SaaS: Exploring and evaluating product ideas.

There is a mountain of literature out there around the processes to be used for evaluating whether a particular product can yield some kind of commercial outcome. Some of these include doing things like SWOT (Strengths Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis to going out and doing painstaking market research.

I think it is important to get an appreciation for all of these but ultimately what they are trying to achieve is to take a little bit of the risk out of starting a venture so that you know that if you build something – someone will come and pay for it.

My problem is that in my head I have about a dozen ideas floating around and if I did extensive research on all of them then I’d probably die an old man before I got started on any one of them.

Part of the challenge is that they are in fact all in my head – so until I put them down on paper it is a little hard to really compare and contrast them. I’m hoping that I can crowd source some thinking with this one by writing down a few of the ideas that are bouncing around my head with a few of my most prominent thoughts. If you feel compelled share your thoughts in a comment or via a track back, go for it, I’m all ears.

The Executive Summary

Like I said, I have about a dozen ideas bouncing around my head that I need to get out. For those short on time I’ve produced this list which gives you the elevator pitch on each of them.

  1. TBAURL: this is a pretty simple idea. It is a site that you can visit where it gives you a unique URL (like http://tbaurl.com/12345) which you can then distribute via e-mail, blogs or whatever. When people visit the URL they see a page saying that the destination URL is “TBA” and that they can input their e-mail address to notify them when it is ready. The idea is that you can use this as a simple way to create marketing lists by people expressing their interest in something – building the buzz over a longer period without revealing exactly what you are doing, then just blasting out to all those that expressed interest that the URL is now available.
  2. Versatile Worker: had this idea when I participated in The Ultimate Escape up at Byron Bay. Truth be told the naming is actually a joint idea, but I connected it to my adventures when I went on tour earlier this year. As part of the experience I visited some co-working locations and I thought that as a bit of a road-warrior I could get kind of membership card that gave me reciprocal rights to work in co-working locations around the world. Kinda like auto-club memberships. The site would rate co-working locations and provide shared membership and accounting services.
  3. Household Portal: basically a portal designed not for an individual, but for a household. It would list key dates (bin night) as well as other local community information along with details about appliances in the home – like manuals for your oven. Other features would include things like shopping lists and recipes. Basically the beginnings of a home ERP system – HRP anyone?
  4. Personal Budgeting: most budget software sucks, or at least it doesn’t work the way I want. The idea here is to create a envelopes-system based budgeting package that I can use from anywhere. It would also integrate with other sites so say I am on the Telstra site, I could click a button and it would post bill information into my budget for future forecasting.
  5. Human Workflow: this is a combination web/iPhone/mobile-device thing. I think that workflow solutions today seem mostly targeted at either expert users or software developers (or business analysts). What I’d like is something just slightly simpler to use than Yahoo! Pipes which you could use on a mobile device, my first thought is an iPhone but the actual platform doesn’t matter too much.
  6. Expense Tracking: one of my biggest pains at the moment. I’m probably about five to six months behind in submitting my work expense claims. One of the painful things about expenses is that its hard to cross reference credit cards, paper receipts and the submission spreadsheet. It needs to be easier and I’ve got some ideas that make it easier to submit expense claims but also for business to track and forecast them.
  7. Asthma Management: whilst I was living in Canberra I was diagnosed with Asthma. For those people with Asthma, managing the condition can be a pain and attacks can sometimes creep up on you. At which point your GP (or doctor at hospital) will tell you off for not managing your asthma properly. What I’d love to do is build an online service where you can report your daily peak flow indicators and that information could be shared with your GP. If you don’t put in your peak flow, after a period of time it will nag you, and if you don’t respond to the nagging the doctor can call you up. I’d look at coupling it with a device that you attach to phones (or use via bluetooth) which you just blow into to get the information (about the size of a whistle). It would then send that information in via SMS.
  8. PowerShell Snap-In Development: most folks know that I am a huge PowerShell fan. As a developer the ability to easily interact with .NET objects as well as the other platform facilities that PowerShell exposes is really exciting. Every few weeks I stumble across some standard tool in use within enterprises and think “wouldn’t it be great if there was a PowerShell snap-in for working with this”. I suspect that is something that I’ll do anyway, whether it is commercial or not.
  9. Software Agent Interaction: in a world where we have “stuff” running in the cloud on our behalf as a kind of software agent. We are going to need a way of communicating with said agents and giving them instructions. However – if as a software developer I need to write the UX for prompting for every simple question it is going to quickly become tedious. The idea behind this is to create a set of web-services which headless software agents can call. The agents would identify the user (in a number of ways, e-mail, phone number etc) but the system would decide the best way based on presence information to contact the user.
  10. Incident Management and Tracking: when bad things happen that effect a  lot of people you need some way of coordinating a distributed effort. The idea here is that you can simply plan for any kind of incident (say a data centre outage) by identifying key systems and then associating the people or groups of people that would need to be be involved getting a resolution. The idea is that this is an out of band solution specifically focused on handling critical events.
  11. SaaS Payment and Configuration Platform: not sure if SaaSGrid from Apprenda will take care of this problem, but basically when you build a SaaS solution a major part of the solution is going to be building the billing and options control system. If I was a system administrator involved choosing a SaaS solution I’d want a really good control panel to understand what features my users at leveraging and how much it is going to cost me. SaaS solution vendors want an easy way to gather that information and process it. This platform would also need to provide security controls for granting and revoking rights.
  12. (I said about a dozen, not exactly a dozen – sheesh!) Update: OK, I have a dozen ideas. The last is a “worm” URL generator which you can use to get real-time feedback during an event based on how the audience receiving the information. We have some somthing similar at Readify already but I think it has a broader usage scenario.

Among other SaaS related posts I am hoping to explore each of these ideas to help me decide if any of them make sense. I know that some of these things aren’t SaaS offerings, but they are still things that I’m interested in building🙂

5 thoughts on “SaaS: Exploring and evaluating product ideas.

  1. Matt Ammerman

    Hi Mitch,

    You are right on about SaaSGrid. One of the core components of the platform is post-deployment operations management including metering your customers’ usage of your application’s features, and maintaining/tweaking how the application is sold to new customers.
    The perfect scenario is one in which an ISV can monitor feature usage and adjust pricing to flex with market demand.

    Also, thanks for the mention.

    – Matt

  2. Pingback: Cloud Feed » Blog Archive » Daily Cloud Feed - Oct 3, 2008

  3. Pingback: SaaS: Exploring the TBAURL idea. « notgartner

  4. Akshay Luther

    Hi Mitch,

    I though about a SaaS billing/payments service a few months ago and got pretty excited, until I found that a lot of people were already doing it … http://blogs.zdnet.com/SAAS/?p=484

    I think you’re right on the money though about SaaS applications becoming more mainstream and the opportunities this represents for entrepreneurs.

    Am following your SaaS posts with keen interest. Keep up the good work!

    Cheers,
    Akshay

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