August 11, 2018

The first software business I ever built was a landing page builder for startups. It was called Everpage and people loved it. When I announced it, people commented: Omg, this is so cool. Going to recommend this to all the clients I write for!, I’d love to use this for my next project!, I’m sure this will blow up., I LOVE YOU, I needed this like YESTERDAY!, and I wish I knew about this a month ago.

As you probably expected, people loved it… but very few bought. After talking to my users, a pattern quickly emerged: I was building a product that people didn’t urgently need unless they were actively looking to build a landing page:

Customers only need my product if they need a website

Everpage was only easy to adopt if somebody urgently needed a landing page. Otherwise, it became a nice-to-have — and nice-to-haves are much harder to sell. I either needed to be the first thing on peoples’ minds for landing pages, I needed to compete with other page builders on advertising spend, or I needed to convince people to scrap their old homepage. (And if I added more features to widen the use case, I’d be competing with companies like Squarespace — not a good idea.)

Reflecting on this makes me realize that many successful SaaS businesses provide services that can be adopted at broader points in the customer timeline. For instance, people can adopt Intercom at any time once they’re in business:

Customers can adopt Intercom any time once they're in business

They can adopt Basecamp any time they need to manage a project:

Customers can adopt Basecamp any time once they're in business

They can adopt ConvertKit to validate their idea or market their product:

Customers can adopt ConvertKit at any time

They can adopt Typeform to do customer outreach:

Customers can adopt Typeform at any time

And even a business that provides a one-off late stage service is a little less risky:

Businesses with late-stage services have a long time to educate customers

Now take another look at my timeline:

Customers only need my product if they need a website

Basically, I learned that some SaaS businesses put themselves in a position where they can play the long game. They focus on converting a customer and growing along with their business, rather than trying to find them at a very short stage in their lifecycle. This means they can also spend more time on differentiating themselves with great UX (what I love to do) and less time getting in front of a customer as soon as that customer enters the market, which was hard for a little indie product like Everpage, even if people really really loved the idea.1

  1. Early-stage entrepreneurs also need products that are “free or cheap”, so these markets are harder for bootstrapped businesses to serve while still turning a profit. ↩︎