Have We Forgotten What "SaaS" Stands For?

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January 31, 2023

Have We Forgotten What "SaaS" Stands For?

by Brian de Haaff

I recently described my writing as “often contrarian.” It was a quick line in an announcement describing a new personal newsletter that I just started. But upon rereading, I felt compelled to reflect on why my musings are so often at odds with the conventional thinking in SaaS circles. Many of my ideas are not that wild or even new. Yet for quite some time it seemed old-fashioned (even quaint) to suggest that value was the reason a software company should exist.

Wanton waste, growth at any cost, winner-take-all business decisions — this was not what inspired Chris and me to build a software company.

Every startup founder wants to make an impact. Adventure and achievement are what fuels most of the entrepreneurs I know. Myself included. Seeing the tangible results of your own efforts and the folks who join the journey as your teammates is enchanting and validating at the same time. But chasing financial gains cannot be the sole purpose of a business — especially not in companies that best grow over time like SaaS.

I was thinking about this after reading through the latest headlines about tech companies cutting costs in preparation for a downturn. Many of the big names announcing layoffs are industry stalwarts, but there are plenty of mid- to late-stage SaaS startups in the mix as well. It is easy enough to point at overzealous (and frankly reckless) over-hiring. But I do think there is an underlying issue worth examining.

It seems many folks have forgotten what “SaaS” actually stands for — that last “s” is for “service.”

The technology aspect of a software company is undeniably important. Product-market fit is essential. You need folks to join your team. You also need customers to choose your offering and be willing to pay for your solution to their problem. If the last few years have shown us anything, it is that for a period of time you might be able to secure all of the above — whether or not you care deeply about what you are doing and the people whom you are serving. As markets shift and challenges emerge, the cracks begin to show.

It may sound contrarian (again) but I am excited to see what the changes bring. Many great companies are started during downturns as people and resources become more available. I believe that the ones who succeed will do so by thinking about customers and service in a more grounded, yes, even old-fashioned way. So whether you are thinking about starting your own venture or looking to join a new company, I think there are a few critical questions worth pondering:

  • What is the broader mission that motivates you?

  • How clear are the company’s vision and values?

  • Do you truly empathize with customers?

  • Can everyone unite around serving those customers?

  • Will individuals be encouraged to achieve?

  • Is there a benefit to the community?

A software company exists in service of continual value — delivering what benefits your customer, your company, your community, and yourself.

It is time that we got back to the fundamentals. Not of tech, but of business and the privilege of creating something new. Let’s build companies and products that people love. Operate with integrity. Invest in helping people. Give everything to what you do. All goodness comes from starting there. The more value you deliver, the more value you can receive — that leads to the type of growth that is lasting. It is time to honor the last "s" in "SaaS."

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Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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