WordPress SaaS confidential

Clearly, there are at least a few people who consider WordPress as a platform on which to build a SaaS website—if you google for “WordPress SaaS” you’ll see them popping up in places like Reddit and in blog posts.

There aren’t as many SaaS launchers looking at WordPress as I might have expected, though, and I sort of get it and, at the same time, I think founders are missing out on a good approach that lets them build something both solid and scalable, while still having an enormous amount of the coding already long since done for them (and tested by a community of millions).

Part of what’s going on, it seems, is that a lot of would-be SaaS tycoons are coming from developer backgrounds, with a predilection for coding themselves what might well have been better coded by others and with a sweet tooth for JavaScript and reactive frameworks that are currently in favor (and no knock on those—WordPress is jumping into React with both feet and I’m enjoying the journey). I’m judging mostly from a couple of online communities for SaaS builders, but I get the impression that most of them have most of their experience in front-end coding, so they aren’t necessarily thinking about server-side tasks and how best to handle them.

In this crowd, WordPress gets respect as a good way to throw up a five-page site that collects names for the mailing list, but that’s about it.

Meanwhile, over in the WordPress community, there’s relatively little talk about building SaaS applications with our platform of choice. It’s just a theory, but I’m going to say that a lot of folks in the community are coming from a background of design plus implementation of sites, with anything more application-like handled by one of maybe a dozen plugins. So plenty of WordPressers have build sophisticated WooCommerce sites. And plenty have created membership sites on one kind or another. Ditto for learning platforms.

Not a SaaS-oriented platform

But none of the big plugins used for these builds seems to have much of an awareness that someone might be building a SaaS, where the app is going to have multiple accounts that see different data sets.

It’s probably also true that people aren’t breaking down their doors and begging for them to build SaaS apps, because they’re busy figuring out how to build them either with one of the no-code tools (Bubble, Notion, etc.) or coding them with serverless React.

A missing piece

Arguably, there’s a piece missing that would make it a lot more obvious how to build a SaaS app on WordPress. And because it existed (as a methodology, perhaps, or as a plugin), it would make it obvious that building such a thing was straightforward.

And you could get that SaaS business up and running quickly. And it would scale without needing a ground-up rewrite (because Bubble’s transaction cost is too high or because the self-coded stuff just wasn’t done taking the needs of scale into account).

Meanwhile, I’ve been building tools for using blocks to create apps and app-like things in WordPress. Some of these tools it will really make sense to offer as a SaaS configuration server that talks to local blocks on your server. So I find myself in need of a few bits and pieces to build a SaaS app with… on WordPress.

A PeakZebra SaaS

At present, my initial tool offering, pzContact, runs locally on your server as a set of blocks. That won’t change. But the next iteration expands your options enormously and has a more complicated, capable notion of supporting “routes” or “paths” through various elements on your site, and it just makes sense to build the interface for that on a server outside of your site, which has its own work to do.

One nice bonus from working on blocks as tools is that I’ll be able to use PeakZebra for a lot of what I need to build on the SaaS site. In point of fact, the database tables behind PeakZebra blocks has, from version 0.1 on, included a field to separate data records out among different SaaS clients. In other words, it notionally supports multi-tenancy. I say “notionally” because I imagine that this build will bring up some additional bits and pieces I need to layer in.

I’m not sure, as I write this, whether I’ll stick to PeakZebra and some connective code on the server side, or whether it really makes sense to tie that into other plugins. I could see how a membership plugin like Paid Memberships Pro (or one of the others) might take care of a good bit of heavy lifting for me.

Be a fellow traveler

I’m going to try and keep the whole build process documented here, probably also with some code samples and screen capture videos. I don’t exactly imagine a huge readership developing around the project, but then again, maybe when somebody down the road a bit is pondering how to quickly turn up a SaaS business launch, they’ll be guided to this series of blog posts to find a great way to do it in WordPress.