Starting + Sustaining

Build and launch a SaaS web app with less pain and fewer mistakes.

Simplified Illustration of the product checklist, book cover, and spreadsheet.

You want to launch a SaaS web app, but you aren't completely sure what's involved or where to start. You need a trail guide to help you make the best decisions. You're in the right place.

Starting and Sustaining is a book, spreadsheet, and task list to help you plan, launch, and run your own web application by sharing detailed insight from my experience launching and running Sifter over the last six years.

Even if you've spent your career designing or developing software, you've probably never been responsible for the full-stack of technology, design, customer support, marketing, payment processing, roadmap, release management, monitoring, analytics, and everything else that needs to be done to build and run a web application.

Launching an application from scratch is challenging, but the real challenge is that you don't know what you don't know. Starting and Sustaining can help fill in those gaps. It can't teach you everything, but it will help make sure you have the full picture.

As founder of a successful startup, this book highlighted so many gaps in the way I went about setting up my startup initially. For my next startup, I'm following this recipe to save time, money and loads of rookie mistakes. Adii Pienaar, Cofounder of WooThemes

You're not sure where to start…

Getting started is difficult. With so many unknowns, questions, doubts, and fears, it's difficult to just sit down and do it. This is where most projects fail simply because folks never escape the idea or exploration phase. Don't let your project be one of those that fail before even getting started.

Budgeting & Expenses

How are you going to fund your project until it starts making money? Have you considered all of your expenses? How much do you need to make every month? Do you know much you'll need to spend on hosting, transactional email, performance monitoring, DNS, software, insurance, or one of the dozens of others costs you'll have?

Getting it Done

How do you know if you're working on the right idea? Do you need a prototype? Do you need co-founders? Are you confident that your interests and vision are aligned? How do you find time to work on a side project on top of a full-time job?

Section 1 Topics: Starting

As an early stage start-up founder myself, I'm finding all of Garrett's insights extremely helpful. It's saved us hours of disruption, and wasted time. If you are ready to take your idea, or side project to the next level and beyond, do yourself a favour and grab a copy. Worth every penny. James Deer, Founder of GatherContent

Ready to save yourself hours, days, or even weeks of pain and mistakes?

You want to create a solid foundation for your app…

Whether you've spent your whole career doing software development or have never written a line of code in your life, it's imperative that you fully understand the technical aspects of a hosted web application. If you've only ever built and deployed CMS-based sites, you have a whole new world of software development to become familiar with.

How much should you charge? How should you structure your pricing? Do you have a reliable release process? Do you know all of your options about payment processing and billing? Are you covered on performance and uptime monitoring? What about business analytics? Do you have tools in place for provisioning and managing servers?

Tools & Processes

Are you comfortable with continuous integration? Are you using code reviews? Have you setup a failproof release process for a web application with numerous moving parts and dependencies? Have you built quality assurance into your release process?

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The book includes quite a few diagrams to help exlplain complex topics like payment processing.

Pricing

How much should you charge? How should you structure your pricing? Do you have a good grasp of how new customers affect your costs? Should you have tiered pricing? Should you offer discounts or promotions? The easiest way to both lose and make money running a web app is through getting your pricing right or wrong. This is one area where mistakes are incredibly expensive.

Payment Processing & Billing

Are you familiar with the intricacies of payment processing? What about PCI compliance? Do you know the difference between a merchant account and payment gateway? What payment processing options are out there? How much do you know about credit card fraud and chargebacks?

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We review various key architecture decisions including background processing, search, and both on and off-site backups.

Servers & Infrastructure

How robust does your infrastructure need to be? Do you have monitoring in place for uptime, security, performance? Are you easily able to provision new servers?

Section 2 Topics: Building

You must read this book if you are starting a SaaS business. Packed with advice and lessons learned by Garrett. Chris Nagele, Founder of Beanstalk and Postmark

Ready to save yourself hours, days, or even weeks of pain and mistakes?

You want to have a successful launch…

Building an application and tweeting about it isn't enough. It's imperative that you start sharing and generating interest prior to launching.

“If you build it, they will come.” It doesn't work that way. Are you doing everything possible to generate awarness and interest? Do you know when to stop building and launch? Have you thought about your beta and how to best gather feedback? Do you know where to advertise or how much to spend? Are you worried that another company will launch before you?

Marketing

There are countless ways to generate interest and build anticipation for your product that don't cost money. We talk about building and promoting your announcement list, blogging about your process, and even paid advertising. Where should you advertise? How much should you spend? How do you build anticipation and generate interest? Should you ever be in "stealth" mode? (Hint: No!)

Launching

Believe it or not, it's not the end of the world if your launch isn't perfect, but why not make sure that you get it right the first time? How do you know when to launch? How can you possibly launch without a key feature? How should you run a beta? We'll address all of the techniques to help you get your launch right the firs time.

Section 3 Topics: Launching

OK, I haven't even had a chance to crack open the book yet, and I'd already pay twice this price—just for the spreadsheet alone. I built a crappy version of this spreadsheet for myself and it took me hours. This is a steal for anyone who's even half-way serious about a SaaS business.

Amy Hoy, Cofounder of Freckle

Ready to save yourself hours, days, or even weeks of pain and mistakes?

You need to be prepared for the long haul…

While there's a wider variety of tasks before launching, the real work doesn't start until after you launch. Can you last if it takes two years for your project to support you full-time? How much time should you plan for support and maintenance? (Staying on top of security updates alone can be a part-time job.)

Support & Feedback

Once you're serving paying customers, you'll quickly find that it's not as easy to keep your head down and focus on new development. Answering emails. Sifting through feedback. Performing releases without interrupting service for your customers. Do you need a help desk? Should you setup a changelog for customers? What's the best way to provide great customer service without sacrificing progress?

Maintenance & Updates

In addition to working with customers, you'll inevitably have to spend some time maintaining your application. Installing security updates. Refactoring modules that were rushed out the door. Monitoring performance and scaling. How much time will you spend on customer support and maintenance? How do you plan and prioritize new features while keeping the application up-to-date?

Section 4 Topics: Sustaining

For those looking to get into SaaS applications: Starting and Sustaining by Garrett is a must read. Nathan Barry, Author and Founder of ConvertKit

And you need tools to help you cover all of your bases…

The book is useful, but it's just one small piece of the puzzle. To build a business, you need more than advice and anecdotes. You need tools to help you execute and get the job done right.

The Project Task List

The project task list collects all of the easily overlooked tasks and consolidates them into a single easy-to-use task list so that you won't forget or overlook any key steps in launching your application.

The Spreadsheet

I've also created a commented version of the spreadsheet that I use to manage Sifter's budget and projections. This spreadsheet makes it easy to analyze your costs, explore various pricing approaches, and experiment with different growth rates to get an idea of what it will take for your application to reach certain milestones.

Think the package is expensive? I can tell you the included spreadsheets alone are worth the price, and will pay for themselves Kyle Fox

The Appendix

The book itself also includes an appendix with loads of additional information. First is an infographic that goes into detail on Sifter's timeline to help communicate the ups and downs of running a small web application along with our advertising spend, growth, and significant functional changes to Sifter over time. Second is a guide to related reading, and finally, it includes an exhaustive list of available services for various tools that you may want to use to build and run your application.

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A timeline illustrating Sifter's slow and steady growth and the corresponding significant historical events in relation to my salary.

Building, launching, and running a web application is a great experience, but like anything else, it takes hard work and dedication. The good news is that this book can save you hours, days, or even weeks of pain depending on your current level of knowledge. The bad news is that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Moreover, building and launching is the easy part. The hard work is hanging on for years while the business gets going. Starting and Sustaining can help set your expectations appropriately and ensure that you're well prepared before venturing out on your journey.

This is the first book I’ve ever eagerly awaited, and I was blown away by a draft Garrett sent me. Buy this right now Brennan Dunn, Founder of Planscope

Ready to save yourself hours, days, or even weeks of pain and mistakes?

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there a guarantee of any kind?

Yes, I offer a money back guarantee. But if you have questions or concerns before buying, just send me an email and ask. I'm always happy to help even if it means you don't end up buying a copy, and I'll usually get back to you in an hour or two. Of course, I'd also suggest reading the sample chapter about payment processing if you're curious about what you're getting.

The refund policy is simple. If you buy it and feel like it didn't effectively address the topics listed on this site, then just send me an email explaining how it fell short of your expectations and why you'd like a refund. (This helps make sure that I'm clearly explaining what people should expect from the book.) I'll give you your money back right away. Just make sure to include your email address used to purchase the book so I can find your order.

Is there a Kindle version?

I'm sorry, but there's no Kindle version. I'm a huge Kindle user myself, and I invested about a week working on generating a Kindle version using quite a few different methods. Unfortunately, the results weren't good enough. I'm considering an updated second edition down the line somewhere, and if we do that, I'd make sure to keep Kindles in mind from the get go.

Do you offer bulk discounts?

We do. For the cash-strapped startup, for up to 5 people you can buy a small team license for $159. Or, for a group of up to 100 team members, you can snag a large team license for $399. This is all on the honesty policy. You won't find any DRM here.

What's inlcuded in the package?

A 250+ page PDF covering 36 topics with associated charts, graphs and visualizations, a spreadsheet for helping with estimating both revenue and expenses (in Numbers and Excel), a focused todo list to help you plan the process, and a list of over 150 tools and services to help you find the right products without having to go through an extensive search process.

Who is it for?

Anybody who is thinking about launching a web application and wants a clearer picture of what they'll need to do to make it happen. It's designed to be a high level overview for designers, developers, or business people all the same.

What does it cover?

It's all about the logistics and planning that goes into a launching a hosted web application as a business. This includes business, financial, pricing, hosting, support, marketing, development processes, release management, payment processing, running your beta, launching, and more. It won't teach you how to code or design, but it will provide you with the context and knowledge to help you launch your application faster and with fewer mistakes.

Who wrote it?

Picture of Garrett

Howdy. I'm Garrett Dimon, the creator of Sifter, a web application that I've poured myself into over the last six years. It hasn't made me a millionaire, and you're never going to hear about it on TechCrunch or Mashable. It has, however, grown into a comfortably profitable business that has enabled me to work everyday on something that I love.

While we now have several people working on Sifter regularly, I'm still the only person that works on it full-time. During this time as a solo founder, I've gained some knowledge the hard way, and I'd like to help others make the same journey with a little more comfort and a lot less stress than me.

…the accompanying spreadsheet has to be seen to be believed. While it's an incredibly useful tool for planning and measuring your business, it's also the most beautifully designed spreadsheet I've ever seen. Wade Winningham
I spent about six hours doing a basic P&L for a SaaS product I was considering building. Garrett's sheet is far more detailed and would have saved me hours of time. He's truly thought through it all. A steal at twice the price! Brandon Savage