I develop web sites for over 10 years now (among other programming jobs), and I'm burning inside to start my own business, for a long time now. And, of course, I'm afraid to begin yet another "lost business ". I'm not looking for a seller partner, tho.
On the good side, I've got few clients who would probably be interested if I give them a good deal, and this is yet a big market with plenty room to grow. Plus this has great potential because it requires minimum investment (as opposed to my last idea ) and now I'm wondering if I can get it off the ground.
On the bad side, I can't come up with a single "service product" (which should be a rival of shopify on the initial idea to begin with) that fits to all possible clients. I can't find such product that fits even just two of the potential clients I already have.
So I'm feeling the risk of not being able to do what I wanted to initially and sell the service as finished products, with subscriptions plans, on a web site I'd build as a showcase of its own features and thus falling back to working just as a freelance again.
Disclaimer : Maybe I'm just using this to organize my thoughts and take a chance if anyone has yet another wise advise, but I hope this is broad enough to help more people identify with this issue.
If you want to create something similar to Shopify, try to attack it at a different angle. Shopify is most likely well-funded and experienced. It will not be wise to launch a frontal attack against a giant.
I know this is obvious but you need to build some feature that is so valuable to customers yet very hard to copy. It could be hard to copy due to technical innovation(not likely given the resources Shopify has), patent(definitely possible), or require overhaul of shopify's core business.
A "service product" could be as simple as a "Standard 6 page website". It's a definable chunk you can describe and market (and possibly price), even if every 6 page website is completely different.
Obviously if every website is different, then there are limits to your productivity in producing them, and thus in how much profit you can make.
You might find the Gerber book "The E-Myth" useful: it elaborates on the distinction between a business (can you sell it and walk away?) and simply creating yourself a job.
I think the key is the client who can be a partner or at least help you in exchange for a discount on the site if they put in some expertise equity. Find one who has enough contacts in their field and is willing to get you in the door by introducing you and endorsing your product. They probably have made contacts at various trade shows and other industry organizations. You may want to focus on the more mature company who has the time and is interested in growing.
Who is your customer
What is their problem
How do you solve that problem
Once you have that decided that the rest is much easier...Don't start the way most failing businesses do by trying to fit the market to your product :)