As a SaaS vendor, should you provide data export?


Some people tend to avoid Software as a Service due to the fear of vendor lock in. Therefore, you are losing customers by not offering a data export option.

However, you don't want to be "helping" the competition by making the data transfer process trivial for your customers.

In an ideal world, customers should be free to leave with their data and you should make them stay not because you own their data but because you are the best. However, that might not be the best decision business-wise.

What's your take on this?


asked Dec 19 '09 at 03:44
Olivier Lalonde
2,753 points
  • Data export is essential. We actually had a problem with a SaaS vendor not providing this and we literally had to threaten to walk away before they implemented it. Our main reason for wanting it was for data backup and not to move to a different vendor. In fact, most companies needs it for compliance to ISO and other standards. – Jarie Bolander 14 years ago

6 Answers


Allow export.

I understand your fear of them fleeing, but fear and an iron grasp isn't the way to win people over.

To be successful, you'll need to thrill people, get them to tell their friends, etc., in which case they're not leaving. If you need lock-in to be successful, I'll bet you won't be successful!

Instead, having no lock-in is a feature. Tout it on your website. You can even literally say:

We're so confident you'll love our service, we make it painless to leave at any time. We'll earn your business every month!

That's a fantastic thing to say. It's always a win when you remove a barrier to sale.

P.S. Given the excellent advice I've seen from you on this forum, I have no doubt you'll make a truly fantastic product, so I doubt you'll need lock-in anyway. :-)

answered Dec 19 '09 at 03:47
16,231 points
  • Presenting it as a feature is a great idea :) Also, thanks for the compliment. Coming for you, wow - I am flattered :D – Olivier Lalonde 14 years ago


I take the position that while the software is ours, the data belongs to our customers. We allow partial exports via the web interface but for a full database dump (which can be several gigabytes after compression) the customer has to ask and we will provide it at no extra charge.

answered Dec 19 '09 at 03:48
Oleg Barshay
2,091 points
  • +1, I like this answer because you get the benefits of saying "your data belongs to you" but by making a small hurdle to get it you get some of the benefit of having lock-in. Nice. – Jason 14 years ago


Allow export. Not allowing data export is yet another "hurdle" towards gaining customers. Your goal should be to make your service attractive to use, and easy to purchase.

Make it easy to sign up. Also make it easy to leave your service. If they really like it, they will stay, and more importantly will recommend you to others.

Many a times I have refused to subscribe for things because I didn't know how easy it would be to unsubscribe. If you can promise an easy unsubscribe (or quitting the service), you will gain more customers.

We plan to do the same as what Oleg has mentioned above. Provide XML export for low volume data. And for archived historical data, provide it via the most efficient channel.

I've seen it being mentioned elsewhere in this forum, but as a SaaS startup you have to read 37signals Getting Real.

answered Dec 19 '09 at 04:34


I agree with Jason -- allow export.


1) More customers buy, because they know you're not going to lock them in.

2) Existing customers are happier, because they're able to get data out of your system and use it more productively.

3) Customers that want to leave should not be kept in the system via lock-in. They're going to be unhappy and eventually cost you more money in the long-term anyways.

answered Dec 21 '09 at 18:34
Dharmesh Shah
2,865 points


I'm with Jason.

Plus, your competition must have an import feature compatible with your data exported format.
Unless there's a standard model, which probably there isn't, you're offering a way out but competition is not offering an easy way in for people to migrate from your service into the new service.

PS: this is actually a nice feature that I've never though. I'll include it on my next year SaaS project.

answered Dec 19 '09 at 04:37
Fernando Martins
798 points


I can't imagine ever allowing a company to control my data without getting it back out. Absolutely allow export. You also then bring down a barrier of acceptance - in that you lower the risk by allowing export.

answered Dec 19 '09 at 06:35
Tim J
8,346 points

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