June 5, 2020

My criteria for a tiny SaaS

I have too many ideas. If these ideas were all great, this would be OK. Unfortunately, they aren’t. Many are bad ideas. The rest tend to be unsuitable for our team of only two people.

After 20 years in business, we’ve learned who we are and what we want. We are not interested in building a big company or disrupting an industry. We like small products that we can build in a reasonable amount of time—and maintain without going bonkers.

Following is a brief (and evolving1) criteria I use for helping to evaluate whether a product idea is worth further investigation. Most times it invalidates the idea. This is great because it prevents us from building something that’s bound to fail.

Any new product we build must be:

Stupidly simple

Most things are more complicated than they first seem. So, anything we build must perform a single function2 that can be explained in one sentence.

Convenient (not necessarily better)

Our product needs to solve an explicit problem more easily than any existing alternative. Most won’t care if it’s better, or if it does all that a competing product does, so much as they’ll value it being more convenient.

Built for a narrow audience

Marketing a product is hard. It’s even harder when our audience is vague (especially since we’re small).3 By clearly identifying our audience we’re able to find them and get our product in front of them.4

Have a clear path to market

Before drawing a mock-up or writing a line of code, we must come up with a way to reach our audience5. This is easy to put off until it’s too late—at which point it can be daunting.

Available for purchase

No form of product validation is as telling as a payment. We need to collect credit card details as early as possible—and get paid. We ought to do this even if our product feels insignificant/incomplete.

And now for the bonus round:

(These considerations are less essential, but certainly relevant to our particular setup.)

Produce recurring revenue

It’s hard to maintain software that’s paid for only once. Conversely, perpetual revenue (even in small amounts) compounds over time6. This allows us to improve the product and adequately service our customers.

Impossible to hold

There are many physical objects I’d like to build. However, we have no expertise in manufacturing. We know little about warehousing, fulfillment, and returns—none-to-mention all the other things we’re too ill-informed to even recognize. For this reason, we only work on products that we can’t hold in our hands.

The above list isn’t necessarily adaptable to others. You might want to build a large company. Perhaps your idea is complex and requires venture capital to build out. Or, you could have experience producing physical products. That’s cool. None of what I present here is absolute.

Instead, this is something I make note of in part for my record-keeping purposes. Like I said earlier, I find this type of criteria useful for evaluating ideas. Posting it here will allow me to reference it again in the future.

  1. I’ve created a number of these lists over the years, but tend to lose them. I also noticed that over time certain points seemed more essential than others. So, I’ll return to this and augment it as I learn new things.

  2. It’s also wise to fight the impulse to add features.

  3. Founders often worry that a market is too small. They should be more concerned about their market being overly broad.

  4. For example, internet marketers are hard to target. Conversely, RVers in the U.S. are a defined population that’s reasonably easy to get in front of.

  5. So far my favorite go-to-market approach involves: 1. Making something that removes a problem for a small group of people. 2. Putting it on a Reddit forum for that activity. 3. Letting them tell their friends about it.

  6. This only works so long as our customers continue to get value from what we built.

checklist criteria guidelines product startup

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