SaaS Development Guide: Key Roles, Frameworks & Hiring Methods

Dayana Mayfield

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SaaS (software-as-a-service) has completely taken over the software world. 99% of businesses today use at least one SaaS application. 

SaaS development refers to the process of building a SaaS app. The recurring subscription model might be both proven and popular—but there’s a ton of disagreement around how to actually develop a high-quality product. 

Should your prototyping process by high-fidelity or low-fidelity?

How should you implement agile development?

Which development framework is best for SaaS?

When you get down into the weeds, nothing is cut and dry. That’s why we pulled from our decade of experience developing SaaS products to bring you no-nonsense insights into the most important aspects of development. 

What is a SaaS application?

A SaaS application is any software that utilizes the software-as-a-service business model, meaning that clients pay a monthly subscription or annual contract value to receive software and customer support. 

The term SaaS is frequently used in the business-to-business (B2B) arena. SaaS products are used by corporate professionals and small business owners every day. Some of the most common types of SaaS products include customer resource management systems (CRMs), marketing software, and accounting software. 

Key benefits of developing a SaaS application

A SaaS application affords your business several key benefits:

  • Popularity - By 2025, 85% of all business applications will be SaaS. By choosing the SaaS model you can meet users’ expectations. 

  • Costs - SaaS applications are less expensive to develop than on-premise solutions.

  • Delivery - SaaS products can be easily delivered to customers via a cloud provider. Immediately upon purchase, customers can unlock the right features according to their plan. 

  • Maintenance - Especially when built with modern frameworks like Laravel and Vue.js, SaaS platforms can be maintained in a cost-effective way. Product teams can add new features quickly.

  • Scalable - SaaS products are far more scalable than traditional software. Through optimizing the performance of your servers and features, you can continuously grow your user base.

Key roles and responsibilities for SaaS development

Below, we take a look at the essential roles required to develop a SaaS product, as well as their main responsibilities. 

saas development teamProduct strategists

You’ll want a few people on board for product strategy so you don’t operate on assumptions. Founders, co-founders, CTOs, financial advisors, and agency strategists can all assist in finding product-market fit. 

Responsibilities:

  • Market research

  • Clarifying the product vision

  • Determining technical feasibility

  • Keeping developing under budget

  • Defining key metrics to track

Product manager

You’ll also need a product manager on board to both manage and support your developers. Ideally, this person will have technical experience and might have been a developer in the past, so they truly understand how to manage everyone effectively. 

Responsibilities:

  • Create and maintain the backlog

  • Develop the product roadmap

  • Manage the entire product development lifecycle

  • Collaborate with all other roles throughout development

  • Track and analyze product metrics

  • Collaborate on go-to-market messaging

Developers

Depending on the complexity of your product, the size of your team, and the development frameworks you choose, you will need a combination of frontend, backend, and full-stack developers.

Responsibilities:

  • Write clean and maintainable code

  • Develop features according to the product roadmap

  • Test and debug code

  • Review code

  • Work with DevOps and QA teams

UX designer

The UX designer is a critical part of the success of your product. You want a designer who can create Silicon Valley-style design and meet user expectations for software that is intuitive and easy to learn. 

Responsibilities:

  • Conduct user research

  • Create user personas and user journey maps

  • Design wireframes, prototypes, and mockups

  • Collaborate with developers to ensure design clarity

  • Test and optimize UX

QA testers

It’s important to also have QA testers on your team. While developers should test their own code, it’s not enough to only have developers available for testing. QA engineers specialize in finding bugs through a variety of methods.

Responsibilities:

  • Develop test plans and test cases

  • Execute manual and automated tests

  • Perform regression testing during product updates

  • Report on bugs

  • Collaborate with developers to proactively ensure quality

DevOps engineers

DevOps engineers manage software deployment and continuous delivery. They also ensure the performance of your product and servers.

Responsibilities:

  • Implement continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines

  • Improve infrastructure provisioning and configuration

  • Manage cloud services and resources (AWS, Azure, etc.)

  • Implement containerization with Docker nd Kubernetes

  • Improve uptime and disaster recovery practices

Top hiring methods for SaaS application development

When developing a SaaS application, you need to hire all of the essential roles and get everyone working together on the same page.

You can build your team yourself, or outsource the entire project. Here are the top hiring methods. 

In-house teams 

For established companies, in-house teams are the most common method for managing SaaS development. Sometimes, talent is hired on in a contract position, but usually people are full-time employees. 

Pros:

When you hire in-house, you guarantee that employees are working 100% on your product and can devote all of their working hours to your company. You can create in-house development playbooks, securely own all of your proprietary data, and have full control over the entire development process. 

Cons:

Managing a SaaS development team requires a lot of experience. Most new startups lack management expertise. If you attempt to assemble an in-house team yourself, you run the risk of failing to keep everyone on track and progressing towards delivering value to users. You could end up wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars very quickly.

Product agencies

Another option is to hire a software development agency that manages the process end-to-end. This company should offer all of the talent you need as well as optimized development playbooks to ensure a fast go-to-market speed

Pros:

Product agencies fully manage the entire development process, so you can focus on customer strategy, marketing, and sales. The right agency should offer services to help you validate your product, including strategy workshops, prototyping, and user testing. They should help you deliver value to your end users—and not just focus on coding. 

Cons:

When working with a SaaS development agency, you won’t have complete control over the product. Your agency will be utilizing their favorite development practices and calling a lot of the shots. Make sure to communicate with them regularly about the customer strategy to ensure that you’re aligned. 

You could run into issues if and when you want to take over the product and develop it in-house. So before you select a company, make sure they offer smooth handover and will train your team as needed.

Freelancers 

You can also assemble a team of freelancers, or add freelancers to your in-house team to quickly augment your staff when you’re behind on hiring. 

Pros:

It can take just a few days to hire a freelancer from a platform like Toptal or Turing. Many of these freelancer networks offer some sort of vetting process, such as skills tests and interviews, so much of the vetting is done for you. This way, you can quickly access the talent you need and keep SaaS development team moving forward.

Cons:

Of course, just because a freelancer is vetted doesn’t mean they will seamlessly fit into your existing team. They’ll come with their own favorite frameworks and their own ideals surrounding best practices. It can take a lot of time to get someone onboarded, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to deliver what they promised during the interview. 

Outsourced dev shops 

The last option is dev shops. These companies are similar to product agencies in that the process is fully managed, but they tend to focus less on product strategy and more on delivering good code. 

Pros:

On the plus side, if you choose the right dev shop, you’ll get optimized, lightweight code. The team will likely spend their time making your technology more scalable and managing microservices, message queues, cloud infrastructure, and containerization. The uptime and performance should be high. 

Cons:

On the downside, dev shops that overly technical in their focus tend to ignore product strategy. They’re so busy perfecting performance that they completely fail to see the true purpose of the product. They don’t develop prototypes, ask deep questions about your industry, or speak directly with target users. 

If you work with this type of agency, you’ll need to constantly wrangle their efforts and keep them on track with delivering real value. 

The best languages and development frameworks for SaaS applications

To develop a SaaS application, whether a web app, mobile app, or desktop app, you need the right frameworks. These are the best for building SaaS:

  • Laravel - Laravel is our top choice for SaaS application development. Laravel makes it easy for developers to write lightweight, readable code. Plus it has tons of ready-to-go modules that reduce the cost of your project, allowing developers to quickly implement essential features instead of coding everything from scratch.

  • Vue.js - Vue.js is the top JavaScript framework for web applications. Vue.js is simple to write and maintain for skilled JavaScript and HTML developers.

  • Node.js - Node.js makes JavaScript quicker, in order to eliminate wait times between requests. The result is a faster, smoother experience for your end user. You also get the ability to use JavaScript as a unified programming language for the server side and client side of your application.

  • React - Powerful for both web applications and mobile applications, React helps us create intuitive and simple user interfaces at a much faster speed than other UX options.

  • Angular - Developed primarily by the Angular Team at Google, Angular is the platform that allows Google’s largest applications to scale across the globe to millions of users. It’s an important framework for fast-growth SaaS products.

  • Electron - Electron is a framework for creating native desktop applications using languages designed for websites, primarily HTML, CSS and JavaScript. By enabling developers to use these widely known languages to build web apps, Electron allows developers to save time and write code that works across multiple operating systems (iOS, Windows, and Linux). 

How to build a SaaS application

There are 9 key steps to building a SaaS application.

steps to build a saas application

  1. Ideate the problem - Start off with a strategy workshop where all stakeholders discuss the target user and define their main problems. Stick to three to four related problems you can solve with one platform. 

  2. Design a prototype - Once you’ve determined the ideal solution for your target user, have your UX designer create a prototype. We highly recommend that you start off with a low-fidelity prototype first so that designers can focus on the core user flows without worrying about design elements.

  3. Validate your prototype with real users - Next, find target users with our favorite platform, UserTesting. Show them your prototype and get their unbridled feedback. Develop a high-fidelity prototype once your life one is validated and get feedback from additional users. Make sure that the prototype solves their most pressing problem and that they’re willing to pay for it. 

  4. Create the backlog - Now it’s time to craft the backlog required to develop this product. Add all of the essential development tasks to your backlog in Jira. 

  5. Develop the first version - Work together as a team to develop the minimum viable product, also known as Version 1 of your product. 

  6. Test your application - Have your quality assurance team test the product, using both automated and manual testing methods. Have QA testers explore the app ad hoc as real users would. Fix any issues.

  7. Deploy your application - After the initial round of development and testing, it’s time for your DevOps team to securely deploy your application to the cloud. Launch it with beta testers, sell it to target companies, and start generating revenue.

  8. Develop new features - As you go along, you’ll need to continuously add new features from your roadmap. Prioritize features that have a high impact on your target users and will encourage people to sign up. 

  9. Continuously test and deploy updates - Make sure to also test your app continuously as well. Your DevOps team should deploy updates weekly or every two weeks. Hot fixes will also be required to resolve bugs that are detected by your QA team or users. 

SaaS application development best practices

To develop a SaaS app that competes to win, follow these essential best practices.

Use a dual-track agile approach

It’s not enough to follow an agile style approach to SaaS development. You need to take things up a notch with dual-track agile.

Dual-track agile offers a way to continuously improve your product after you launch Version 1. Your strategy and design team will concurrently run delivery sprints so that all new ideas are vetted before they get added to the product roadmap. Meanwhile, the delivery team works on building ideas that have already been approved.

Create a prototype and test it with users

Make sure that you prototype your concept—no matter how confident you feel about your SaaS idea or how well you know your audience.

The prototyping and user testing process is essential for reducing business risk. It’s your chance to get real user feedback before you invest tens of thousands of dollars into development.

Rely on the Jobs to Be Done framework

If you get stumped when coming up with a solution to users’ problems, try the Jobs to Be Done framework (JTBD).

JTBD helps you clarify your target audience and product value by focusing on the tasks that users want to complete. The simplest example is this: people don’t buy a hammer because they want a hammer, but because they want to hang a picture. 

Write a list of the most important goals users want to achieve with your platform. Break those goals down into tasks. Now, you’ve got the start of a user story map that can guide your MVP.

Hire a technical product manager

Product managers struggle to manage engineers if they don’t have technical expertise and prior development experience. That’s because they try too hard to control the team, when what they really need to do is support developers.

Google figured this out over 20 years ago, when they kickstarted their Associate Product Manager program to train up computer scientists to be technical PMs.

But unfortunately, too many companies are still giving PM roles to people who only know how to focus on business strategy. You can have your founder and product strategist focused on business initiatives. Make sure that whoever is in charge of devs has technical skills.

Adopt a product engineering mindset

It’s dangerous to hire and build a team of developers that is focused too heavily on technical details. If they only obsess over delivering error-free code, you’re in trouble. 

Your engineers should be focused on building a product—not coding. It’s a mindset shift. Coding is secondary to the ultimate goal of building useful features. 

You can help your engineers make this mindset shift by continuously speaking about user needs in meetings. Make sure that all technology improvements have a real purpose.

Use technology that makes it easy to put users first

Some frameworks make it easier to focus on users than others. Laravel is the ideal development framework for SaaS companies for a variety of reasons. The excellent documentation allows developers to make decisions according to architecture best practices. 

The platform focuses heavily on the developer experience and has a ton of pre-built fundamental SaaS features so your team can focus on building functionality for your unique target audience. 

Create a SaaS business plan

Create a business plan to clarify your funding, calculate your runway, and guide development. You can use our SaaS business plan template, the 1-Page SaaS Blueprint.

This template offers a thorough approach to business plan creation, specifically for SaaS companies. It includes:

  • Your unfair advantages

  • Funding plan

  • Target users and early adopters

  • Problem and solution statements

  • List of existing alternatives

  • Pilar feature and user story map

  • Revenue model and GTM channels

  • Financial spreadsheet tracker

  • Annual expenses

  • Revenue projections

  • Break-even point calculation

Sign up for the 1-Page SaaS Blueprint Challenge.

Cost of SaaS application development

The average cost to develop a new SaaS application is $75,000 to $100,000. This rate is based on hiring a SaaS development agency for a time period of 5 to 7 months—the ideal timeline for launching a minimum viable product.

Of course, many SaaS applications cost far more to develop, especially if the agency isn’t skilled in MVP strategy or takes too long to develop the concept. 

When developing with an in-house team, the cost will also be much higher, as you’ll need to pay for all of the required benefits for full-time employees. 

FAQs about SaaS application development?

Still need more insights? Check our answers to frequently asked questions about SaaS application development. 

What is the difference between a SaaS app and a web app?

A SaaS application refers to the business model of a recurring subscription (annual or monthly) for cloud-based software. Most SaaS applications operate as web apps, meaning they’re accessible through any modern web browser. However, some SaaS companies also offer a desktop application. 

A web application, on the other hand, doesn’t refer to the business model, but rather any application accessible via a web browser. Many ecommerce websites and social media platforms are actually web applications. 

What are some examples of successful SaaS companies?

The SaaS business model has infiltrated every industry and department, from accounting to marketing and beyond. Some of the world’s most successful SaaS companies include Salesforce, Stripe, Adobe, HubSpot, Shopify, Mailchimp, Atlassian, Zoom, Grammarly, Miro, Dropbox, and Slack.

Which SaaS development method is ideal for new startups?

When launching a brand new SaaS company, you can choose to create an in-house team, hire freelancers, outsource to a dev shop, or hire a product development agency. In theory, all of these methods are viable. The right answer comes down to how much funding you have and how much management experience you have. If you have millions in funding, it usually makes sense to hire an in-house team. But if you’re bootstrapping your startup, you’re better off hiring a product agency that can guide you through idea validation, development, and continuous improvement.

Which SaaS development method is ideal for established companies?

For established companies, it makes sense to hire talent in-house. This way, you get full control over the development process and you can build and optimize your own development playbooks over time. If you’re behind on hiring, choose a freelance platform that vets talent with skills tests. If you’re launching a new product—such as an internal-use application or API—work with a product development agency, who can fully own that product and launch it quickly.

What is the most affordable way to develop a SaaS product?

The most affordable way to create and launch a new SaaS product is with a product development agency that offers strategy, including workshops, prototyping, and real user testing. This way, you’ll get all of the development talent you need to work on product-market fit and launching an MVP. You’ll lower your expenses and business risk by consolidating strategy and development under a single vendor.

Building a SaaS business? Explore DevSquad’s unique approach to strategy and development.

Or, check out our guide to hiring a SaaS application development company.


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