Entry #2: SaaS Startup Initial Steps

Welcome back! This week I made some progress with my starting point in this journey. I’ve managed to narrow my focus a bit, I conduct some light market research, gather some ideas, and even reach out to potential customers.

Idea Generation

I’ve fallen in the trap of starting with a product or an idea and trying to find a problem for it to solve. This isn’t the best approach and finding product-market fit like this is incredibly challenging. What I’ve heard a lot is “start with a problem”. That’s everyone’s advice. However, I find it difficult to just sit down and figure out what problems to solve. I also don’t find it feasible to wait around until I come across a pain point within my own day to day process and generate business ideas from that. I like reproducible steps.

Start with Market

In addition to the “problem first” mentality, I’ve also come across a unique take on the approach to the idea phase, and that is, “start with a market.” I like this avenue for two reasons. First, starting with a market, and more importantly, starting with a niche within the market, simplifies the space and customers to enough of a degree to where I could understand them, their struggles, their processes, their values, etc.

The second reason I like the “market first” approach is because the community that you build a product for is going to be a part of your life. I’m going to be spending a lot of time within that community and interacting with members of the community. I’m going to be close to their problems and their processes. Because of this, it’s important to have a certain level of interest in the community and enjoyment interacting with its members.

Industry Research

I started with valuating general industries. I first had to get my hands on a list of industries and I came across these two resources:

While going through the resources above, I used a few general guidelines to evaluate whether an industry was a viable option or not:

  • I have a certain level of expertise in the industry, or I’m close with someone that does
  • I have interest in the industry
  • I can see yourself being involved in the industry long term
  • The industry is lucrative
  • The industry is generally not too difficult to market to and members are generally open to adopting new technology
  • The industry has a wide variety of businesses, small and big

After going through the lists, I generated my own list of about a dozen viable industries. I further evaluate this list and narrowed it down to three industries

  1. Software engineering
  2. eCommerce
  3. Real estate

I decided to narrow even further and just choose one industry to dive into, and so I chose eCommerce. So, where do I go from here? The first important question I wanted to tackle was, what platform do I target?


Shopify was the first platform that came to my mind, however, with over 6,000 apps on the marketplace, it could be a tough space to get into and gain traction in. So, I decided to look into other competing and emerging eCommerce platforms and for each one, I evaluated their growth potential. I finally landed on the platform Ecwid.

Seeing these upwards trends, along with other data points, gave me the initial confidence to look further into Ecwid. I decided the obvious next place to look was the Ecwid app store and, after brief evaluation, I noticed that the marketplace was obviously lacking. Where a platform such as Shopify has over 6,000 apps, Ecwid had less than 100. This seemed like an obvious space with potential. The next thing I decided to do was to continue going through the Ecwid app store and pinpoint what features were clearly missing, just to get an idea of the potential out there. I came up with the following list, which is still growing:

  • 301 redirects for 404 errors
  • Product recommendations
  • A/B testing
  • Visual search for product discovery
  • Wish list feature
  • Subscription management and billing
  • shoppable quizzes that customers can engage with to find the best fit products in the store
  • Integrated payment plan for larger ticket items

In addition to this, I created my own barebones store and poked around, downloaded some apps, and played around with it all. Now, I realize that eCommerce is an industry and not a niche, so I will eventually be narrowing down the scope of my research, but for now I’m intentionally keeping it broad.

Reaching Out To Store Owners

At this point, I felt confident in further pursuing this route, but I needed to gain more insight into the problems that exist in this ecosystem. I think a great way to do so is to have real conversations for real store owners; this was also my chance to put some of the concepts from the book The Mom Test into action. If you’re unfamiliar with the book, it’s a fantastic, short read that dives into conducting customer interviews in such a manner that extracts the genuine truth and that not even your mother could lie to you (since your mom is always going to tell you your ideas are great). So here were my next steps:

  1. Gather a list of Ecwid stores
  2. Create a template email to send to each store owner
  3. Send out my requests to meet

Gathering a List of Ecwid Stores

So, first thing was first. I needed a list of stores. I came across this resource that had a list of 50 stores. Going through the list, I noticed that not all the stores were in fact hosted on Ecwid. Some were on Shopfiy, some on WooCommerce, etc. I figured that these stores must have transitioned to other platforms at some point. Rather than manually going through all 50 stores, I wrote a quick python script to do the following:

  1. Make a request to the above URL and pull the entire source code of the web page
  2. Scrape all the store URLs from the list of stores
  3. Iterate through the list of URLs and make a request to each one
  4. For each store, check to see if the string “ecwid” exists in the source code
  5. If so, write the URL to a file, otherwise, move on
import requests
from bs4 import BeautifulSoup

url = "https://www.ecwid.com/blog/50-exemplary-online-stores-built-with-ecwid.html"
outputFileName = "ecwid_store_urls.txt"

def getStoreUrls():
    # get article source code
    response = requests.get(url)

    # create beautiful soup object from source text, allowing parsing
    soup = BeautifulSoup(response.content, "html.parser")

    # retrieve all h3 tags nested in blog-content__content class
    headers = soup.find("div", {"class": "blog-content__content"}).find_all("h3")
    storeUrls = []

    # retrieve url strings from header tags
    for header in headers:
        anchorTag = header.find("a")
        if anchorTag != None:

    return storeUrls

def getValidEcwidStores():
    storeUrls = getStoreUrls()
    file = open(outputFileName, "a")

    # go through each url, pull source code, and check if it contains string "ecwid"
    # write valid urls to file
    for url in storeUrls:
            response = requests.get(url)
            if b"ecwid" in response.content:
                print("added " + url)
                file.write(url + "\n")


After running the script, it filtered the list down from 50 to 30 legitimate Ecwid stores.

Creating a template email to send to each store owner

Next, I had to formulate the request in a way that was genuine, welcoming, and also showed value to them so they would feel encouraged enough to meet. I took my play straight out from The Mom Test, basing my message on their formula:

  1. You’re an entrepreneur trying to solve horrible problem X, usher in wonderful vision Y, or fix stagnant industry Z. Don’t mention your idea.
  2. Frame expectations by mentioning what stage you’re at and, if it’s true, that you don’t have anything to sell.
  3. Show weakness and give them a chance to help by mentioning the specific problem that you’re looking for answers on. This will also clarify that you’re not a
    time waster.
  4. Put them on a pedestal by showing how much they, in particular, can help.
  5. Explicitly ask for help.

Now, I didn’t follow it to a tee, but here is what I had written when reaching out to store owners:

Subject: eCommerce Experience Conversation


I hope you're having a great day so far!  I'm reaching out to you because I'm a software engineer looking to add value to eCommerce entrepreneurs and their stores.

I don't have a product and I'm not trying to sell anything, rather, I want to gain insight into the main pain points that store owners, such as yourself, are facing.  For starters, the Ecwid app store seems a bit lacking and I think users could definitely benefit from more/better solutions.

I am familiar with eCommerce, but I'm new to Ecwid and I lack some perspective in this space.  Given the quality and professionalism of your store, I can see you have a certain level of expertise.  

I would love the chance for us to have a brief conversation about your experiences as a store owner and pain points you haven't been able to find adequate solutions for.  Do you have any time within the next week or two to talk?

Saular Raffi

Sending Out My Requests To Meet

Once I had my message finalized, the last thing to do was to send them out to individual store owners. Now, the way I approached this was by just sending it on whatever channel they provided via their Contact Us page. I will admit, this may not have been the best method as most of these requests are likely just going to a support team rather than the store owners themselves. Some may get relayed to store owners, some may not, and it’s possible that none of them will. I’m going to wait a bit to see if I get any bites, and if not, I will find another channel to reach out to store owners.

Importance of Community

I believe that when it comes to growing and developing expertise in a new domain, the power of community is invaluable. I’ll give an example. About 8 months ago, I started indulging in Latin dance (Bachata/Salsa). I’ve come a long way since then and it’s been an incredible journey. Looking back on it all, at every point of major improvement, paradigm shift, discovery of new resources, participation in out-of-state festivals, and moments of intense enjoyment, it was the community that was at the heart of each of those things for me. The community catapulted me in every way and I would be nowhere near where I am today if it wasn’t for me.

So, I’m taking that lesson and applying it to business, which I think may even benefit greater from community than even the dance world. There is so much knowledge, challenges, and unknowns involved with starting a business that it’s almost detrimental to try tackling it all by yourself and your own knowledge base. Mistakes are great and I believe I still need to make a lot of them to learn, but learning from other people’s mistakes is just as valuable. There are plenty of individuals out there who have been where currently am and are either now where I want to be or are headed there. Why not take advantage of that?

For now, I’ve joined Indie Hackers and I’ve also put myself on the waitlist for MicroConf Connect. I don’t want to get bloated with communities, so I may add one more or just keep it to that. I’ve also explored Meetup.com a bit and will continue to see if I can find valuable groups/meetups/events through there as well.

In addition to embedding myself in communities of SaaS entrepreneurs, I think it’s also important to do the same for communities revolving around the niche that I’m going to create products for. This serves two purposes:

  1. I can get closer to the experiences of entrepreneurs running an online store and gaining first hand exposure to what works for them as well as their day to day pain points
  2. I can potentially establish some credibility for myself, depending on how much I contribute to these communities. One thing I was thinking was creating a eCommerce blog, putting out content, both learning more about the industry and building an audience.

So, I’ve also been looking around for quality eCommerce communities and will continue to do so.

Next Objectives

At this point, I have a few action items for the next two weeks:

  1. Come up with 10 solid Ecwid app ideas to validate. These app ideas should have gone through an evaluation process (that I will develop) and each of them should be good enough to start extensively validating
  2. Set up Ecwid app development environment, create an example app that communicates with the Ecwid API, and register the app
  3. Schedule at least 15 interviews with store owners

I will likely add a couple more objectives to this list as I proceed with the week, but this is the idea I have as far as next steps.

If you made it to the end, I just want to say thank you! I’ll catch you in my next update, so until then, take care and keep grinding!

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