Dear SaaStr: Where Do You Draw the Line When Companies Ask for a Custom Feature?

Q: Where do you draw the line when companies ask for customization for a SaaS product?

I feel this is perhaps the point founders get the worst advice of all. Especially from VCs, B2C folks, and folks that have never sold bigger deals and into the enterprise.

  • One-off customization per se is bad. This is SaaS, not a services business.

But

  • Being paid a lot to build something important already on your roadmap can be magical. It helps you see the future. It is a gift.

So here’s my rule:

  • If BigCo offers to pay you a huge sum for a standard contract that also includes a requirement to ship an important feature you don’t yet have (usually > any other customer is currently paying you, or close),
  • AND they are OK without any true exclusivity on it (sometimes a short period is OK),
  • AND it’s on your Next 24 Months Roadmap,
  • then probably, just BUILD IT!  At least, the simplest initial version of it.
  • Because — there almost certainly will be another. Another customer that wants this exact, important feature too. And will pay a lot to have it in the feature set.

Apologies for the caps, but be careful taking advice from B2C and SMB folks. Being paid to build something that could change the game (because other, big customers may/will want it, too) in the enterprise is often a gift. If one big company wants it AND you already had been thinking about building it, if it’s really already on the roadmap, at least somewhere … then, it’s not an anomaly. It’s the future.

There’s always another big company just like the one you just closed as a customer.  In fact, there are always at least another 10 big enterprise customers just like them.  Or close enough to use that key feature, at least nine times out of ten.

If I hadn’t done this in both of my startups … if I hadn’t used what seemed like a “one-off” request from a big dollar customer to rework the timeline of my roadmap … I would have failed. Twice.


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Published on February 28, 2022

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