No More Excuses – How to Make an Extra $100,000 in the Next 6 Months


The Wilburns have created a multinational from their home.(Photo: Dana Smith)

“So, do you have any ideas?”

“Well, if we’re going to do something, it should be big. It should make people sit up and say OMFG. Make people actually do something,” I responded.

The conversation continued in front of the Thai restaurant, me pacing on my cell phone in San Francisco — foregoing food in excitement — and Tobi in his offices in Ottawa, Canada.

We decided in the subsequent 10 minutes to offer $100,000 cash as a bribe to you all. The overview?

* $100,000 for the grand winner
* $120,000 total in prizes
* 6 months starting January 1 but you can (and should) get started now
* Even if you don’t win the prizes, you should end up with a viable business at the end of 6 months

The details make it even better…


Randy and Nicola Wilburn in the above photo, featured in BusinessWeek’s “Mom-and-Pop Multinationals“, are just two of the thousands of people in 35 countries who have used the steps in The 4-Hour Workweek as a basis to create near- or fully-automated businesses. The principles of automation have been equally applied within both Fortune and Inc. 500 companies.

The problem?

Some things just aren’t as simple in execution as they appear on paper. If there is one place where readers fail or give up, it is on such automated “muses”, as such automated businesses are called in book to abbreviate.

It’s most often due to lack of technical skills, lack of testing abilities, or — much more often — simple intimidation and failure to attempt it at all. The truth: it’s easier to continue in the predictable and comfortable mediocrity of the 9-to-5 than to start a business. It seems too big and there is little perceived incentive to change.

Let’s change that.

Tobi Lutke is the CEO of Shopify. Several months ago, I polled more than 50,000 Twitter users about e-commerce platforms, and the near-unanimous response was that Shopify offered the easiest-to-use full-service platform in existence. I’d never heard of them.

It seems I was late to the party.

From Pixar to Tesla, Pamela Anderson to Amnesty International, I saw slick design after slick design, all of which could be set up in minutes. Even Google Website Optimizer is built-in for testing. I was so surprised and impressed that I became an advisor upon meeting Tobi at RailsConf.

I want to give you a reason to finally take the jump with full confidence. Here’s what we’re doing:

The Competition – More Than One Winner

Shopify and I are running a 6-month “Build Your Business” competition. The store with the most revenue for two consecutive months (we’ll use your best two) wins $100,000.

There are other runner-up prizes, and there will be worthwhile surprises. To support you with the tools and skills you need, there will be expert tutorials on critical subjects (like Google Adwords testing, design, etc.) on a monthly basis at minimum, posts on this blog with real-life examples, and more.

The bullets:

* $100,000 for the grand winner
* $120,000 total in prizes
* 6 months starting January 1 but you can (and should) get started now. Even two weeks of practice will give you a massive advantage. I strongly suggest playing with it now.
* The best two consecutive months of sales count
* Even if you don’t win the prizes, you should end up with a viable business at the end of 6 months
* The steps and details in the new, expanded 4-Hour Workweek will be used as ground-zero for instructions
* Contest open — unfortunately — to US residents only. Please see “Afterword” below for why you should do it regardless. The tools and guidance will be available to all entrants.

Outside the US? Perhaps you should just incorporate a US company online? But – I’m no lawyer. Speak with a professional first and read the fine print. Be sure to read the FAQ, which opens up even more opportunities.

[Update: there is a new forum on Shopify for questions and feedback about the contest]

Tens of thousands of online stores have been created with Shopify: everything from Nerdbots to CrossFit.

Will you be next? I know a Fortune 500 company employee who’s quitting in 2010 because his Shopify store makes more than $1,000,000 per year. Not bad for a side gig!

If you’ve thought of starting a muse but have put it off or given up, here are two reasons to make 2010 the year that changes everything:

$100,000 and know-how guidance from experts. Though I’m an advisor, I receive no commission or payment whatsoever for this competition. It’s to get more people to pull the trigger.

If you decide not to pull the trigger, ask yourself “why not?” If not now, then when?

This competition is intended as a benevolent and encouraging kick in the ass. This stuff isn’t rocket science, but it does require stepping outside your comfort zone for a bit to realize: this isn’t that hard. It’s just unfamiliar. If you do it now, a lot of people will be in the same boat and you’ll take the trip together.

No more excuses. Click here to learn how simple it can be.

[Update: there is a new forum on Shopify for questions and feedback about the contest]


Frequently Asked Questions with Tobi

[The most up-to-date FAQ is on the contest page here]

> Rachel: Can you sell a combination of affiliate products and your own products through Shopify?

Yes absolutely. In fact we highly encourage our customers to source extra products that round off the product offering. A lot of our customers started by selling just a single product and later on started cross selling related products between their stores for additional sales.

> BrianReid: Can we use a drop shipper like Doba for products?

Yes, Shopify even integrates directly with drop shippers and consignment warehouses such as Shipwire, Webgistix and Amazon fulfillment. These services are really the key to fully automate your online store because manual shipping is labor intensive. At Shopify we have something called the App Store ( which allows you to add extensions to your store (think a mix of wordpress plugins and facebook apps). I know there are a few developers currently working on Doba integration.

> Erica: I’m using 1ShoppingCart right now. Can I just move stuff over to Shopify and qualify, or does it have to be a new business?

The point of this competition is to encourage people to create new businesses. If you could simply move a million or multi million dollar business over to Shopify and take the pot then the entire thing would be fairly uninteresting. So in other words, moving an existing business over: no go. Creating a new, related business that you organically grow from the start without simply redirecting your old store: OK.

That being said, we would love to get your existing business on Shopify. If you want to talk more in depth about this, contact me at tobi[at]

> Erica: For the Shopify folks: Do you offer a 1-click post-sale upsell feature like Upsell Express from 1SC?

I’m not familiar with the 1-click post-sale product but marketing to prior clients is a big part of Shopify. We have great integration with Sendloop, Vertical Response, Campaign Monitor and all such services. Through the App Store that I mentioned earlier there are also some really exciting new apps being developed that help people find related products that go well with their current cart content. Shopify is a very flexible platform.


Gross revenue and US residents only? A case study in technology and real-life lawyering…

First and foremost, the best prize we can offer is this: your own near-automated, cash-flow positive business at the end of six months. The $100,000 is just a catalyst, a push. The former is, as the proverb goes, teaching you to fish, whereas the latter is handing over a single fish.

No contest is perfect. Shopify can’t verify net profit (without private investigators proving margins), so revenue is used as the measuring stick, which is trackable. Does this handicap you if you sell comic books instead of race cars? Not necessarily. It just means you’ll need to sell more units. Important: the most any single transaction can be applied the contest is $5,000.

Life is a competition. The rules were the best we could put together without making it impossibly complicated.

But, what’s up with the “limited to US residents” and all that?

From a post on Etsy about their own contest challenges (the whole post is worth a read):

Etsy is an international site. We have buyers and sellers from all around the globe. And we love our community. To solely enable U.S. residents to participate in an aspect of our site did not sit well with me or with Etsy. So I called an attorney who specializes in contest law to find an alternative. Unfortunately, his response supported my disappointing findings. He explained that in order to hold an international contest, Etsy would need to consult a licensed attorney who specializes in contest law for each and every country eligible for the contest. And, in fact, for many countries a translator would have to draft the rules. “How much would this cost and how much time would it take?” I innocently asked the contest law attorney. His two-word answer was most discouraging: “a lot.”

Here is Tobi’s version, especially frustrating, considering that Shopify is based in Canada!

“When putting together the contest we really wanted to make it a contest for anyone, anywhere in the world. Throughout the planning I spent more hours on the phone with lawyers than I’d care to admit to anyone. Unfortunately, as time when on, it became clear that it would be impossible to hold the contest anywhere outside the US without fundamentally altering the original concept.

Without going into too much detail, the crux of the matter is the classification of the contest as a game of chance versus a game of skill. Apparently, being good at selling stuff online is considered chance by many agencies and therefore would be governed by Lottery laws, as silly as this sounds.

That being said, you can still participate in this contest wherever you are. The prize money is significant, but don’t forget the spirit of the contest: to give a kick in the pants to all those people who have wanted to start businesses but haven’t. The real prize is having a business of your own at the end of the six months. You’ll still have all the same resources and guides as everyone else: support from the Shopify team, help and guidance from Tim and other experts, and more control over your financial independence.”


Elsewhere on the web:

Get the brand-new Expanded and Updated 4-Hour Workweek, published 12/15, which includes more than 50 new case studies (including families) of luxury lifestyle design, muse creation, and world travel.

Posted on: December 8, 2009.

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Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration)

391 comments on “No More Excuses – How to Make an Extra $100,000 in the Next 6 Months

  1. Thanks Caro,
    I was a little overwhelmed at that moment and felt depressed. But I feel better now and ready to fight to for what I want to do! Thanks for the advice.


  2. Sarah,

    I would try amazon and Ebay first. Then you can test the market and see what’s selling. I also recommend making your own Ecommerce site and driving traffic to it, there are plenty of E commerce sites that can do well especially certain times of the year. I hope that helps;)



  3. Tim

    8 months ago I felt compelled to pickup your book. It was a breath of fresh air; I purchased 4 copies for my friends and partners and made 4 others buy it them-selves.

    I have been in real estate for some time and needed a change, not to mention the falling commercial market. An exit strategy was in order and your book provided a great framework for reinvention.

    I will be releasing a new video web series next week in Sacramento. It looks promising and it has been a blast.

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom and insight.

    Best Regards,

    Matthew Harmon


  4. Hello all. I would love to talk to someone that did move their online biz to shopify. I know this isn’t recommended as it’s better for starting one but I really like the look of their system. I do wonder though if $100 a month to get the basic features any biz would need is really worth what they provide. So once again if anyone moved to them or even has a successful store there and a minute to chat please let me know.

    Thank you.


  5. Hey Chris! I ran a Shopify store for a year and had a blast doing it… I’ve had some changes in regards to my online platform, so I currently have it down, but I definitely could give you lots of insight as to pros and cons if you’re interested… Hit me up if you’d like to chat! patrick (at)


  6. Anyone know whether Tim Ferriss is going to be involved in this year’s Shopify Build a Business competition?

    And a more important question – will non-US businesses be eligible to win prizes this time round??


  7. Hey Will!

    I was involved in the first contest and while I love Tim to death, he wasn’t actually around much during the first contest. Shopify does a good job on the support forums and that was pretty much the “tutorial” side of things. There were a few videos posted (I think 4 throughout the 6 months) that had tips and such on marketing… But nothing you can’t find just paroosing solid marketing books and here on Tim’s site.

    I didn’t even know they were doing another contest! Might have to check for a second round of competition!! :)


  8. Hey, I see that this contest is over, and I am not familiar with this community, but I am still interested in getting in on this business model. I tried to go to the youtube video link for the tips but the video is private. Is there any way I can get access to those?




  9. I know the contest is over, but I just set up my new shopify store anyway. I’ve had a lot of good feedback from friends and people wanting to order my giant blocks drinking game, so I thought why not put up an online store and see what happens?

    Any thoughts and suggestions on the site layout are much appreciated (from anyone).

    Thanks again for all the great info and blog posts!


  10. Tim,

    I see there is a new contest for 2012, but I live in Maryland and a major incentive for me is the ‘free’ tools to grow the business and the awards. It’s pretty discouraging to have to ‘compete’ with a disadvantage since I don’t have the finances to level the playing field.

    Do you happen to know the reason why Maryland residents are excluded?


  11. Took a look at shopify. Noticed the rules mentioned that the competition is only applicable for Americans. Amusingly, I’m in Canada. Perhaps I just found my “first excuse”. Or didn’t I?


  12. Sigh…when I was 19, I created a web store that did about 30k in sales per year for 3 years. At the time I could see a decline in my store’s performance but I couldn’t figure out how to move against the trend. It died eventually… or I killed it in year three after my Chinese suppliers kept letting me down, and I couldn’t find any replacements that my visitors would buy from. I struggled on this for at least a year before I let it go…always wondered if there was something I could do to save it.


  13. Alright, I know I’m late to the party, but I have an indirect question. At the moment I live in China (going to school) and have several ideas that are getting worked up to the prototype stage. My question is, would it be best to wait until I get home to produce my item, or should I produce it here in China to then ship? And if I ship from China, is there an established warehouse that I could store those items?