SaaS boilerplates (also commonly called SaaS starter kits) have exploded in popularity in recent years as more and more developers join the indie hacker gold rush. Boilerplates cut months off development time by providing the standard features found in most SaaS applications pre-built for you.
With so many boilerplates on the market at varying prices and quality, choosing the right one for your project can take time and effort.
In this guide, we'll dive deep into how these boilerplates work, unpack the pros and cons, and discuss what you should look for when purchasing a boilerplate.
If you're not familiar with the term SaaS, it stands for Software-as-a-Service and refers to software applications hosted in the cloud. Instead of users downloading and installing the software (and maintaining it with manual updates), they access it through their web browser. SaaS eliminates manual maintenance and updates as the provider handles updates.
Generally, SaaS products use a subscription billing model, where customers pay a monthly or annual fee to access the product. SaaS products can also be free or freemium - with a free starter plan and upgrade options to paid plans with more features or fewer restrictions.
Most SaaS products share the same technical functionality, like authentication, subscription billing and user management. It's because of these standard features that SaaS boilerplates exist.
A SaaS boilerplate (also called a SaaS starter kit) is a pre-built SaaS application template that includes all of these standard features of a SaaS application.
Instead of starting from scratch and spending months building features like authentication, user accounts and billing flows, a SaaS boilerplate provides all of these features pre-built.
Developers focus on building unique and innovative features that drive value for their customers (and generate revenue) rather than spending months reinventing the wheel.
Each SaaS boilerplate is built on a specific programming language and stack and usually comes with both back-end and front-end applications.
Most SaaS boilerplates will include the same standard features, such as:
- Authentication and authorisation
- Database integration
- User interface views and components
- User management
- Subscription billing
- Email notifications
Each boilerplate will have varying depths of implementation for each of these features. For example, most will include basic authentication such as sign-in, sign-up, and reset password flows for a single account. Others will also include advanced authentication features such as social authentication, suspicious sign-in flagging, rate limiting, honey pots, and will have been professionally pen-tested.
High-quality SaaS boilerplates will provide more sophisticated features like CLI tools to scaffold new features with the boilerplate, user management, tests, AI modules and even dashboard applications to manage your business.
You'll be given access to the codebase when you purchase a SaaS boilerplate, usually through an invite to the official GitHub repo, but it may also be a downloadable zip file.
You download the code, then work through a setup wizard to configure your application.
Now, you have a new, blank SaaS application ready for you to start adding your features. Development at this point is just like any other project – you write your code on top of what's written in the boilerplate. You can modify the boilerplate code and commit it to your private GitHub repository.
Good boilerplates will include some command-line tools to help you. These typically will scaffold new API endpoints, database models and controllers for you.
If the boilerplate includes access to updates, you can pull these from the GitHub repo and merge them into your project.
When you purchase a boilerplate, you will agree to the licensing agreement. On paid boilerplates, this will permit you to use the source code for one or multiple projects you own. You won't be able to re-distribute the code.
What you can do:
- Use the code to build your own SaaS application(s) that you host yourself
- Modify the code to suit your project requirements
What you can't do:
- Sell your own boilerplate product using the code
- Use the code for multiple products you own if the license only permits one application
- Use the code for multiple client projects if you're a freelancer
- Make the code freely available in an open-source project
- Publish the code to a public GitHub repository
- Deploy the code directly on your customer's servers (for this, you will need multiple licenses).
Open-source boilerplates may have fewer restrictions.
Two categories of people typically use SaaS boilerplates:
1. Experienced developers and entrepreneurs.
If you're building a new commercial product, speed to market is critical. Wasting time re-inventing the wheel and building authentication and billing systems is not an intelligent use of your time and makes no commercial sense.
The time is better spent delivering value to your customers. It's also poor financial logic when you consider the cost of spending weeks or months building these features versus the cost of a SaaS boilerplate, which can usually be purchased for less than an experienced developer's rate for one day.
2. New developers who want to learn
Learning how to build a SaaS product is a steep learning curve, and a boilerplate can provide a great starting point to learn about industry best practices. If the boilerplate comes with a community, this is a great way to meet other developers working with the same boilerplate and stack.
Who SaaS boilerplates are not for:
If you're tinkering with some side projects that are unlikely to make money, then using a boilerplate may not be a good decision unless you want to save time.
1. Save Time
SaaS boilerplates empower you to ship an app faster than if you do all the work yourself.
2. Save Money
A good quality boilerplate contains hundreds of hours of work you don't have to pay design, development and security contractors to do for you.
Popular boilerplates have been tested in hundreds of commercial applications over time. Bugs or issues will have been fixed.
4. Best Practices
Quality boilerplates adhere to industry best practices for architecture, coding, performance and security, so you don't need to learn all these things yourself.
Best practices ensure your application is built on a foundation that can grow and scale to handle increased user loads.
You get direct access to the founder to benefit from their experience and skills.
7. Access to Resources
Commercial boilerplates often include Slack/Discord communities where you can network with peers.
Using a boilerplate with standardised components ensures all your projects have consistent quality and architecture, making it easier for you to maintain and collaborate.
Not every boilerplate will deliver all of these benefits. It depends on the quality and maturity of the boilerplate. Free or open-source boilerplates are unlikely to provide support and access to communities.
Many boilerplates are on the market, but only a few are mature and high quality. Boilerplates range from a full-time business for a dedicated founder to a random side project to messy code from inexperienced developers trying to cash in on the hype.
Due diligence and research are essential to help you avoid uncertainty.
2. Learning Curve
A boilerplate may have a steep learning curve, especially if poorly documented and supported.
Boilerplates are built with specific frameworks, packages, architecture and coding styles. If you don't like the way the creator does things, you may find it frustrating to work with. Some developers prefer to have the project set up the way they want. Choosing a boilerplate that adheres to industry standards and best practices can reduce issues with opinionated code.
Boilerplates come with a ton of features, some of which you probably won't use. Choosing a boilerplate that adheres to best practices or has customisation settings is the solution, so you can easily remove excess features you don't need.
Good boilerplates come with updates that contain new features and bug fixes. Implementing these can be challenging if you have modified the boilerplate code in your project. You may also not like some of the changes in future updates that force you down a new path.
SaaS Boilerplates range in price from free to over $1000.
While a free product sounds great, these free boilerplates are often poorly maintained and rarely supported.
When you purchase a premium boilerplate, you are buying from a founder who has built a business from maintaining the boilerplate and is working on it full-time, ensuring the product is regularly maintained with bug fixes, security updates, and new features. The founder will be around to support you with any problems, too.
The product will likely be a poorly maintained side project if it is free or cheap. If you run into problems, you may never get them fixed, and questions may remain unanswered for a long time.
Is this the foundation you want to build your business upon?
Higher-priced boilerplates are priced accordingly to ensure the founder can focus full-time on running the business and delivering the best experience to you.
If $1000 sounds expensive, think of it this way –
An experienced developer will cost upwards of $1000 per day, so purchasing a boilerplate with hundreds of hours of input from the same developer is a bargain.
1. Choose your tech stack
The best stack is usually the stack you already know. The purpose of using a SaaS boilerplate is to speed up your development time. Learning a new language, framework, and boilerplate is inefficient, so choose a boilerplate written in a language and framework you're familiar with.
Exceptions to this rule are if you intend to learn a new technology or need a specific stack for a project. Avoid shiny object syndrome with flashy new frameworks or tools and stick to tried-and-tested technologies that you are confident are stable and will be supported for years.
2. Determine your budget
How much can you afford to spend on a SaaS boilerplate? Cheaper does not mean better; the more expensive boilerplates will save you more time with better documentation, code quality and support.
3. Find boilerplates for your stack
Google <your stack name> SaaS boilerplate
e.g. node js saas boilerplate
This GitHub repo has an up-to-date list of SaaS boilerplates.
4. Choose quality over features
Buying a boilerplate with the most or coolest features is tempting, but this isn't the best strategy. Instead, choose the highest quality and most mature boilerplate for your budget. Determining the quality can be difficult because you can't try the product before purchasing, so you must use other signals to evaluate quality.
1. Check Reviews
Does the boilerplate have a TrustPilot page? These are independent reviews not controlled by the boilerplate creator. Most websites share only the positive reviews on their homepage; a TrustPilot page will let you see any potential issues.
Google: <saas boilerplate name> reviews
If you can't find anything online, the boilerplate is likely not widely used or good quality.
2. Check the boilerplate's history
How long has the boilerplate been around?
When was it last updated?
If the boilerplate is five years old and was updated last week, it's a good indicator that it is mature; most of the bugs have been fixed, and it's actively maintained.
An old boilerplate that hasn't been updated for months or years is likely to have been abandoned by its founder.
3. Check the founder
Who created the boilerplate?
Do they have experience with the boilerplate stack?
Is the founder focused on the boilerplate full-time?
Are they running ten other products or jumping around from idea to idea?
A focused founder strongly signals that the boilerplate is well-maintained and supported. If they're working on ten other products, it's probably a side project to them, and you can only expect to get 10% of their attention as a customer.
Checking the Founder's X/Twitter is an excellent way to gauge their commitment and experience.
Below are recommendations for SaaS boilerplates that meet all of the criteria above to deliver a high-quality product that is regularly maintained and supported by a dedicated founder.
Founder: Kyle Gawley - experienced SaaS founder focused exclusively on the business full-time.
2. SaaS Pegasus
3. Bullet Train
Stack: Ruby On Rails**
Founder: Andrew Culver - experienced developer with an active history in the Rails community.
Navigating the choppy waters of purchasing a SaaS boilerplate doesn't have to be complicated. Hopefully, this guide has given you a better understanding of what a SaaS Boilerplate is, how they work and the best approach for selecting a boilerplate for your project and getting the best value for money and the highest quality product.
Happy building ⚒️