How to Build a SaaS with International Appeal

July 5, 2014

6:00 pm

It’s a great time to be a developer in the software as a service (SaaS) marketplace. Not only are SaaS platforms gaining ample traction in the B2B sector, but also they have the potential to make businesses shine on a global scale.

According to Gartner, the SaaS marketplace will top $22 billion through 2015. In addition, PC World notes that it will likely see significant changes and new trends in 2014 as vendors vie for competitive position and customers continue shifting their IT strategies toward the deployment model.

You may be wondering how you can actually see growth in real-time with a SaaS platform. As opposed to a normal software company that may charge upwards of $100,000  for an enterprise deal, SaaS technologies earn revenue over time. You don’t see the gold instantly.

However, international offerings may change this. In fact, some analysts predict that 2014 will be the year we hear of more SaaS vendors with international capabilities, including local data center support.

If you build a SaaS platform with an international edge, you’ll find a key avenue for competitive advantage. Let’s look at some basics on how to build a SaaS tool with international appeal.

Understand the market need

Ultimately, a SaaS application with international appeal needs to serve a global need. For example, today's connected economy is characterized by many businesses utilizing suppliers from all over the world. Making efficient, timely, and accurate, payments to suppliers from different nations is clearly a problem that needs a simple solution. Designing an application to serve such a need will obviously have global appeal.

Remember to survey the needs of your customers not only in your own country, but also all over the world. When building a SaaS solution, ensure its ability to be customized and localized to the various geographies of your customers. This includes having a user interface and workflows that can easily be translated to the customer’s language. In addition, supporting local currencies of your customers is especially important if financial transactions are involved.

Conduct heavy international research

When building a SaaS for corporate clients that serve the B2B sector, it’s crucial to understand that the needs faced by U.S. companies can be quite different from their international counterparts. For instance, developers should ensure they have customers — or at least prospects that are willing to work with them — in all of the countries in which they plan to sell the application. Customer needs are dictated by local buying behavior, as well as by regional culture and regulation.

Here’s another example: When developing a solution designed to help companies make payments to their suppliers, regulatory requirements can be vastly different between countries. While the U.S. tax authorities require corporations to collect W9 and W8 forms from their suppliers, tax regulators in Germany require the payer to collect the VAT number, a tax registration document, and a commercial registry entry.

Every SaaS developer must therefore research not only the needs of their direct customers, but also the regulatory environment in which the customer may function.

Overcome border barriers

When you’re building a SaaS for an international audience, you’re going to face border barriers, the most obvious of which is language. Every country speaks a different language and the SaaS application needs to be built to recognize this. However, the challenges don’t end there.

Financial applications, for example, need to account for the different currencies used in each country. B2B applications should consider tax and regulatory requirements faced by users in different countries. For instance, in many nations, a supplier can be paid only after an invoice is submitted to the payer, while this is not always required in the US. Global commerce poses the risk of inadvertently paying illegal organizations hiding behind legitimate names. In most countries, the regulators require verification of the end supplier or customer before completing a transaction.

Here’s a personal experience: The mission of my company, Tipalti, is to remove the friction associated with global payments from our customers. While we were already a global mass payout service provider to begin with, every step we took had the global need built into it.

Tipalti worked very closely with industry-leading customers for its service to ensure their needs were fully met. By focusing on the actual wants of customers from various countries, the application was designed to address specific local needs. We now serve customers from North and South America, Europe, Australia and Asia, using the same platform and delivering the same values.

Building a SaaS platform on an international scale may seem like more trouble than its worth. However, when you understand a market need, do your research, and overcome border barriers, you can establish your SaaS as a leader in the global marketplace.

What do you think? What are some other things to consider when building a SaaS with international appeal?

Chen Amit is CEO and co-founder of Tipalti, the leading automated payment platform, as well as a veteran high tech executive and a serial entrepreneur.

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Chen Amit is CEO and co-founder of Tipalti, the leading automated payment platform, as well as a veteran high tech executive and a serial entrepreneur.