Max Rozen


Things I've learned while trying to bootstrap my own SaaS

February 27, 2019

Money (I know I used this image in the last article, but it’s still relevant here.)

I actually started this post as a tweetstorm to try get the ideas I wanted out into the world ASAP. You can follow me on twitter if you’d like to see more things like it.

Building a SaaS is not about the code

You will spend a lot more time than you think updating your marketing site’s look and feel, and copy. Like a lot more. Like literally double the “insane” number you thought would never happen.


You’re not selling your code to people who want to use your product. You’re selling whatever benefits running that code has. You could be Pieter Levels and write PHP on a monolithic server that costs $7k/mo to run, you’re still providing value, and people will pay for it.

Start thinking about Sales immediately

The first thing you do when you sit down to build a SaaS is figure out sales.

Find 10 potential people you could sell to using people you’ve met and added on LinkedIn or Twitter, buy them coffee/tea/some beverage and really listen to what they have to say about the problem. The solution can come later. You can sell things today, and promise to deliver them at a later date.

The other thing about sales you need to understand is that leads are flakey. You’re coming to them with a solution to a problem they don’t always realise they have. If that problem is not as urgent as the rest of their hundred other problems, they’ll forget about you. Counter-point to that is if you manage to solve a problem they’re thinking about constantly, they will pay you $(name-your-price) amounts of money to get rid of the issue.

Content Marketing is a hell of a lot harder than it looks

Content marketing is an extremely long term strategy.

Sort of like investing in index funds on the stock market, you receive compounding interest from having good content on your blog over the long term. So over time (6 months or more), you can expect a decent number of people to read your post, just don’t expect them to come immediately.

The counter-argument to this is if you find a solution to a teeth-grindingly painful problem in your industry, and you’ve written up the solution in your blog to guide people into signing up, then maybe you’ll start to see rapid adoption & high readership.

Hacker News is not a silver bullet to customer acquisition

Posting to Hacker News and Product Hunt are tools at your disposal to ensure people in the tech/early-adopter community have heard of you, but they are by no means a silver bullet.

Your copy has to be “right” (right for the audience, the problem, and the solution you’re presenting) for it to resonate, and you’ve only got one shot (every few months for HN, longer for PH) to get it right.

Rather, you should be focusing on a serious, consistent marketing effort - that includes posting to various places that your users hang out. Sign up to forums, seek out influencers in the problem space (bloggers, magazines, etc) and get yourself heard.

Consistency is everything, especially as a SaaS. People barely trust Google to keep a product online long-term. They need to know you’re not going to bail at the first sign of difficulty.

You don’t have to build HTML email templates to retain customers

When was the last time you got a flashy HTML email about a product and thought “wow, I really want to click some links on this bad boy”?

Newer email marketing providers like ConvertKit only support pure text emails, and there are a few good reasons why you should consider pure text. Mainly:

  • They’re easier to make
  • Faster to load
  • Require less cognitive load to understand and navigate. No one wants your flashy sidebar full of links.

Downtime happens. Not the end of the world.

So you pushed an update that accidentally took down your production site.

First of all, set up a staging environment so it never happens again.

Secondly, breathe, roll it back and fix the issue later.

You’re (hopefully) not dealing with international enterprise clients that will sue you the moment you’re at the edge of violating your SLA. No need to freak out just yet.

Patience is everything

Patience is everything when you’ve decided to bootstrap.

Venture funded businesses don’t have the luxury of waiting to see if their copy and blog posts resonate, but as I mentioned earlier, content is a long-term game.

Sometimes it’ll take a couple of weeks for your audience to come back and see what changed, or for new users to notice your site in their search engine of choice.

Paradox of waiting for users

You’ll probably have emotional swings over waiting for people to use your solution.

Something like “Aaaahhh why is no one signing up?!” when people visit your site, read your blog but don’t click the “Risk free, free trial!” button.

On the other hand, when users start signing up to free trials, the mood is more like “Aaaaahhh shit people are using it aaaaahhh I need to fix EVERYTHING”

The trick here is to launch with a Minimum Viable Product that is embarassingly under-featured, not embarassingly built with string and glue.

Shameless Plug

If you'd like more tips on how to improve your frontend, you can follow me on Twitter as I regularly post articles there.