SaaS Product Development · Business Development

Developing an SAAS with NO Experience?

Chanel Carlascio

August 25th, 2016

I have at least two SAAS projects I want to put a team together to develop. Should I hire a CTO, or contract with an agency? Given I have no experience with coding, what should I look for when hiring someone to help me develop my projects? 

Shardul BHATT Chief Executive Officer at BoTree Technologies Pvt. Ltd.

August 25th, 2016

Hi Chanel,

As Dan has rightly pointed out, you need to be able to put together a clear and a detailed specification of the SaaS product you need.

I understand that as someone who has a great idea, there is a very strong urge to get started and get it done as quickly as possible. The challenge is the technical team's thought process is not aligned with your because they come from a different world (as in they do not really know your domain yet).

This is how I would recommend approaching it.

  1. A detailed requirement specification cannot be written overnight or in say 2 - 3 days. In my experience, it could take anywhere between 1 - 3 weeks depending on the complexity of the application, the integration points with existing systems etc.
  2. Once you are done, I would suggest you share it with two people who you believe understand the idea. Their job is to poke holes in the specification you have drafted. They would identify loop holes in the user flow, they would uncover certain assumptions and much more.
  3. After a brainstorming session, you would need about a week to put everything together again.
  4. With this specification in hand, you can start looking for agencies who can build it for you. I am recommending working with an agency because putting together a team with a technical manager, programmers, testers and a UI/UX designer is a large project in itself.
  5. When choosing an agency, I would recommend picking an agency that can provide solutions in PHP / RubyOnRails / Python / Java. Technology is usually not a concern (unless you are building a bank transaction or a guided missile system) if the system design and architecture is good.
  6. Ask for estimates (time and cost) from say top 3 agencies you select. Have a clause where you receive a discount if the deadlines are not met.
  7. Plan 2 week milestones with the agency you choose, and monitor. With a good agency, if the specifications are clear and changes introduced during the process are not more than 20%, it should be smooth sailing.
  8. The implementation phase would include User Experience (UX) design, User Interface (UI) development, backend programming, testing and so on.

Approach for Writing Specifications

Writing requirement specifications does not require any technical skills. It can be all in plain simple English and there would always be some gray areas.
  1. Identify the roles in the system. User, Admin, Staff etc.
  2. Identify what would you want each one of them to do.
  • User Registration
  • Login
  • Search etc.
Identify areas of interaction between the roles of the system. Can an Admin block a user? etc. Identify at which points would the existing system integrate with this new application. What data would be fetched from the existing systems and how should it be processed and what would be the result. You would also have to identify the corner case scenarios in the system.
If you are interested I can send over a draft of user requirements.

The agency you pick should have experience working with startups and team of 2 - 3 co-founders. They should also believe in the idea and have a strong sense of ownership. A team that would view this engagement as just another project would not be fun to work with.

Best,
Shardul.


Shobhit Verma

August 25th, 2016

I have never heard a success story of a technology product without a technical "real" cofounder. A real cofounder invests time and money and is equally passionate about the problem as the non-technical cofounder. If you pay them before the business generates a profit, they are not real cofounders.

That said, if your saas product is really a website for a service business, where most of the value is provided as a non-tech service [costs human hours], it might work out.

Olivier Chaine SVP, LPO at The Search Agency

August 25th, 2016

You said it best in your first sentence. You want to put a team together to develop.. Its hard to hire an agency effectively to build something unless you know what you want to build and how to make some of the tradeoffs between features and technical complexity. 
There are part-time CTOs if you're not ready to hire full time. There are also very good product managers who know how to work with agencies, etc. 
Once you've decided who is your product lead / advocate for your SaaS vision, then the choice of who builds it can be made.

Ed Jeffers MD at EDGE +

August 25th, 2016

Have a look at a tool Rightscale. Should solve your problem. Regards, Ed Jeffers 0404 835 176

Daniel Esbensen CTO at SheerPower Auction Services, Inc. and Information Services Consultant

August 25th, 2016

Hello, Going directly to your question, you should find someone who has done SAAS projects before, with a good set of references. Put them under a Non-disclosure. And then get from them an estimate of the kind of effort you are requesting. This will help you to create a budget for the development. The next step, with funding in hand, is to have this same person/company either develop the SAAS solution, or outsource and manage it for you. The "rule of thumb" for outsourcing is that it costs about 1/2 as much, but takes 4x longer. If time is on your side, then outsourcing can be a good way to go. Till later, Dan E. http://www.ttinet.com

Chanel Carlascio

August 25th, 2016

Let me explain my product - I currently own a service based company in the disability accommodations field - we coordinate services like sign language interpreters, real-time captioning, captioned media, accessible format books, etc

Initially, the SAAS will at first just be for internal use - scheduling software that can will manage all of the bits of information specific to our field, plus sync with QB for invoicing client, allow contract providers to create and submit invoices, approve provider invoices, track payment, etc.All of these exist in some form in the world, but not in the way that works for our business. 

This becomes a income stream when it is licensed to our current customers - coordinators at colleges and universities all over the US and Canada. This would be a money maker all on it's own. In fact, I have a friendly competitor who I know is developing this type of software as we speak. 

One thing that will make our SAAS really stand out is to have it sync with the current software they use to track accommodations - they get student requests for services and they either direct hire staff, or contract it out. 
Many services are provided remotely.  The second thing that would make this stand out is if it also allowed the schools to push their requests out to a marketplace where they either get a bid, or their preferred provider was automatically  or manually sent the request through the accommodation management system they already use. 

This second part - syncing with the disability management software and the marketplace do not exist any where yet. Having a scheduling software that they could use in this way would be a big step forward for the coordinators who have to wrestle to manage this information everyday. 

One thing in my favor is that I know the developers of one of the most popular accommodations software systems being used and we've talked over the years about this idea.  He thinks it is a good idea, but has no time to develop it outside of what they already are doing. 

I am clear about what my product needs to be able to do, and how it should work - I just have no programming experience. I have held off on this because I don't want to hire a programmer, get 50k into the project and have nothing to show for it. I have heard that story too many time. I'd rather it not be me. :-)


Chanel Carlascio

August 25th, 2016

Ed, your tools might work once the scheduling software is developed, but the core of the SAAS is the scheduling software. So what is your suggestion for getting that developed? 

Chanel Carlascio

August 25th, 2016

Because I have several SAAS projects I want to develop in this market, I'd ideally like to develop a team of people that I can work with long term. Any advice on how to start finding those team members? 

Daniel Esbensen CTO at SheerPower Auction Services, Inc. and Information Services Consultant

August 25th, 2016

Hello, Do you have a detailed specification yet for your SaaS needs? If not, then that is also a very good first project for someone. We have done dozens of SaaS implementations over the years -- an a tight specification makes a huge difference. Till later, Dan E. ==

Chanel Carlascio

August 25th, 2016

I could provide specifications. Is there an accepted format or a template I should start with?