What Starting A Dropshipping Business Taught Me About Running a SaaS Company

Starting a dropshipping business

Process Street started in an unexpected place: the beaches of Thailand.

I was 24, had just quit my 6-figure sales job, and was ready to leave the rat race and travel the world.

Just months before taking off, I read Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek and discovered dropshipping — moving a product directly between a manufacturer and customers without keeping it in your own storage. It wouldn’t require making or storing any product, it wouldn’t require a giant team or a huge investment, and best of all, it wouldn’t require an office.

(Note: Read more about how The 4-Hour Weekweek influenced me here)

I took the leap. My product of choice: nail wraps. They ticked all the boxes of Tim Ferriss’ checklist—they were non-perishable, easy to ship, and had high margins. And back in 2010, nail wraps were in—even Beyonce was wearing them.

Dropshipping has a very specific use case, and its own online communities, guides, and books. Some people become dropshipping experts, and for many, dropshipping isn’t just a business model—it’s a lifestyle choice.

Dropshipping Book

But for me, it was just the beginning of the entrepreneurial journey—it’s what taught me about the huge changes that process and automation can bring to a company. Without Metallic Nails, I wouldn’t have learned that—and I wouldn’t have founded Process Street.

Dropshipping is how I cut my teeth and learned lessons that eventually helped me run a SaaS company.

For a post on the answers to the most searched questions on dropshipping, check here.

1. Entrepreneurs don’t have to go it alone

The stereotype of the entrepreneur is as a lone genius, an isolated coder working by himself. He’s locked up in his garage and only comes up for air when the project is done.

Entrepreneur Comic

It was a myth I believed in, until I started Metallic Nails.

As a one-man shop, I didn’t have the resources to code everything myself, market everything myself, or even plan my own calendar—nor did I particularly want to. I found ways to outsource some of that work, from using ready-made platforms like Shopify to help me build my site, to hiring virtual assistants for odd jobs.

Virtual assistants, as Ferriss writes, can be invaluable. A lot of entrepreneurs are reluctant to use them at first because they view outsourcing work as lazy. But in reality, I discovered, it’s one of the most effective ways to protect your time at work. As an entrepreneur, it’s important to prioritize how you spend your precious time. I could get well over the amount of money I spent on a VA, spending the time saved on work that only I could do.

The same goes for my work at Process Street. We’ve assembled a very talented team, and while they’re certainly capable of tackling every item on our to-do list, outsourcing tasks allows them to focus on the really high-value items, where they can add the most value. I’ve found it’s invaluable to outsource things like bookkeeping and design.

Even though our developers are capable of design work, it’s much more efficient to outsource the job.

Go-to Resources

  • If you need a virtual assistant, you can use our form here and we’ll put you in touch with our recruiter.
  • Also see OnlineJobs.ph, a job board for finding Filipino outsourced work.
  • Check out forums. Finding a place to talk to other people about what was working and what wasn’t working allowed me to make tweaks to my e-commerce plan, my marketing outline, and my overall business that I wouldn’t have otherwise made. For SaaS, places like GrowthHackers and Hacker News are great forums for figuring out what strategies are working for other companies.

2. Get your customers to come to you

Dropshipping is like marketing bootcamp. In the SaaS world, we spend a ton of time perfecting the product, but in the dropshipping world, it’s all about finding the customers. Most manufacturers are terrible at visibility, so your job is to connect them with customers. Easier said than done, of course, which is why I focused all my energy on getting customers to come to me.

You need to get creative and carve out your niche, whether that’s via SEO, Facebook fans, or finding other avenues. We turned to blog posts, even before content was crowned king. Our content got us organic Facebook fans, devoted users, and engaged customers. Moving on to my next venture, I never forgot this fundamental lesson.

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 6.03.05 PM

These days, now that SEO is a bit harder to tinker with, you have to be more creative. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. SEO is always evolving, and it’s important to stay on top of what’s working these days. Video, for example, is a huge opportunity for boosting SEO when done right—more so than ever before. It tends to stand out on search result pages, making it an ideal platform for inbound marketing.

The big hangup for most SaaS companies is that they aren’t sure what to make videos about. Wistia CEO Chris Savage has solved this problem in part by building his company on mission-based marketing. As he writes on the Wistia blog, “[this strategy] focuses on creating content that furthers your mission, instead of making content that sells your product.”

That shift in mindset opens up a world of new opportunities. Wistia makes video hosting tools, but they make video content about everything from writing scripts to social strategy and gear. The effect is that people find them by searching for a variety of topics.

Go-to Resources

  • Moz Beginner’s Guide to SEO is a great place to start with SEO if you’re just learning the ropes. Because SEO changes constantly—from little iterations to giant changes in the Google algorithm—it’s important to find resources that reflect what’s going on. Get creative, but make sure you’re still seen.
  • If you don’t have a blog on an authoritative domain, you can take advantage of Google’s preference for… itself by trying a few SEO tricks on advertorial YouTube videos. Check this guide for more information.
  • Marketing and SEO also have a lot of components, and as the game changes, so do the parts. It’s really hard to do rote SEO. You simply can’t rely on your habits to get you through. Process Street developed an SEO checklist to help you make sure you’re catching everything, at every step of the keyword research process. We also have ideas on how to spark creative ideas for content from some of the best writers around.

3. Automation is everything

When you’re running a company from a beach in Thailand, automation isn’t just nice—it’s necessary. By the end, I set up automation so that when someone placed an order for nail art, it would trigger a notification in the warehouse and someone would fulfil it—I wasn’t even involved.

Automation allows you to leverage technology and do other things with that time. Because machines don’t make mistakes, you won’t spend time cleaning up little messes that human error tends to create. But before you automate, it’s important to nail down your processes. In the words of Bill Gates:

Bill Gates Quote

In the case of dropshipping, that meant making sure that the process of placing an order was completely right before a machine did it. If the process wasn’t totally smoothed out, it would just make the mistakes bigger. I’d be sending products to the wrong parts of the world, or the wrong products entirely.

Automation changed the game in dropshipping—but this could be applied to almost any business. If you’re scaling, you need to automate, whether it’s your workflow, your HR platform, or the actual mechanics of shipping a product. Whatever the case, proper automation can save you precious time.

Go-to Resources

  • If you’re like most people, you use a million tools these days. An easy way to get started automating is to integrate your apps so you don’t have to do the heavy lifting. Zapier is a great tool to get started with, since it works with tons of apps and you can customize it to fit your own needs.
  • If you’re new to automation, and are trying to find ways to automate your workflow, we have a bunch of ideas for you that we’ve tested and approved.

From Metallic Nails to Process Street

In the end, Metallic Nails wasn’t the right company for me because I wasn’t attached to the product. I was attached to the lesson I learned about how to run a company, and how to get a fledgling business up and running. Applying these lessons and using them to help other companies get their ideas off the ground by streamlining their processesautomating their apps and creating checklists – is what really excites me.

Now I’m running the ultimate high margin non-perishable good: a SaaS company. It’s not at all like dropshipping, since I’m responsible for developing and iterating the product. Even though it’s totally different, the same lessons apply. I cut my teeth in an unexpected place, but the lessons I learned are invaluable.

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Vinay Patankar

CEO of Process Street. World Traveler, Seasoned Hustler, Tech Entrepreneur, Fitness and Food Enthusiast. Youngest Cisco Engineer in Australia. 3rd Internet Company. Find him on Twitter, Google+ or his Blog


9 Comments

Really loved this blog post. All the resources you point to are invaluable. I have done a good job of automating and hiring out for the jobs that I can’t do efficiently or cost-effectively. Everyday I ask myself, who else can do this job so I can do something else.

The catch is instead of spending that time “off” I spend it launching other projects or businesses lol. But it’s what I like, I’m sort of addicted to being an entrepreneur.

Thanks Vinay for this invaluable tips. I just started up my own business and thought I could do it all by myself. Eventually, I had to go through the steps you mentioned.

So far, it’s a bit less stressful, but still trying to perfect the act. There are definitely some tips I will work with in this article.

Thanks for putting this up.


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