In this guide, you'll learn step-by-step methods you can use to find SaaS ideas that people will pay for. Following that, you'll learn a few ways to validate your idea before you go out and build the product.
When I was starting out as a bootstrapped founder, this was the guide I wish I had. I've gone through plenty of failed products before finally starting Vocalmatic, a product that solves a real problem that people are willing to pay for!
If you're interested, I also wrote a post on Keyword Research For SaaS. Check it out if you're at that stage of your bootstrapped journey.
Overtime, this article will get updated with new methods for finding SaaS ideas as they are discovered.
So, without further ado, take a look at the table of contents to see what you're getting into!
Table Of Contents
- Intro: What You'll Learn From This Article
- Change Your Focus: Focus On Finding Problems Over Finding Ideas
- Method #1: The Job Search Method
- Method #2: The App Store Method
- Method #3: The What-They're-Using-Excel-For Method
- Validate Your SaaS Idea: The Keyword Research Method
- Validate Your SaaS Idea: Keyword Research using UberSuggest
- Validate Your SaaS Idea: The Question Research Method
- Build Your SaaS Product: Build Your MVP, Fast
- Build Your SaaS Product: Split Your Time 50/50, Product Development and Marketing
Intro: What You'll Learn From This Article
When starting out, I had no clue how to build a SaaS product. I would come up with ideas, most of them fun, but none of them were something people would pay for.
Over the course of a few years, I've developed an eye for spotting product ideas I could build that people would pay for. This came from observing how companies operated from within at my full-time job as a developer, to consuming tons of articles, videos, and blogposts online about starting a SaaS business.
So, to help those interested in building SaaS products, I put together this course to speed-up the process of identifying products you can build.
But before we get into the methods, you have to change your mindset on all of this. Let's go over that in the next section!
Focus On Finding Problems Over Finding Ideas
To find good SaaS ideas, you need to change your focus.
What most people recommend is that you "find ideas". Not only is this advice that's hard to act on with no clear direction, but it's advice that can typically lead someone astray.
What you need to do instead is focus on finding problems that people have.
Once you've found a problem, it's pretty easy to come up with ideas on how to solve it!
Why Focusing On Problems Is Important
Hands down, it's because it's the fastest way to getting paid.
Here's why: problems themselves are grounded in 2 things - time and money spent. Solve either one of these with your product and people will be inclined to pay for your solution.
Let's talk about the Time Spent aspect. And let's imagine you're a Graduate Student Researcher.
(Just an FYI, I'm going to refer back to Vocalmatic quite a bit because I think it's a great example of a lot of the concepts outlined in this course)
As part of your research, you have to do a lot of interviews with people. And part of that requires that you transcribe your interview recordings into text.
Researchers probably have a lot of other things to do and take care of. Spending hours transcribing an interview can cut into the time they need to work on other things.
Here, they are experiencing the problem of spending a lot of time doing something that most don't find enjoyment in.
Now, lets take it a step further.
Let's say you want to instead outsource the work to a third-party to transcribe. You would have various options to go about doing it, but what you'll notice is it's pretty pricey to go this route.
What are your other options?
Well, I'd say a solution where they don't spend a lot of money and where it would cut down on the time it takes them to transcribe their recordings.
Automatic transcription software is a viable option if you aren't able to spend too much money, and are willing to put in some time to transcribe the audio into text.
Start paying attention to the problems that people are facing. Get a pulse on what people are saying they struggle with. From there, you'll be able to identify problems, which in turn can become products that solve those problems!
In the next section, we're going to go over the first method you can use to find SaaS ideas. All the methods we talk about are deeply grounded in the priciple of finding problems, so make sure you keep that in mind!
Method #1: The Job Search Method
Now that we've gone through how to change your mindset on finding a SaaS idea, I'd like to introduce The Job Search Method.
As mentioned in the previous section, the Job Search Method is deeply grounded in finding problems that people have. It will lead you right to the problems that people have.
Let's jump right in to the Job Search Method!
Step 1 - Find an Industry
Before finding problems, we have to choose an industry. I like to use this website when trying to find an industry to explore.
What you're going to notice is that there are TONS of industries to choose from. This, of course, is a great thing as it means there are plenty of opportunities out there.
Take some time to go through the list of industries - read up on the Wikipedia pages and blog posts on it or maybe watch a few videos on YouTube to learn how things operate in an industry.
It might take some time, but once you've found an industry that is interesting enough to you, what you want to do is to start learning about the types of jobs that exist in those industries.
Step 2 - Find Jobs Within That Industry
To find jobs in an industry, simply put the industry name right into a job search engine, such as Indeed.
For example, if I decided to choose the Car Dealers industry, I would enter "car dealers" into Indeed.
The term "car dealers" isn't a job, but what Indeed will do is show you jobs within that industry. This will be your starting point to finding even more jobs that exist in that industry.
Within the search results for "car dealers", a job that came up as "Service Manager". Let's use this as an example for the next step.
Step 3 - Pay Attention To The Job Description
Now that we've found a job, we can start to dig into the job description.
Here, what you're looking for are the responsibilities that this job requires. This is the core of this method.
After reading through the job description, what you need to do is pay attention to the terms that are the job responsibilities of that person and to see if that job responsibility has any relevance to a software product.
Step 4 - Start Building Search Keywords Based On Your Findings
Here's the formula for creating a keyword that you need to use to find potential SaaS ideas, based on what you found in the job description:
Job Responsibilty + the words "management software"
For example, as a Service Manager, you need to "ensure compliance with Health and Safety regulations". That is a job responsbility. Now, combine with "management software" and you get the full keyword of, say, "Health and Safety management software".
Great! We now have a lead to a potential SaaS product. All you have to do now is enter that keyword into a search engine like Google and see what comes up.
In a future section, we'll dive a bit deeper into using keywords to validate your idea, but for now here is a list of things to watch out for as you search for the term "health and safety management software":
- Are there ads trying to advertise for this type of product?
- Do other products exist out there for the keyword you entered?
- Are there other related terms that come up that you can use to further refine your search?
If there are signs that other products exist out there, such as people advertising their products, then that's a really good thing. It shows it's a validated market and that people are willing to pay money for software solutions.
The Job Search Method helps you find problems that people have, based on their job description. It's a repetable method that you can use to narrow down your search for finding SaaS ideas.
In the next section, we'll go over another method, called the App Store Method!
Method #2: The App Store Method
App Stores are a great place to find SaaS ideas. They exist to solve problems for users of a particular platform, so it's pretty easy to find the ideas within them.
Best of all, app stores are where other people have done the hard work to validate an idea by simply having an app on the app store!
Let's go over the steps to finding a SaaS idea using the App Store Method:
Step 1 - Choose an App Store
There are plenty of app stores you can choose from. The one that I like to use is the Shopify App Store.
Other app stores that you could explore are:
- Apple App Store
- Salesforce AppExchange
- Big Commerce App Store
- Chrome App Store
- Google Play Store
And many more. In this guide, we'll mostly focus on the Shopify App Store, although the principles are all the same.
Step 2 - Choose a Category
Within the Shopify App Store, they've organized the apps based on category, such as marketing, customer support, and inventory management.
Select any category that interests you. We will be going deeper into the category to find the types of apps that fall in each category.
Step 3 - Sort the Results
Once you've chosen a category, what you want to do is sort the results of the apps that are in that category from top to bottom, based on review or installations.
You want to be able to filter out the apps that are the most popular, so you can see what type of apps people on the platform are most likely to use or buy.
Step 4 - Find the 1 Star Reviews
After selecting one of the top apps, navigate to their review section. Then, filter the reviews by the 1 star reviews.
You'll be shown the reviews of the application where people are pretty unhappy with the app. Some will be detailed, others will be simple sentences expressing their disatisfaction.
As you read through, pay attention to reviews where people discuss things that are severely lacking from the app. This is where the problems that users really care about will surface.
Knowing these short comings will be your competitive advantage in solving the problem that their app was supposed to.
Step 5 - Use your findings to come up with a SaaS Idea
After going through the steps above, you should be able to come up with an app idea to build.
Remember, the app that you found exists to solve a problem, so you could simply imitate the app.
But instead of flat-out imitating it, you should focus on building an app that solves the main problem and sovles the problems you've identifed in Step 4!
Method #3: The What-They're-Using-Excel-For-Method
And finally, we've come to what I like to call the What-They're-Using-Excel-For Method.
Yes, I'm talking about the spreadsheet software from Microsoft, or if you use Google Sheets, that works too. The name could also be What-They're-Using-Spreadsheets-For method as well!
Here is what you need to do to put this method into action:
Listen to what people use spreadsheets for
If you're into this like I am (and you probably are, since you're reading this!), start paying attention to what people are using Excel for in their day-to-day jobs.
As we described in the first method of finding SaaS ideas, you can ask clarifying questions when people describe what they do at their jobs. If a task they mention sounds like they might be using spreadsheets for it, just ask them "what software do you use to do that?".
Two things will happen.
One, they will tell you about a piece of software they use to solve that problem for them.
Or two, they will tell you that they have a spreadsheet to help them solve that problem.
Either way, it's a win-win. If they talk about using spreadsheets for that task, you could find out further if software would make their lives easier and if that is something they (or their company) would pay for!
Now that we've gone through the 3 methods you could use to find SaaS ideas, it's time to validate these ideas. The best way to validate ideas is to talk to potential customers, but the follow sections will go over how to validate your idea without having to talk to potential users.
Validate Your SaaS Idea: The Keyword Research Method
Want to learn keyword research a little more in depth? Check out this post on How To Do Keyword Research For SaaS
Now that you've come up with a SaaS idea, the next step is validating your idea. In this section, we’ll talk about how to validate your idea using Keyword Research.
The overall goal is to find keywords that people are searching for that will surface your SaaS idea. In this section, we’ll refer back to the example from the Job Search Method of “Health and Safety Management Software”.
Enter your SaaS idea into Google Keyword Planner
Before you can use Google Keyword Planner, you need a Google Ads account. It’s free to make one so go ahead a register here.
Once you’ve registered, go to the Google Keyword Planner tool. There, you would enter the keyword “health and safety management software”.
After entering your keyword, Google’s Keyword Planner will give you a range of numbers based on the number of searches that happen per month. They will also give you the price per click.
Generally, the higher the number, the more people are searching for these keywords, meaning it's what people are interested in finding a solution for.
Here’s what the result for “health and safety management software” looks like:
What you’ll notice is that there are a good amount of searches for this term! There are also other keyword ideas to help expand your reach.
This is a good sign, as it shows people are searching for a solution to this particular problem.
Just a side note to keep in mind - there will be ideas that you come across that don’t have the same kinds of results. If that’s the case, try finding another idea, as this one might not be worth putting the effort into!
Enter your keyword into Google Search
In step 1, you saw that there were people searching for your keyword, and related keywords as well.
Now, it’s time for you to enter the keyword yourself into Google Search.
To further validate your keyword and idea, what you should do is:
- See if there are ads that appear for your keyword
- Look at the top organic results to see if there are other similar software out there
If your search shows any or both of these results, it’s a pretty safe bet to say that people are looking for this type of solution. In other words, you can say your product idea is validated!
Further checks you can do is to research deeper into the other solutions out there. Do things like research their pricing and to learn more about their products as well.
Validate Your SaaS Idea: Keyword Research using UberSuggest
In the previous section, we went over using Google Adwords for your keyword research. They have a tool called the Keyword Planner.
In this section, I want to introduce another tool you can use that is free and doesn't require you sign up for an account. It's called UberSuggest!
It's a keyword research tool much like the keyword planner, where you can enter your terms and get the same information, such as search volume.
So, go ahead and try it out for your keyword research here.
Validate Your SaaS Idea: The Question Research Method
Another method you can use to validate your SaaS idea is to use the Question Research Method.
Although the main purpose of the method is to validate the idea, it has two other important outcomes:
1) You'll start to uncover the competitors in the niche of your product
2) You'll start to find the types of questions and answers around your product
This will form the basis of your SEO marketing strategy for getting your product in front of potential customers
Let's dive into the Question Research Method
Step 1 - Start with a "What" question
To start with a "What" question, simply enter the search term: "What is (your SaaS idea)"
For example, you can enter "What is Health and Safety management Software?" into Google
Keep in mind, we are relying on Google to surface other related terms and questions about the keyword that we entered. We're pretty much getting started with going down the rabbit hole of understanding what Google returns as answers to search queries.
After entering that term, google will return results that look something like this:
Here's what you should pay attention to:
- New Keyword: "Health and Safety Software" is also known as EHS Software. Great! Another keyword to look into.
- A Potential Competitor in the space: Cority.com seems to build EHS related software. This alone validates that your SaaS idea is something that people purchase.
From that search alone, I'd feel pretty confident that the Health and Safety Management Software route is a validated one. There other other terms that describe that keyword (jargon in the industry) as well as competitors out there.
Step 2 - Repeat the process with the other "W" Questions
In Step 1, we tried the "What" question. Now that we have an understanding on what EHS / Health and Safety software is, we can put our questioning hat on and ask further questions about that type of software.
Some examples include:
- How does EHS software work?
- Where does EHS software get used?
- What industries use EHS software?
- Who uses EHS software?
With questions like these, you'll start to uncover more and more competitors and potential avenues of breaking into the market with your SaaS product.
To wrap it all up, start by asking Google questions about your new found keyword from your SaaS idea. Then, pay close attention to the results that are returned by Google to find Competitors and New Keywords that you can use to learn more about the industry.
Once those start to surface, you can decide whether or not to pursue this idea further. This method will at least give you an idea of how to go about bringing your product to market.
Build Your MVP, Fast
Now that you've figured out a SaaS idea and have validated the idea, it's time to start building the first version of your product.
What you want to focus on is building the core functionalities of the product and getting it out there as fast as possible.
There are two reasons why you want to build it as fast as possible. The first, is it lets you test the market to see if people really do want your product. You can even start off with just a waitlist sign up, while describing exaclty what it is that your product does.
The second reason, and this is more long-term thinking, is that while you are building your product, search engines like Google will already know you exist. That way, when you publish any new blog posts or any type of content on your website, it wouldn't take long for it to rank.
An example of when you take too long to build something
Back in 2017, I spent 8 months building a product that no one wanted. I went crazy with building a fully featured product.
It was a very big time sink!
Ever since then, I learned not to spent too much time building out something fully featured, but instead, build something simple with the core features and test the waters to see if people will use the product at all.
Read all about my failure, which I'm actually really proud of, here!
Build Your SaaS Product: Split Your Time 50/50, Product Development and Marketing
And finally, the last thing I want to teach you about is splitting your time between product development and marketing. This idea is borrowed from an amazing book called Traction.
As your are building your SaaS product, be sure to spend half your time on marketing and half your time on developing the product. A SaaS business requires both to work.
From your marketing efforts, you build up a userbase where you can get ideas for new features. You will also learn how best to develop for the users you are attracting.
From your product development efforts, they will be driven by feedback that come from your users.
Having both working in sync will be vital to growing your SaaS product and business!