Software Business Models

Types of software businesses

We now turn our attention to exploring the various types of software businesses. Each type presents a unique set of opportunities, challenges, and operating models, thereby offering diverse paths to entrepreneurship within the software industry.

Why Does the Type of Software Business Matter?

Choosing the right business type is critical to your venture’s success. Each business model comes with its distinct opportunities and challenges. Therefore, understanding these models can help you align your software business with your skills, passions, market opportunities, and personal and business goals. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer; the best software business type for you depends on your unique circumstances and aspirations.

Software Service vs Product Businesses

Software product businesses create and sell proprietary software products. These can range from web applications to desktop applications to mobile apps, sold as one-time purchases or recurring subscriptions. This model allows for creativity, intellectual property ownership, and the potential for high profit margins. However, it also involves considerable upfront investment in product development and marketing and can be risky due to the product-centric nature of the business. SaaS, non-SaaS, micro-SaaS businesses all fall into the software product business category.

Software services businesses, on the other hand, provide professional services typically on a time-and-materials basis. This can include custom software development, consulting, system integration, and more. The advantage of this model is that it typically requires less upfront investment, as services are often billed hourly or by project, providing a steady revenue stream. However, it can also involve challenges such as managing client expectations, ensuring consistent quality of service, and the need for constant business development as projects are completed. This model often results in lower profit margins compared to product-based businesses and might lack the scalability of a software product business. Dev agencies, consultancies and freelancing constitute software service businesses.

Software as a Service (SaaS)

Software as a Service, better known as SaaS, has emerged as one of the most popular business models in the software industry. In a SaaS model, software is provided as a service via the internet, rather than as a one-time download. Billing is done on a subscription-basis, meaning users make regular payments (typically monthly or annually) to use the software. Companies that use this model include giants like Salesforce, Slack, and Zoom.

The SaaS model’s advantages include predictable revenue streams, scalability, and the ability to serve a global audience from day one. However, it also comes with its challenges, such as the necessity for continuous product development, customer retention, and managing competition in often crowded markets.

Non-SaaS (Traditional) Software Business

Non-SaaS software businesses are traditional software businesses that sell a broad range of software that is not provided as a service. This could include standalone software applications sold as a one-time purchase, and specialized software designed for specific industries or uses. Companies that fall into this category range include software producers like Adobe (although they are moving to a SaaS model as well).

Non-SaaS software products come with the advantage of potential high-profit margins on each sale and a broad range of potential customers. However, they often involve significant upfront investment in development and marketing, especially considering the need for updates and new versions to keep up with changing user needs and technology advancements. The pressure to continuously innovate and compete with both other paid software and freemium or open-source alternatives is also a common challenge in this business model.

Mobile App Business

Mobile app companies focus on the development of applications specifically designed for mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets. Their mobile apps are typically available for download on app stores. They cater to a wide variety of user needs, from social media and lifestyle apps to productivity tools and games. The majority of these businesses earn revenue through a combination of app purchases, in-app purchases, subscription services, or advertising. Well-known examples include companies like ByteDance (TikTok), Snap Inc. (Snapchat) and Spotify. While the mobile app market can be competitive and often saturated, it also offers the potential for significant growth and profitability given the global ubiquity of mobile devices and the centrality of apps to modern digital life.

Game Developer

Gaming developers create interactive entertainment for a variety of platforms, including consoles, PCs, and mobile devices. These businesses invest heavily in creative design, programming, and oftentimes, narrative storytelling. Monetization strategies can vary widely, from one-time purchases of games, recurring subscription models, to free-to-play games with in-app purchases. Companies like Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, and Nintendo exemplify this business model. The gaming industry is highly competitive, with success often dependent on hit titles, but it also presents an opportunity for high reward due to its massive and passionate consumer base.

Micro-SaaS and Indie Software

A Micro-SaaS business is a SaaS business that is typically run by a solo founder or a small team. It focuses on providing a solution to a niche problem, often serving a narrow or specialized customer base.

Similarly, indie software businesses are usually owned and operated by individuals or small teams. The products can range from desktop applications to mobile apps, usually targeting niche markets.

These business types can offer a sustainable lifestyle and creative fulfillment for a solo founder or two. However, they may not have the massive growth potential seen in larger-scale SaaS businesses, and owners often have to wear many hats.

Dev Agency

A software development agency involves providing custom software development services to clients on a project basis. This type of business suits those with strong technical skills and project management abilities. The scope for a project can range from building full-scale software systems to smaller applications, depending on the client’s requirements.

The model allows for flexibility in terms of project diversity and scalability. However, challenges may include acquiring and retaining clients, managing multiple projects simultaneously, and ensuring high-quality deliverables within set timelines. We’ll explore how to handle these challenges when we discuss putting a dev team together, project management, and client relations for dev agencies in later chapters.


Freelance software development is a business model that can offer a high degree of flexibility and control. As a freelancer, you operate as an independent contractor, taking on projects that suit your skills and interests.

While freelancing can offer freedom and a diverse range of work, it also brings unique challenges. These include finding steady work, setting competitive yet profitable rates, and managing all business aspects, such as legal and financial considerations all by yourself. As a freelancer, you’re not just a developer; you’re also a business owner.


A software consultancy leverages expertise in specific technologies, methodologies, or industry sectors to help clients solve problems or improve their software capabilities. It could involve advising on software strategy, implementing software solutions, or providing training.

A consultancy business can be profitable and rewarding for those with deep expertise and strong communication skills. However, like freelancing, it requires constant networking and client acquisition.

Open Source

In an open-source business, the software’s source code is openly available for others to view, modify, and distribute. The business model can involve providing the software for free and generating revenue through services like custom development, support, or premium features. Examples include OpenVPN security software and Odoo ERP software.

The open-source approach can lead to high-quality software, thanks to community contributions and scrutiny. However, it can be challenging to generate revenue, and you must be willing to navigate the unique legal landscape of open-source software.