Thousands of new SaaS products are hitting the market every year. The average SaaS application takes nearly 12 months to develop from end-to-end. And in software development, time is money. The longer your project takes, the bigger the check you'll be writing.
It's no surprise teams are looking for ways to speed up SaaS development and get their products to market faster. Below we will walk through shortcuts to reduce development time, all while building a quality SaaS product that users will love.
- What is a SaaS application?
- What is SaaS application development?
- Why choose SaaS application development?
- Key SaaS application components
- 9 shortcuts for faster SaaS application development
- 1. Validate your product idea using prototypes and no-code platforms
- 2. Don't start from scratch (use existing SaaS boilerplate)
- 3. Save time and money with a front-end development framework
- 4. Use a PaaS to speed up deployment
- 5. Automate the application delivery process
- 6. Embrace modular software architecture
- 7. Leverage third-party services integrations
- 8. Automate the testing process
- 9. Use feature flags for faster development
- Top SaaS frameworks to learn from
What is a SaaS application?
First of all, what exactly is a SaaS application? A software as a service (SaaS) application is a software program that is delivered to customers over the internet. SaaS apps are usually subscription-based, with customers paying a monthly or annual fee to access the software.
SaaS applications are typically cloud-based and accessed via the internet. This means that customers do not need to install or maintain the software on their own computers.
SaaS solutions are becoming increasingly popular, as they offer a number of advantages over traditional, on-premise software programs. For example, SaaS applications can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection, allowing employees to quickly and easily access enterprise-level SaaS solutions remotely. Businesses also find that upgrades to SaaS solutions can be pushed out quickly, avoiding the need for manual upgrades.
Additionally, businesses often find SaaS solutions more cost effective than on-premise software. Businesses don't have to purchase and maintain on-premise hardware infrastructure nor do they have to worry about costly software upgrades.
Some examples of SaaS software products are Salesforce, FreshBooks, Basecamp, Slack, and Zendesk. As you'll notice, SaaS companies may opt to target a B2C (consumer) audience or a B2B (business) audience.
There are over 25,000 SaaS companies worldwide, offering quite the variety of options for individuals and businesses. This also means if you're going to develop a SaaS app, you're entering a highly competitive market.
What is SaaS application development?
SaaS app development is a process of developing software applications that are delivered as a service to customers over the Internet. Unlike traditional on-premise software applications, SaaS platforms are typically hosted and managed by the service provider, making them more scalable and easier to deploy and manage for customers.
Why choose SaaS application development?
SaaS application development offers many benefits for both service providers and customers over development of traditional standalone applications. For service providers, SaaS development can be a more cost-effective way to develop and deploy software applications. And for customers, SaaS applications can be more scalable and easier to use and manage.
- Increased flexibility and scalability: SaaS applications are designed to be highly flexible and scalable, meaning that they can be easily adapted to suit a variety of business needs. Businesses can benefit from the flexibility to push out new features and software updates to users frequently (even daily).
- Reduced costs: SaaS applications can save customers a significant amount of money in comparison to traditional on-premise software, due to their lower initial investment and subscription-based pricing model. This can help you to secure a more robust customer base.
- Enhanced collaboration: SaaS applications can make it easier for employees to collaborate on projects and share information, thanks to their real-time, cloud-based nature. In a business environment that is increasingly valuing real-time, virtual collaboration, SaaS apps can be very appealing.
- Improved customer satisfaction: SaaS applications can help you increase customer satisfaction by providing a consistent, positive experience across all devices and platforms.
- Faster ROI: SaaS applications typically have a shorter time to value and higher ROI than traditional on-premise software solutions.
Key SaaS application components
Now that we've looked at why you should consider developing SaaS solutions, let's take a deeper look at the technical components of a SaaS app.
The most obvious component of a SaaS app is the software code itself. SaaS apps are typically built using a web framework such as Django, Ruby on Rails, Laravel or Phoenix. Depending on the framework used, SaaS software can be written using a variety of different programming languages such as Java, Python, PHP, and Ruby.
User interface (UI)
A user interface (UI) for a SaaS application is a graphical interface that allows users to interact with the software. It typically includes elements such as menus, buttons, icons, popups and forms.
The web server is responsible for handling the user's requests and delivering the application to the end user. There are a number of different web servers on the market that can be used to run SaaS applications. Some examples include Apache HTTP Server, Microsoft Internet Information Service (Microsoft IIS) or Nginx. Apache is the most popular open source web server on the market. Microsoft IIS is also very popular, but it is developed and maintained by Microsoft and is not open source.
A database is responsible for storing and providing a way to access data for a SaaS application. It can be used to store user data, application data, and application configuration data.
There are many types of databases that are commonly used in SaaS applications, including relational databases, NoSQL databases, and in-memory databases. Some of the most popular relational databases used in SaaS applications are MySQL, PostgreSQL, and Microsoft SQL Server. Some of the most popular NoSQL databases used in SaaS applications are MongoDB, Cassandra, and HBase. In-memory databases, such as Redis and Memcached, are also commonly used in SaaS applications where performance is critical.
Application programming interface (API)
An API is a set of programming code that enables data transmission between two software applications. In a SaaS application, an API allows third-party developers to access and use the functionality of the application. While certainly not a required piece of every SaaS app, APIs can allow developers to build tools and applications that work with the SaaS application, without needing to understand the underlying code or architecture.
One of the main benefits of SaaS applications is that they are accessible anywhere. Users can typically access SaaS apps from mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers.
9 shortcuts for faster SaaS application development
When you embark on your own SaaS software development project, you'll quickly realize how much work you have ahead of you. It can be overwhelming, especially if you aren't working with an experienced SaaS development company or independent SaaS developers.
We've compiled 9 shortcuts to help teams to speed up the SaaS development lifecycle get solutions to market faster.
Validate your product idea using prototypes and no-code platforms
There are a few key things you can do to validate a product idea, and one of the most important is to create prototypes. This will allow you to test your product idea with real users and get feedback to see if it is something people actually want. The problem is that prototypes can be expensive.
To help reduce the development costs, many teams opt to use a no-code platform to build early prototypes. A no-code platform is a type of software that allows you to create and manipulate digital content without writing any code. These platforms typically provide a visual interface that enables you to drag and drop various elements to create their desired outcome. There are many no-code platforms that can be used to create prototypes. Some popular platforms include Bubble, Adalo, and Webflow.
Using a no-code platform can be a great option for some SaaS projects. If your project is a good fit, it can drastically cut down on the time and money required to build an early prototype. However, for some projects, it can actually create more complexity and, in the end, still force you to build your end solution from scratch.
Before deciding to move forward with implementing your prototype using this type of platform, you should ensure it's a good fit for your project. An experienced development team will be able to evaluate your project to determine if a no-code solution is a good fit or not. Regardless, using a no-code solution is a potential shortcut every SaaS team should at least consider.
Don't start from scratch (use existing SaaS boilerplate)
A SaaS boilerplate is a web application template that has been specifically designed for use with software as a service (SaaS) products. SaaS boilerplates typically include everything that is needed to launch a complete SaaS website, including all the necessary pages, graphics, and functionality.
Once you've selected a template, follow the directions provided by the vendor and customize it to suit your company's branding. Using a SaaS template can help teams drastically reduce development time and quickly spin up a product that can be tested in the market.
Save time and money with a front-end development framework
A pre-build front-end development framework is a complete set of design specifications and standards that can be used to develop software. Such design development frameworks typically include all necessary visual aspects of a software application to help teams quickly build the user interface and design elements.
If you want to use a pre-built SaaS front-end development framework, you can find many options online. Some popular options include Bootstrap, Foundation, TailwindUI, and Material UI. To use a front-end development framework, you will need to download the code, include it in your project, and follow the vendor's specific instructions to make it work for your project.
Use a PaaS to speed up deployment
PaaS, or Platform as a Service, is a type of cloud computing service that provides a platform for developers to deploy applications. Utilizing a PaaS for deployment can help to substantially simplify the work required by the SaaS development team.
Some examples of PaaS vendors are Heroku, AppHarbor, AWS Elastic Beanstalk, and Google App Engine. While all tools aim to simplify and speed up the deployment process, each one will have a unique value proposition. During the vendor evaluation process, it's important to consider a vendor's reliability and performance metrics as well as the support they offer for the languages and frameworks your SaaS app uses. Your aim should be to find a PaaS that works in tandem with your SaaS app to simplify the deployment, not make it more complicated.
Automate the application delivery process
Automation is at the heart of efficiency. There's often not a better way to speed up a process than through the use of automation. Using a PaaS is one great way to deploy faster, but your SaaS development team can also utilize other automation tools to speed up the process.
There are many ways to automate the application delivery process of a SaaS app. One way is to use a tool like Jenkins, CircleCI, Github Actions, or Amazon Code Deploy, which can automate the process of packaging, deploying and configuring your application.
Regardless of the exact tool set you choose, your SaaS app developers will be happy to have automation on their side to reduce what is often complex, monotonous deployment work. And as a product owner, you'll be reducing overall risk by eliminating potential human error in the deployment process.
Embrace modular software architecture
A modular software architecture is an architectural pattern that divides the functionality of a software application into independent, interchangeable modules. Each module is a self-contained unit of software that can be independently deployed and executed.
Using a modular software architecture can be a helpful approach for some SaaS teams who are working on a large, complex SaaS application. In the right circumstance, it can allow for a high degree of flexibility and scalability, as modules can be added or removed from the SaaS solution as needed. Teams experienced with modular development can also find it helps them build faster as developers can work on individual parts or modules of the software independently, then integrate the modules together when they are finished.
Modular software architecture can potentially save a lot of time and effort during the SaaS development process by allowing for easier code reuse and quicker development times. However, this is not an approach that will work for all teams. Preemptively modularizing software, especially for small to midsize applications may actually add unnecessary complexity. You should carefully consider the scale of your SaaS application as well as the skillset of your development team before deciding to move forward with a modular approach.
Leverage third-party services integrations
SaaS third party services integrations are integrations with other software applications and services that aim to provide a seamless experience between the two platforms. This can include features like single sign-on or data synchronization.
Utilizing third-party integrations is common practice these days, as it helps to significantly cut down on the development time of new apps while contributing to providing support for common features that SaaS users desire. There's no need to reinvent or redevelop systems that have already been created and well tested. Leveraging these integrations is a great shortcut to faster SaaS app development. Buy before you build, so to say.
Automate the testing process
We're revisiting automation in our 9th shortcut, but this time we're discussing automating the testing process. Testing, or often referred to as the quality assurance, is often a very laborious and time consuming process, so introducing automation tools is a good way to help DevOps or test engineers to focus on writing quality tests as opposed to spending long hours executing a long list of complex test cases.
While your goal may be to save time, automating the testing process can also help to improve testing coverage, increase exploratory testing capabilities, and ultimately help to reduce maintenance that's required.
How you decide to implement automation for your testing will be specific to the tools you have available, the testing requirements, and the SaaS software itself. However, regardless of your project, here are a few tips to get you started:
- Identify the key functionality that needs to be tested and create test cases for each scenario.
- Write a set of tests based on the test cases you identify.
- Choose a testing tool that will allow you to automate the execution of your test cases.
- Configure the testing tool to run your test cases automatically.
- Schedule your tests to run periodically over the life of your product to help alert on any potential issues.
Use feature flags for faster development
Our final shortcut to faster SaaS development is to use feature flags. This is a development technique that enables developers to roll out new features to users on a gradual basis.
By using feature flags, developers can launch new features to a small subset of users first, and then gradually roll the features out to a larger audience over time. This allows developers to test new features in a production environment and gather feedback from users before making the features available to everyone.
Using feature flags can speed up development by allowing developers to work on new features in isolation from the rest of the codebase. This means that new features can be developed and tested with a lower risk of affecting the stability of the main codebase.
Top SaaS frameworks to learn from
SaaS development is just one piece of building a new SaaS business from the ground up. New startups face substantial challenges as they enter the market and begin to scale their businesses. Learning from existing frameworks can help reduce the learning curve and set you up to improve your chances of success in the highly-competitive SaaS market.
The build-measure-learn loop
The "Build, Measure, Learn" loop is a process that helps startups rapidly iterate and improve their products or services. It involves building something, measuring how it performs, and then learning from the results in order to make improvements.
By rapidly iterating and constantly improving, businesses can stay ahead of the competition and better meet the needs of their customers. The "Build, Measure, Learn" loop is an essential part of the lean startup methodology, and it can be used by SaaS businesses of any size to help them develop their product rapidly and scale up.
The 9x effect
The 9x effect is the idea that there is a nine to one mismatch in what product designers (that's you!) believe customers want and what customers actually want. As developers of a new product, you're already convinced it works. You know you have a great idea on your hands. But, consumers are inherently skeptical. They need to be convinced.
Consumers overweight the value of maintaining the status quo (or the existing product) by a factor of 3. At the same time, companies overweight their new product's benefit by a factor of 3. Multiply these two factors of 3 together and you get a mismatch of 9 times.
To help reduce the impact of this effect on how the market receives your product, you should:
- Listen to your audience. When conducting market research, make sure you do not discount the feedback you are getting. Take everything you hear at face value and do not insert your own beliefs into the mix.
- Specifically address assumptions you believe your audience may be making. Addressing these assumptions head on with your marketing can help consumers to re-evaluate their mindset.
- Bring in a third party to review your product's messaging. A third party will be able to help most effectively evaluate assumptions you are unknowingly including in your messaging.
The product death lifecycle
David Bland, a management consultant coined the term the “product death cycle,” which he bills as a cycle that's all too common in the world of software product development.
Let's break it down:
Step 1 (the inevitable with any new product) is that no one is using your product. You're just getting things off the ground and trying to build an audience for your new SaaS product.
Step 2 is that you start asking for user feedback. This is, of course, with great intentions. The problem comes in when you rely on user feedback about missing features to drive the direction of your product rather than having a true vision.
Step 3 is that you build the features suggested by users (rather than building toward a vision that you design). Some users will be happy, others won't be. Worse yet, you'll miss out on the opportunity to have a real stand-out product that has a high-level vision. Instead you're just endlessly adding new features.
To prevent your SaaS team from falling into this cycle, it can be helpful to have a key product champion who is leading the strategic direction of the product. All new features should fit into this strategic direction. This will help keep development costs down (fewer features = less development time). It will also help to maintain a clear and concise value proposition that can be articulated to current and prospective customers through strategic marketing and sales collateral.
Remember, a singular, powerful message is always more effective than a long list of disconnected features.
Free vs paid users' feature requests
After SaaS application development comes launch. And at launch you'll quickly find an onslaught of customer feedback. The idea behind this framework is that you need to weigh the value of the feedback you are getting, in part based on if the users are paid users or not.
SaaS products can quickly become bloated by a variety of features, so it's really important to be strategic when evaluating the incoming user feedback. Starting by mapping out features relative to the user type can be helpful. Using a tool like UserVoice can help to keep things controlled.
Organizing feedback by user type can help the product team to decide what to implement. There is, in fact, no guarantee that freemium users will become paid users when you add a new requested feature. Instead, you should focus on keeping already paying users by offering new features that align with your product's long-term vision.
There's no denying that turning an idea into a market-ready SaaS application requires a significant investment from a competent leadership team, experienced developers, and a forward-looking product team. Many startups are looking for any way they can to reduce costs and get their product to market faster. We've provided 9 shortcuts to help maximize SaaS development efficiency so you can do just that.
We also touched on a few of the top SaaS development frameworks to consider when building a new SaaS business. With these tools, you'll be well on your way to building a product that you'll be proud to launch into the SaaS market.