On the impact of SaaS apps

I was talking with a student about a year ago. She was considering starting her own tutoring businesses, teaching English to students online, and wanted some advice on how to approach that technically.

Her requirements were somewhat straightforward:

  1. A website to provide information about the kinds of tutoring she offered, fees, contact info, etc
  2. A scheduling tool, to allow students to book a session.
  3. A billing tool, so students can pay for a session.
  4. A tutoring video chat tool, for the actual tutoring sessions.

For her final project in web design, she had built a self-hosted WordPress site, so she had some experience looking for WordPress plugins, and finding a theme. Her first thought was to find plugins to do all of these things, and that’s where we started.

However, I quickly suggested that we move away from that approach for a few reasons. First is the risk of unreliable plugins over a long period of time. If this system is to be consistently working for years, it needs to not rely on each plugin playing nice with all of the other plugins. Second, accepting payments on your own website is easier than it has been historically, but having a different platform handle that greatly reduces risk (and PCI compliance expenses!).

So, I suggested a software-as-a-service (SaaS) approach instead. Use WordPress (or any website builder) to build the website, a tool like Calendly for scheduling sessions, a tool like PayPal (or Calendly has a built-in option too) for billing, and Zoom or similar for the video tutoring session.

This is not only a faster and easier option, but also a cheaper one in most cases. No custom software development is required, and each piece gets updated automatically over time. It also greatly reduces the risk of the enterprise, as she’s not liable for keeping credit card information or maintaining large parts of the value chain for her business.

Its amazing how much the existence of SaaS apps has enabled the creation of very small businesses.