The Road to SaaS Startup Success Is Actually Service-Based
The success of nerdy computer geniuses from Bill Gates to Mark Zuckerberg, who drop out to devote their lives to their products then quickly climb the list of the world’s most powerful people, has become the stuff of legend. But this idea about how to make it big in tech is based on a major misconception – the supreme importance of the technical. Today’s startup reality is rapidly shifting, and the awkward computer nerd isolated from the world and single-mindedly obsessed with their product is increasingly rare for a reason. Coming from the service sector and a customer-first mentality is, more than ever, a path to startup success for SaaS entrepreneurs and for good reason.
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The Goal Is Clear: Provide Value
The key to building a successful SaaS start-up is clearly providing value to your customers. The single most important element for success, which was present in the last 2 companies I built, was that they brought excellent value to our customers. No matter how technically innovative your SaaS product is, you need to clearly demonstrate value, which in turn enables more partnerships and organic growth in your space.
But determining where your value lies isn’t always straightforward. When I built my current venture, it was tempting to get caught up in what I naturally assumed was our biggest advantage – the tech itself. We created a DataOps platform that solved many real-world issues around data silos for SaaS-based businesses, based on actual pain points from our years of experience working in the industry. Assuming that everyone would be as wowed as us by the technical prowess of our product, one of our seed investors gave me a reality check.
“What you’re providing here is customer service,” he said. “You’re holding the client’s hand, because you know the challenges of the industry just like they do. This is the value you’re actually bringing to the table.”
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Know Your Client’s Talent
In order to connect with clients and demonstrate your product’s value to them, you need to understand their strengths and weaknesses. It’s critical to put yourself in their shoes and imagine how they will actually use a product. Think in practical terms instead of technical speak that doesn’t translate into usability. Look at ongoing disruptions in the industry and think about how your solution can help teams that are struggling to keep up.
The recent Apple “opt-in” tracking feature for iPhone users is a perfect example The update has spelled disaster for mobile-first companies, with only a miniscule 4 percent of U.S. iPhone users are giving permission for apps to track their activity for advertising purposes, throwing a major wrench in the system that’s been the standard for nearly a decade. Even industry giants like Facebook are feeling the pressure, as the opt-in model has suddenly deprived companies of valuable data that was the foundation of their businesses.
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If you have a product that can help in-house data teams navigate such a disruptive event, you need to seize on that – preferably in the least-tech focused way possible. While it may feel counter-intuitive to CTOs and developers, rather than delve deeply into the technical aspects of your solution, explain how your company can help mitigate impact and adjust to the new normal.
Client-Facing Strategy Must Be Part of Your DNA
Scores of pure technology companies, especially those focusing on SaaS solutions, struggle to make client-facing, people-first strategy part of their company DNA.
While their comfort zone might be the highly technical discussions around niche product features and how effectively their product can streamline, maximize, or optimize, it’s critical that company leaders go back to basics and learn from the service industry. The reassurance that you can give a client after an in-depth conversation about how your product can help them is something that can’t be imparted by even the best technical White Paper or case study.
You need to sell clients the entire solution, not just the feature. Zoom out and provide potential customers with a holistic, big-picture overview of how your product will be successfully integrated into their company, and what that will look like for day-to-day processes within the business. The mission is much larger than data integration or smashing data silos – it’s how adopting your solution will strengthen the company and the bottom line.
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After partnering with some 500 companies during the last 13 years that I’ve worked in the SaaS space, I’ve met entrepreneurs in a range of ecosystems spanning every possible aspect of the tech space, from MedTech to e-commerce. But I’ve discovered that across the board, nearly every time, executives are attracted to the companies that demonstrate real, clear value.
The power of your product lies in the real-world value you provide, and the ability for a CTO or CEO to easily understand how your solution will improve day-to-day business processes. Hone in on stoking that ember of hope – the idea that things could be done faster, better, and more efficiently. Presenting yourself as a partner whose values are routed in service, rather than tech, is the key to SaaS startup success.
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