The Way of the Dodo — How to Sell 10,000 iPad Cases at $60 Each (and Other Lessons Learned)

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DODOcase, one of more than 1,000 businesses created in the last six months, has sold more than 10,000 units at $60 each.

From today’s New York Times coverage of the Shopify/4-Hour Workweek build-a-business competition that just ended:

To encourage early, positive buzz among Apple iPad buyers, Mr. Dalton [of DODOcase] hired street teams via Craigslist to “hang out with Apple fanboys, while they waited on line for hours, maybe even days, outside of Apple retail stores for a chance to buy the first edition iPad.” The street teams, he said, hit Apple store locations in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.

DODOcase also scored favorable reviews with the tech blogs Engadget and The Unofficial Apple Weblog. Some endorsements came unsolicited from high profile customers; on July 14, Evan Williams, chief executive of Twitter, posted a DODOcase endorsement on his Twitter feed: “Got my Dodocase. Sweet.”

The company, which plans to continue manufacturing its product and creating jobs in San Francisco, received more than 10,000 orders within a few months of the iPad’s debut…

DODOcase iPad cases cost around $60, so you can do the math. Amazing.

This post will cover how it all happened…

In December 2009, I published a post titled “No More Excuses – How to Make an Extra $100,000 in the Next 6 Months,” announcing a $100,000+ bribe intended to solve a problem: inertia. Perhaps a better translation: temptation to remain in comfortable routine.

The Shopify build-a-business competition was a financial carrot for anyone who’d dreamed of starting a business but hadn’t taken the jump. Each person had six months to build a business, and their two highest-grossing consecutive months would be matched against everyone else.

The competition just ended on June 30th. So what happened?

This post will cover the overall results and focus on the winners: their lessons learned, marketing tipping points, mistakes, and much more. First, some stats:

Revenue PER HOUR for the duration of the contest (180 days): $696.38
Total number of people competing: 1,819
Total number of orders placed: 66,503

Below is a sweet infographic that shows some of the highlights and a few other fun numbers (full-size here):

Shopify Build-a-Business Infographic
Click here for a gorgeous full-size view.

The Prize Winners and Analysis of Successes

I use the term “prize winners” because more than 500 viable businesses were created by you all, and I consider all of you winners (including those who participated but didn’t get this first attempt quite right).

For prize winners, here are the category and overall winners:

$5,000 Top Apparel Store: Nashville Flood Tees (www.nashvillefloodtees.com)
$5,000 Top Digital Good: Buy Mafia (www.buymafia.com)
$5,000 Top Miscellaneous: Grove (www.grovemade.com)
$5,000 Top Electronics Store: Vaporizers.com (www.vaporizers.com)

$100,000 Overall Top Store: DODOCase (www.dodocase.com)

In that order, I asked all of them the following questions:

1) How did you decide on your product? What ideas did you consider but reject, and why?
2) What were some of the main tipping points (if any) or a-ha moments?  How did the tipping points happen?
3) What were your biggest mistakes, or biggest wastes of time/money?
4) Key manufacturing and marketing lessons learned?
5) If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
6) What’s next?

Here are their answers.

Lessons Learned: From Manufacturing to Marketing

NASHVILLE FLOOD TEES

Nashville Flood Tees is a group of artists and designers utilizing their talents to help the victims of the recent flooding in Nashville and the Middle TN area. We sell T-shirts for adults and children, with all of the profits going towards local charities.

Nashville Flood Tees was the brainchild of graphic designer Susannah Parrish, of texaSUS design, who posted 2 tshirt designs on Facebook. What was intended to be a modest project, turned into a viral marketing explosion- over 25,000 Facebook fans amassed within two days.

As it became clear this couldn’t be just a couple hundred tshirts printed in her basement, Susannah teamed up with Josh and Bethany Newman of ST8MNT design, a graphic design firm, to create an online store and additional designs. Josh and Bethany were able to get a Shopify store up and running within 2 days.

Render Apparel, a custom apparel company, joined the team to produce the product. The online store sold 800 shirts the first hour it went live. It’s been estimated that over $200,000 has been raised for the charities, of which $120,000 that has already been given to the charities.

1) How did you decide on your product? What ideas did you consider but reject, and why?

T-shirts seemed to be the perfect mix of raising money, as well as promoting the cause in the marketplace and giving the consumer sense if empowerment and ownership.

2) What were some of the main tipping points (if any) or a-ha moments?  How did the tipping points happen?

The tipping point was Facebook. There are now 36,970 fans. Google stats show online store visits from 93 countries/territories, with over a 108,000 visits total since we launched 2 months ago.

3) What were your biggest mistakes, or biggest wastes of time/money?

Our biggest mistake and waste of time: fulfillment. Since this was a charity idea that 3 small business owners set up to do in their spare time, we wanted to keep costs at a minimum. We wanted as much money as possible to go to the charities, so we didn’t partner with large expensive fulfillment houses or large capacity printers that could make our products the priority. This actually proved to take up more time that we didn’t have because we had to be so involved.

Our other biggest mistake: PayPal. For the same reason as fulfillment, we needed to set up payment as quickly and easily as possible. This has been a real challenge. Not only did PayPal shut us down for 24 hrs after only being live for less than 8 hrs, because of the sheer volume we sold, but they’ve been really slow and difficult releasing funds to us.

4) Key manufacturing and marketing lessons learned?

Lessons learned – the amazing power of online social networking. This idea exploded because of Facebook. We didn’t even have the time to actually use Google ad words or email marketing blasts with Emma.

5) If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

If this had been a for-profit business, where we had more time and energy to devote to the resources, we would have set up a merchant account and payment gateway, instead of a third party payment processor like PayPal. We also would have integrated a more sophisticated online marketing strategy to truly capitalize on the viral explosion. And we definitely would have utilized a more turnkey fulfillment service. This has proven to be the most difficult aspect of an online store. And lastly we would have employed customer service staff to maintain communication with customers.

6) What’s next?

We plan on launching a new charity tshirt store that specializes in quality designs to raise money for a wider range of current causes: MyShirtHelps.com

This venture has been an amazing journey, (and at the risk of sounding like a kiss-ass :) that strangely happened only a few days after we finished reading The Four Hour Work Week. The idea for an online apparel company had already been on our minds as a curious side business to launch. And the steps for implementation outlined in the book were on the to do list as sort of a pie-in-the-sky-if-we-ever-get-more-time plan. So as we watched the flooding on tv, and our good friend and former colleague showed us pics of a tshirt design, it all fell into place. Thanks to Shopify and The Four Hour Work Week, we scrambled a store up in a matter of days and have raised over $200,000 for the flood victims of the middle Tennessee area.

BUY MAFIA

What I sell at my online store BuyMafia.com is a service of transferring virtual items that I collect from the game Mafia Wars on Facebook, items like weapons, vehicles, armors, collectibles and many others from the game that will help improve peoples character and make them stronger for the competitive wars and fights that people take seriously, even though is just a fun game.

1) How did you decide on your product? What ideas did you consider but reject, and why?

I started playing the Mafia Wars game for Facebook and I notice that they had over 4 million fans playing the game daily (now there are over 10 million) and I did some research online and found a website that works like ebay but just for digital items for online games. I tried selling something there just to test the market, and on the same day I got an email from the site saying that someone purchased the items I listed there and they gave me their information so I could send to them, I did not expect that it would work that well but it did.

2) What were some of the main tipping points (if any) or a-ha moments?  How did the tipping points happen?

I had an a-ha moment when I saw how serious people were with the game and the competition between clans and that people wanted more and more items to become stronger and they would spend whatever it took to be the strongest player on the game. Then I used what I learned about business to create a business plan around that.

4) Key manufacturing and marketing lessons learned?

The best thing was that I did not put 1 penny out of my pocket until today do create this business, I just reinvested the money that was coming in from the items I collected in the game and sold until I got to the point that I pay people to collect them for me and I just focus on the marketing and sales.

I learned that marketing and getting traffic to the site are some of the most important things for a online business, the more I spent with marketing the more the sales grew, and that was exponential growth.

5) If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

I would have invested more time looking for ways to market the business instead of trying to collect more and more items on the game. I could have people doing that for me.

6) What’s next?

Now I’m working on a affiliate program for people that wants to make money by just sending people to the site, giving them a percentage of the sale when their customer purchases something. I’m always looking to leverage and to automate more and more of the business so I can have time to create new projects.

GROVEMADE

Grove is a design collective lead by Joe Mansfield and Ken Tomita bringing art and customized natural products into your daily life.

Everything is designed and made in Portland, Oregon. We take pride in how we do things and who we are, as much as in our products.  Our products reflect our pursuit of fine design and ethical consideration.  Our main product right now is a bamboo iPhone case for the iPhone3G and iPhone4.  We curate and artist series of laser engraved art on the cases, offer customization where you can upload your own artwork, and a plain case.  The cases are a blend of high tech manufacturing and old fashioned handwork, aiming to bring warmth back into your lives.

1) How did you decide on your product? What ideas did you consider but reject, and why?

The product preceded the company.  Joe had an idea to make a bamboo iPhone case and I joined in to help him do it.  We thought we could make the best iPhone case in the world.  With so much of our lives becoming dominated by electronic products such as cell phones and computers, we felt that the world could use some products made with natural materials.  Also, contemporary design has been criticized for being cold and impersonal, while tradition is hailed as warm but old.  Why not bring back the warmth of tradition back into contemporary design?

2) What were some of the main tipping points (if any) or a-ha moments?  How did the tipping points happen?

The a-ha moment was when Joe and I decided to team up last summer.  I design/build custom furniture under the name TomitaDesigns and Joe coincidentally lived across the street from my woodshop where he conducted his laser business EngraveYourBook.  We became friends from the proximity and “nerded out” on design and art every day while tossing the football around on the street, not getting any real work done.  He had talked of the iPhone case idea for years actually.  I can’t even remember the actual moment when we decided to team up.  Now, it seems so obvious how our skills, talent, and spirit combine so well but back then we were completely oblivious to the possibility of working together.  I believed in his vision and we fed off each other to make it a reality.

3) What were your biggest mistakes, or biggest wastes of time/money?

Ive heard somewhere that it is better business wise to release a mediocre product early than a great product late.  Timing is everything.

Some people may point to our late release of the 3G model as a big mistake because of the timing.  It was in terms of sales.  However, if we were to do it again we would do the same thing.  We didn’t release till we had refined the product to our level of satisfaction.  We don’t release mediocre products just to make money.  We want to have pride in what we do, and that means sometimes we will be late to the game, and sometimes it won’t make business sense.

4) Key manufacturing and marketing lessons learned?

From a marketing perspective, everything went according to our vision.

Concentrate on making the best product possible.  If you succeed, the product will sell itself…. People will talk about it on their own.

From a manufacturing perspective, I had a lot to learn.  I am accustomed to designing and building one-off high end furniture pieces with no regard to how difficult it is to make. The goal has always been to make the best piece possible.  I had a difficult time adjusting from that mindset to that of a production situation.  Our products are difficult to make and require a lot of labor because of my mindset and lack of willingness to compromise certain things.  For example, we hand rub 4 coats of natural oil/wax on our cases which doesn’t really make any sense for mass production.

5) If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

Nothing.  I don’t do the “wish I had a time machine” thing.  Experience–whether it be good decisions or mistakes–all lead us to where we are at now.  I love the ride and learning experience, bumps and all.

6) What’s next?

We have an iPad case coming up that we are really excited about.  We are mixing and matching some different materials that have radically different properties.  It will be thin, sleek, and customizable, of course.

We also have some amazing collaborations on the iPhone4 case coming up with artists and brands that we are fond of.  We love working with artists first and foremost.  Our spirit of creative pursuit is our greatest attribute and simply the most fun part.

The truth is, we have a ton of projects in development constantly in our heads.  I can’t wait to get to all of them!

VAPORIZERS

1) How did you decide on your product? What ideas did you consider but reject, and why?

We decided on vaporizers because we already wholesale in the same industry. We decided to launch an online website. Shopify was easy to use and very convenient.

2) What were some of the main tipping points (if any) or a-ha moments?  How did the tipping points happen?

The main tipping points was figuring out the keywords they generate the most conversion. Once we were able to identify the keywords, using Google Analytics, it allowed us to be more aggressive and competitive. We determine it by amount of revenue generated per click minus cost per click.

3) What were your biggest mistakes, or biggest wastes of time/money?

The biggest mistakes were starting shopify contest late. It took us much longer to develop the website than we expected. We entered in the last 2 month of the contest. Besides that, everything went very smooth for the website.

4) Key manufacturing and marketing lessons learned?

The key marketing lesson learned was how to manage the cost of PPC campaign. PPC became one of our biggest cost, it was a challenge to maximize efficiency. We really had to watch our ad campaign to keep the website profitable.

5) If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

We would focus more on search engine optimization other than ppc aspect. Also spend more time planning out the website with a deadline checklist. This would allow us to launch a new site much faster. The deadline would look more like a real estate project… [with] each phase of the website constructed in a synchronized fashion.

6) What’s next?

We plan to open another site for niche market products that wal-mart, target, and costco do not carry.

DODOCASE

1) How did you decide on your product? What ideas did you consider but reject, and why?

Going back to our use first use of a Kindle, we were amazed and excited about the idea of an e-reader. At the same time we started to feel a sense of loss about not holding and reading a good book (despite what one might think, reading is at least in part a tactile thing). While we didn’t act on this feeling on the Kindle as the iPad was announced it was clear that we had to do something. Patrick considered many different types of wood materials to compliment the book element and ultimately decided on bamboo based on its eco appeal and its historic relation to paper.

2) What were some of the main tipping points (if any) or a-ha moments? How did the tipping points happen?

Since the iPad form factor was new, we had designed the DODOcase based on Apple engineering drawings. The first a-ha moment was putting the iPad in the DODOcase on launch day. We realized we had not only achieved our design objectives, but it was a way nicer experience using the iPad in a DODOcase than on its own. The second a-ha moment was when Engadget called the DODOcase ‘the Rolls Royce of iPad cases”.

The Engadget connection happened through the viral activity that surrounded DODOcase.   Our target market on launch (obviously the early adopter of the iPad) is highly connected and highly social.   They wanted to talk about their new toy and we become part of the conversation.   These conversations spun up in the ‘echo chamber’ of Twitter and Facebook and quickly made it to the tech blogger community.   Josh from Engadget reached out to us directly and we recognized he was a guy we wanted to get our product to quickly (he got case #16).

3) What were your biggest mistakes, or biggest wastes of time/money?

Fighting the urge of distractions has been a challenge for us. We pursued an iPhone 4 case design for a week before checking ourselves and deciding that while we had a cool product design execution would be a distraction from our commitment to our customers.

4) Key manufacturing and marketing lessons learned?

We’ve learned tons about book binding and woodcraft which we will certainly take forward with us. On the marketing side, we’ve learned that having a great story is as important as having a great product. As a small company, you need to connect with your customers on an emotional level as well as on the physical level of the product. We sell DODOcase’s exclusively online which means most of our customers are buying a product without ever touching it. To achieve sales in this way, its important that customers ‘want’ to buy into the story as well as the product. We’ve believe that we are in the middle of a giant cultural shift from the book to the computer (e-reader/iPad). We hope that DODOcase can help ease that transition by providing the tactile experience we’ve all grown up with applied to these amazing new devices.

Let me take a stab at ‘formulating a good story’.

For a small business like DODOcase, it is critical that our products have a story behind them.   The seeds of product development for the DODOcase originated when we first held the Kindle.   We were amazed by the power and convenience of the Kindle, but immediately felt a sense of loss about the traditional book.   That loss was a combination of the tactile feeling of a book as well as the potential that an entire traditional industry (book binding) could ultimately be destroyed by such technology.    These feelings became the core of the DODOcase product story.   We set out to make a product that helped assuage these feeling as consumers embraced the iPad.   Users of an iPad in the DODOcase ‘feel’ like they are reading a hardback book which created a positive association with their past feelings of reading actual books.    Further, through our use of YouTube videos and other online messaging, we told the story of how DODOcase is made using traditional book binding techniques.

The combination of a product that delivered on expectations we set and the story we’ve told in our messaging has strongly resonated with customers.    At the end of the day, we made a product that we wanted to use and have tried to share liberally the many reasons why we’ve made the product and manufacturing decisions we’ve made.

5) If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

If we had the opportunity to do it all over again, we might look a little more carefully at our choice of wood. Bamboo is an amazing material, but it is also very difficult to work with. Choosing a different type of wood might have made our lives easier.

6) What’s next?

We will continue to expand and invest in our production capabilities. We strive to eliminate the wait to get a DODOcase and to better service our customers. We will be expanding our product line to support additional colors and customizations for corporate clients and universities. We will look at new tablet devices as they come out and decide if the market will be large enough to support a DODOcase model.

We are thrilled to grow our business in the great city of San Francisco and contribute to the local economy.

Posted on: July 19, 2010.

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128 comments on “The Way of the Dodo — How to Sell 10,000 iPad Cases at $60 Each (and Other Lessons Learned)

  1. I found this to be really incredible. They definitely deserve the $100k. This looks to be a high quality product that would make any iPad owner proud.

    @tferriss: Do you own an iPad and if so, one of these as well?

    Like

  2. Absolutely SICK infographic – great job. And, great job on putting together a quality contest.

    I’m always interested to learn how to continue motivating my clients to think in ways that are holistic – from manufacturing to marketing. These will be simple case studies that I can share that are both informative and inspiring.

    Thanks!

    Like

  3. Great post !!! I learned a lot by reading the comments of the contestants.

    Also, I got inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit of those people.

    Incredible stories and lessons learned.

    Great contest – thank you Tim for organizing it !

    Looking forward for more similar contests ( By the way i was thinking to get into the contest and I never did – looking back – I should have jumped into it without thinking too much – the worst that could have happened is to learn a lot of things- but i have still learned a lesson just by reading the contest results ).

    Like

  4. If a plywood ipadcase sells at 60 bucks, I wonder what such an item in “executive style”, aka brushed aluminum (“guaranteed shock proof up to 5 feet”), leather-bound with individual name imprint, etc., might go for on the marked. 250+ USD?

    Like

    • Titanium would be better, extremely light and string. Or Carbon fiber, even better on both fronts. Or magnesium might be an interesting choice.

      Like

  5. very cool

    that dodocase is sweet. I kind of wonder what the main market for that vaporizer company would be though….

    Like

  6. Great post – a nice insight on the competition from few angels! Congratulations to the winners.

    I have a question for Tim also:
    I’d like to translate and sell 4HWW (and future books too) in Polish market. Do you have some sort of exlcusivness agreement with your publisher (or publishers) that would prevent that?

    The book is avalible in my country, but I think I can do much better job translating it and in marketing. Write me if you are interested.

    Like

  7. Couldn’t agree more with what the DODO boys said about book binding and the loss of the tactile experience of actually holding a book. It’s a feeling, deep down in everybody as these new e-readers enter the market and they have done a wonderful job of capturing this feeling, and creating an incredible business out of it.

    Very well deserved, I look forward to seeing more from them in the future.

    Like

  8. this is more helpful then words can describe

    i am so grateful to this blog i have been looking and looking for something like this post for so long

    Like

  9. Thanks Tim for hosting this great contest. It sure does inspire me to look at shopify for my online business and I think I might get a Dodo case for my wife and I’s iPads!

    Cheers.

    Like

  10. I love the story of DODO case and I hope their business keeps booming.
    Their site is perfect too, such companies deserve rewards.
    Thank you for sharing lessons learned especially, these are always valuable.

    Like

  11. Where do you draw the line?

    I think hiring reps to wait in line with early adopters is brilliant, but is it 100% ethical? To me it sounds like a real world version of a “fake” blogger showing up in a forum to pitch a product.

    OK in the real world?
    BadDog online?

    I’m very impressed with their success though, and I congratulate DodoCase. Well done!

    Tim, $120k in prizes leads to $3.5 mil in revenue, new jobs, innovation… blueprint for a stimulus package? Capitalism.

    Like

  12. FANTASTIC butterfly effect here. An action like this contest will impact a lot of the other winners (people who entered) which may end up making a lot more online.

    Cheers,
    Mukul

    Like

  13. Tim,

    Thanks for hosting such a great competition that really fuels the American spirit of entrepreneurship. I’ve check out shopify recently and have actually started using it. It really helpful for processing my orders and frees up more of my time. Also I’m going to have to get one of these DoDo Cases for my wife and I’s iPad. Thanks again for the competition…when you have another one? :)

    Like

  14. And here I am complaining with phrases like “How will I ever compete..”

    The How and Why are obvious and easy. All thats left is my own laziness to get out of the way..

    Time for some of my own Intertia

    Thanks, Tim

    Like

  15. Incredible contest! The questions answered provides a plethora of information and motivation for any aspiring entrepreneur! They provide a window into the thought processes involved and what worked and what didn’t. Congrats to everyone!

    Like

  16. Great blog! It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it. Thanks for the inspiration to get moving on my dreams.

    Cailen Ascher
    lifestyle designer & author

    Like

  17. Now I feel like those Stanford (or was it Princeton) students that did not complete the challenge of contacting celebrities for the round trip airline ticket.
    Another excellent and very inspiring story. Thanks again, Tim.

    Like

  18. This is not only awesome inspiration, but a really good source of insight too! Lots of good stuff here.

    I do wonder about the people paid to wait in line and talk up the product. If they were open about what they were doing, I have no problem with it. My question is though, did people KNOW that there were paid PR people in the crowd? If not, it sounds a bit scammy to me; like fake bloggers in the comments or false product reviews. Would be interested in more details around how they did it and what exactly they did.

    Curious what other people think.

    Like

  19. Great competition!! Tim do you do any seminars in Europe?? I’m brainstorming products but have hit a brick wall in my ideas, any advice gals and guys??

    Like

    • I’m also curious about European dates here TF..would you like to do this in Tuscany in one of the towns with the best wine in the world, despite it’s verrrry small population? Right near Siena. It would be an honour to help if you do. Performing artist and Recording engineer (I know, it’s so corny! Not my type, he recorded my first Wagner and other cd and was so sane I fell in love with him..He’s also one of the Founders of Siena Jazz..) we’ve been organizing for only interesting events in the area, to give back to the community that became my home ( a dream also..) but only the best.

      So, Justine, my worst enemy (well, besides seeing people being mean and stupid and not getting it) is that ideas and creations have been sprouting seeds in my brain (though they say we singers only have empty space for resonance..isn’t that what all the Masters spend years on mountaintops looking for??!) since before pre-speech and I love to share, more fun in it. I speak only 4 langages fluently, not counting Shakespearean English, and a few others here and there, but would love to plot or just give a spark and appreciate yours.
      MontalcinoFestaDellaMusica@gmail.com is a contact checked daily, if you’d like..We can go from there.
      Best, Sid

      Like

  20. An information product, as you alluded to in 4HWW, can’t be reproduced as easily and requires almost no labor costs to duplicate. But the genius behind DODOcase is that they KNEW this and instead went after the early-adopter crowds. The combination of being the first, as well as the most unique, was a good idea. But I really hope that the “customer care” issues they alluded to in the NYT article aren’t too costly for them. What I learned is that now that the “social marketing” is in-place, they will not have to spend a DIME on google adwords!:)! However, I would expect a duplicate case might hit the retail stores like Target very soon. I’m planning to release an info-DVD for career advice for $55/unit, but this is a technical profession with very little social capital.

    Like

  21. Great post Tim, awesome contest – especially in this seemingly bad economy. Makes me wonder if our economy is really that bad?

    Love the Grove bamboo cases!

    Like

  22. Incredible case stories and great insights for anyone looking to develop a business. Really pressures us with the entrepreneurship bug to stop holding back and get to work!

    Like

  23. - Street teams are perfectly legal and ethical … they worked really well when I was in college working as an intern for record labels. In my opinion, there is way too much sensitivity to paid promotion … heck, it’s called “sales” and it’s critical to selling a product. Street teams aren’t typically covert either … they’re out there pushing the product just like everyone else, and ideally transparent.

    – Tim, I’d actually chime in to say I’d like to see even more advice from the winners, a lot of this info seems to lean toward product development as opposed to getting eyeballs to the sites and actually buying things. Being an entrant myself, and really active in the forums, there’s really a dearth of actionable information about promotion, effective PPC efforts and a sharing of information about exactly “who” to hire to help people achieve greater success. I think a lot of us thought there would be a lot more of that in the months the contest ran as well … :-(

    For those folks working on the retail angle, I think one of the greatest ways we can all benefit is in the sharing of the who and how of what makes us successful. I’d love to hire someone to do PPC, for example … someone who can make a real difference in the effectiveness of my store … or hire a firm that gets retail PR, or re-hire street-teamers from the DoDo example … people who already know what the heck they’re doing. Many, many people would pay for this expertise, if we just knew who the qualified people were and how to find them. :-)

    Re-inventing the wheel, and having everyone seemingly keeping a lot of the really important stuff close to the vest makes the process so much harder than it needs to be. I would LOVE to see folks who bang these things out of the park like DoDo, et.al. just once say, “You know, I really couldn’t have done this without the help of these five firms, who worked behind the scenes and really made my idea a success!” Those firms are: …..

    Any chance we can foster that sort of camaraderie here as part of the ongoing feedback to this post!?

    Along those lines, here are people who continue to help my own business successful:

    Phone Prospecting/Lead Generation – Speedwell Solutions – Bob Niles
    Business Development – Chicago Strategic Chris Hansen
    Graphic Artist – Elke Pellegrini
    Web Design and Tweaking – Hint Media – Josh Wood

    Share away!

    Cheers,
    Doc

    Like

  24. Great post, and I love the detailed info from all involved. A lot of this info is exactly what I have been searching for involving a start-up online business.

    One question though: Are there any stats on the mean revenue from all the companies started through this competition, both with the outliers included as well as removed?

    Thanks,

    -A

    Like

    • Hi Andrew,

      For understandable reasons, a lot (most) of the start-ups don’t want to publicly disclose their exact stats and numbers. I’ll see what I can get from Shopify.

      Cheers,

      Tim

      Like

  25. Pingback: DODOcase iPad Case
  26. Great post, very inspiring! I love the DODOcase story, and am in total awe at the size of the contest and the success that the entrants had. Congrats to all :)

    Like

  27. So invigorating to see how everyone dove on this opportunity. Really gives you the feeling that starting your own business, or finding your muse, is very possible. How can you not give it a shot? The leverage of the web for this stuff is awesome.

    Hats off to all you guys. I think I could use a DODOcase…
    Scott

    Like

  28. I have seen a dodo case (one of my co-workers in Australia purchased one) and they are absolutely beautiful. They are hand crafted by artisans. I went to order one but the us$25 postage on top of the us$60 postage meant a nearly aud$100 case! So I bailed. Need a distributor in Australia, Dodocase??

    Like

  29. American School System: Tim, this is off topic but I don’t know any other way to pass this along, I saw a video not long ago that you were interested in coming up with some solutions to our school systems. You might want to reach out to Malcolm Gladwell (author of Tipping Point, etc). In his book “What the Dog Saw” (his new one) he did a lot of research about what makes a great teacher – and it was eye opening and unexpected. Good Luck

    Like

  30. Wow, I love the idea of hanging out in the Apple lines … lol … I need to come back and ready this article again, as it looked like a lot of interesting material and more than I am really going to absorb in one read …

    My business is coaching and (potentially) info products, and it’s a whole different thing than actual tangible products … I’m feeling my way along in it …

    Like

  31. Tim

    You rock!

    Anyway we could see a list of all the companies that were begun as a result of the contest. Maybe with links to each website.

    Like

  32. wow. I’m not sure if anyone else feels this way, but this made me feel like a complete slacker-loser in a way. I mean the results that all of these people, but especially the winners, in just a short period of time is mind blowing. I feel like, damn, what’s my problem. And what is more impressive are that these are like real, viable businesses, as opposed to, you know, on the side, extra money, type situations.

    It really forces you to think about, what you could do that could completely change your life between now and the end of the year. And if you have an idea (I have tons) why its not a reality, not just an idea. Thanks Tim. No pressure. lol

    Like

  33. A brilliant example of creativity, and how well people can respond to a goal (even an artificial exogenous one). Congratulations to all concerned, whether they won or not – all will have learned great lessons.

    But @Will, Let’s not get too carried away with this experiment proving the benefits of capitalism for the economy as a whole. After all, the unfettered operation of that system is what’s led our economies in the developed world into the crash that now needs stimulus in the first place!

    If US, UK and Eurozone Govts hadn’t defied capitalism by bailing out the banks, the crash would be 50 times worse and we would have seen rioting in the streets.

    I’d say this competition has been analagous to a little benign Govt intervention to help things along.

    Like

  34. Tim,

    Sorry if this is irrelevant or if I missed it somewhere, but what’s the ETA of the new book? I am anxiously looking forward to it! Thanks.

    Like

  35. Tim & David Crandall:

    The DODOcase guys handed out fliers that (here’s the best part) looked like the DODOcase.

    Patrick held one up when I interviewed him. It was beautiful. I can see why people would go buy one after getting a flier.

    Like

  36. Tim,
    Is there any way we can get more information on what these businesses do/did in terms of licencing, taxes, and the other “problems” that traditional (not online) businesses have lawyers to account for? Thanks for the inspiration

    Like

  37. Tim, is there a post or place where all the contest entries are listed? it would be informative and instructive I think to see more examples of what people came up with, and the time frames for doing so.

    Like

  38. It was an interesting contest and wonderful products, but not especially useful from the standpoint of starting a new business.

    Forgive me if I sound naive but I thought the point of the contest was to show that 4-hour workweek methods and starting a Shopify store could be used by anyone to build a new, successful business, more or less from scratch.

    Aside from BuyMafia, which does appear to be a legitimate victor, the other companies that won simply tweaked their existing business models to qualify for entry. Wholesale vaporizers = retail vaporizers, print/apparel designer = charity tees, furniture designer/book engraver = GroveMade, serial entrepreneurs=DODOcase.

    It’s success from their viewpoint but fails to prove anything about the value of Ferriss’s advice when actually creating a business. It reminds me of the old joke: “Want a successful business? Ok, first get a million dollars, and then……”

    Like

    • These people used their existing skill sets. I don’t think that’s a cop out, though the wholesale to retail move is questionable. Most important — what of the other 500+ viable businesses that came of this? I don’t believe all of them were built upon existing businesses.

      Like

  39. Great insightful post as always.

    I have a DODOcase and had to wait almost 5 weeks for one. What got my attention was how similar it was to a Moleskin journal, which I have been a fan of.

    I really do enjoy my case. There have been some issues with the iPad not staying snug inside the case, or cracks, chips, or bending in the cover.

    I had an issue with mine and contacted customer support and they responded very quickly and will send out replacement parts for me.

    I think cause it’s handmade so not every single one will be perfect. But they do seem to correct the problems to keep the customers happy.

    I do wish they would release someone for the iPhone 4. Would have loved to have seen what they had in mind. Maybe in the future.

    Like

  40. Great post of the results of this contest. It’s interesting to hear how the companies are planning on branching off their current business models.

    While not all the businesses conducted themselves in strict accordance to the methods of 4HWW, the contest and the current update serve as great motivators for all up-start entrepreneurs who may be having their doubts (me included). This contest was the push that got me to start my own company. While I have yet to generate six-figure revenues, the proof is in the “pad” that pursuing an idea that keeps you excited allows for a fulfilling adventure :)

    Like

  41. Excellent job to all that participated. I considered joining the contest but couldn’t figure out what I’d create or sell. I now have a product and a rudimentary website(went up 3 days after I lost my job) and now learning search engine optimization. Anyhow, Its great to see the results. Absolutely astonishing.

    Tim,
    Anyway we could get a interviews with more of the participants and specifically focus on marketing techniques that worked and didn’t work?

    Like

  42. So inspiring to read about these companies!

    Like many before me have said – could you please interview some successful contestants about the marketing part. Creating the product is the ‘easy’ part, for me at least. Marketing, pr, social media is the hard part. Everyone always says they ‘use social media’ but never HOW they get viral and get attention.

    I get the contacting blog, media, starting a facebook page etc but going from there to it getting a life of its own i a whole other ballgame. it is bloody difficult. So please more marketing insights.

    Thanks for a great contest!

    Like

  43. it’s been a long haul for many people.

    All we have been hearing about is the economic downslide, it’s refreshing to hear from the otherside.

    Thank you for an inspiring story, makes me think we can use that door stop know as our brains for something else.

    Thanks again Nanc

    Like

  44. I bought my dodocase on the first day they were on sale and had the case before I had my 3G iPad. I concur with one of the others that there might be some quality issues, but really those minor issues give the product some character that play into it’s niche. The BEST feature of the case is that when the iPad is in it, the case acts as a theft deterrent because it looks like a book instead of a desirable piece of tech begging to be stolen. I also use Moleskine notebooks and I like the way the two compliment each other. All in all, compared to some of the crap out there in the case market, I would say this one has to be at or near the top. Congrats on winning the contest. I am glad I was able to help in a small way.

    Like

  45. @Chillum, believe me the US, UK, and Eurozone could have not bailed these companies out, and there would not have been a collapse. That was just a threat to make people not make hard choices. Like a company asking for money from an angel investor to cover basic bills, instead of reducing the cost of their inventory in order to move the product and generate some cash flow. If I had been in charge, no bail-outs, and I just would have made the banks move stuff off the balance sheets. We would not have collapsed at all.

    Like

  46. This post comes just at the right time. I had been working on product ideas myself for some time now and absolutely love what the Dodo Guys did. They are right – the story behind their product is what counts. I’m not an iPad user yet and don’t have use for the case but I love it already. It is a business- and a productidea that you can look at and feel good about.

    It seems that this is not just a hype but that this is as real as their hand crafted product. They are not taking this overseas (which would not be such a horrible thing to do) but want to be part of their local community – create jobs there, connect to the people etc.

    I strongly believe that this kind of mentality will boost their success not only in the US but since they are selling online this will take them global. Even folks not part of the local Dodo community around SF will identify with their approach of doing business, respect it and love it for the honesty.

    It will be my pleassure to follow what is going on at Dodo and to see their progress.

    Like

  47. I noticed most of the winners focus on rather large generic markets like “iPhone users”. That might give people the wrong impression; the Let’s Be The Next Facebook Effect.

    I suspect that most companies that try this fail and that it’s better to aim at a well defined, small but well paying niche market. Isn’t that also the point you try to make the the 4HWW. So if you try to win the competition, you’re lowering your odds of success?

    Does the data from this contest support that? What is the ratio of success for participants aiming at a broad market (define success as earning >$1000 profit per month, per employee). What is the ratio for those aiming at a smaller market? Does having a large profit margin help?

    Any other things you can see in the data?

    Like

  48. By the way, I find it very hard to filter the comments on this blog. Ideally I would only get an email if:
    1 – someone mentions my name; or
    2 – someone replies directly to my post; or
    3 – you make a comment

    I tried to create a filter in Gmail and Syphir (I always forget how to spell that…) with that does that, but no success.

    It would be great if you could find (or outsource) a WordPress plugin that does this. Some plugins support threaded conversations, which would be a good start. But I believe they still send email notifications for replies outside the thread. And they don’t deal with 1) and 3).

    Like

  49. What a great contest / experiment… I wish that I had heard about it before it was over. Since it was such a great success, perhaps there will be another. Although, I would like to see one more precisely tuned to the principals of the 4HWW.

    Like

  50. Like many before me have said – could you please interview some successful contestants about the marketing part. Creating the product is the ‘easy’ part, for me at least. Marketing, pr, social media is the hard part. Everyone always says they ‘use social media’ but never HOW they get viral and get attention.

    Like

  51. This was my first introduction to Shopify and I think that, with the resources in the book, it can be a fantastic way to get a muse going. Thanks for the reference and the awesome case studies.

    Like

  52. I loved seeing them on mixergy and hearing their inspiring story. It has certainly inspired me with my own business. I’m not using shopify yet, but in the near future…most definitely.

    Like

  53. Tim,

    Thanks for the anecdotes. People like me starting out in a business need these types of stories to see what works and what does not. Also, they give us the ability to see the potential out there to keep us going.

    Josh Bulloc
    Kansas City, MO

    Like

  54. Just wanted to say thank you for everything that you do for us and all the work you put into your blog. I know i speak for everyone when i say that we really appreciate your transparency and that you speak to us as friends and equals. Back to the post… this post just goes to show that the Muse is a real breathing thing and can come from anywhere. Working on mine today and if that Muse doesn’t work i am on to the next. Thanks again Tim. Happy Bday mine is the 14th of next month.

    Like

  55. Interesting. Over twice as many responses on the 100k giveaway as this one that encourages one to make 100k. There is a marketing lesson here, methinks………..

    Thanks for the updates- I read the blog more for the health/business info than I do the contests, but I like reading about these success stories. And yes, I used to love that Donnie Duetsch TV show on CNBC….

    Like

  56. inspiring examples but would be great to see some case studies of those who weren’t already established entrepreneurs. For those of us starting from scratch :-) it would really help!! thx

    Like

  57. Hi Tim,
    amazing and very concrete post. I really enjoyed the fact it’s a very “actionable” post.
    A lot of your posts are excellent but I often felt much of it didn’t apply to me as I am not a “tech guy”. That is I use a computer and I know the potentials, but have no real skills (or interest) in all things relating to marketing, web-design etc etc. And it took me literally over 2 years to find an honest web-designer that did what I wanted for my site and didn’t just take the money and run.
    This post though was great because it showed me real-life examples of people doing viable things in a short time. Things that I could see being very possible.
    I recently teamed up with a guy to bring to market something that if we actually get it off the ground will really change the landscape in the laptop market, which is weird considering that like I said, I am not a tech guy (my partner is though).
    It’s early days at the moment but if you are interested in an unreally good deal on being an advisor only and for a whopping 3% do get in touch… :) :)

    Seriously, thanks for the post, it was inspirational.

    Like

  58. Great Post!

    Tim, can you include more about specific marketing efforts these companies used (if they are willing to share them) in a future post?

    Thanks!
    Brad Chase

    Like

  59. Firstly, the street crew was brilliant on the part of Dodo. The first accessory that most people purchase with an iPad of iPhone is a case, and they effectively leveraged excitement about the iPad to create excitement about their product.

    From a product page perspective, their Shopify store is outstanding. The tracking “Buy Now” bar is far more user-friendly than littering the product page with buttons of a similar purpose.

    Additionally, the aesthetique of their website perfectly compliments the aesthetique of their product. Extremely consistent user experience.

    Like

  60. Probably this has been stated somewhere above but in case not:

    Tim

    really good info, thanks for it. One suggestion: for me (and I suppose also for others who still are at the point of looking for a good idea and getting started) it would have been also great to find out how the winners dealt with their ‘fears’ that I am sure they had.

    As you describe so well in your book, fear is probably one of the main factors why people never do the first step – and therefore never can succeed in their quest of ‘building their own thing’. Knowing how these people dealt with their fears would be a great insight into how others don’t let fear/concerns stop them and just do it.

    Thanks again for the good info you shared with your readers and happy belated birthday!

    David

    Like

  61. With all the doom predictions, I see that the American dream and visionary ideas of people like Tim Ferris and savvy hardworking entrepreneurial spirit of people like Dodo case makers are still well and alive. It is money well spent to show this spirit that lifts the hopes of not only American people but all the entrepreneurs of the world. Kudos.

    Like

  62. Some really nice ideas. Especially I liked the Mafia Wars idea. Too sad that it was just for US residents. Hope you set up something similar again on an international level.
    I guess the real grand prize winner was Shopify itself. Cool marketing idea!

    Like

  63. Tim- your always talking about learning the basics to multiple languages… well something that will help out and is FUN is SUBLingual Music books…. Learn a language thru music.

    Listen to music, read lyrics with translations and pick up words and phrases. Cool Music.. artists from OZOMatli, Carla Bruni, Juana Molina, Cafe Tacuba, Kinky, Coralie Clement.. etc

    Spanish & French books out now at Borders, Barnes & Noble, Amazon.

    xoxoxox

    Like

  64. Dear Mr. Ferris

    It was by accident that came across your name when I read an article published in Sunday Mid Day – a tabloid published from Mumbai. India. I went through your blog space and found some of the case studies interesting.

    What you are doing and promoting is a great thought. I for one believe that we are all are born free but social compulsions get us into terrible relationship bonds – be it personal or professional.

    Probably it is coincidental that I have been living this kind of life since last fifiteen years. Of course not a typically nomadic life the way you are and many who impressed by you are living. I have freed myself from archetype 9-5 work situation and have been freelancing in the area of content and communications. I enjoy being like this. It gives me freedom to think nothing in particular. Of course, there have been great financial upheavals at regular intervals. Nonetheless I have no intention of quitting this way of life which allows my to have my space and to give something back to society.

    I would probably need to blog very often which i propose to do so soon.

    Hopefully Ill keep receiving tips from you time to time.

    Warm regards
    Bhuma Iyer

    Like