SaaS & Building a Business in the Cloud

What kind of business will you build in the cloud?

The purpose of this page is to keep track of developments in the cloudisphere with strategic implications for innovators and entrepreneurs in Japan and the USA/everywhere.

I am particularly interested in how entrepreneurs use the cloud to build Exponential Organizations (a.k.a. Unicorns). If you are interested in this topic, I recommend you start with Exponential Organizations: Why new organizations are ten times better, faster, and cheaper than yours (and what to do about it) by Salim Ismail et al. He offers the following ten steps for entrepreneurs interested in building their own exponential organizations:

“The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.” – William Gibson
“Talent is distributed equally. Opportunity is not.” – Leila Janah
The cloud connects opportunity and talent without regard for geography. – SMH

How to Build an Exponential Organization / Unicorn

1. Select a Massive, Transformative Purpose (MTP)
2. Join or create relevant communities (see Meetup!).
3. Compose a founding team. We recommend a visionary, UX expert, engineering guru and a business/finance expert. (Note: TopCoder has suggested similar founding team compositions).
4. Select a breakthrough idea that delivers a minimum 10x improvement over the status quo.
5. Build your Business Model Canvas (see Lean Startup).
6. Find your Business Model — basically, how will you make money?
7. Build the Minimum Viable Product (or MVP — again, see Lean Startup).
8. Validate marketing & sales channels.
9. Organize so that core mission-critical functions are occurring outside the core organization
10. Aim to be a platform. Successful ExOs (Apple, Google, Amazon) are all platforms. Companies that didn’t achieve that (Yahoo, Blackberry, Nokia) ended up in trouble.

If you are building a SaaS unicorn, this calculator will help you test your assumptions.

Building Your Company in the Cloud: Choosing the Right Tools

“It is becoming increasingly hard to figure out what are the best tools to use for your company. As it is getting harder to choose (because there are more software vendors), it is getting even more important to make the right choice (because the software is getting more and more powerful). People who choose the right tools will propel their company forward … and those people will be rewarded in productivity gains. But there will also be people who choose the wrong tools for their company … and those companies will be eaten by the competition.

Siftery helps you discover the right software product for your business. Great software is a force multiplier for your job. And picking the right solution for your company will make you look like a rockstar.

The idea is to take every expert who understands enterprise software, put them together, and use the collective knowledge to make deep recommendations. It is like IBM Watson replacing a Gartner analyst.

The core thesis of Siftery is the software you should use is informed by the software you do use.” – Auren Hoffman

A more established company in the same space with a slightly different value proposition is StackShare.

Below are a number of services that are very useful for entrepreneurs building their business and leveraging SaaS services.

In the sections below, companies listed do not indicate endorsements. But, I do use some of the services.


These services enable you to maintain your accounting ledgers in the cloud.


Xero | Online accounting software for your small business.

Quickbooks Online | Cloud-based invoicing and accounting software.

Square Invoice | Invoices are always free to send. Pay 2.5% per invoice when customers pay with credit or debit online. See funds from paid invoices deposited directly into your bank account in one to two business days.

Bench | Your personal bookkeeping team, in the cloud.

Pilot | Pilot takes care of your bookkeeping from start to finish.


Freee | Online accounting software. If you are running a sole proprietorship (for most lifestyle ventures such as restaurants, language schools, import/export companies and people working as freelancers or consultants a sole proprietorship is the most frequently used entity), Freee is a great option as it will help you prepare the sole proprietorship registration forms, and automate your bookkeeping (if you use Japan Net Bank).

UR Cloud Accounting Office (Cloud Partners K.K.) | They wrote the book on cloud-based accounting, and they will do your book-keeping for you.

MoneyForward | Online accounting software. Some accountants in Japan are part of the money forward network. They offer lower prices because they can reconcile and sign off on your accounts without visiting your office.

inqup | Online accounting software.

MakeLeaps: Generate invoices. Save time. Get paid. Priced right, to grow with your business. Co-founder Jay Winder organizes Tokyo Hacker News networking events.

Square Japan: Invoices are always free to send. Pay 3.25% per invoice when customers pay with credit or debit online. See funds from paid invoices deposited directly into your bank account in one to two business days.

This advice is so good, I copied and pasted it below:

“1) most Japanese accountants seek only to comply with tax payments, reporting and responsibilities; they are not so good at advising you how to minimise taxes, adjusting your business strategy/ planning, and adjust reporting to do that. You’ll have to seek advice on that from elsewhere…

2) electronic payments, e.g. paypal, email/ digital invoices, contracts and receipts, overseas transactions, and consumption tax responsibilities for international business can be a minefield for a traditional accountant. Make sure you find one who understand this area of modern business.”


I am keenly interested in services that enable entrepreneurs to integrate and automate their workflows and compete with large companies.

When workflows are templated and centrally updated best practices can be automatically designed into new ventures. This equates to instant operational excellence without the use of experienced professionals.

The companies below enable you to automate workflows by stitching together two or more SaaS services without the need to know how to code:

Zapier: Connect Your Apps and Automate Workflows.

IFTTT: Recipes on IFTTT are the easy way to automate your world. Connect the apps and devices you love with “if this, then that” statements. Integrate your cloud applications. Automate marketing, sales and business processes. Automate your workflows.

FlowXO: Automations and integrations, focused on messaging.

Microsoft Flow: Create automated workflows between your favorite apps and services to get notifications, synchronize files, collect data, and more.

IBM App Connect: Use event-based triggers and actions to automate your workflow.

Notes: If you need a review on business processes, then I recommend The Process Audit by Michael Hammer and Liberate Your Team with Clearer Processes by Elizabeth Doty. If you are still trying to wrap your mind around digital transformation and automation, then this brief article by Narjeet Soni will help. And, if you need a free online flow chart maker, I recommend . (You can find nice tutorials on how to make a flow charts and gantt charts here:


TinyReminder: This simple tool will automatically send email reminders on your behalf. Recipients can stop the emails by uploading the document they committed to send you.


Many entrepreneurs in Japan – Japanese and foreign – find that it is difficult to open a business banking account.

Banks that appear to be friendly toward entrepreneurs seeking to open business accounts include the following:

Some banks maintain separate pages for entrepreneurs seeking to operate as Sole Proprietors.

The largest bank offering business accounts in Japan is Bank of Tokyo – Mitsubishi UFJ. However, they prefer to work with entrepreneurs that have reached the point of scaling their business.

In Japan, your bank is a business partner that can open many doors for you (if they so choose), so selecting the right bank for your business is an important decision.

In the summer of 2018, Revolut announced that they have received permission to operate in Japan. For entrepreneurs and business owners, Revolut for Business may be an interesting alternative worth exploring whenever they finally begin offering their services to residents of Japan.



Stripe Atlas: With Stripe Atlas, entrepreneurs can easily incorporate a U.S. company, set up a U.S. bank account, and start accepting payments with Stripe. It’s available to developers and entrepreneurs globally.

Advice: How to Actually Start Your Business


Bizer: A Saas-y backoffice service, mitigates the challenges of company registration paperwork, leveraging crowd-sourced professionals. This article explains Bizer in more detail.

Gozal: Similar to Bizer, Gozal is a Japanese crowdsourcing site for back office operations including the procedures for establishing companies or social insurance scheme coverage for employees.

Advice in Japanese: 会社設立

Note: In Japan it is a relatively simple matter to declare oneself a sole proprietor (Kojin Jigyo) and begin operations. As a sole proprietor you can employ other people. Revenues are treated as personal income. Once revenues become predictable, you can incorporate as a GK or KK. The reason predictability is important is because when you incorporate you have to declare a salary for yourself and you cannot change it without tax penalty for one year. This website run by Japanese judicial scrivener Tomohiko Akiyama offers a useful comparison of the tax implications of establishing a small family business


Google calendar is, arguably, the best free, cloud-first calendar tool available. With that as your base, the following apps can make you more productive with prospects, leads, and clients.

Calendly: Say goodbye to email tag for scheduling appointments, interviews, calls, demos and much more.

Acuity: Clients can quickly view your real-time availability and self-book their own appointments—and even pay online, reschedule with a click, and eliminate 100% of the drudgery. is a personal assistant who schedules meetings for you.


Here are two tools that enable customers to quickly add events to their calendars:

Eventable: Reach your customers through the calendars they’re checking a dozen times every day

Add Event: an Add to Calendar service for websites and newsletters


Here are a few more solutions. It is interesting to see that free and premium solutions can coexist. It is also interesting to see how different companies solve the same problem (scheduling meetings) in different ways.

Appointlet: Turn more prospects into customers by letting them book you right away, without the costly back-and-forth. Book meetings with one email. No back & forth. No double bookings. And it’s free!

Vyte: The fastest way to schedule meetings.











MailChimp: MailChimp is the world’s leading email marketing platform.

Sendgrid: Delivering your transactional and marketing email through one reliable platform.

Drip: Drip is the most cost-effective way to use marketing automation to grow your business. Free up to the first 100 subscribers.

ActiveCampaign: All in one marketing platform. Grow your business and save time with a seamless experience from $9/month.

EmailOctopus: EmailOctopus sends your emails through Amazon’s Simple Email Service (SES), saving money without sacrificing deliverability.

Note: If you need help building an email list (i.e. lead capture), Privy has a simple, freemium solution.


DoorkeeperHQ Community organizer event management tool.

Peatix Grow your group and keep members immediately up to date about new events you run through Peatix email and in-app notifications.

Boomset A mobile event app with an innovative suite of services.

HOSTING (Websites)

Note: If you do not know anything about managing a server and you just need to get a website “up,” then you should probably start with SquareSpace.

Cloudways – This managed cloud hosting platform company puts a services layer on top of hosting services, making it easier for novices to manage their server instances.

AWS LightSail – This is a simplified version of Amazon Web Services. 



Gusto: One intuitive place to manage payroll, benefits, and HR for your business.

Payable: A better way to pay contractors.


Hireplanner: A multi-sided SaaS platform that enables employers to systematically manage candidates (Applicant Tracking System) and agencies (recruiters). A simple, Apple-inspired UI makes operating your talent management [and Employer Branding] system a breeze.

SmartHr: A Japanese equivalent of Gusto.

Wantedly: A Japanese social network focused on recruiting.


The future of work resembles problem solving techniques used by McKinsey where a complex problem is broken down into its component parts and specialists are assigned to solve each part.

“Employers are starting to see the human cloud as a new way to get work done. White-collar jobs are chopped into hundreds of discrete projects or tasks, then scattered into a virtual ‘cloud’ of willing workers who could be anywhere in the world, so long as they have an internet connection.

Some of these tasks are as simple as looking up phone numbers on the web, typing data into a spreadsheet or watching a video while a webcam tracks your eye movements. Others are as complex as writing a piece of code or completing a short-term consultancy project.

The uniting factor is that these are not jobs but tasks or projects, performed remotely and on-demand by people who are not employees but independent workers.” – Sarah O’Connor

Cloud platforms connecting people and problems include the following:

HIGH: Catalant (formerly Hourly Nerd), MBA & Company, LawTrades, Upcounsel, TopCoder, TrustedPeer, High Skill Pro

MID: UpWork, Freelancer, People per Hour

BASE: Amazon Mechanical Turk

AI: FIN.  High quality executive and personal assistance, available as a cloud service.

Other: Silicon Valley’s Secret “Outsourcing-So-We-Can-Scale” Sauce: TaskUs & CloudFactory.

Background Article: The startup world’s little secret: Everyone’s using TaskUs but no one is talking about it & The company behind Silicon Valley’s dirty little secret


Hachi 178: For 5,000 JPY you get 15 minutes with a photographer and end up with the 10 best shots. You only get digital files. It is great for people who need professional photos for linkedin + websites and other social media.


Raksul: This company acts as a cloud-based mediator between customers and thousands of printers across Japan. You can order your business cards, and just about any other printed materials, through this site. English language backgrounder here.

Jukebox: This company offers innovative, award-winning print solutions.


Amazon Japan recently introduced business accounts. Their features are very accounting friendly.





Broadsoft – One number. Across devices. Powerful applications. Available in Japan.

Dialpad – The business phone system reinvented. Dialpad makes it easy and affordable to plug every employee into your business with the world’s most innovative phone system. This became available in Japan in late 2016 after Dialpad signed an agreement with SoftBank and established a Japan subsidiary.

KDDI – Twilio – Make apps powered by Twilio. If you need a telephone number for your startup, you can lease a 050 number and forward to your cell phone with a cut and paste TWIML BIN for a monthly base rate of 108 JPY plus call charges. This is arguably the best option for startups in Japan when evaluated on the basis of call quality (high) and cost (low).

If you are interested in MVNO providers, this article is interesting.


Dialpad – A modern business communication solution for the anywhere worker. They recently launched a free version for small businesses.

Grasshopper – Turn the world into your phone. Grasshopper lets you run your business using your smartphones. Available in USA.

Note: If you are interested in MVNOs with wi-fi calling, Republic Wireless is a leader in this field.


These are companies offering platforms for managing expenses associated with business travel.

travelstop – (Asia (Singapore HQ)) This company makes it easy to manage your business trips, automate your expense reporting and provide meaningful insights.
TravelPerk – (EU & USA) Book and manage all business travel in one portal.


These are companies offering SIM cards that you place in an unlocked smartphone (typically one with a GSM band). The criteria I look for are 4G LTE speed datasims offering a good price. It is worth noting that you cannot use the travel sim in the country in which you are domiciled.


GigSky – This company is based in Palo Alto, California and sells data-only sims. (This means that you need to use VOIP solutions if you need to make a call). They also power Apple’s global roaming for iPads. If you are traveling to North America or Europe, 1 GB of data costs $20 and lasts 15 days; if you are travelling to Asia, 1 GB of data costs $40 and lasts 15 days.

AlwaysOn Wireless – This company is based in Vancouver, BC. They let you buy data by the hour, the day, or the megabyte. If you are traveling to the USA, 1 GB of data costs $7.99 for 15 days (3GB of data costs $22.99). This company seems to limit you to one country per trip.

KeepGo – This company is headquartered in Israel, and has office address locations the U.S., the Netherlands, Russia, and Australia. When you buy the data sim, you get 1GB of data that lasts for 1 year. You can refill at the following price points: 500 MB: $19, 1 GB: $35, 3 GB: $85, 5GB: $119, 10 GB: $219.


  • LobLob doesn’t send “handwritten” letters, however they do allow you to programmatically send typed mail, letters, and more. Pricing starts at $0.70/postcard with no monthly requirements.
  • ThanksterIndividual cards start at $2 and Thankster already has a Zapier integration.
  • BondCards start at $5.
  • Fountain Greetings – Wax-sealed handwritten cards. 
  • ThankbotPricing starts at $5/card and decreases at volume.
  • MailliftPricing starts at $6/card and comes with a bunch of pre-built integrations. 


Lyrebird: Create your own vocal avatar and use it whenever you want.


If you are setting up a wordpress website, your first SaaS plugin should be Segment is a single SaaS service that collects, stores, and routes your website visitor data/app user data to hundreds of SaaS tools with the flick of a switch.

Additionally, here are some plugins and SaaS services that I strongly recommend at the beginning of any website project:

WP Rocket: This is a caching plugin which significantly accelerates your website. It is a premium plugin, but it is worth the purchase price and license renewal fees.

Zapier: To integrate services that do not have their own integrations.

Google Analytics: Track visitors to your website.

Facebook Pixel: Use for retargeting/remarketing.

HUBSPOT CRM: Enterprise class relationship management software. FREE.

Drift: Live chat for your website.

Autoptimize: speeds up your website and helps you save bandwidth by aggregating and minimizing JS, CSS and HTML.


VenturePact: VenturePact’s SaaS platform helps businesses intelligently source and manage vetted software development teams for their digital product development. Using smart KPI tracking tools, escrow payments and a trained project governor, you can more efficiently manage your existing outsourced firm or one of our expert teams.

Pivotal: Pivotal is changing the world by building great software companies. Only Pivotal combines the best of the Silicon Valley state of mind with a business’ core values and expertise to innovate and disrupt.

TopCoder: Crowdsourced software development.

Toptal: Hire the Top 3% of Freelance Talent

This article is a great overview of How to run a successful development process (even if you’re not technical).