Lessons From A Failed SaaS - Building SaaS #37


In this episode, we talked about the things I learned from my SaaS project and some of the reasons why it failed to succeed financially. We dug into the technical and marketing challenges that I faced and what went wrong.

I’m shutting down my side project, College Conductor. The SaaS never achieved a sustainable level of success. I started the site to help my wife with her college consulting business. As you can see from what follows, the site didn’t mange to deliver what she (or anyone else) really needed.

The format of this stream was different from usual in that we weren’t looking at code. We did a retrospective. Retrospectives are a fairly common practice in the software industry. They are a chance to reflect on what you did to analyze the good or bad of a project to learn from it. Most retrospectives occur at the end of a release cycle (often 2 week for an “Agile” team).

So, what did I learn from this SaaS product? A lot.

Boring technology

We started the discussion covering my initial inspriration and approach with this article on choosing boring technology. The article discusses picking safe technology so you can focus on the real core of the product. It also includes the idea of innovation tokens. These tokens are a fixed supply of novel things that you can include in your project before you are overcome by the risk of the novel solution space.

I thought I spent an innovation token on Ember, but what I failed to realize was all the extra stuff that using Ember brought along. My lack of knowledge slowed me down when speed was paramount to deliver value on the product.

Because I over-architected my software design, I spent way too much time developing features that I could have produced faster with a simpler approach.

Rolling your own deployment

I also talked about the drag from doing all the deployment myself. Starting your own server and maintaining it can be fun, but it’s definitely a headwind if you’re trying to produce a product quickly. Over time, my deployment tool of Ansible hindered me because I had to focus on stupid little tasks when I should have been focused on the product.

I also did a bunch of new things (and spent more innovation tokens) on Let’s Encrypt, Postgres database backups, server hardening, and other tasks that all distracted me from delivering. By the time I had these things configured, I lost my wife’s interest in the product and never recovered.

Wrong focus

My biggest take-away from the whole experience was that I focused on the wrong things. Technology sucked me and I failed to create a Minimum Viable Product.

I learned a ton about development with the project that will help me in the future, but College Conductor is never going to be a true success story.

The future

In the next stream, we’re going to start a brand new project! I’ll outline the goals for the project and describe what I’m going to differently to give a better chance of success.