Preetam Nath

How I grew my Shopify micro-SaaS to 2000+ users in 40 days

..and got featured on Shopify app store

Shopify App Store Featured

3 months ago if someone had told me that I would launch a product that got thousands of users and ended up getting featured on a prominent marketplace, I wouldn't have believed them. I mean, I'm an optimist, but this one was borderline surrealist.

And yet, that's exactly what happened!

Grew Shopify app to 2000 users in 40 days

My micro-SaaS product, WhatsApp Chat Button, was launched on April 24th, 2019 on the Shopify App Store.

I built this product together with Sankalp Jonna.

Here's what we've been up to in the 40 days (as of June 4th) since launch:

  • ๐Ÿ’ฌ Conversations with 100+ Shopify store owners from 10+ nationalities (Google Translate FTW!)
  • ๐Ÿ† #1 ranked app for WhatsApp keyword
  • ๐Ÿ›๏ธ 2000+ active Shopify stores
  • โค๏ธ Highest-rated โ€œWhatsApp Chatโ€ app on Shopify with raving 5-star reviews
  • ๐Ÿ’ป 2 major iterations launched (v3 introduced a paid plan)
  • ๐ŸŒŸ Featured on the Shopify App Store

How did we do it? I'm glad you asked!

Topics covered in this post

  1. Why we built a micro-SaaS
  2. Why Shopify and the e-commerce market
  3. Uncovering opportunities on Shopify
  4. Solving tech challenges while building a Shopify app
  5. Ranking on the Shopify app store
  6. Analytics for Shopify apps
  7. Monetising our Shopify app
  8. What's next

Why we built a micro-SaaS

In my previous post, I explained "What is micro-SaaS?". In this post, I'll explain why I picked micro-SaaS.

I've been enamoured with the startup world and coming up with ideas to startup ever since I joined the industry, back in 2015. I've dreamed and imagined and fantasized about building billion $ startups so much, I was consumed by it.

It's a cultural thing - you work for startups, you live in the startup capital of India, you read startup blogs and you discuss ideas with your friends in social gatherings. So of course your mentality becomes one that is constantly seeking and evaluating potential "unicorn" startup ideas.

I never paused to consider that the entire world around me is building small, local, profitable businesses around me.

If you walked down the street near your house this morning, chances are you crossed about half a dozen different "businesses" that are operating and thriving (if they weren't, they would shut down, as they do not have millions of $ in funding to burn cash). I started to appreciate the beauty of a business.

A startup that is successful often has many things going, including and not limited to

  • validation of core value proposition
  • working channel(s) of acquisition
  • providing continuous value or retention
  • great product and customer service

Guess what, a local business has a clear and well-validated core value proposition, they have a channel of acquisition (street walk-ins, or Google SEO), and they are already providing continuous value else customers would stop coming and the business would shut.

As I became increasingly frustrated with the "how do I come up with a Zero to One idea", my mentality shifted from the obsession with "unicorns" to

  • is this problem real and validated?
  • is there an acquisition channel we can tap?
  • would users come back?
  • can we build a great product and provide excellent customer service?
  • can we grow a business to $100k/yr in revenues?

I also accepted that not everyone, and not all the time, does one have to aspire to build a unicorn. I can just build a business. And having never actually run a business before in my life, micro-SaaS seemed like the perfect launchpad into the world of business.

Sankalp and I spent months discussing these questions before we both bought into this concept, and believed in it, and therefore decided to work together towards it.

Why Shopify and the e-commerce market

Short answer?

My friend Shashank runs a thriving and highly-profitable Shopify app called PushOwl. His journey, his learnings, his success taught me and inspired me and made me believe in Shopify as a platform. He also helped me realise just how HUGE the e-commerce market is (have you heard of Amazon?).

E-Commerce Global Market Size

Long answer?

Back in 2017, I tried my hand at building an online store. Dropshipping was the ๐Ÿ”ฅ back then, and I wanted in.

I did manage to build a store that raked in ~$500/mo in revenue, but after multiple copyright violations (that's what happens when you source generic products from Aliexpress) and a lack of general understanding of how an e-commerce business is built, I shut it down.

Aftwards, I took the time to understand what makes a valuable e-commerce business. I could understand and relate to people who started out of their homes, packaging their own products and selling to a niche audience, making a livelihood out of their business.

I truly wanted to enable and support these people, especially considering that I'm trying to do the same thing.

In the previous section, I highlighted how "is there an acquisition channel we can tap?" is an important question. Turns out, Shopify's app marketplace is a potential answer.

I also asked "can we grow a business to $100k/yr in revenues?". Thanks to the humongous size of the e-commerce market (in trillion $), the answer was YES.

But why Shopify, and not Atlassian or Slack or Google Chrome Extensions?

  • we were familiar with Shopify
  • we knew about e-commerce due to my past experience
  • we knew people in our network succeeding with Shopify

All these tiny reasons and more made Shopify the most obvious choice for us.

Uncovering opportunities on Shopify

In the first section, I highlighted the questions that need to be answered in order to have a shot at building a successful business. Let's apply them to Shopify.

Browsing the app store was a perfect way for us to understand what problems e-commerce store owners face, and care about. Shopify breaks things down by category and sub-category, giving you a very granular idea about the different types of problems you could solve.

Shopify App Store Research

Additionally, you could type in keywords on the Search bar, and that would give you more ideas about what problems to solve. I used Shopify's search autocomplete as a heuristic for sufficient demand.

After all, why would Shopify's search team include a keyword in autocomplete if it didn't have enough demand?

Shopify App Store Search Autocomplete

Before narrowing down, we did a very general approach by researching the entire app store. I personally visited every single page on the Shopify app store, under every category and sub-category, which helped me in creating a mental map of the ecosystem.

It also gave me ideas on how to evaluate any particular idea.

Is there enough demand?

  • is the problem being solved a "keyword" in Shopify's search autocomplete?
  • are the existing apps for that keyword getting new reviews? Since new reviews are a signal that new users are searching, installing, using, and liking the app enough to write a review.

Who are the competitors? Can I beat them?

  • what is the average rating and #reviews that my competitor has?
  • how strong is their recent reviews? is it all 5-stars? if so, is there a way for me to beat them?

What are the competitor's strenghts and weaknesses?

  • what keywords do people use in positive reviews? what keywords show up in negative reviews?
  • are there enough negatives that give a newcomer an opportunity to make a better product and acquire users?

Shopify App Ideas Research

(screenshots from my research spreadsheet...ssshh)

Shopify App Ideas

What is the business model of competitors?

  • are they charging a very high amount (say >$50/mo)? if so, is it because of costs, or can I build the same product and price it 5x cheaper at $10/mo?
  • is the app free/freemium? if so, are they using this app to drive business to another? can I compete with a different business model?
  • what features are my competitors charging for? can I make those features available for free and find a way to monetise with something else?

What is the tech effort involved?

  • can we build an MVP in 2 weeks? can we build out the entire product and feature set in 2 months?

What keywords, categories, and sub-categories do they rank for?

  • how do I acquire new users? Is there a keyword where they rank #1? If yes, can I beat them? If not, can I rank #1 for a different keyword in the same domain?

Market outside Shopify

  • can I launch the same app for other e-commerce platforms like BigCommerce, WooCommerce etc. in the future and expand my market size?

Solving tech challenges while building a Shopify app

If this is your first time building a Shopify app, I highly recommend that you start from their excellent documentation.

During development, you are sure to get stuck at many places. If you are unable to resolve something on your own, your first response should be to check the documentation.

It's not very likely that you would find answers on Stack Overflow, hence I recommend joining a Facebook group full of helpful Shopify App Developers.

This group was recommended to me by Shashank, and it helped immensely as the other developers are friendly and helpful. And now I'm paying it forward by recommending it to you.

Ranking on the Shopify app store

Shashank helped us understand the lifeblood of any Shopify app - ratings & reviews.

How to get them? The answer is no hidden secret.

  1. build a beautiful and easy-to-use product
  2. provide 11/10 customer service
  3. optimize store listing for right keywords
  4. win!!??

From Day 1, we were obsessed with serving every user with the best possible customer service. In the process, Sankalp and I ended up chatting with 100s of Shopify store owners from countries like Brazil, India, Mexico, Colombia, Spain, United Kingdom, South Africa, Morocco, Chile, China, United States, United Arab Emirates, Nigeria, Germany, Italy, France, Canada, Denmark, Pakistan, Netherlands, Costa Rica, and more.

Sometimes, we spent hours talking to customers about their business and trying our best to help, even when it wasn't related to our app! This is a perfect example of "do things that don't scale", as our customers were overwhelmed with how far we were willing to go to help them.

As a result, we have 100+ reviews on the app store, and are rated 5-stars.

WhatsApp Chat Button 5-star rating

From Day 1, we also ensured that our app was simple, and easy-to-use. We paid extra attention to the first-time setup, making it a breeze. All the fields that a user needs to configure would be pre-configured out of the box. Only the phone number field needs to be populated, and our user is good to go!

In the store description, we made sure to include keywords such as "whatsapp live chat" and "customer support" in an organic manner.

We were also very clear on the search terms we wanted to rank for, and our store listing reflected that.

WhatsApp Chat Button store search terms

Analytics for Shopify apps

Our app has launched, and it seems to be working. People are installing the app, our app shows up when you search for our target keywords, and they are leaving reviews.

Time to dig a bit deeper!

1. Add Google Analytics to the store listing page

Adding Google Analytics to the Shopify app listing page is a breeze. Navigate to the app store listing setup and add the GA tracking code.

Shopify app store lisiting data on Google Analytics

The advantages of adding GA:

  • Understand what search terms people are searching for before landing on the app
  • Understand the position/ranking of the app for various keywords

Analysing all the data in Google Analytics isn't easy. Here is an excellent post on connecting your GA to Sheets and setting up reports. I just set it up and it's made life easier!

Connect Shopify app listing data from Google Analytics to Google Sheets

These insights will help understand which keywords to optimise for and try to improve your ranking, which will (obviously) lead to more views and installs.

2. Add Google Analytics to the app

If an app is multi-page, Google Analytics can help track whether users are navigating those pages at all.

The other use case is to understand which countries top users are from, and which language do they access the app user interface.

Shopify App Google Analytics Report Country Wise

In our case, Brail the country and Portuguese the language are big.

This means we should optimise for reaching more users in Brazil, and perhaps even translating our entire app to Portuguese to make it more accessible.

3. Add Hotjar to your app

While aggregated data is great, it's difficult to understand where users dropped off or what problems they may have faced while using your app's interface without deeper analytics.

Hotjar is perfect for this use case and as a bonus, they also have a generous free tier.

Using Hotjar allows us to watch real recordings of our users browsing the app. Also, Hotjar takes care of privacy by hiding any inputs or sensitive data which is great in today's time.

Monetising our Shopify app

In order to acquire users, we launched v1 of WhatsApp Chat Button for free. Our aim was to provide a bare minimum feature set that every other app was providing, but give it away for free in order to attract users.

This set a simple flywheel in motion:

more users > more conversations > more reviews & ratings > higher search ranking > more users

In v2, we added the most common feature requests which included basic customisations to the button design, display position, etc.

In v3, our focus was to provide premium features that users had been asking for during conversations. We also wanted to ensure that a paid plan didn't affect any of the existing users, so we decided to keep the base feature set free forever.

WhatsApp Chat Button pricing

By keeping the free plan, we essentially want to ensure that our acquisition channel remains strong and that users prefer us over alternatives.

v3 with our first paid plan was launched on June 3rd, 2019. Since the plan comes with a 7-day trial, we are still awaiting results on trial-to-conversion % at the time of publishing this post.

What's next

Our immediate plan is to launch v4 and v5 in the month of June.

To collect information about what features to build in an automated manner, we designed a simple Google form and added a link in our dashboard saying "Vote for the next feature".

Here are the results:

WhatsApp Chat Google Form Feedback

The goals behind of launching v4 and v5 are

  • provide more value to our user base
  • to make our product more resistant to competition
  • charge a higher monthly subscription amount

This is how we will do it:

1. Abandoned Cart

E-commerce shops already send abandoned cart notifications using push, email, SMS. But what about doing this over WhatsApp?

Since this cannot be completely automated (API limitations), we are focused on building a solution which allows a store owner to send ~100 abandoned cart messages per hour manually on WhatsApp.

Our feature will remove all the manual work except one - actually hitting the send button from inside WhatsApp.

In our survey, we found store owners more than willing to spare 30 mins/day to send abandoned cart notifications. Why wouldn't they, when it could lead to >$1000 in additional revenue every month?

2. CRM

Store owners want to stay in touch with their customers. After all, it is more valuable to retain customers than spend more to acquire new ones.

This could involve sending lifecycle messages, follow-ups after a product is delivered to ask for feedback or review, or informing customers about new launches that may interest them.

We want to build an easy way to enable this behaviour over WhatsApp.

3. Pixel Retargeting

What if you could retarget people who were interested in a product, but didn't see through to a purchase? Retargeting ads for e-commerce is no new concept.

It's proven to work and there are several great companies such as Shoelace that are built on top of this concept.

The key is to understand context: who to retarget? what to retarget them with?

4. Better designs for WhatsApp Share

Currently, we offer 10+ premium chat button designs to our paid users. We plan to make them available for the Share feature, so that a store owner can have matching buttons.

WhatsApp Chat Premium Button Designs

We also plan to add new templates like a sticky button, and a pop-up message. The aim here is to help shop owners initiate more conversations with their store visitors.

That's all folks!

I hope readers of this post find value, especially if you're planning to build your own Shopify app.

If you have read all the way till here, do check out WhatsApp Chat for Shopify on ProductHunt. This is the first time I've been hunted on PH! Not expecting anything, excited to just have done it.

If you have more questions, I'd be happy to answer them. Just drop me a message on Twitter!

Preetam Nath profile picture

Hi, I'm Preetam. Thanks for reading :) I would love to hear your thoughts. Say ๐Ÿ‘‹ on Twitter