Would a 1-man operation be better with downloadable or Saas model software?


If you are a 1-man show (to begin with, and want to stay small), would you be better suited to selling downloadable software or would a hosted version be more idea?

With hosted, you don't have to worry too much about product support when it comes to installation etc.

But with hosted you have to worry about uptime.

What do you guys think?

I don't personally know of too many Saas type web applications run by 1 person, so I thought i'd ask here.

Software Website Saas

asked Mar 11 '10 at 10:19
Un Startup
162 points
Top digital marketing agency for SEO, content marketing, and PR: Demand Roll
  • Unfortunately, many 1 person shops don't advertise that fact. – Jeff O 14 years ago

10 Answers


Go SAAS. There are less dependencies on the customer. And deployment is simpler for you.

You must support your product regardless of its format. Support includes FAQ, knowledge base, forums, answering emails, etc.

Read Patrick McKenzie's blog, MicroISV on a Shoestring, for more info. He started a one-man software company in 2006, was profitable in his first month, and is going strong four years later. Originally, his product was a desktop app. Then he converted it to a web app. And he said he greatly favored the web app product experience. In fact, he wrote an article on why he was done making desktop apps.

answered Mar 11 '10 at 15:09
Bill Paetzke
397 points


It's hard to give a good answer to this one coz it's about what the customers want as opposed to what you want :)

answered Mar 11 '10 at 13:02
G Rex
683 points
  • How is this the client's decision? I interpreted the question as to what is better for a solo entrepreneur, selling downloadable software or a hosted solution. – Ricardo 14 years ago
  • Not really, if 1 mil. customers want web app, and 100.000 customers want desktop, if the desktop easier it still make sense to do desktop. If you are one man shop it's not all about customers. It's about getting enough customers not getting millions of them. – The Dictator 14 years ago
  • Customers want a web & desktop app that synchronize every millisecond, 24 hr support by a full staff of engineers. And while you're at it make it free and without advertising. – Jeff O 14 years ago
  • This question didn't specify any particular problem/solution, so we can't presume anything. What if a solo coder comes across a customer who wanna make an MMORPG for his 2-million staff? Does he still insist on making it a web app that runs on IE6? My point is being solo or not has nothing to do with the tech he should build. The problem statement should be the determining factor. – G Rex 14 years ago


GRex nailed it. Do what your target market wants. Not a single customer will care that you chose the platform because it was easier for you to develop.

Also be aware, most people on here see web-based apps as the solution for all problems, so expect most answers here to be "web app."

Bill Paetzke's answer includes a reference to the McKenzie's interesting article about why he was done with desktop apps. I read the article, and it always struck me as one very long list of reasons from strictly a developer's point of view of why web apps are better. Not one mention of the customer point of view until the very end, where he switches roles and speaks as a customer:

I love desktop applications. I prefer them to web apps almost any chance I get. You can keep your Google Docs, Excel is superior in almost every way. He then says how much his users love desktop applications because of functionality web apps do not have (cut and paste that works, double click files to open them, and so on).

If you take away the bias of talking strictly from a developer point of view, the article does make a strong argument that if you have a choice (if the market will accept it), then make a web app. I generally agree with that. So long as we don't redefine problems to fit our solution, we will be ok.

Honestly speaking, I'm happy so many people are focused on web apps. It leaves huge holes in the markets that will not put up with the many limitations of web apps.

answered Mar 11 '10 at 16:15
Gabriel Magana
3,103 points
  • as I wrote in Grex answer: Not really, if 1 mil. customers want web app, and 100.000 customers want desktop, if the desktop easier it still make sense to do desktop. If you are one man shop it's not all about customers. It's about getting enough customers not getting millions of them. – The Dictator 14 years ago


Some problems are best suited to a rich UI, other to a web app. You should pick whichever is the best fit for your product/market/customers.

answered Mar 11 '10 at 20:21
Andy Brice
336 points


I've worked on both types of applications, and from the support standpoint I prefer web apps. The uptime issues can be mitigated by decent monitoring and notifications, as well as things like automated restarts and a failover setup. With downloadable software it's harder to resolve support problems as you don't control the environment the software runs in and you have limited insight into it.

In my experience, most of the problems with web apps were caused by new releases or insufficient hardware capacity, things that are mostly under your control. If the application has been running for a while, it will most likely continue to run unless there is a hardware failure or a sudden spike in traffic.

answered Mar 11 '10 at 12:50
Alex Aotea Studios
665 points


I recently finished developing a web based application. Right now I am packaging it with a portable webserver so users can use it on their desktop. I have also hosted it online for free usage. I want to go SAAS but not sure if I can handle all the stuff that is needed to maintain the uptime. I believe once you collect payment, there needs to be a SLA and what if the application goes down when the customer is doing something critical.

I will continue doing the desktop downloadable and monitor how the free usage is going. There are so many things needed if you go SAAS.

server Monitoring
automated backups and restore
constant security checks

For desktop or user hosted solution there is no such additional thing.

just my 2c

answered Jul 27 '11 at 06:18
420 points


Definitely go with the SAAS route.

Downloadable software is a deployment nightmare. You have to worry about different operating systems, hardware compatibility, and etc. The combination of things can go wrong is endless. Worst of all, it's impossible to diagnose the problem because most potential customers give up after 1st failure.

I'm running a hybrid of downloadable software and SAAS. My downloadable app allows users to use my webservice. I wish I could go all out "browser-only" because it has been a nightmare especially when you have limited resources.

answered Jul 27 '11 at 06:30
173 points


You've got a pack of great answers so far...

My only addition to this thread is that I don't think that you can run a successful company with 1 pair of hands only, no matter if you product is SaaS or on-premise.

You can't assume that SaaS doesn't give you problems: you'll just be changing from installation to configuration issues. But you'll always need to give support to your customers.

Is 1 man enough to create a product, launch it and support it? I honestly don't think so.

answered Mar 11 '10 at 22:03
825 points
  • What do you think about all this microISV thing? There are several notable companies that are 1-man operations, or at least started that way. Balsamiq comes to mind, but really anyone calling themselves a microISV is a 1-person operation. – Gabriel Magana 14 years ago
  • You have a point there. I guess most companies do start with 1 man. But at some point they have to grow, right? I don't see how it's humanly possible to do everything needed to launch a product company with just 1 man. You need to create+promote+sell+support the product. At some point after you launch the thing, you'll need help. But maybe I'm thinking about my own limitations here and there might be people out there who can actually pull this off. Does anyone out there have good examples of 1-man companies that have had success without having to hire an extra pair of hands? – Mike 14 years ago
  • There are plenty of microISVs that "create+promote+sell+support the product" (usually with some degree of outsourcing). I have been running my own microISV for the last 5 years and I know quite a few others. – Andy Brice 14 years ago
  • Mike: Like you said, it's inevitable to seek extra helps when the company grows. However, I believe is possible to create and launch a product with one-man. Beyond a certain point, helps will be needed. Depending how you define success. $300,000 or $3 million sales? It's definitely possible to pull off $300,000/yr in sales with just one man although it is a good idea to get some help especially customer service reps. – Nick 13 years ago


I suggest what others have also suggested, go with a hosted solution if you are a solo entrepreneur.

With a hosted solution (SaaS), you are in control of the environment where the software runs so it is easier when troubleshooting and maintaining your application(s). Also, you won't have to worry about offering technical support for people having trouble installing/running your software.

Good luck!

answered Mar 19 '10 at 13:06
4,815 points


Start with what you are good at. You may need to improve in some areas, but if you've never created a web app, I'd think twice about having my only source of income dependent on your first one.

A market with tech-savy users may be better for a lone developer because they can handle many problems on their own or with minimal direction (Registry Setting Changes?). Some users are more 9-5, so they don't expect off-hour support.

If you are using a host for a SAAS app that provides maintenance on your site, the "1 man shop" becomes a little more ambiguous.

The distribution and installation can be more trouble on a desktop app, but you don't have to worry "as much" about security, performance implicatons of multi-user environment, webbots & crawlers, backups (you may need to provide a utility for a user), providing data to customers who want to cancel, browser compatability.

Another consideration is going to be your revenue model. Most people accept the recurring payment model for SAAS, but it may take a little more salesmanship on your end to convince a desktop app user to keep paying for a service aggreement. Ease of payment collection can present problems; the market will determine what you can get away with.

answered Mar 12 '10 at 04:00
Jeff O
6,169 points

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