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Avoiding the consulting trap, path toward Product Led Growth in building SAAS


Many startups in the software-as-a-service (SAAS) industry have followed the advice of industry experts like Paul Graham and started their journey with consulting services. ( You should give a read http://paulgraham.com/ds.html ) .Consulting provides a runway for the business as it develops its product, allowing the startup to support itself financially. The initial trajectory usually involves using the product internally and introducing it to existing consulting clients. However, the reality often deviates from this ideal path, leading to a trap where the startup becomes stuck in a perpetual cycle of consulting. In this article, we will explore why SAAS businesses start with consulting, the challenges they face when transitioning to a product-led model, and strategies to avoid falling into the consulting trap.

The Benefits of Starting with Consulting

Consulting offers several advantages for startups venturing into the SAAS space.

Runway for Product Development

Building a SAAS product takes time, and consulting provides the necessary runway for product development. The revenue generated from consulting services can fund the hiring of talented developers, designers, and other professionals required to build and refine the product. This financial stability allows the startup to invest in the necessary resources without the pressure of immediate profitability.

Deep Understanding of Customer Needs

By working closely with clients as a consultant, startups gain valuable insights into their target market's pain points and requirements. This deep understanding of customer needs enables them to develop a product that solves real problems and addresses specific pain points. Consulting serves as a testing ground for ideas and helps validate the demand for the product before investing significant resources into its development.

Establishing Credibility and Trust

As a consultant, building trust and credibility with clients is crucial. Startups can leverage this existing trust when transitioning to a product-led model. Clients who have had positive experiences with the consulting services are more likely to become early adopters of the SAAS product. This initial user base can provide valuable feedback and serve as advocates for the product, helping to drive further adoption.

The Product-led Transition

Why Product-led?

Product-Led Growth (PLG) serves as a comprehensive strategy for customer engagement, acquisition, and retention, placing the prowess and experience of the product at the core of business operations. Companies embracing a product-led approach prioritize delivering superior product experiences as a catalyst for escalating user adoption, engagement, and ultimately, revenue generation. The essence of product-led strategies lies in a profound comprehension of user necessities, crafting engaging encounters across every interaction, and perpetually refining the offering to align more closely with evolving customer demands.

While starting with consulting offers numerous benefits, the transition to a product-led model is not always straightforward. Several challenges often arise during this phase.

The Endless Cycle of Consulting

One common trap that startups fall into is becoming reliant on consulting revenue and continuously expanding their consulting teams. As the consulting business grows, more resources are allocated to support the consulting services, diverting attention and resources away from product development. This perpetual cycle hinders the progress of the SAAS product and limits the startup's ability to scale.

Enterprise vs. Mass Market

Another divergence in the product-led transition is the choice between targeting enterprise customers or the mass market. Startups may find themselves building a product with sophisticated requirements demanded by their initial enterprise clients. These requirements may not align with the needs of the broader market, limiting the product's scalability. Balancing the demands of existing enterprise customers while appealing to a wider audience presents a significant challenge.

Pricing and Feature Complexity

When transitioning from consulting to a product-led model, pricing becomes a critical consideration. Startups must strike a balance between offering a product at a price point that appeals to the mass market while covering the costs involved in product development and maintenance. Additionally, feature complexity can pose challenges. Startups may be hesitant to remove features demanded by existing enterprise customers, fearing alienation or loss of revenue. However, catering to every unique requirement can result in a bloated and less user-friendly product.

Avoiding the Consulting Trap

To avoid getting trapped in the consulting cycle and successfully transition to a product-led model, startups should consider the following strategies:

Clear Product Roadmap and Focus

Having a clear product roadmap and maintaining focus is crucial for startups transitioning from consulting to a product-led model. It is essential to define the product's core value proposition and prioritize features and functionalities accordingly. By staying focused and avoiding feature bloat, startups can build a product that resonates with a broader market.

Gradual Transition and Resource Allocation

Instead of abruptly cutting off consulting services, startups can gradually reduce their reliance on consulting revenue by allocating resources to product development. By carefully managing the transition, startups can ensure a smooth shift without compromising financial stability. This gradual approach allows for adjustments based on market feedback and avoids sudden revenue shocks.

Embracing Automation and Self-Service

To scale the SAAS business, startups should emphasize automation and self-service capabilities. By enabling customers to independently onboard, utilize, and troubleshoot the product, startups can reduce reliance on manual consulting support. This shift towards automation not only improves scalability but also enhances the customer experience by providing immediate access to solutions.

Iterative Development and Continuous Improvement

The transition from consulting to a product-led model requires an iterative development approach. Startups should gather user feedback, analyze usage patterns, and make continuous improvements to the product. This iterative process allows startups to refine the product based on real-world usage and evolving market demands, ensuring its relevance and competitiveness.


Starting a SAAS business with consulting services offers significant benefits, including financial stability, deep customer insights, and credibility. However, the transition from consulting to a product-led model presents unique challenges. By carefully managing the shift, focusing on product development, and avoiding over-reliance on consulting revenue, startups can successfully navigate this transition. Embracing automation, prioritizing customer needs, and adopting an iterative approach are key to avoiding the consulting trap and building a thriving SAAS business.

Remember, the path to a successful SAAS product is not always linear, and each startup's journey will be unique. By learning from the experiences and insights shared in this article, entrepreneurs can make informed decisions and chart their course towards a successful product-led SAAS business.

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