24 SaaS examples that drive critical thinking [2022]

24 SaaS examples that drive critical thinking [2022]

Coming up with SaaS ideas is something all startup founders need to be able to do.

Even after you come up with a few ideas and start building a new SaaS business, there’s tons of work to do to keep transforming your idea into a real SaaS business.

That’s where getting a good dose of SaaS examples will come in handy!

Keep reading for tons of SaaS examples that will:

  • Help you conceptualize what kinds of SaaS businesses fit different pricing and activation models
  • What examples are truly considered SaaS and what aren’t
  • Lots of discussion about SaaS examples to help you come up with your next idea or simply think more deeply when it comes to your existing startup

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What are SaaS applications?

SaaS stands for Software as a Service.

Simply put, you can think about SaaS as a software platform that a person or company builds that provides an explicit service for customers.

Here are a few other features that you’ll often (but not always) see in SaaS:

  • They charge subscriptions (monthly or yearly)
  • They’re often not 100% free and have (at least) some paid product(s)
  • The service provided by the product is clear and obvious (mostly meaning the product isn’t simply a platform like many social media companies are)

Think of applications you pay for that require you to log in every time you want use them. Often those are SaaS companies!

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SaaS examples from every pricing model

Every other article written about SaaS examples just gives you one big list of companies without segmenting them into any meaningful order.

But the whole point of reading up about SaaS examples is to motivate and give you ideas of SaaS businesses you could start.

So let’s start looking at SaaS examples with the context of the pricing model they represent.

More reading: What pricing model should my SaaS use?

Flat-rate pricing

Flat-rate pricing means charging a single fixed rate price for your service or product. There is no change in subscription fee based on factors like time, resources used or effort.

$50/mo for full access.

SaaS example: The Washington Post (get full digital access for one subscription)

Usage-based pricing

Usage-based pricing means the price paid by customers is based on how much the tool is used. You’ll be charging customers on a “per-use” basis.

$50 per report run, task completed, etc.

SaaS example: Twilio (pay-as-you-go SMS sending based on volume)

Tier-based pricing

Tiered pricing means offering discounts based on the volume of your service or product purchased. The higher tier your customers buy, the lower the cost per unit.

  • $50 for 1 unit ($50 per unit)
  • $90 for 2 units ($45 per unit)
  • $130 for 3 units ($43.33 per unit)
  • etc

SaaS example: Driftly (pay monthly subscription based on impression, price/impression becomes less expensive the higher your tier)

The higher your tier, the more you pay but the more impressions per dollar (bang for your buck) you get!

User-based pricing

Per-user pricing means pricing your product based on the number of users (or seats) customers want with their subscription.

$200/mo ($50/mo for the founder + $50/mo for each of 3 additional team members).

SaaS example: Slack (per person, per month pricing)

Earnings-based pricing

Earnings-based pricing means you calculate the earnings of your customers through your platform and take a percentage as your fee. This is a subset of usage-based pricing, but I think it deserves it’s own category.

$2.90 for every $100 you make through the platform.

SaaS example: Stripe (2.9% + 30¢ per successful card charge)

Feature-based pricing

Feature-based pricing means offering multiple plans that customers can pick from. The tiers get more expensive as users unlock more powerful features.

  • $50/mo for product X
  • $100/mo for product X with feature Y
  • $200/mo for product X with features Y and Z
  • etc

Sometimes feature-based pricing means a simple add-on for specific features. They’re almost completely separate add-on products that compliment the original product and are great for helping users better adopt your product.

Productized service example: WP Buffs (different tiers include different website management features like performance optimization)

Credit-based pricing

Credit-based pricing means selling “credits” to users that they can in turn use for your product. Think buying tokens at an arcade to use on any game you want.

$25 for 1,000 credits that you can use on features X, Y or Z.

SaaS example: Low Fruits (purchase credits to use for SEO keyword analysis)

Hybrid pricing

Hybrid pricing means taking aspects of 2+ of the pricing models above and integrating them into your pricing structure.

The majority of pricing models you see out there will likely be 2 or more of the structures you’ve read above being used together.

SaaS example: Intercom (seats-based AND usage-based AND feature based)

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SaaS examples from every activation model

Pricing model can have a big effect on the success of your SaaS business.

But so can activation model!

If you don’t know how to effectively turn potential customers into customers, your SaaS product won’t last long…

But if you can activate users at a high rate, you’ll grow your paid user base and SaaS business alongside it!

So let’s check out some SaaS examples from the POV of different activation models.

More reading: What activation model should my SaaS use?

Freemium

Freemium means offering the basic features of your product or service for “free” and allowing users to upgrade to a “premium” version of your product to access advanced features.

  • $0 forever for the basic version
  • $100/mo for the premium version with features X, Y and Z.

SaaS example: Zapier (free to use, upgrade to paid account for premium zaps, team accounts, etc)

Free trials

Free trials means allowing users to start using a premium product or service but try it free of charge for a certain time period.

$100/mo with a 14-day free trial.

SaaS example: Driftly (all plan are monthly subscriptions but come with 14-day free trials)

Driftly pricing
Free trials allow our users to use every feature and try out our in-app builder before committing to becoming a paid user!

Paid trials

Paid trials means allowing users to start using a premium product or service but try it at lower cost for a certain time period.

SaaS example: HubSpot (monthly subscriptions with one-time account set-up fees)

Money-back guarantee

A money-back guarantee simply means you have a time period during which you’ll refund 100% of the initial payment if a customer isn’t satisfied with your product or service.

30-day money back guarantee for first subscription payment.

Example: Driftly (30-day money-back guarantee)

Driftly pricing
Users can become paid users of Driftly and can get their money back within 30 days for any reason!

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What are three examples of SaaS?

1. Is Gmail a SaaS?

Gmail does fall under the definition of SaaS. So Yes!

Gmail is software that provides a legitimate service to users; the ability to communicate through digital mail.

While Gmail is free to use for individuals, Google monetizes email through premium email set up for businesses. Google Workspace allows any business to set up and manage company email.

And that’s just the start. Google is a behemoth company that will start with Workspace and eventually introduce other products to you.

So yes, Gmail is technically a SaaS. But at the size and scale of Google, they’re more accurately described as thousands of SaaS companies working together under one massive umbrellas company.

@tmrohan

Gsuite is a target. On their own, Gmail, Calendar, Slides, Docs, Sheets, Forms and Drive are just fine. 2x the design of each those products, and bundle. Package the whole enchilada. That’s a generational, $100B to $1T SaaS company.

See the tweet

2. Is Netflix a SaaS?

Yes and one of the biggest streaming services out there!

Netflix is software that provides the service of premium video content (tv shows, movies, etc).

While separately categorizing “streaming” companies from “SaaS” ones wouldn’t technically be incorrect, I’d still argue it could be properly defined as a SaaS. While Netflix is a platform for video, it also produces its own premium content that’s only available on the platform so people are paying for access to that content, not just the ability to stream through their platform.

@chrisclosset

Netflix disrupted the entire movie rental business including Blockbuster which had more than 9000 stores and $6 billion in AR at its peak. Here are my 10 biggest lessons learned from the ups & downs of Netflix you can apply in any SAAS or product business. A thread…

See the tweet

3. Is Zoom a SaaS?

Yes, and one of the most popular competitors of Skype (listed below)!

Zoom is also software that provides the service of connecting people from around the world using video communication.

They monetize their video service through giving users the option to upgrade to a paid account for:

  • Unlimited meeting time
  • Virtual conference hosting rooms
  • Social media streaming
  • Cloud recording storage
  • Whiteboard features

4. [Bonus] Is Office 365 a SaaS?

Similar to Gmail, Office 365 is a SaaS!

Just like Gmail has evolved into Google Workspace, Microsoft Office has evolved into Office 365. Both want to be the most helpful suite of software for businesses large and small.

And also like Google, Office 365 is just one of the SaaS offerings Microsoft has. They’ll quickly move to sell you more SaaS and technology.

5. [Bonus] Is Skype a SaaS?

Yes, and one of the oldest!

Skype is software that provides the service of connecting people from around the world using video communication.

Skype is owned by Microsoft. While Skyped used to monetize their video software through business plans, that’s now shifted to be fully included in Microsoft Teams.

6. [Bonus] Is Spotify a SaaS?

Spotify is a great example of a non-traditional SaaS!

Spotify offers software that provides the services of access to audio (music, podcasts, etc) & video.

Like many more traditional SaaS companies, they use a freemium pricing model. You can listen for free but need to upgrade to a premium account to unlock multiple features:

  • Download music to listen anywhere
  • Ad-free listening
  • Play any song
  • Unlimited skips
  • Discounts for 2- and 6-account plans

7. [Bonus] Is Salesforce a SaaS?

Salesforce is one of the bigger SaaS platforms out there!

Salesforce is a software platform that helps businesses of all sizes with sales, marketing, eCommerce, analytics and much more.

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What are three non-examples of SaaS?

1. Is Facebook a SaaS?

I personally would not categorize Facebook as a SaaS company.

Technically, Facebook is software and that software is providing a service.

But Facebook is much better described as a social media or community-based platform. The product for Facebook is not actually the platform, but the free users whose attention they can monetize for advertisers.

And with Facebook recently seeing increased user churn and decreased retention, it’s a company to keep an eye on.

2. Is AWS a SaaS?

Amazon Web Services is another piece of software that technically provides a service. But because it’s simply more easily categorized under “web hosting,” I personally wouldn’t define it as a SaaS.

However, the truth is that AWS has branched out into much more than simple hosting. They offer analytics, cloud computing, machine learning and many more advanced products, services and packages.

Defining Amazon Web Services as a SaaS isn’t technically incorrect; I’d argue that it simply makes more sense to categorize them as a hosting subset of Amazon that in itself is a subset of the SaaS world.

AWS is also notorious for having low enterprise churn so while I may not consider “hosting” the same as “SaaS,” it’s far from a bad business model.

3. Are mobile apps SaaS?

The technology of “mobile apps” are usually assumed as separate from SaaS. If this holds true, mobile apps are not technically SaaS products!

Most mobile apps are monetized through advertising, meaning the users are the products.

One might argue that the free entertainment is a “service,” but I personally don’t think this meets the threshold of providing the legitimate service required to be a SaaS.

If you build a mobile app, charge money to download it and that app provides a legitimate service, one could argue that this meets the definition of SaaS. And they wouldn’t be wrong!

Personally, I think mobile apps deserve their own tech category apart from SaaS because of their unique home (smart phone screens) and their unique distribution channel (app stores).

4. [Bonus] Is WhatsApp a SaaS?

For the same reason I don’t consider Facebook a SaaS, I’m also not categorizing WhatsApp as a SaaS.

As most of us know, WhatsApp is owned by Facebook. But that’s not the reason I’m not considering either as SaaS.

It’s the nature of their business models!

Take a look at a tool similar to WhatsApp: Slack. They’re both pieces of software that provide similar services related to chat communication.

But Slack is a tool that’s paid for directly. Customers pay for access to the technology.

WhatsApp is a free communication tool that’s used to mine data from its users, meaning the users are the product and not the platform.

I believe the “service” part of SaaS is an essential part of what defines “software as a service.” Because WhatsApp (and Facebook) provide no real service for their users except being platforms for attention, “platforms” is what they should be defined as. Not SaaS.

5. [Bonus] Is LinkedIn a SaaS?

LinkedIn falls in the same category as Facebook, Twitter and any other social media platform. It’s social media, not a SaaS!

Like I’ve already mentioned for a few pieces of software above that I don’t consider “SaaS,” LinkedIn is a social media platform. There’s no true service being provided by them except to maximize your attention for advertisers.

While defining LinkedIn as a SaaS technically might not be wrong, I’d argue it’s simply better categorized as a social media platform than a SaaS that provides a direct service to customers.

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What’s next?

There you have it.

You started this blog post wondering how reading about different SaaS examples could help you grow yours.

Hopefully you’ve learned a thing or two. Not just about SaaS examples from different contexts but how you can take what you’ve learned about other SaaS businesses to help you improve yours.

You got this!

If you have any questions or want to chat about SaaS examples, don’t hesitate to @ Driftly’s co-founders on Twitter!


Implement product tours in just 5 minutes

Driftly Homepage With Tour

Use no-code product tours to nudge users towards that WOW moment. Guide your customers towards the most impactful areas of your software as they breeze through onboarding, adopt core features and become life-long power users.