In some ways, it’s never been easier to start a thriving SaaS business.
But in others, it’s never been harder.
Sure, the technological barriers have come down significantly in the past decade. Things like AWS, now Github’s CoPilot (and ChatGPT in general) are making all of our lives easier. So spinning up a pretty good SaaS product is so much easier now than it was a few years ago.
However, the ability to really stand out and get traction has never been more difficult.
And if you think back to most of the big successes in SaaS in recent years it’s always been those who are hyperfocused on solving one very specific problem for one very specific group of people.
At least to start with.
First, built up your base
I like the story of TweetHunter as an example.
Instead of building yet another social media management tool, they decided to go really deep on just one small aspect of social media: content ideas, just for Twitter.
But what most of us don’t know is that TweetHunter started just as a “search engine” for inspiring tweets. Check out this first landing page:
No scheduling, no ability to write posts, just a repository of tweets to inspire you. Talk about narrow focus.
With that focus, they could target not just one technical problem to build for and make the customer experience really amazing. But they could also go super deep on understanding that unique customer’s pain points, problems, and desires.
I think about this oftentimes with Castos. Sometimes we find ourselves trying to solve the problem for the hobbyist podcaster, the person who’s going full-time with their show, and the company using it for internal communications. Feel like we do this pretty well, but it’s definitely a balancing act.
Then expand out
To be fair to myself and the Castos story, we followed this a bit too.
Castos originally could only be coupled to your WordPress site, following the company’s origins as an integration to our Seriously Simple Podcasting plugin for WordPress.
For about the first 9 months, all you could do with Castos was connect it to your WordPress site as a media host. We didn’t even have analytics for the first few months. It was just a storage and distribution tool. But still, we got dozens of customers on our first day!
In fact, there’s a part of me that says we attacked this expansion phase too early.
What if we would’ve stayed the only company dedicated to podcast hosting for WordPress? Would we be further along today than we are currently? I don’t know.
But I can say that with every step you take away from that original base of customer avatars, and the problems you’re trying to solve for them, the more difficult everything gets.
Marketing copy, customer acquisition channels, product and feature decisions, UI and UX all start to be compromises and challenging decisions where you ask yourself, “Who is this for?”.
But you see it with every company. And I truly think many companies need this expansion of focus (is that a thing?) to scale.
A lot of times it’s because companies think that to grow, it’s easier to bolt on a separate product (a CRM from ChartMogul being a good recent example). Or even start going after a new type of customer; as Joel Gascgoine shared, it’s tough to start moving away from your base and keep the company operating at the same level it did before.
I’m not making an argument for, or against, the “land and expand” kind of model. I think if you’re trying to grow a really huge business it’s definitely the way to go.
But even with this approach, staying as hyperfocused as you can on solving a very specific problem for a very specific type of customer is the way to go early.
As you begin to expand out from that initial focus, just keep in mind that at every step you’ll start to compromise. And do your best to ensure that those compromises are a net win for you, the company, and your customers.