Entry #4 – The Return To the SaaS Startup Path

So, I’m back and ready to resume my journey. I had come across a startup that really intrigued me and had inspired me to join them. I had been developing more of an affinity towards joining an existing startup and so, during this time, I was looking into a few different startups. I was also even considering overemployment, in which I work for two different companies as a software engineer. But throughout all of this, I could help but sense something within me crying out at me to take my shot at starting my own business; and this noise grew louder and louder over the months. I decided I must continue on the path I had set out on back in June. So, even though I’m still pursuing the startup I had original gained interest in, I will also continue to create my own business on the side. I’ll actually find out in a couple days whether I’ll be extended an offer or not…so we’ll see.

The Stair Step Approach

I want to emphasize where I am in my journey and where it fits in with the larger plan. All of us who are aspiring SaaS entrepreneurs foam at the mouth for that classic SaaS business that brings in that sweet sweet 6 or even 7 figure monthly revenue. However, this is a sizeable challenge that requires a significant amount of work and experience to pull off properly. When it comes to tackling big problems, I like to refer to the method that therapists takes to help their patients overcome extreme fears: exposure therapy. With this approach, the patient systematically exposes themselves to their fear, starting with triggers that induce mild fear, and gradually exposing themselves to more intense triggers. The point is that, as the patient exposes themselves to more intense triggers, they gain experience and confidence in handling themselves in the face of their fears.

Now, back to entrepreneurship. I like the idea of starting off at a manageable level and working my way up to harder and harder levels, kind of like a videogame. This approach has been emphasized by Rob Walling and he calls it The Stair Step Method of Bootstrapping. Essentially, you start off building a simple application that solves a single problem very well and only requires a single traffic channel to succeed. Ideally, this app can be build for an existing ecosystem such as WordPress, Shopify, Atlassian, etc. Once you’ve launched and grown your profitable micro-SaaS business, you rinse and repeat. Create another app with the same winning approach that worked with your successful app.

Taking this stair step approach allows for three things:

  1. It allows you to go through the SaaS process (market research, product development, marketing, customer support, etc.) but on a smaller and more manageable scale. This also allows you to do it multiple times in a smaller time frame than you’d be able to with a larger SaaS app.
  2. You build up enough revenue so that you could quit your day job and work on your business(es) full time, if that’s what you want.
  3. You can build up a business with less stress and likely more enjoyment.

So, after building a couple micro-SaaS apps, you’ve built up your confidence and experience, and you’ve bought back your time and can work as a full time entrepreneur. Now, your chances of successfully building a larger, more complex and standalone SaaS app are much higher.

Searching for an Ideal Market and Problem

I think it’s important to mention that the initial process of coming up with a business idea doesn’t have to be strictly chronological. In other words, it’s not necessary to start with market/niche, then problem, then solution, then product.  There may be times where I come across a problem and then working my way back to the market. Or maybe I come across a successful product and work my way back to it solving a different problem and therefore a new market.  As long as I validate the market, validate the problem, and validate the solution, I believe it should be fine.

Here are some ways I’m searching for problems to solve:

  • Searching through the Shopify Discussion forum and the Apps forum, seeing what people are complaining about.
  • Browsing the Shopify app marketplace, especially apps with sizeable downloads but poor reviews, and seeing what customers are not satisfied with.
  • Looking through existing Shopify stores (found through Store Leads) operating within a specific market and seeing what common needs these stores have and where their needs are potentially not being met.
  • Identifying what apps stores within a certain market are using (Store Leads has this ability) and finding ways to improve on those apps.

In addition, when looking to creating an app that is an improvement on an existing solutions, here are some unique value propositions I try to keep in mind:

  • Better UI/UX
  • Better customer service
  • More affordable (if current solutions are tailored towards mid-sized businesses, tailor yours to smaller businesses)
  • Fulfilment of lacking feature(s)
  • Less features, more simple

Creating a Shopify App Marketplace Scraper

Another method I’m experimenting with regarding finding adequate app ideas is automating the process of finding apps with issues. Essentially, I’ve created a web scraper that goes through the Shopify app marketplace, accumulates as many apps as it can, and gathers information such as ratings, reviews, categories, etc. I plan on creating a simple UI that provides me the ability to easily search and filter apps, hopefully allowing me to efficiently find opportunities with underperforming apps that are also providing value to merchants. I stretch goal I have with this app is implementing NLP so that the program can analyze all reviews of a specific app and return the top complaints users have with the app, each problem having an impact score of some sort.

After running the scraper, which took about 4 days of due to throttling in order to prevent IP ban, it has gathered and stored data on about 7,000 apps.

Here is the link to my Shopify app marketplace scraper.

Methodology for Evaluating Shopify Ideas

Lastly, I’ve done some digging for a methodology to evaluating a potential Shopify app idea. I found a great YouTube video by Jan from CodingWithJan in which he proposes important criteria that developers should take into consideration when choosing an app idea. If you would like to see the original video, you can watch it here.

Here are 9 criteria for evaluating a Shopify app:

  1. Total addressable market
    • How many Shopify stores could potentially utilize our app?
  2. Importance of the problem
    • Is it a necessity and urgent to the store?  Or is it a nice-to-have?
  3. Search volume
    • Would people search for this solution on their own?
    • Check Google analytics, related YouTube videos and associated view counts, etc.
  4. Marketing opportunities
    • Are there channels you can use to reach your audience?
    • Are there spaces that your audience can be found in?
    • Influencer marketing?
  5. Return on investment (ROI) for the customer
    • Is there a clear way to see how much time/money the app saves the customer?
  6. Technical simplicity
    • How difficult is it going to be to build the app?
  7. Low competition
    • Little to no existing solutions out there
  8. Low support demand
    • How much support needs to be provided to customers?
    • Can support be automated or are there aspects of support that need to be manual?
  9. How to come up with app ideas
    • Freelance for a bit a see what kinds of problems occur repeatedly across different clients
    • Check other existing apps and see if there’s a way to improve upon them
    • Research other platforms to see what successful apps they have that Shopify doesn’t
    • Check out Shopify forum, Facebook group, reddit, etc.
    • Attend e-commerce meetups and talk to merchants

Next Objectives

So, that’s about it since I picket back up on my journey. I’ve been continuing my market research, trying to find an adequate market that interests me and possesses adequate opportunities for solving impactful issues. With a combination of manual research, like forums and current apps, as well as automation using my Shopify app marketplace scraper, I’m confident that I’m getting closer to my product idea.

My objectives for the following two weeks include:

  1. Choose a market/niche to focus on.
  2. Reach out to prospective merchants within that market/niche, asking to speak to them in order to gain insight into their pain points.
  3. Research NLP technology and determine viability of NLP integration into my scraper.
  4. Join online entrepreneur and SaaS developer communities.

Leave a Comment