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