Over the past six weeks, we’ve shared the videos and transcripts of our new founder interview series Beyond the Build. In this series, host Fatima Yusuf sat down with top Shopify SaaS founders whose apps have impacted tens of thousands of merchants. They shared what it takes to successfully build, grow, and scale an app on Shopify.
Over six episodes, we’ve heard from the founders of Klaviyo, Shippo, Privy, Yotpo, ShipperHQ, and Bold. They’ve shared insights, lessons learned, and valuable advice for anyone launching and growing a SaaS business. If you haven’t seen the interviews yet, watch them below.
Throughout these six episodes, some common themes have emerged. In this article, we dig into those themes to highlight the top takeaways from some of the most successful founders on Shopify. Let’s jump in.
1. Understand your users and their unique needs
One thing our founders all agree on is the importance of knowing your users and grasping the nuances of their day-to-day work. For many, this knowledge came from starting their careers in ecommerce, so they understand the pain points merchants face first-hand.
Karen Baker, the founder and CEO of ShipperHQ, is a great example of this. Having taken a year off from her work, she launched an ecommerce site to help support her family.
“I built an ecommerce site and solved the shipping problems in England. A lot of people started reaching out to me because I put my shipping solution on some forums, and they basically said, ‘Well, can you solve my problem? Can you solve their problem?’ Everything went crazy from there.”
Realizing that she had a promising shipping solution on her hands, Baker pivoted from her ecommerce store to support her SaaS business full-time.
Every founder we spoke to had a similar story. While experience in ecommerce software or small business ownership is certainly not necessary to found a successful SaaS commerce business, it does exemplify the importance of getting close to your users and understanding where friction exists in their workflows.
"The merchant journey is complex, and entrepreneurs are busy. Solutions that offer real relief to pain points are the most likely to succeed."
The merchant journey is complex, and entrepreneurs are busy. Solutions that offer real relief to pain points—essentially, anything that makes a merchant’s life easier—are the most likely to succeed.
This leads us to the second big takeaway our founders shared: the importance of being able to see the opportunities in the commerce journey.
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2. See the opportunities in every step of the merchant journey
For newcomers to the Shopify ecosystem, it might be easy to see the thousands of apps in the Shopify App Store and assume that the industry is saturated. In reality, that assumption couldn’t be farther from the truth. Another key factor stressed by our interviewees is the variety of opportunities available for SaaS companies in the commerce space.
Ecommerce is still in its early days. It's not saturated just yet.
“I would say, first of all, that ecommerce is still in its early days. It's not saturated just yet,” says Laura Behrens-Wu, the co-founder and CEO of Shippo.
Since merchant journeys are varied, and since each is nuanced in different ways according to its industry and the merchant’s business model, opportunities are present across industries and verticals.
“I would start looking at anything that ecommerce merchants or SMBs are doing by hand,” Behrens-Wu continues. “It’s nice to build for SMBs because a lot of the mid-market products are out of reach for SMBs, both in terms of price, but also in terms of complexity. Starting with SMBs, you can start just putting out MVPs, immediately solving their pain points. The product does not need to be extremely polished as long as it's helping them save time or money.”
Every step of a merchant’s journey is an industry in and of itself. Look no further than shipping, the vertical that both Shippo and ShipperHQ serve. It’s but one piece of the many factors merchants need to consider, and only one opportunity to build multi-million dollar solutions.
Quantifying the opportunity presented by the journey merchants and SMBs undertake came up with all our founders, especially when discussing capital.
3. Approach capital with an understanding of what you want from your business
Your approach to capital and funding will vary depending on what it is you want out of your business. The founders we interviewed all had different attitudes towards raising capital. Most that we spoke to agreed that while it can help you grow once you’re established, funding isn’t required to build a successful business.
Ben Jabbawy, the founder and CEO of Privy, explains, “There was a period for a long time where we didn't need capital. I actually think today, depending on the nature of your team or if you're a developer yourself, you don't need capital. You can build an amazing solution that adds value, you can submit it to the Shopify App Store, and you're going to get downloads.”
Depending on your goals and risk profile, funding may not be necessary, or it could be the next step in your company’s growth. If you choose to explore funding opportunities, being able to prove the value of your business is key.
All of the founders we spoke to agreed that—regardless of their own experiences with capital—investors will want to see the potential of your business. That means being able to explain the long-term value and total addressable market for your product.
For Tomer Tagrin, co-founder and CEO of Yotpo, that meant quantifying the opportunity of SMBs to potential investors.
“I remember a lot of investors tried to talk us out of focusing on SMBs, saying, ‘You're thinking too small. Look how small Shopify is. Enterprise is the only way to go,’” Tagrin says. “They literally couldn't grasp the strategy of, ‘You know what? Yes, we might have some enterprise, but Yotpo is an SMB company.’”
"Seeking investors is easier when you can prove the value of your product, and the best way to prove your product’s value is by having existing customers."
Regardless of the approach you take, one thing is certain: seeking investors is easier when you can prove the value of your product, and the best way to prove your product’s value is by having existing customers. Which brings us to our final big takeaway: the importance of getting started.
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4. The best time to start is now
For any entrepreneur, the hardest thing is starting. But to understand if your idea will work, to start getting users as fast as possible, to take the first step to building your SaaS company, you have to jump into the fray.
“The advice that I give everybody is, just start,” says Yvan Boisjoli, the co-founder and CEO of Bold Commerce. “Put some code down, launch a product, talk to a customer and just start, and learn, and get better, and iterate. That's really how you get things going. The only people that don't succeed are the ones that never actually start.”
Put some code down, launch a product, talk to a customer and just start, and learn, and get better, and iterate. That's really how you get things going. The only people that don't succeed are the ones that never actually start.
Moving fast means getting those first early users and reviews, so you can improve your product and take full advantage of the possibilities of a marketplace like the Shopify App Store.
“The sooner you take that idea that's been floating around in your head and you get to work on it, the better,” says Andrew Bialecki, co-founder and CEO of Klaviyo. Once you do that, you get the big endorphin rush that everybody gets when they finally ship something, when they get that first user, maybe that first customer.”
Bialecki continues, “It's important to try to optimize for getting something shipped as fast as you can. Go where people already are. That was a big part of our strategy. Finding customers is really hard. Anything you can do to make it easy to find the first one, two, five, 10, helps a ton. You want to be in a fast feedback loop. So yes, get started today. Don't waste time.”
Learn from the best SaaS founders in the Shopify ecosystem
The six SaaS founders we spoke to for Beyond the Build highlight some themes that we see again and again in successful businesses: a deep understanding of their users, the ability to see possibilities everywhere, a grasp on what they want from their business, and a willingness to get started. There’s no better time to start your SaaS business on Shopify, and to access a market of millions of Shopify merchants.
So check out Beyond the Build, learn from some of the top SaaS founders in the Shopify ecosystem, and start your journey today.