Shopify is an amazing platform for enabling entrepreneurs (and people who don’t even think of themselves as entrepreneurs – yet!) to start selling products online.
Shopify is amazing if you want to sell handmade pottery, tshirts, art, jewellery, candles (like my sister) or any other physical product you can imagine.
It’s used by individuals, and its increasingly used by HUGE retailers to sell more products to more people.
Shopify is also a truly inspirational company – having grown like crazy over ~10 years, with a level of product obsession that is often lost once a business reaches IPO and beyond.
Shopify is perfect if you want to sell candles. But what if you want to sell software?
What do you need to do as a a hungry, ambitious, passionate developer or designer who’s want to build a business around their software?
Where is the equivalent of Shopify for SaaS?
The journey of a SaaS founder
If you’re anything like me, you’ve tried this:
You have an idea for your product or service before you’ve built it. You start by building a bit of an audience. You start capturing some details so you can speak to people about the problem space.
You then listen, and digest, and feed that feedback into your plans – what should this software do? What problems should I solve and what should I ignore? How much should I charge?
You then start building – and this process goes in cycles. You get to a point where you have SOMETHING – that magic moment where you can send an actual link to one of your followers and see them USE it! It’s either a eureka moment or it’s a punch in the face. And you keep going until you have something that your audience of 1 or 10 actually use, and actually want to try out. You don’t give up. You. Don’t. Give. Up.
After some time of continuing to iterate you think “now might be the time to monetise this”. Maybe it’s still just you, or maybe it’s you and a few friends – either way, you dream of the day you can quit your job, get yourself to a beach in Portugal, with nothing but a bottle of suncream, a MacBook, and a gigabit internet connection.
You get Stripe wired up, you crack open a bottle of your finest craft lager and jump on the sofa when you get that first notification “You received a new payment $29. Congrats!”
And from there it’s not an instant jump to buying a private jet. It’s a slog – a truly exhausting, at time frustrating, but at times joyous – slog as you go from one customer to two. To 10. To 50. To 100. To… who knows.
And some day you look at your graphs and you realise – wow. You’ve built a business. You’ve put a piece of software into the world, and you’ve done the impossible – you’ve built a recurring revenue business around it. You call the shots. You have wonderful, happy customers who love you because your software is solving a painful problem for them. You have a reliable, recurring income stream. You have financial independence, and you’re doing what you love. And you can go work from a beach for a day or a week.
You’re so thrilled with the success you start to think: maybe you should do this again… And the same hungry, passionate creative traits that enabled you to start in the first place push you to do it all again – but this time with the battle scars, the comrades, and the experience from doing it all before.
You go again.
The struggle is real
It’s a heck of a journey. And people who want to build a SaaS business are relatively alone compared to people who want to start an ecommerce business.
You have no “Shopify for SaaS” to help you grow your software business. You probably even look at Shopify and try to borrow ideas from their ecommerce focused help articles and blog posts and figure out if they make sense for your SaaS model. You pick and choose from blog to blog and whoever is giving their best advice on Twitter.
Your tooling is based on a Twitter thread you read a few months back – you’ve been agonising over the right tech stack and have doubts you’ve picked the right front-end framework. You’re worried if Tailwind will be the right choice in a year’s time.
When it comes to tools to use for marketing, for analytics, for customer service you keep it as basic as possible – the big guys seem to have Intercom, Hubspot, Zendesk, and all the shiny fancy stuff. But those feel like overkill.
You choose to either not put the tooling in place or you pick whatever has a free plan and the least horrendous marketing site. You ask for advice from friends and in Reddit SaaS and IndieHackers and get 50 recommendations all with tradeoffs and pros and cons.
Before you know it, you have 10 other SaaS tools each talking to each other and passing data around. You start worrying that Segment isn’t piping data to Google Analytics and your graph for website conversion is flat – but is it because of an issue with integration or is it because you haven’t been growing? And you start spending your time on issues like this day-in and day-out when all you want to be doing is making your product BETTER for the customers you’re winning.
There’s got to be a better way… Surely? Where is the Shopify for SaaS to help us?
Some have tried…
This post was largely inspired by a Twitter thread that came across my radar recently from Jakob Greenfeld. In the thread, it became clear that some have attempted to solve some of the problems around starting and growing a SaaS business, but that still there was no one, true “Shopify of SaaS” that everyone agrees on.
A few of the stories, services and options in Jakob’s thread:
- SaaSify by Travis Fischer (even the name is right!)
- Divjoy to help get your codebase off the ground
- Outseta for SaaS scaffolding and marketing
- Memberstack for user logins and building a membership site
- Serverless SaaS for building faster using React
- Paddle for payments and handling VAT
Seeing as you’re on the GoSquared blog, if you’re a SaaS founder yourself, then you might want to see how GoSquared can help you grow your SaaS business and solve some of these problems for you.
If any of these challenges feel familiar to you, let me know – ping me a message: @jamesjgill