Dev Discussions: James Perkins of RollYourTweet on How to Create a Successful SaaS
Developer advocate and software engineer James Perkins of RollYourTweet.com has some sage advice for anyone looking to create the next big app:
”Your users don’t care about your tech stack.”
In a recent discussion with CoderPad’s Corbin Crutchley, James talks about his experience with creating a SaaS application and the lessons he learned from creating RollYourTweet.
He doesn’t mince words – the people who think your tech stack is cool probably are not going to be the people who are going to use it. More importantly, they’re not going to be the ones paying for it. The only reason users care about the technology you use is that it improves the product and their experience.
James – who regularly works with content creators as a Developer Advocate with Tina.io – added that “the content teams don’t care about tech, they just care if it solves their problems.”
Feedback before optimization
The conversation then delved into the time and place for optimization – and both Corbin and James agreed there were higher priorities for getting an app off the ground than optimization.
“Does the code work? Do we need to spend the time to optimize it now, or can it wait? It’s more important to get it in front of the users for feedback.”
Additionally, code can be too optimized and over-engineered. Frequently this kind of code can be complex, leading to readability issues.
This may not be an issue if you’re the only one working on the application. Still, if you ever plan to scale your application and bring in more developers to your team, it can quickly become a maintenance issue nightmare. Consider what would happen if you were hit by a bus (aka the bus factor) – would your teammates be able to maintain the code without you?
The “bus problem” is also an issue in Open Source Software Security, which we explore in this blog post.
That’s why James reiterated that a successful application focuses more on rapid iterative development than optimization.
You can’t please everyone
Corbin then asked James how he deals with both growing his product and the increased criticism that comes with that growth.
James’s answer? “Thick skin.”
James started his career in tech support, so he is no stranger to being yelled at by angry customers for ridiculous reasons.
He mentions that there are two types of angry people who call customer support:
- The people who are upset at the moment that something isn’t working. These folks usually calm down with time and reasonable effort to fix their issue.
- People who are chronically unhappy and will never like the product.
The former may be able to give you valuable feedback on the product (once they calm down). The latter are probably not worth your time.
SaaS success is 90% marketing and 10% code
While negative feedback can be helpful, James makes it a point to encourage his users to provide positive feedback – and he uses that process for marketing the product.
He has a “public roadmap” where users can suggest improvements to the product and then see as those suggestions are implemented. Not only does it show them what’s being worked on, but they also become involved in the development process, which makes them more invested in the product.
James will be the first one to tell you that marketing is hard, so one of his go-to strategies is “self-marketing” by just publicly answering questions about the product or just discussing a challenge he had to overcome.
For example, James recently took some feedback that he had received on Roll Your Tweet and turned it into a Twitter thread:
A note on analytics
Even though James doesn’t put a ton on emphasis on your tech stack, he still recommends using an analytics tool to inform your marketing efforts. Analytics will help understand how your users are using your website or application, and those insights should help you figure out how to convert people to take the action you want them to take.
First, be your own user tester. Run through the pages as if you were the customer you want, and watch what’s happening in your analytics dashboard.
Once you get that initial understanding of how the analytics work with your use case, move on to the “Mum test” (or “Mom test” if you’re from the west side of the Atlantic Ocean): Show your mom or any other friend or family member your website or application. Would they know what to do with it?
Again, look at your analytics dashboard as they’re going through your service. Where are they pausing? Where are they clicking? Are they using the back button a lot? Are they drawn to a particular feature?
Answering these questions can help you figure out what to fix and where to focus your marketing efforts.
SaaS creation was just one of many topics that James and Corbin discussed – other hot topics included James’ work with content management systems (CMS), including his time at Tina.io, and a brief discussion on JAMStack and the JSX/Markdown hybrid known as MDX. The entire Twitch stream is worth watching, and you can find it here.
Interested in more developer stories? Check out these three from our coworkers over at CodinGame in celebration of Women’s History Month: