Peter Peter - Founder, UserActive

How This SaaS Founder Saved $200K On Development Costs

How this SaaS Founder saved 200K on product development costs

How can you save hundreds of thousands of dollars as a SaaS Founder? Sidney Burks, Founder and CTO of Boundless Digital shares the approach he’s taken that has saved him an incredible amount in development costs.

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[00:00:29.000] – Peter

Hi, Sydney, thank you for joining. Can you take a second just to tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?

[00:00:35.610] – Sidney

Sure. So. I’m Sidney. I’m one of the founders and CTO of Boundless Digital. And what we do is we help companies manage their IT networks more efficiently through automation. So that’s a job that’s typically really complex, really error prone, really boring, and requires a lot of manual, routine, repetitive labour. And we help the people who are doing that work actually do that faster so they can focus their time on other more important things.

[00:00:58.530] – Peter

Great. So we’ve been working together for some time now and we’ve been rebuilding some of your platform, but you’ve also had many new products and modules that you wanted to release into the market. Could you tell us just a bit about the nature of that work and what we’ve done together to help you design your product and those modules?

[00:01:18.840] – Sidney

Sure. So we’re building a really complex technical platform which handles network automation for Cisco. And just from the technical nature of it, there’s a lot of things you need to understand before you can even get started to really think about the platform, really understand how it works. One of the things that UserActive has been really helpful for me in is, first of all, taking and refining my idea of what we need to do to solve the customer problem. Helping us think through some of those solutions from the high level, think through some of the flows, really imagine how that should come together into a usable product. And we have developed so far a suite of products which really take our solutions from mid market level to something we can show to the enterprise to handle things at a global scale for a global market. So, to summarise, I’d say, is that okay?

[00:02:05.670] – Peter

Cool. And if you were to summarise what’s been useful and valuable about working with us, how has it helped you? How would you summarise the value for you and your team?

[00:02:15.960] – Sidney

I think one of the most important things for me, and I think as a team leader and the reason I picked you all in the first place, I think there are several reasons. One is you have a good visibility on the Internet, so you’re clearly experts at what you’re doing. Plenty of good advice, lots of things on LinkedIn. I still follow your LinkedIn post and gather tips about how we can structure things. Your team is the one creating this.

[00:02:41.620] – Sidney

But I think the most important thing is just the quality of the people we work with. So that’s one of the things I felt with you, Peter, when we first had our few conversations. Really approachable, down to earth kind of kind of person. And the nice thing is that kind of permeates throughout the whole team. So everyone on your team is really pleasant to work with, really great people. And that’s really important when you’re dealing with stressful, complicated topics which can easily make people go to war and fight. Working with UserActive has been a pleasure that we can all just keep it together, really break through some of these complicated, stressful things in a really good, collaborative kind of way.

[00:03:18.370] – Peter

Great. And how would you describe, say, the ROI design and building software is capital intensive, right? So it’s quite expensive. And one of the things we love to do is make sure that we’re delivering value. Right. So some return on that. Do you think we’ve been able to do that for you? And if so, how have you derived ROI from working with us?

[00:03:38.980] – Sidney

Sure. There’s no question about that. I think one of the problems with the phrasing ROI is the return on investment, and you’re looking for a trailing factor. You’re trying to see what happens after you make that investment, which is going to save you the money. And when we typically play that out, that means, okay, let’s make this investment. Let’s see how much money we get back from it in the future. That’s how we typically see that question and answer that question. And I guess for you and your team, that’s kind of what you, by default, look for, okay, we’re going to make this investment on the design. How is this going to pay off? How is this going to help our conversion rate? How is this going to get us customers? It’s going to increase our revenue, things like that, which is very good and very fine.

[00:04:16.480] – Sidney

We’re in a different situation because we are pre launched, and you’re designing a brand new product for us. So it’s not brand new from conception, but it’s brand new in the sense that we’re completely revising this, completely doing everything from the ground up. So everything that you’ve been doing is prelaunch for us.

[00:04:32.500] – Sidney

So the question is, then, how do you evaluate the ROI? For me, the way I evaluate the ROI is that we have to flip that on its head a bit. We have to imagine, what would it have cost us to go about this? An alternative route? Meaning, how much would this normally cost us if we didn’t go the design first methodology? If we tried to do some things, we would have typically done, and then compare that to what’s happening by going design first route. And if we do that, if I just play through the numbers in my head, we’re easily saving around, I would say, 80% of what we’ve previously spent building a product.

[00:05:07.470] – Sidney

Now, how would we do this before? What we would do this before is I would typically sketch something out on a napkin with my grand professional artistic skills, send this off to the front end developer and the development team and say, okay, go do something that looks roughly like this. Do your best. They would come back to me and we tweak it a little bit and it looked somewhat presentable. Half sometimes and then we go build around it.

[00:05:30.900] – Sidney

Problem is, okay, you do that, you get that out the door, that’s going to cost you something. Then you start getting this out to customers and they’re going to want tweaks because it’s not going to be perfect, it’s not going to be exactly what they want. So your cost is going to double. So you paying 2X right now. Then you have the part where you have to redo everything once you figure out how to get proper traction, because you realise, okay, everything you’ve done is wrong and just tweaking it, tweaking and tweaking it, tweaking and tweaking it is only going to get you so far. So you get to a point eventually where you have to take it all, throw it away and start over. So now we’re at three X.

[00:05:59.430] – Sidney

Then you can easily throw the operational costs, the overhead of communicating all of those requirements to your team, meaning the sales team, the marketing team, the content team, the development team, the support team, and having to do that all over again because it just wasn’t correct. So that’s another 4x and I’m sure there’s another X in there somewhere I lost track of, but there is basically a lot of money you invest that slips away from you really quickly without you realising it.

[00:06:27.470] – Sidney

So, for example, going the alternative route, we could have typically imagined spending two $300,000 building a product. And now I see that once we get things locked in, we’re probably going to approach 10% of that cost. Right now, we’re probably around 30%, which is we still got a ways to go, but we still save a lot more money than the alternative routes that we’ve done many years in the past.

[00:06:50.910] – Sidney

So if you look at it this way, there is a very huge benefit to going the design first route. And this is one of the things you learn a lot when you’re going through a startup. You’re doing business. The earlier you do hard things, the easier it is to change those things. If you mess it up and if we have developers go do something, then there are weeks, months out the door, we have to tweak something. Whereas if you guys can take something, put it on Figma, we come back a week later and say, oh yeah, that was completely wrong, throw it away. Well, it’s just a few Figma screens. No big deal. It’s cheap to change. So that’s how I look at ROI.

[00:07:21.870] – Sidney

We now have a process, and our methodology is now design-first before we do anything code-wise. So we go out, we speak to the customer, understand the problem, develop a solution together, sketch out some rough conceptual idea of what that solution looks like. Once we’ve got enough evidence from the ground that this is a valid, viable solution through whatever mechanism that might be, then it’s on to you guys to say, okay, how can we make this vision more concrete so that we can further iterate on that validation scheme, if that makes sense.

[00:07:51.880] – Peter

Yeah, I really like that example of switching to design first. And also how you think about ROI. It’s almost like instead of considering ROI, you’ve saved costs from sunken costs in the previous way of working until now.

[00:08:09.190] – Peter

What do you think of the process that we’ve brought? Has the process fitted in with the way your company works and working with developers too? There’s a lot of different teams, right, collaborating on your complex product. So I wonder if you found our process useful, if there’s anything you would improve about it, and how you think it’s fit in with your current business culture and ecosystem.

[00:08:31.530] – Sidney

Well, I would say one of the good things about your team, going back to the previous question, is you’re quite flexible in your process. So I know you guys have a default process that you use for many of your projects. I don’t think we’re actually fitting exactly into your process. So you have process where you break things down to kind of two week sprints, and there’s a bit of back and forth. We’ve altered things a little bit on our side, but the team has been extremely flexible in saying, okay, however, we need to switch things up to make this fit into your process. They’ve been willing to do that. So we’re not sticking to your exact process now, but we have been able to find a way that works for us, which is, I think, better off, and that has helped me actually develop these products in a much more efficient manner.

[00:09:14.400] – Sidney

So, for example, I can take my ideas, we can hop on a call, go through a three hour session where everyone gets aligned on everything up to speed, and then I can just let them go, and they can disappear for a week or two and start developing something.

[00:09:28.470] – Sidney

And when we come back, it’s it’s often quite on track. Sometimes I’ve accused Gabriel of being a mind reader or something because he would go and take something I’ve said and just give me exactly what I was looking for. So I still don’t know how he does that. But that’s been really helpful for me, because I don’t have to sit and supervise you all, because I don’t have the time either.

[00:09:49.720] – Sidney

When I was previously working with developers. This was something I have to do a lot continuously. Constantly be on calls, sometimes spend hours doing design sessions together, which is nice, it’s beneficial, but at a certain point, you just don’t have the time for that or the people to spend the time on it. So since I don’t have to do that with you all, that’s been a relief for me. I can let you all go off and do your thing. You come back to me. We’re on target, and I can focus my energy elsewhere, which is what I have to do right now.

[00:10:17.350] – Peter

Great.

[00:10:18.130] – Sidney

Yeah.

[00:10:18.480] – Peter

So we have a design stand up every two weeks. Then we go into a sprint. So it sounds like for you there’s a bigger session because the product is so complex to understand and explain. And you brief the designers and the team, and then once you’ve shared all that information, you can then leave them to go.

[00:10:34.870] – Peter

I can see how our process need to be adapted for the complexity of what you’re doing, because if we don’t have that intensive time period in the beginning, then the team won’t really have all the knowledge and insight they need to deliver the designs. So that seems like a good adjustment to work with you. And then is there anything else in our service that you, A, value, and also B, have found that you needed to adjust or would like to improve at all?

[00:11:08.980] – Sidney

Let’s see, one thing, I value the structure, so I appreciate that the designers work doing the actual designs, and then there’s a design lead who kind of thinks things through from a higher level and say, okay, hey guys, we’re probably not doing this correctly, we’re doing this wrong. Let’s try it a different way just to make sure that everything stays aligned. I think it’s really useful to think about it that from a higher level. So that’s one thing.

[00:11:33.030] – Sidney

The fact that you’re multiple people, you can have a good mix of inputs, that’s another thing too. One of the questions we’ve thrown around back and forth a lot is, okay, at a certain point, when will it make sense to hire a designer, just our own in house designer? And although that financially, that could or could not be a good idea, depending on where we are, I don’t know. First of all, to find someone with that experience, it’s not cut and dry. It’s not clear cut that we would save any money, first of all. Second, usually when you’re doing working on complex topics, the more perspectives you have in there, the better outcome you get.

[00:12:05.860] – Sidney

So even if we found someone 20, 30% cheaper, we’re still going to have one perspective which won’t have anything to clash with. And that’s not going to put some of these potentially not so great ideas, it’s not going to put them up to challenge. They’re just going to slide through. So the fact that there are multiple people. That’s really a good benefit that will be hard to get if we just try to hire our own designer.

[00:12:26.520] – Sidney

Things that we can improve. One thing that is sometimes we have to go back and forth is the team has worked on a lot of projects very creative and I can see that they clearly want to do an excellent job. Sometimes I think it could be useful to try to do things in a stupid way and not try to think of the best solution, but just try to think of the dumbest solution that works sometimes. So there’s definitely a fine balance we need to try to find there and we’re still working on that’s. The only constructive, I think, thing to improve that we’ve seen so far to understand and when to just kind of tone it down a bit.

[00:13:05.430] – Sidney

And I don’t know how to give a clear indication of that myself yet. So it’s something I need to figure out as well. I say it’s something improved, but I don’t have a solution on how to improve it. So the jury is still out on that. But I think that’s something I guess we all as a team need to try to figure out how to get done.

[00:13:19.990] – Sidney

So, on the learning side, you are pretty good. On the execution side, there’s consistency. That was one thing I was concerned about too. Since you have so many people, how do we make sure that the design stay consistent? That’s been less of an issue than I thought it would be. I’ve not seen any major issues around that yet. Nothing specific that I can think of. So that’s good. And I think that’s it for now. We just have to keep going and bridge any gaps. But so far from the high level, the major points we were hitting, those.

[00:13:47.940] – Peter

Sounds really good, no? There’s some really good thoughts in there too, I guess, for knowing when to really it’s kind of like choosing your battles with the design, knowing when to go all out, as you said, and when to deliver a simple kind of quick solution, the most basic solution that works. So sometimes I guess there could be a system for grading to say effort versus kind of delivery implementation kind of grading.

[00:14:16.310] – Sidney

Great idea.

[00:14:17.330] – Peter

Everybody kind of agrees on what that looks like. It sounds like the collaboration has been really good and really helpful. The team has absolutely loved working with Boundless and the product, the challenges, the sector, and also with your team who are also a really great bunch of people easy to get on with.

[00:14:34.400] – Peter

And particularly we found you particularly accommodating in taking time and effort and patience to explain and teach and educate the designers on complex industry and functionality. So it’s been a pleasure on our side too. So I appreciate the chat and the feedback.

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