SaaS EssentialsRecently I’ve had a fair number of people get in touch saying they’re starting SaaS businesses and wanting to pick my brains.

It makes me feel like a bit of a fraud if I’m honest.

The modest success of KashFlow, my SaaS accounting software company, has been mainly down to hard work by other people and some very lucky timing as opposed to any great planning, foresight or execution on my part.

However, a recent conversation threw up an interesting question: what are the essential elements of any SaaS application?

Here’s my stab at an answer

1) An API

In todays world of interconnected applications, an API isn’t optional. It’s right at the top of my list of must-haves for a number of reasons.

Having an API means lots of other applications can integrate with yours (see our Add Ons page) , making your product a more compelling offering as well as potentially giving you access to other companies customer bases.

The more applications in your ecosystem that a customer uses, the less likely they are to jump ship.

And your API has to be free (some silly sausage here tried to charge users £99/year for it and it set us back quite a bit)  and fully functional (I know a number of our integrated apps have been approached by a competitor  and they’ve not been able to integrate because they have a less than comprehensive API)

2) A Free Trial

You must provide a free, fully functioning trial of your software. And it must be available instantly.

Some sites make you fill in a form and they then get back to you when the trial is ready for you. That’s just plain silly. Either they’re wasting time trying to filter out competitors  (if they want to see it, they’ll see it) or they need some manual intervention to get you up and running (not scalable and probably not real SaaS)

3) A White Label Option

This is something we didn’t factor in at the very beginning and had to retrofit (not fun). If you can provide your software on a white label basis (some times called ‘private label’)  you’ll find a whole raft of opportunities to sell your product via different channels.

To make your application available on a white label basis you’ll need to be able to totally eliminate your company/product name from the application, including in address bars. Don’t get precious about your brand, get precious about license fees!

4) Stunning Design/UI

This one will raise some eyebrows with anyone familiar with KashFlow. We’re not the best looking application on the web by any means. This is because I’m a techie and designed the initial interface. Techies don’t do beautiful design. At best we do functional design.

It’s an area of our product we’re working on improving. But changing the UI when you have an established customer base of thousands of users is a delicate thing. Get it right at the outset. It really matters

Would you agree those 4 are essentials? Have I missed anything? Feel free to add your thoughts using the comment box below.

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