Today we’re excited to announce the winners of Shopify’s fourth annual Build-A-Business Competition.
During the eight month competition, more than 21,000 entrepreneurs created new businesses that sold more than $120 million in products.
When they entered the competition, each participant chose a category best describing their shop. The store that sold the most in each category during a two month period would take home the prize.
Each of our winners will receive $50,000 and a VIP trip to New York City to meet with industry experts who will become their mentors. In addition to the money and NYC trip, winners will also receive a Shopify POS package with an iPad.
The number of participants in this year’s competition more than doubled over last year, and the total amount of revenue generated nearly tripled. It’s pretty inspiring to witness brand new businesses go from zero to multi-million dollar companies on Shopify in the span of a few short months.
Here’s a visual overview of the competition, including our 10 winners. You can click on the image to view full-screen.
Here’s a look at our 10 winning businesses, their innovative products, and the entrepreneurs behind them:
Bolder Band (Fashion & Apparel)
Amy Crouse was a stay-at-home mom who loved running and working out. She found that her athletic headband was always flying off her wild blonde hair while working out, and she decided to create a product that solved her problem. Amy found a fabric that would retain moisture and keep its stretchiness, then re-learned to sew to create durable headbands. Friends and family began purchasing her product and sales soon began to snowball. That’s when Amy’s husband, JD, hopped on board to help with marketing. Now, the husband-and-wife team both work full-time at Bolder Band and are looking to expand their product line for active women.
Tatsup (Photography & Art)
Kevin Mack used to be a full-time motocross racer, but an accident on the track left him with a broken back and no career. He decided to open a tattoo parlour in Melbourne. When he got his business off the ground, he noticed a significant gap in Australia’s tattoo supply industry. An existing business had an online store that wasn’t user friendly, with poor customer support and a lack of premium products. After doing some market research into tattoo studios – of which there are 380 in Melbourne alone – Kevin realized he could create an online business that would deliver supplies to get tattoo artists what they needed, faster. Tatsup was born. Since then, Kevin has sold his tattoo parlour to run Tatsup and its four employees full-time. He’s looking to expand into New Zealand next year, and continue to run Australia’s largest tattoo convention.
MVMT Watches (Jewellery & Crafts)
High-quality watches tend to have high price tags. Friends (and former dorm roommates) Jake Kassan and Kramer LaPlante were looking for a watch they could wear in both professional and casual settings – without the big bill. Both had entrepreneurial tendencies, leading Jake to launch his first ecommerce business at the age of 16, and causing both of them to drop out of college to pursue something more innovative. MVMT Watches was their solution to fill a need in the watch market, but they needed funding to get started. They launched an Indiegogo campaign with the goal of raising $15K. By the end of their 50-day campaign, they’d earned over $220K from pre-order customers – Indiegogo’s second most successful campaign in their industry. MVMT’s store makes use of more than 15 apps from the Shopify App Store, and the co-founders plan to launch another line of watches in the coming months.
The WOD Life (Sports & Recreation)
By the time Andy Lee arrived at his former corporate finance job each morning, he’d already completed a 6 a.m. crossfit training session. He’d sneak in a lunchtime workout, and often add an additional session after work. When it came to finding affordable products and brands that supported his training, however, it was slim pickings in his home country of Australia. That’s why, together with his good friend Ben Dineen, Andy launched The WOD Life. WOD stands for Workout of the Day, and the company provides community support and products that facilitate the crossfit lifestyle. Andy and Ben might not have even entered the Build-A-Business Competition had it not been for the Shopify Expert they worked with – Jason Bowman of Freak Design – that sent them the link to enter. Since launch, both Ben and Andy have quit their jobs to do The WOD Life full-time. The company now has four employees and is working to launch a distribution company to bring new products to the crossfit market.
Orchard Flats (Food & Beverage)
Orchard Flats, a cold-pressed juice company, is the only winner without an online store – they made all their sales using Shopify POS in their physical stores. Evan Seals got into the juicing habit before it became such an explosive health trend, but he couldn’t understand why so many people made juices that didn’t taste good. He knew he could do better, and recruited his friend and restaurant owner Curtis Nysmith to help out. They spent one month developing their recipes and opened up their first shop in L.A. last October. That juice must have tasted pretty good, because they’ve since opened five shops with two more to come before the end of this year. Next up is to add ecommerce to their Shopify site, and look into selling in grocery stores such as Whole Foods.
EZ Lite Cruiser (Health & Beauty)
Maciej Szkodzinski has a background in computer engineering but fell into direct marketing and earned a professional certification in Google Adwords. After working at a few marketing startups, Maciej decided to use his skills to launch a business, alongside his business partner Pio Jang. The two businessmen wanted an existing product they could rebrand as their own. They knew they’d found that product when they tested out the EZ Lite Cruiser – a lightweight, low cost, foldable motorized wheelchair. After landing an exclusive marketing agreement for the product, they had everything they needed to make their business a success. Their website incorporates videos for customers to get a feel for the product, and lots of apps from the Shopify App Store. In the future, the pair hope to develop new products and accessories for the wheelchair.
Music composer Gregg Lerhman has seen his fair share of success even before launching Output Sounds. His music has been featured on TV shows, Saturday Night Live, the Super Bowl, and in movie trailers for Avatar and Noah. Gregg was fascinated by capturing sound from instruments and processing it in reverse. Previously, this was a tedious and time-intensive endeavour, and that’s why he decided to create REV – the world’s first collection of virtual instruments that can be played in reverse, in real-time. In fact, the sounds he created were so compelling that Shopify unknowingly selected a piece of music from Gregg for the background of each Build-A-Business mentor video. Since launch, REV has been used by David Kahne (producer of Paul McCartney, Lana Del Rey and Regina Spektor), Harry Gregson-Williams (composer of Shrek and the Chronicles of Narnia), as well as being featured on House of Cards – the runaway success series from Netflix. As for Gregg, he plans to continue to develop new music software, and keep composing.
Drones Etc. (Everything Else)
Shawn Rowland and Jonathan Baird have been friends since high school. They always wanted to start a business together, but after three failed attempts they weren’t sure if it would work. Jon began working at the U.S. Bank and Shawn went off to medical school, but they couldn’t shake the entrepreneurial itch. Shawn took a year off before starting his medical residency to launch their fourth – and hopefully successful – business. It was Shawn’s idea to sell drones that can attach to cameras like GoPros. After a lot of research and convincing, Jon decided to get on board. Turns out, fourth time’s the charm! They hit it big when they tapped into the real estate market – agents love using it to survey properties. Now that their business has fully taken off, Shawn has begun his residency and Jon works full-time at Drones Etc. along with six employees. They’re working to develop accessories like a backpack for their drones.
Zoom Hash (Electronics & Gadgets)
Alongside the rise of currencies like Bitcoin came a huge market demand for reliable sellers of cryptocurrency mining hardware. Michael Cao was a business development manager who saw the opportunity and decided to strike. He launched Zoom Hash to sell electronic cables and graphic processing units specifically for the industry. Michael’s products allowed customers access to the very first ASIC (Application-Specific Integrated Circuit) mines for alternate currencies like Litecoin and Dogecoin. Now that the company has grown to three employees in the U.S. and 10 globally, Michael wants to expand his product selection and continue to provide the customer service that he feels is often lacking in this industry.
Polar Pen (Canadian winner)
Pens have always fascinated Andrew Gardner – they’re often the one thing you bring with you to class or meetings. As a student, Andrew found himself taking his pen apart in class, earning him the nickname Pen Mechanic from his teachers. The idea of a fully magnetized pen had been in the back of Andrew’s mind for a long time before he made it a reality, as he built up his career as an industrial designer creating products for organizations like the Canadian Military. The Polar Pen can be used as a pen, stylus, compass or toy – but Andrew needed to make sure the market demand was there. He launched a Kickstarter campaign with the hopes of raising $14K to create 2,000 pens. In the end, he raised $400K for 20K pens, and his product is now sold in 90 countries around the world. Although Polar Pen has become a full-time gig for Andrew (who has also hired two part-time employees), he still wants to continue designing on a freelance basis. And probably take apart some more pens.