The one where we explore opportunities to build on top of Shopify
kvlly, but on sabbatical
Good morning, happy Friday, happy belated Canada Day to my fellow Canadians, and happy early Independence Day to my fellow Americans. A busy week(end) indeed!
If you haven’t been on Twitter in the past week (though I assume you have, since I’ve only talked about this Substack on Twitter), you’ll know by now that I’m officially on sabbatical from my own company, The Taproom. Based on some of the responses I received, I think it’s worth taking a moment for some education.
A sabbatical is not a vacation. I’m not sitting on a beach drinking mojitos (though I really do wish I was).
A sabbatical is time away from the day-to-day work to focus on personal and professional development. I’m using the next month to learn more about the investing and advisory side of things – one, so I can be a better advisor to other companies, and two, so I can start a new leg of The Taproom that focuses on getting newer eComm businesses from 0 to 1.
So if you live in a place where you get over four weeks of vacation time and feel like comparing this to your typical time off work, the good news is so do I. (The Taproom has unlimited vacation with a minimum of 20 days off per calendar year - something I’m very proud to be offering!) But this is not vacation time! My real vacation is for later this year.
I know a number of you have signed up to learn more about Shopify development, and I’m kicking things off this week.
There are two primary areas of development for Shopify: theming and app development.
If you want to sell a theme in the Theme Store, now’s a great time to get started with building as the Theme Store officially re-opens for submissions on July 15. It’s been closed for around 2 years now, so this is a perfect time to begin building.
It’s also a perfect time because Online Store 2.0 was just announced this week and is available when you create a development store from within your Shopify Partners account. Instead of explaining the current Online Store experience vs. Online Store 2.0, I recommend watching this video from Shopify Unite and just digging into a theme to see how it works.
If you’re not interested in designing and building your own theme from scratch and would prefer to take the route of supporting existing merchants with their themes, you’re in luck. There are over 1.7 million merchants on Shopify, and every single merchant has a theme. There’s going to be really great opportunity for Shopify theme developers to create a service offering of migrating existing themes to Online Store 2.0 (which is a totally new opportunity for you to jump right in), but you can also just support existing themes as they currently stand. To learn more about Shopify theming, check out this documentation.
Shopify apps exist to extend the base functionality of Shopify. There are two primary types of apps: backend apps which only exist within the admin and perform more administrative tasks (e.g. inventory management, connections with third party systems, etc.), and storefront apps, which are what a merchant’s customers interact with (e.g. product reviews, product customizability, running promotions, etc.)
Shopify apps can be written in any language, though the Shopify admin UI is generally written in React due to Shopify’s design system, Polaris, being a library of React components. I generally write my apps with Node.js, Koa, Next, and React, but I have friends who choose to use Ruby on Rails or PHP for their backend. It’s entirely up to you, which is great because you can leverage the skills you already have and apply them to Shopify app development.
With app development, you’ll likely utilize Shopify’s GraphQL Admin API which is the most future-facing API available, though you may interface with their REST API as well. (There’s also the Storefront API for interactions with the customer-facing end, which applies both to app development and theme development.)
Shopify apps can be built for the public and sold in the App Store for recurring revenue, or you can build a custom app that will only be used by one merchant. At The Taproom we build custom apps for our clients, but I’m currently working on my first public app to hopefully begin selling this August.
With apps, the options are limitless on what you can build. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to be first to market in a particular niche; you just have to differentiate yourself from the other players already in the market. No one app will meet the needs of every single merchant. Find a unique area for your specialization and run with it.
You can learn more about building Shopify apps here. I recommend paying special attention to Checkout Extensions and Payments as these are brand new to Shopify as of this week, so it’s a very untapped market.
Hopefully this high level overview was helpful! If there are specific areas that you’d like me to dive deeper into, definitely let me know. One final thing I’d like you to know is the first $1 million you make selling your app or theme with Shopify has 0% rev share, and after you hit the $1 million mark, rev share is only 15%. It resets every year, so that’s $200,000 (before taxes) that goes right into your pocket, or towards investing in your company. There’s never been a better time to begin building on Shopify.
Until next week,