Robert Ochtel’s Blog

An Experienced Approach to Venture Funding

First Time Entrepreneurs, Developing a “Capital Efficient” SaaS Company Requires Work, Dedication and Diligence

Every five years or so, venture capitalists develop a new mantra with regard to their investment philosophies. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s the mantra was “synergy”.  Towards the turn of the century and shortly thereafter, the new mantra was “scalability”.  Today, in a risk adverse environment, venture capitalists’ new mantra is “capital efficiency”.  This is especially true for start-up companies looking to develop Software as a Service (SaaS) companies. What does this really mean to entrepreneurs – spend less and so that venture capitalists can achieve a higher return on their early stage investment.  With the development of the SaaS business model, there has been a simultaneous emergence of offshore software development houses in India, Russia, Pakistan and other countries that provide Internet-focused software development services that support significantly lower labor rates that can provide equivalent services at a much lower cost than can be achieved with local software development teams in developed countries.  This is very attractive to both investors and entrepreneurs as it provides a means to facilitate capital efficiency with the delivery of a high-quality product.  In what follows is a short discussion regarding some of the issues facing entrepreneurs looking to take advantage of this offshore “capital efficient” business model on their way to developing a successful SaaS product offering.

Understand the Details

Given the geographic and time differences required by using offshore talent to develop your start-up company’s SaaS product offering, you must take the time and effort to understand the details of your SaaS product requirements.  This includes developing a proper functional specification. This document must be detailed enough to outline all of the capabilities and requirements of the website application and database. This is very important, as you need to provide a basis for which your offshore development team with the ability to analyze the needs and requirements from the technical side so that they can provide proper estimates of the total development costs and associated schedule.

During this process you also need to make a clear delineation between design and development activities.  Both are clearly different in focus and function.  During the design, generally done locally, you need to have a designer focus on the website look and feel and he necessary user interactivity that makes your website function as desired.  This needs to be accomplished before development begins. The end result or delineation point is generally the delivery of a complete architectural specification with an appropriate number of design files (.psd files) to your offshore development team.  The offshore development team then takes these results and does the necessary programming in the appropriate language for the targeted end application (e.g., website, Smartphone app, or tablet app).  The key here, to achieve successful results, is to proper delineate your requirements in a functional specification, understand the details of the design development process, and identify the proper handoff point so that both parties can do their respective jobs appropriate and deliver a successful SaaS product offering.

Get Multiple Quotes and Understand Their Differences

As in any business transaction it is important to get multiple quotes from different service providers.  If this is your first time developing a SaaS product offering, you will need to ask a lot of questions to fully understand the differences between the various quotes, their costs, and delivery schedules.  You also necessary need to understand what is required from you as the customer.  Questions you need to answer can include:

  • Do you require a project manager with the appropriate expertise to manage the process from on-shore?
  • How often will you interface with the development team?
  • What are the development milestones?
  • What do you need to deliver so that that development can proceed as required?
  • Is this a “platform” based development or a “custom” development?
  • Is there any license fees (one-time or recurring) associated with final product?
  •  What does the development contract look like?
  • What are the service and support terms, conditions and costs?
  • Where will the development be hosted?
  • Who will host the production product offering and what are the costs?

As delineated above, there are several different scenarios that you can run into when looking to source your offshore development overseas.  Make sure you get multiple quotes and that you thoroughly understand each quote and the differences between each.  Remember, the most inexpensive quote and shortest schedule may cost you more in the long run. In addition, you need to make sure you do not enter into a development contract that will tie you hands when you try to sell your start-up company. 

Check References

You need to do a reference check on your service provider(s). This is necessary and appropriate.  Remember you are putting the future of your start-up company in the hands of a stranger.  So, unless you get a recommendation from a trusted source, you need to do your due diligence and check at least three references.  In addition, develop a list of questions that covers all of your bases. This will do two things. First, it will allow you to ask the same questions to different reference sources to see how each responds. Second, it also provides you with a dialog in which to drive the conversation. During your reference check discussions, you may get off track, but you will have your reference list of questions keep you going forward as you move through the reference check.  Finally, ask tough questions to see how the references respond. This can include:

  • “What didn’t you like about the development team?”
  • “What would you do differently in the future?”
  • “Would you use them again for a future project?” 

 These types of questions provide the reference person with the ability to respond honestly to things that they would not necessarily bring up on their own.  These same questions will also provide you with a comfort level that cannot be achieved any other way.  Hence, by the time you are finished with your reference checks you will have a good feeling as to whether you want to move forward with this service provider or not.

The development of the SaaS business model and the requirement for “capital efficiency” from venture capital investors has required entrepreneurs to look overseas for their software development.  With the low cost of labor and the highly skilled readily available labor force, using an overseas software development team can significantly lower development costs and provide for the necessary capital efficient model deemed necessary by today’s venture capital investors. When looking to source their development from overseas, entrepreneurs need to necessarily understand the details of their development get multiple quotes and understand the differences, and check references.  By going through this process you will help facilitate a successful development and the delivery of a product offering that meets your requirements.

This information was taken from Robert’s new book: “Business Planning, Business Plans and Venture Funding – A Definitive Reference Guide for Start-up Companies”.  Available at www.amazon.com.

July 12, 2010 Posted by | Venture Capital | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment