I developed my first Shopify app earlier this year.
It displays Shopify customer data next to customer support emails in any web-based email client (like Gmail) so that Shopify store owners could answer customer support emails and have relevant info like the customer's order history and status right next to the customer's email in the same browser window.
After coming up with the initial design, I put together a quick prototype in a weekend and asked a couple of buddies that own ecommerce stores for feedback. Everyone thought it was a great idea and some even sent me pages of emails chock-full of great feedback that I incorporated into the app.
I felt great! I was finally onto something. So I spent the next month working nights and weekends coding the app and putting together the marketing plan. Then I launched the app...
...and nobody came.
Just because an idea sounds good doesn't mean that it's solving a serious pain that customers are having. And unfortunately, no one will pay you for your product or service if it doesn't solve a serious pain.
Over time, I was able to get a small and dedicated user base to use the app, but it didn't solve a common enough pain point to generate the revenues I wanted and it took a ton of promoting to get users.
The big mistake I made was that I built a solution first and then went looking for a problem. This is backwards! What I should have done was find a painful problem Shopify customers already have and solve that exact problem for them.
(Note: I included a bonus resource at the end of this article that will give you a list of gold mines where you can research painful problems ecommerce store owners have. Build products and services for these painful problems and you will have customers begging you to take their money.)
I learned my lesson. Find the problem THEN build the solution. So for my second Shopify app (Email Collector, currently in beta), I did my research beforehand and spoke to customers for weeks before writing a single line of code.
The result? My second app gained the same amount of users as my first app in a fraction of the time with zero promotion. Email Collector clearly solved a bigger pain than Email Inbox CRM.
I wasn't 100% happy, though, I wanted to really nail down a painful problem to solve for my next product. So I kept on using my same approach. For my third Shopify-related "product," I created a podcast called Shopify Masters.
Solving a Problem
What problem does a podcast solve? To find out, just go to the Shopify Community forums – nine out of 10 posts are Shopify merchants begging for ways (indirectly or directly) to increase their traffic and sales. (It's not a fluke that all my podcast topics and marketing material are about increasing traffic and sales.)
I recognized that there was a real thirst for education from first-time ecommerce entrepreneurs, so I started up the Shopify Masters podcast to interview Shopify entrepreneurs.
To keep in line with my new mantra of "solve the exact problems customers have", my podcast questions come directly from listeners and Shopify Community forum posts. This has led to hundreds of listeners for each of my weekly podcasts (released every Monday) and I only started the podcast two months ago.
Today I'm going to teach you the four steps I took each time to validate that I am solving a painful enough problem that customers will pay for.
I often get messages from listeners saying how they can't wait to hear the next episode. I'm not telling you this to brag, I'm telling you this to show you that the method works.
There's not enough room to reveal everything in this episode, but you will learn my favorite four-step process to finding problems customers will happily pay for:
Finding your customer’s watering holes. These are places online where your customers are actively discussing their problems (these are problems they’ll pay you to solve)
Uncovering the gold. How to identify painful problems your customers are talking about in the watering holes
Create a blog or forum to do some light validation. Find out if customers will pay.
Use the customer’s words to craft your site or app description copy
So that's it. Those were the steps that I followed. I started Shopify Masters on June 29th, 2014 and now have a thriving email list. I get to talk to and help multiple Shopify store owners every day about their problems. These are all problems they would gladly pay someone to solve for them.
I want you to be able to do the same. So I'm giving you a free resource to get you started. I've put together a list of watering holes that you can go to right now (they're all online) where you can begin your research for painful problems. Just go to shopifymasters.org/partners.
Your research will guide you if you are looking for a new app to develop or a new service to start. If you already have an app or service and want more customers (who doesn't?), use these watering holes to find the right language to use in your marketing copy so you communicate clearly with your customer.