A Beginner’s Guide to Working at a SaaS Startup

by Paige Haefer

SaaS (software as a service) startups are blooming here in Indianapolis and the technology field is a cutting edge, exciting one to work in. As someone just a couple weeks into my role here at High Alpha, I wanted to explore with fellow newbies to the SaaS startup world some of the tips and tricks we have learned on the job in order to be successful. Here I have compiled a handful of ideas and opportunities to keep in mind when beginning a career in the SaaS startup industry.

1. Be Flexible and Open

“You may have the title of engineer, but most likely you’ll provide input and help on design, marketing, and anything else that may come up in the office.”- Andy Shi, software engineer, Structural

The typical culture of a startup company is fast paced and open. Teams usually are small, so everyone gets to know each other quickly. Although you may be brought on for a specific area of expertise or role on the team, with all the work needed to get a company up and running, you will almost certainly be pulled in to brainstorm for other areas of the company or take on tasks outside of your usual wheelhouse. View this as a great learning opportunity instead of something stressful. Learning to be flexible and open to new things is one of the most valuable skills you can learn while at a startup and will only increase your skillset and make you more versatile as a professional down the line.

2. Ask Questions

“As a new employee within a tech startup, I am constantly asking ‘how can I help?’ or ‘Where do you see me impacting the company?’. Through these questions I have been able to start conversations around the needs of the company and fill gaps that might not have been visible without asking.”- Michael Fitzgerald, Customer Success Specialist, Doxly

Depending on your role on your new SaaS team, you may or may not be an expert in all things related to your product or service. No matter your role, asking questions is only going to enhance your performance. If you’re new to the technology field altogether, keep a running list of acronyms and terms and that are used often and that are unfamiliar to you for reference. Ask questions about the strategy behind decisions and work at your organization. Ask questions about how you can grow in your role and how you can better serve your company. Learning how the sales process works, the techniques used by the marketing team, or the basics of the coding done by the engineers will allow you to better understand how your role plays into the success of the team and garner a better knowledge of your new field overall.

3. Share Ideas

“Every problem has so many potential solutions and when you’re just starting a project, it’s imperative to choose the best possible one. That’s why talking through all of the options with your coworkers before making a final decision is helpful. It ensures that you thought about all possible choices and confirms that everyone is on the same page moving forward.”- Morgan Cook, Software Engineer, Zylo

Don’t hold back! You are a part of this team for a reason. Even if this is your first role in the SaaS world, you bring a unique perspective to the table. Your insight matters and if you have a thought or idea to improve your company’s product or business model, share it! The whole team will appreciate your desire to improve the business for all. Of course, always be respectful of your co-workers’ and supervisors’ time. Think out new ideas and bring them forward at the most appropriate time to your work culture (weekly 1:1’s with a supervisor, weekly team meetings, designated idea sharing times, etc.).

4. Know Your Company’s “Why?”

“My advice for those looking to work in SaaS is to really get to know your product and know your company’s ‘why’. Why does your company and your product exist?”- Elle Huang, Implementation Specialist, Octiv

The world of SaaS can often be a confusing place. Many of the products and services in this world can be confusing to explain and hard to tangibly grasp. The sooner you can figure out the best way to explain and share the “why” of your company, the better. Starting with a simple explanation of the problem your company’s product or service solves can be a good springboard into explaining how you in your role specifically work to make the solution to that problem a success. The better you understand the “why” of what you are doing the better you can share your company’s message and truly understand the importance of the work you are doing and the benefit of SaaS companies as a whole.

The SaaS field will continue to grow. As more and more new employees find themselves in this world, the shared experiences and opportunities will continue to become increasingly valuable. I have shared my four observations and thoughts about learning to work in the world of SaaS startups as someone new to this world, but please feel free to share more advice and thoughts from your own experiences in the comments, too!