Bobble-heads. Smelly cheeses. Mugs with cats making various weird faces on them.
Thanks to the Internet, you can buy all of these and more on an online storefront. But, if you desperately wanted a mug with “I can haz cheez burger” on it back in 2006, you would have found it difficult.
That’s because Shopify wasn’t around yet and many e-commerce platforms lacked the flexibility to be integrated into various platforms. Even if they had it, e-commerce looked terrible back then. It would have been like shopping in a puke-themed Target (but a worse version of Target).
But Tobias Lütke was going to sell his snow boards, dammit. He had dreams of opening up an online storefront for elite snow boards. So, instead of waiting for the next great e-commerce platform to roll around, he was going to use his extensive programming experience to make one himself. Grabbing his friend Scott Lake, the two spent the next year and a half tinkering.
After $450,000 from family, friends, and investors, Lütke and Lake birthed Shopify into existence in 2006.
However, only Lütke fathered their child. Lake left shortly after launch because of the slow start. They hadn’t had a salary for nearly 2 years. Lütke invited Cody Fauser to be CTO and Daniel Wein and to be chief design officer and the three marched on.
The hard work paid off in 2008, when the company finally became profitable, bringing in $142 billion. By 2010, Shopify secured $7 million from investors, and by 2011 amassed another $15 million.
In 2012, Lütke’s salary was $275 million. Take that for a rags-to-riches story.
But what is it about Shopify that made it so successful?
It all started with a good team
Working on a product is nothing without a cohesive team. If everyone wants to do their own thing, it’s like paddling a raft in the middle of the ocean in three separate directions. You’re not going anywhere.
Instead, Lütke, Fauser,and Wein and had a vision: to make e-commerce beautiful. So they did—bringing something desperately needed to small businesses…
Customization and accessibility
It might work for Toll House, but cookie cutters are not for small businesses. Each has their own personality and product, which each need to be marketed in a unique way. To market uniquely, however, small businesses needed the right tools to do so. But in 2006, they had the whole Home Depot (Internet)without the hammers (customizable e-commerce).
And Lütke knew this because he wanted to become a small-business owner too, as he planned on selling elite snowboards online. But he knew first-hand what was stopping him, and knew first-hand what obstacles needed to be removed.
Mostly, boring, immutable online stores. In addition to that, people had to know a lot of coding to get their product to go anywhere.
So, Shopify addressed the aesthetic and accessibility issues by giving entrepreneurs the creative tools to manage their stores. Shopify is fully hosted, so people don’t have to fumble around figuring out web-hosting and all that annoying stuff. They can do what they start their business without wasting any time.
In addition to that, business owners needed to know that the pixel versions of their products would materialize into the hands of their paying customers. Thus, Shopify also offered an amazing content-delivery network with no extra charge. It was like e-commerce Christmas.
Once the business is off the ground, entrepreneurs have over 100 customizable themes to choose from, knowing that their business is secure through Shopify’s services. Each company can customize their page to fit the brand they’re going for: cute and quirky or stiff and serious. Anything is possible.
What’s more, stores can accept PayPal or 50 other forms of payment. Shopify offers analytic methods through their own company’s means or Google Analytics.
And, best of all, Shopify keeps their prices low. Customers pay $26 for a month of basic tools to $160 for unlimited features, with a beautiful 30-day trial for each of its pricing options.
Recap of what Shopify did
The founders saw a need—making e-commerce better—and then thought of everything that could make it better. Hosting. Delivering. Customization. Payment. Different pricing packages.
They did to online shops what WordPress did for blogs. And there’s a reason 25% of the internet’s sites are run by WordPress.
Both sites made it stupidly easy for customers to start up their own websites. But, Shopify took it one step further to make it easier than ever to start up an online business.
And now, Shopify constantly updates their website with other people’s success stories, reaffirming the success of other small business entrepreneurs while reminding folks how awesome their own company is.
For example, there’s Distil Union, a small design start-up founded in 2011 that designs products for the end user, not for business teams to mull over.
They sell impeccably designed wallets, phone stick-ons, and overall, make it easier to carry around your essential money-holding contraptions around.
Their design is quite well made and it’s easy to look at their inventory and pick out something you like.
That’s something done with Shopify. In addition to telling people how they started, Shopify also asks successful entrepreneurs the back end of their business, such as the products they use, to help new or up-and-coming entrepreneurs get into the business.
Shopify not only created an amazing product by identifying and addressing hurdles to small businesses but continually help the new entrepreneur build successful businesses as well. Best of all, they’re able to use success stories as not only ways to promote the businesses using their plat forms but reinforce the great work Shopify has done for small businesses everywhere.
If you want to be the next Shopify, you have to identify and address key issues in your field. After that, you’re going have to grind. It could take years before you see your first penny but, you just like Shopify, could be cruising for the rest of your life knowing you made an inherent good in this world (and are getting rewarded lavishly for it).
It all starts with an observation. The rest is up to you.