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How I went about transitioning my agency into a SaaS products company

Posted by Benjamin Dell on .

building

How I went about transitioning my agency into a SaaS products company

Posted by Benjamin Dell on .

Back in December 2014, things were simple.

I was running a small but successful web development agency. We were growing year on year and had excellent clients, each with engaging projects to keep us busy.

We also had our own SaaS product, that was slowly starting to gain traction.

Things looked good; except they weren’t.

I wasn’t 100% satisfied that our efforts were being channeled in the right direction and that our gains were as big and as aligned as they should have been. In short, for all of its successes and achievements, this wasn’t ‘quite’ the future I’d envisioned years ago when I left full-time employment and launched my first business.

You see (and here’s the real problem at hand), I’ve always considered myself an ideas and a product man. Servicing clients, albeit some really amazing ones, was becoming more and more a departure from this passion, the more successful we got.

I am in love with the ideation process. Taking the nucleus of an idea and crafting it into something viable for the market it is destined to be dropped into. Like a newly crafted submarine being dropped into a vast ocean for the first time. Now that’s exciting! Not least because the launching of nautical vehicles (AKA my new products — I do hope you’re keeping up with me?) invariably involves the smashing open of a bottle of champagne and, for those that know me, I do like a good bottle! But I digress…

By the start of the new year, I’d come to a simple realisation — that continuing to grow my development agency was not where the future lied for me, or for the company. I decided I needed to shake things up. I set about devising a plan that would see us profitable in 3 years, not as a ‘service’ but as a ‘product’ company.

The strategy was simple. We’d take on a small amount of investment and/or debt and focus the business on building a portfolio of new products. With some presumably failing and others succeeding. This would be achieved by stripping the existing development agency down to its bare minimum. We’d keep just a handful of our existing clients — just enough of a group to enable the team to focus more of its time on our own products. I’d also factor in an intentionally conservative income target for the portfolio of products we would be launching over the coming months and years. In essence, I wanted an achievable roadmap and set of targets. I wanted every opportunity to overachieve on my promises.

Fast forward to May, 2015 and we’ve been following through on this strategy for a few months now. This is without doubt, a transition. A band-aid is slowly being peeled away from the skin; painful at times but ultimately moving in the right direction.

The team has expanded and we’re seeing progress made. Updatey (the SaaS product mentioned in the opening paragraphs) is undergoing a full re-design and is due to be re-launched soon. We’ve also started work on two new products (Onboard Tips and missinglettr).

Updatey's new workspace
Updatey's new workspace

Part of the new v3 release coming soon

We’re actually finding time to focus on our own products and that, in itself is a major victory!

Assessing the situation

This is the beginning of an exciting journey. We have barely left the starting line and so there isn’t too much for me to critique at this stage. While the transition is certainly proving to be slower than I had hoped, we are roughly where I projected we would be around this time. Suffice to say, perhaps the biggest challenge I’m facing right now, is how I manage my own time. I’m still juggling client work — albeit only sales and the larger, more important, meetings. As a result I’m finding that my team is having to pivot how and what they do, so that client related pressures on me are lessened.

Over the coming months and, dare I say it, years I will be following up on this post with more in-depth dissections, observations and lessons learnt. I’ll be stripping things right back and shedding some light into what it really takes to bootstrap your dream — whilst, simultaneously transitioning an existing service based company into something quite different. Not an easy task I can tell you!

Follow me on Twitter to keep up to date on the journey as it unfolds. Until the next post, bon voyage!

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Benjamin Dell