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Building great SaaS apps

One of the best parts about doing client work is that we get to learn about a lot of businesses. Over the years we’ve worked with companies that sell magazines, security products, medical devices, clothing, and even lamps. While I love lamp as much as the next person, out of all the businesses we’ve had as clients, we particularly enjoy working with Software as a Service companies.

Software as a Service, or SaaS, is considered the king of business models in the tech startup world. If you can build something that provides enough value that your customers will pay a monthly subscription for it, you have a predictable and stable revenue stream. Compared to the traditional model of selling things piecemeal, it’s a really healthy way to run a business.

A good example of a SaaS business we’ve been working with recently is Checkfront. Checkfront is a great platform for businesses in the hospitality industry to manage bookings, payments, and reservations. While software in this segment can often be fairly user-hostile and “enterprisey”, Checkfront’s focus on small and medium businesses means the folks making purchasing decisions are also using the app. This means the user flows and experience matter greatly to their customers as much as they matter to us.

Last year we took on the challenge of building entirely new Checkfront apps for iOS and Android. They had previously built basic hybrid web apps that helped them prove they had demand for mobile apps, but it was time to deliver a polished native experience for their customers – a story we often see with SaaS companies.

When it comes to designing and developing mobile apps, SaaS companies actually have a lot of advantages. These products often start out as a desktop web app, where they’re rapidly iterated and prove out an initial customer base. That initial customer base is extremely valuable when building out a mobile app, since they make user research, usability reviews, and beta testing easier and more representative. SaaS users often care greatly about the products they use to get their job done, making them eager to share feedback and participate in making the software great.

Of course, these apps do have some challenges. SaaS users demand reliability and resilience – the occasional downtime or regression caused by a new OS update can tank your reviews much more quickly than for consumer-oriented apps. We’ve also found that SaaS apps are less useful as portfolio projects than more consumer-oriented apps are. This is partially because they rely on domain knowledge to fully understand the design goals and features, but moreso simply because they require a login and subscription which makes them harder to demo.

All that said, we really do enjoy working on SaaS apps. In a world where startups constantly come and go, it’s great to build a long-term relationship with a company and help them iterate and improve their product over the months and years.

If you have a SaaS product that could use a great mobile app, we’d love to hear from you. If you don’t – maybe now’s the time to build one!