Together with friends and colleagues from my university, we are currently developing a SaaS Startup. Our product is placed in the Edutech sector as it allows for new levels of co-creation, empowering learners and instructors to develop higher-quality professionalization programs collaboratively.
The first thing that I learned from other Startups was that the era of so-called minimal viable products (MVPs) appears to be over. There are several reasons for it. Firstly, the standard of products entering the SaaS market has risen tremendously in the past couple of years. People are not particularly interested in a product that is only 80% finished. Since many customers have already found some kind of digital solution for their problems, it is hard enough to get them excited to give new products a try. It is a highly competitive world out there.
This means that Startups have to perform a quantum leap from the first click-dummy to finding investors willing to support product development for a longer period. Startups with developers among their founding members have a clear advantage since they can create, at least partially, their prototypes and software models. Many social Startups have to deal with the Achilles‘ heel of paying external developers for the first steps which, however, can be mitigated since more and more developers enter the market offering a wide range of services.
This means that the first steps of concept development, UX and UI design as well as the click-dummy development, inclusive of a solid business plan, remain well within reach. Plus, you want to stay financially independent for as long as you possibly can. Currently, all the extra money that I make with freelance jobs, goes into our Startup.
However, Socialware is so much more than concept and development. When I sketched out the social interdependencies of our new technology, it became obvious to me that categories such as the essential conceptual building blocks, the creative framework, and user communities all influenced each other reciprocally. Unlike other types of software, such as, e.g. for the financial markets or business management, the evolution pipeline is far more determined by direct social interactions and human experiences, rather than automated systems and their functioning.
When you‘re dealing with people, people want to connect. They expect to network with peers, experts, support, or inspirational masters. People love to get invited to inspiring events, or simply access training materials to teach themselves. They do not expect a blank GUI yawning into their face. Or feel left alone staring at ‘latest projects’. Social Startups are in the people business, which means we are in the empathy business – connecting to people professionally in an empathetic and sincere manner. This is how we are holding back on chatbots that understand less than a goldfish, and avoid bombarding new customers with annoying customer survey pop-ups. Besides, many users have developed, to a fair extent, allergic reactions to overwhelming automated feedback systems.
For many software companies in the creative sector and the arts, creating social hubs has already become Best Practice. For example, when I fire up the ‚Steinberg‘ music composition software, I‘m by default greeted via a social hub, presenting essential How-To videos and expert insights. Or I get an invitation letter by ‚Camtasia‘ to the ‚TechSmith Academy‘ for masterclasses that not only give me tips on software features but provide other useful information such as writing scripts, how to improve workspace communication with visuals or video marketing. Please feel free to add your examples. The connection to customers is not just a nice optional feature in ‘forums’ – it is the basis of the business.
Likewise, we need to plan any kind of socio-digital environment from the ground up. The question is not so much ‚ What kind of software do you develop?‘ but ‚ How can you bring communities and your Startup together in such a way, so you can continue developing relevant products?‘. Human-centered design is a far cry from expecting the software to sell itself just because it promises fancy USPs. Don’t get me wrong. USPs are most critical, but we need to go one step further. If you are a people person, you will most likely encounter the most rewarding experiences. A good hub is like a hug, just in software.
Photography credit: Lauren Wood