5 "Must-Haves" When Building a SaaS Company Today

Jon Birdsong
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January 2, 2018

Since starting WideAngle five years ago, the SaaS landscape has changed dramatically. Competition is fierce. User experience is a must-have. Seamless onboardings a requirement. Buyers want “one-solution” and “not another log-in.” Integrations become critical -- which likely stray away from your core product offering. Customer acquisition costs rise every day. Clogged inboxes make your message and story harder to hear.


Bottom line:

it’s hard out here for a SaaS founder!

Yet, companies are thriving. It is still and will be a good time to be in SaaS for awhile, and that’s straight from the Godfather. So without further ado, let’s dive into 5 “Must-Haves” when building a SaaS company today -- particularly if I were building it in Atlanta or the Southeast.

1. Get the founding team right. Having a strong team is an easy piece of advice to write but a hard piece to execute. The best co-founders meet on their individual journeys. For example, Tejus (WideAngle CTO) and I met on Twitter back in 09’ and always stayed in touch virtually. I’ve also known successful partnerships that met at worthwhile community events. When you’re looking for a co-founder it’s important to put yourself out there in the community and attend events you’d want your future co-founder to attend.  

2. Find a Pain Point in a Large Market: the market you enter will determine 1) how much luck (or unluckiness) you’re exposed to 2) how much grit and hustle is required to get a customer 3) the initial trajectory of how fast you grow. The third point determines your momentum and as you’ll learn through the journey, strong momentum is vital.

A good example of a well-timed market to enter would have been Account Based Marketing (ABM) two years ago. Atlanta Ventures company, Terminus has grown tremendously year over year because it helped form and mold the ABM market. I’ve highlighted the role of the market in detail here.

In other words, how fast is the stream when looking at the variables of startup success.

When one looks at WideAngle’s stream, I believe it is the corporate crossfit of management. For example, if someone who owned a crossfit gym and tried to sell me on joining, I wouldn’t do it because I don’t crossfit, bro. However, I do enjoy working out 4-5 times a week and getting a good sweat in -- but crossfit is not really my cup of tea. However we almost all know a crossfit warrior who wakes up 6 days a week at 5:00 to make sure they get their 5:30 work out. It’s a smallish stream but very loyal and dedicated fan base -- like WideAngle.

3. Map Your Initial Go To Market with Your Natural Abilities - Chris Dixon and David Cummings wrote about Product/Founder and Founder/Idea fit years ago and it still holds very true today. Here are two examples I’ve seen. If you’re a sales and marketing focused founder, you’ll want to adjust your go-to-market strategy and play into your strengths. Meaning, you’ll be able to wine and dine, hustle or bustle leads into using and paying for your product. If you’re more of a product focused founder, belaboring over the first time user flow into seamless onboardings will be essential to your success. Understanding your strengths and weakness as a founder first will help identify what is the best go-to-market approach starting out.

4. User Experience Must be 10x The Incumbent: it’s getting harder and harder to sell software that is not easy to use, unless you’re the incumbent. There are two major reasons your UX must be brilliant: 1) to combat the sales friction (and grind) early stage startups face 2) your buyer’s standards of experience are rising everyday. Our buyers have spent the last 6-8 years on Facebook and Twitter, 4-6 years on Instagram. They are getting used to well designed, easy to use software. Back to point 1, if you’re not a name brand, getting someone to find you, trust you, champion you (often times at the risk of career advancement), and then finally buy you, is a beast of an effort. Try to reduce the friction with your product.  

5. Keep a Long Term Vision - when you start a company, keep a long term vision. The journey lasts at least 5 years and can extend to 20 or more.  Make every decision with these time frames in mind.

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