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SaaS startup UI/UX lessons learned the hard way

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

User experience and user interface design are essential to any startup. If your product isn’t user friendly, no one will use it. UX and UI design can make or break a SaaS startup, so it’s important to get them right from the start.

Sounds pretty logical, doesn't it?

But when you are a tech founder, this comes harder than you'd expect.

Generally, the idea of a startup comes from the desire to solve a problem of the masses. And as engineers we focus on solving the problem first. We tend to direct our attention more on functionality and features rather than on design and presentation.

After all, who wants a pretty mock up that doesn't work, right?

This is a mistake. A great product is not only about functionality. It's also about the user experience and the user interface. A product that is easy to use and has a great design will be successful.

If we build it, people who need it will use it.

If we build a product that solves a problem, people will use it no matter the design. This is the logic that many tech startups follow. Yet, this is a mistake. If a product is not user friendly, people will not use it, no matter how well it works.

And we learned that the hard way at

We decided to build a competitor for DocSend and PandaDoc because my co-founder was upset with the poor customer support at DocSend, the prices were too high, PandaDoc didn't offer the features/metrics he was interested in, etc...

So we focused on building the app to allow people to upload PDFs, Docs and Slides. Then they could create campaigns to share them on different mediums. Finally, they would get leads from their campaigns. They would see metrics about which campaigns work best, how much time people spent on each page, etc.

But our design was too simplistic.

We focused on functionality, not looks.

We went with a simple table for the list of documents. We put a pie chart on the dashboard with all the visits for all the documents. We made a simple view to create links and another one to view metrics. We added reports, pricing plans, etc...

After a year of hard work and testing (functionality, not with real users), we were ready to go to market. And once we started promoting it, we did get a high initial interest. People were actually interested in what we had built.

But as soon as they registered, they clicked around here and there and they would leave to never come back.

We started contacting them to get their feedback and soon saw a pattern in their responses.

"It's a great tool and I will come back and buy it once it's out of beta."

All our users thought our app was in a beta phase. We were a little annoyed with them at first. Couldn't they see that it's a fully functioning app that does what they need? And at a fraction of the cost of competitors!

Then we looked at things from their end and we became annoyed with ourselves. Of course they would think it was in beta. You sign up and you see an ugly "Upload your documents here" area. The document listing was hideous. The pie chart was difficult to understand for those who got to it. The flow of uploading a document and then creating a campaign wasn't clear enough. So many users got stuck there.

First impressions count - UI/UX to the rescue

We all know how important the first impression is. And when it comes to digital products - user experience and user interface are responsible for it.

Now we focused on improving the UI and UX of our SaaS product. We sought inspiration in similar products or platforms like Google Analytics and Dropbox. We made a dashboard which was easy to understand at a glance:

  • a chart with visits

  • a list of leads

  • most visited documents

We ran a few lifetime deals and got a very decent response. People are now more accepting of our new design. They have started asking about new features, rather than complain about the UI/UX not being clear.

With 2 years in, we are now at 3,000 active users. For a totally bootstrapped startup, that's not a bad number. Considering DocSend got sold after a bit over 10 years on the market and just 17k users.

Our learnings on UI/UX design for SaaS startups

The main lesson we learned is that we should have considered the UI/UX for our platform from the start. We may have been looking at 5 or 6k active users today, had we not spent an extra 6-12 months to come up with new designs.

Who knows?

But one thing is for certain. The success of a product lies in its usability because products are made for their users. For a product to be successful both features and design are essential.

We are all users. We know what we like, what is appealing to us and what feels comfortable.

Sometimes we are not able to name it. But a high-quality UX/UI design distinguishes a successful product from the rest. That is what unconsciously urges us to choose one product over another.

So what can you do?

Nowadays, the user is in the center of attention - no matter what digital product is being developed. The main task is to develop a product that is convenient and clear for the user. Whether the UX/UI design elements are effective or not depends on the feedback of users. That way you can discover their pain points from day one and design the product accordingly.

UX research is a crucial part of the product development process. It gives you an insight on what users find important and what users want.

A product with high-quality UX/UI design will also help you to impress investors. That is another important thing for a startup.

Often investors make decisions based on confidence in a product and gut feeling. They are looking for the next unicorn- for that special thing that sets your startup apart. You can't get that from slides, data, business plans and balance sheets.

But, if your product is intuitive and has a natural flow, it's much easier for investors to get it and feel it.

Remember, at the end of the day we are all users so we need to design products that we want to use. Products that generate positive feelings when we are using them.

If a user feels frustration with your product, they will leave and look elsewhere.

There are a few things you can do to ensure that your startup has great UX and UI design:

  1. Hire a professional. Work with a UX/UI designer from the beginning. This will help you avoid many early-stage design pitfalls.

  2. Focus on the user.

  3. Take the time to understand your users. Get to know what they want and need from your product. This will help you create a design that meets their needs.

  4. Make sure your designs are easy to use. Your users shouldn’t have to spend too much time learning how to use your product. Make sure everything is intuitive and easy to navigate.

  5. Be sure to test your designs with potential users before you start building them. This will help you make sure they would be comfortable using your product.

  6. Use a UX/UI design framework. There are many tools out there, you don't need to reinvent the wheel. Leverage the tools that help you advance quickly.

  7. Test your product with users. Get feedback from them early and often.

  8. Iterate based on user feedback.

  9. A/B test your product.

  10. Keep your product simple.

If you want to create a product that users will love, make sure to invest in high-quality UX/UI design. It will help your startup stand out from the competition and be more successful.

If you have questions on how to go about your product development, check out our article on Prototype vs MVP

For any further information feel free to send us a message or join us on social media.

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