Slopes Diaries #22: SaaSy Features

Slopes Diaries is my ongoing journey to turn my indie app into a more sustainable part of my business. First time reading? Catch up on the journey so far.

What is Slopes? Think Nike+, Runkeeper, Strava, MapMyRun, etc for skiers and snowboarders.

Even though Slopes is an iOS app, I'm starting to identify Slopes as more of a SaaS than a traditional software product. I think identifying as such only feels weird to me because we don't traditionally think of "apps" as SaaS; one usually assumes some large (user-facing) web component is needed to be the core of a SaaS and the iOS app is just a companion app. But business model wise, and revenue wise, Slopes certainly has a lot more in common with SaaS products than traditional apps.

I dunno, labels don't matter here. But what does matter is I'm focusing more and more on how I have a funnel, like SaaSs do.

This mental shift to having a funnel has an interesting effect on how I approach features sometimes. Recently I ended up moving a feature I've been wanting to write for a long (long (long)) time to be next in the queue, while also compromising on how I'd do it, all because I realized that even an MVP of this feature would likely help my business and funnel.

Paid up front apps have a pretty flat funnel, where features are mostly the sales and marketing tools: hit all the major ones most users want and they'll pay to download the app. Rinse and repeat for the paid update a year or two down the road. But those features are, at their core, all about helping convince users to open up their wallet to download the app.

SaaS products, especially ones with a free tier and a more complicated funnel, are quite different beasts. To stay in business I need to convince customers of three things with Slopes:

  • Similar to a paid app, I need to convince prospective users that I have enough features they'll care about to download Slopes for free in the first place.
  • Then I need to get them to start using Slopes to record their days at resorts. They likely can't use Slopes right away. This is a new habit I need to get them into: "At a ski resort? Hit record."
  • Lastly I move back to a feature-based sale to get them to see the value of buying a Slopes Pass.

Some of my features address number 1, some number 3, but I realized I never really focused on number 2. It is an easy funnel stage to ignore in comparison to the other two. This realization came up in a round-about kinda way as I was talking to Alice about trying to find a single call-to-action that we[1] could provide in an onboarding welcome email.

Slopes has a tricky stage in its funnel: customers likely download the app months before they can actually use it, and they can't just walk outside to try it out. They need to be at a ski resort, during the winter, to use Slopes. But in the mean time I need to do everything I can to make sure that when they can finally use it, they do. And it turns out that feature I was putting off writing was perfect for addressing number 2.


My idea for a reminder system was going to be magic: pick the resort and Slopes would remind you to record when you get there. But man, were there edge cases. What happens when you're staying at the resort, like a ski-in-out condo? You very well might not leave the geofenced area, meaning you won't get a reminder the next day. Or maybe you go out to dinner in the town and come back, leading to a reminder when you don't need it. OK, so I geofence the resort at large and then when they get close enough re-geofence much smaller circles around to lifts for that resort, so they get a reminder if they aren't recording when they hit a lift. But you can only have ~10 geofences so I can't cover all lifts, and that would also mean I can't do this for resorts I don't have a lift database for yet.

Yikes. Magic is hard and error prone.

But focusing this reminder idea through the lens addressing a funnel need of getting people to remember to use my app, instead of focusing on that perfect magic feature I wanted to ship, gave me a fresh perspective that lead me to a great MVP compromise. I won't bill this feature as anything magic, and instead just let users set and customize their own reminders. Time based (ex tomorrow at 8am) or geo-fence based. Let them control for the edge-cases (with a little help from Slopes to help them get it right).

If I ever crack that magic, I can ship v2 of reminders. But I don't need on solving for that magic, and it is actually activly harmful to my funnel to wait.

Reminders will give me a great call-to-action to provide users with after downloading the app ("Planning a trip? Lets set a reminder to record when you get there.") and hopefully plug the leaks in that stage of my funnel a little bit better. And at the same time, it addresses a feature users have asked for, and do it in a way that is much less error prone than any magic would be.

Now I'm thinking with funnels.

  1. We? Yeah, the Slopes Slack isn't quite as empty as it was a few months ago. Screen-Shot-2018-01-02-at-10.22.16-AM ↩︎