The hosting interview series from last year was a huge hit. I’ll have multiple industries covered in 2020 and we are starting with SaaS. It’s my pleasure to welcome Lauri Kasti of Supervisor to kick it all off. Supervisor is a new kind of load testing, not just for WordPress but all kinds of web apps, especially focusing on ecommerce. Lauri was also previously CEO of Planeetta Internet, a Finnish hosting company acquired by Loopia in 2019.

Robert: In 2020, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is still getting a lot of attention as it rolls out into different industries and niches. Many are predicting big things for AI integration into SaaS, especially in terms of automation, speed, and security. What do you think about AI in SaaS? Is it worth all the ado?

Lauri: For sure, AI, as we imagine it can change the world.

However, AI is a broad definition, and sometimes it feels like just a simple “if-else” segment in code is marketed as AI as it is currently the buzz word everyone wants to have.

Nevertheless, I think AI has become more accessible to everyone as there are different AI/ML functions packaged as easy to use cloud services. I think the most challenging part is to figure out which of those genuinely adds value to the users.

Robert: While horizontal SaaS has experienced widespread growth, experts predict that 2020 will be the year of vertical SaaS, with solutions focused on clients within industries and supply chains. Do you think this is the case? If so, which industries do you think stand to benefit the most and why?

Lauri: There is a lot of possibilities in more targeted SaaS solutions. I think this is just a natural evolution to the cloud, and now that things like email, office docs, accounting have already been moved to the cloud, it is natural more niche things to follow.

Robert: We’re also hearing about more SaaS companies offering APIs and complete integration rather than redirecting clients to a third-party with APIs that could enable integration into a client’s existing system. Do you think this will be a big trend moving forward? What movement have you seen around this?

Lauri: Integration with other systems is a key to success for many SaaS products and a big challenge for the market overall. Companies can’t have their data stuck in different silos.

Robert: A large number of players have entered the SaaS space, saturating the market and driving up competition. How do you think the market and its current players will adjust in 2020? Do you see more SaaS organizations moving toward Micro-SaaS products to differentiate?

On a related note, with stiff competition and general evolution of the industry, do you think we’ll see major changes to pricing policies or even business models within SaaS? How so?

Lauri: I think there will be a trend towards pay as you go models from the standard monthly subscription. Slack is an excellent example of a flexible billing model where you don’t pay for a seat, which is inactive for a while. This type of billing model makes sure that companies don’t try to limit their Slack users to only the most critical employees and drives growth for Slack.

Many SaaS solutions are sold as a monthly paid subscription even is the model does not make any sense for the customer because that is what the investors behind the SaaS company require them to do.

Robert: Have you seen changes in a) business practices, b) services, and/or c) corporate practices as a result of either COVID or social change? Please describe

Lauri: It was remarkable to notice how well everyone was able to move to remote meetings and start to work from home. The tech allowing that has been there for a while, but the crisis forced us to start using it. It very well might be that a lot of those practices may also stay after the crisis.

On that note, I must say that the online fairs and seminars do still need a lot of work to replace the real-world events.

Robert: Why is load testing critical for businesses, especially as global events like COVID move a bulk of businessses online?

Lauri: I think it is important to understand that your website or application should work when you have the most amount of users. It is easy to test your website when there are no users – open a browser, and you can verify it. 

But what if you will get a hundred, or ten thousand concurrent users, or even more, will it still work? Just imagine all the hard work and resources you have put into building your business, and then when you finally make a break trough everything melts. 

What COVID made us notice is that many businesses weren’t really prepared for the user peaks and probably lost a chunk of their revenues because of that.

And why is this? Because nobody knows how many users they can handle. Most people think that everything on the internet and cloud just works.

Robert: How is load testing with real browsers different from mimicking user activity? Why is this an important difference?

Lauri: Supervisor.com approach to load testing uses a trueuser algorithm that controls how browsers behave on the targeted website or app. Each trueuser performs real transactions on the website whether those are simply navigating the website and scrolling or adding products to the shopping basket and performing check out. 

Immediately, we get a realistic load to your website without investigating how the website was built and how the hosting of the website is running.

Traditional load testing methods try to mimic the behavior of the browsers, but they can’t perform any real transactions. You can’t complete checkout, you won’t run any javascript on the site, and usually, you will not even load the images. To get any meaningful results, you will often need to hire some load testing consultants to develop load testing scripts that can be costly.

And those load testing systems will not test for user experience at all. They will tell you that the server handled 1000 requests / second, but that does not translate to how many concurrent users you can handle so that the page load time is at an acceptable level. Many research reports from Google and Amazon underline the importance of page load time for better conversion and bounce rates. For example, if your site loads more than 3s immediately, 50 % of the users will bounce back to Google.

If your site or application has any more advanced features such as video conferencing, you can’t load test that with traditional load testing technologies. Our trueusers are happy to join your Zoom or Hangouts meet anytime.

Robert: For those who have already implemented autoscaling or CDN, what should they know about potential mishaps that can result if these are not configured properly?

Lauri: Autoscaling and CDN are great technologies that will help you scale. But if you have never tried your site, you can’t know whether they work. Autoscaling could kick in too late, and CDN or cache might not solve the problem for your more dynamic pages such as shopping carts etc.

Robert: What are some best practices you can offer around load testing?

Lauri: As a 101 lesson for load testing – just do the first test and see what happens.

You will most probably find many things you might want to fix. It is much nicer to find those issues when you are in control, and it was just a test and not to hear it from the users or read it from the magazines.

Robert: We saw trading platform Robinhood experience several days of outages in March as a result of market turbulence, where users were unable to access the platform on one of the busiest trading days of the year.

What words of advice can you give to help other companies avoid this type of blunder, especially as COVID and events related to social change can potentially flood websites with unexpected (or expected) traffic?

Lauri: Load test your website regularly and before bigger marketing campaigns such as Black Friday.

Most of the testing should be transactional so that all the important business goals are tested. Because it could be that your web server can handle the load spikes, but you have backend systems for the orders placed that have scaling issues.

After all, it is 2020, and your users have heard about the cloud and autoscaling – there’s no excuse not to scale.

Thank you Lauri and be on the look out for more in the SaaS Interview Series.