Case Studies: How to Build Online Businesses That Gross $250,000+ Per Month

244 Comments


Debbie Sterling’s GoldieBlox is now grossing $300,000+ per month.

My specialty is modeling success. I analyze what works and ask: what recipe can I find that others can use?

In this post, we’ll look at five successful online businesses. Some of them (e.g. GoldieBlox) are now grossing $300,000+ per month…and it’s the founder’s first company! One (Fresh-Tops) has gone from 1 to 20 employees in six months. Some of the other stats are even more impressive.

Out of more than 10,000 contestants in the 2012 Shopify Build-a-Business Competition, these are the five businesses that sold the most in completely different categories:

Design, Art and Home
Gadgets and Electronics
Fashion and Apparel
Canadian [Because Shopify is based in Canada. Go Canucks!]
Everything Else

What do they have in common? And what can you replicate on your own?

For both questions, the answer is: more than you think.

The highest monthly sales by a contestant in the FIRST two months of starting, excluding any pre-existing businesses, was $196,811. How would that change your life?

Without further ado, let’s analyze these five rock stars, looking at what they did right and, just as important, what they did wrong…

5 CASE STUDIES

Electronics & Gadgets Category Winner: GameKlip

Who are you and what is your Shopify store?

Ryan French, Creator of GameKlip

Describe your product in 1-3 sentences.

The GameKlip is a device that attaches your Android phone to a DualShock3 controller, normally used for the PlayStation3. This allows you to use a real controller to play games on your smartphone. It opens the Android platform up to more than just “casual” gaming with touch screen controls, and really gives you a full console experience at a fraction of the cost.

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

I was frustrated with the controls on my smartphone. Touchscreen controls worked okay for simple games, but anything more complex was impossible. I made a bracket to hold my phone onto my controller, and realized other people might want one too.

I didn’t reject any other product ideas. I set out looking for a solution to a problem I had, instead of looking for a product to sell. Once I had my solution, the GameKlip, I focused on finding a way to share it with others.

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

The first a-ha moment was when I snapped my phone onto my controller for the first time. I found myself playing games for hours, and really enjoying the experience. I stayed up all night bending plastic and trying out different shapes until I arrived at a design I thought was efficient and presentable.

The second a-ha moment was when I posted a video of my prototype and started pre-orders. I realized there actually was a demand for my creation. I used the pre-orders to fund my first batch of plastic.

The third a-ha moment came when I realized that I couldn’t continue hand-making the GameKlip forever. I spent all my money on a mold so I didn’t have to make the GameKlip by hand anymore. I couldn’t afford a mold for every phone, so I cut the product line down to just two versions, a model for the Galaxy S3, and a universal solution. The community met the new models with open arms and demand increased immensely.

My final a-ha moment was when I could finally contract my assembly process. I was able to use some of the funds generated from the new molded version to contract out an assembly line. Now that my production process was scalable beyond the hours I could put in myself, the GameKlip was finally ready for retail distribution.

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

About half of my time was spent struggling with my spreadsheets and dealing with the post office, instead of focusing on my product, so I wish I found solutions to those earlier.

It’s easy to say that I should have streamlined my manufacturing earlier, but each step along the way was a learning experience. If I had jumped into contract manufacturing and assembly earlier, it’s very possible that I would have taken on too much. If I had unlimited units to sell, with no ecommerce platform to sell them on, it would have been a disaster.

Key manufacturing and marketing lessons learned?

Keep things local. To find a manufacturer, I started with a simple Google search. I found that there was an injection molding company right across the street from one of the restaurants I frequent, but unfortunately their machines were all booked. Even though they weren’t able to take on my project, I was able to use their 3d printer for my prototypes, and they pointed me in the right direction for finding another company that could produce the part.

If you’re just starting out, I’d suggest doing some local searches and talking to as many people as possible. I started by calling a local shop that supplied plastic sheets for home projects. I described my idea, and asked if they knew anyone in the area that could help me make it happen. I found that most people were more than happy to spend a few minutes on the phone to help.

Try searching for a “rapid prototyping” shop in your area. They’ll be able to help make some physical prototypes of your product, and most will have connections with companies that can handle the manufacturing when you’re ready.

When I did get all my manufacturing processes figured out, I was really glad that I kept everything as local as possible. The GameKlip and packaging are made in the USA. It costs a little more to manufacture things here instead of overseas, but the added convenience of being able to drive over and talk to people is incredibly valuable. The packaging is printed, and the units assembled, about half an hour away from my apartment.

As for marketing, I approached that aspect of the company a little differently than most. Instead of making a traditional advertisement, I simply sat down and recorded myself showing the product and explaining what you could do with it. I think it’s important to let the product speak for itself. Everything exploded organically after that.

Any PR wins? Media, well-known users, or company partnerships, etc? How did they happen?

I was an active member on Reddit, and Android forums like XDA Developers, long before I started GameKlip. When I did launch my product, the members of both of those communities definitely helped me spread the word. I couldn’t have done it without them.

The GameKlip has been featured on Gizmodo, The Verge, The Fancy, ABC News, PC World, CNET, Phandroid, Android Authority, Ask Men, as well as many other blogs around the world.

I didn’t make any pitches or hire a marketing firm to get these mentions, they all picked up on my story on their own. In my opinion, having interesting photos of your product is crucial! I made sure I had a somewhat large selection of quality photos available, to make it as easy as possible for writers to feature my story. If I had to do it over again, I would have gone a step further and created a press kit ahead of time. That way it would have been even easier for blogs to pick up on my story.

What software/tools and resources, mentors or groups did you find useful for growing, if any?

The most useful tool to me was Google search. For example, to learn more about international shipping, I simply searched “best way to ship a package overseas” and found that lots of people post on forums with great information. The amount of information stored on forums is incredible!

Software wise, ShipStation is an app which allowed me to automatically pull orders from my online store and create shipping labels. Before I found this I was copying and pasting addresses into the USPS website manually. Now I click one button and the invoices come out of one printer and the shipping labels come out of another. The order processing efficiency still amazes me every morning!

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

Having a real shipping system and the hardware to back it up (a label printer), would have helped a lot. My two most prized possessions at this point are a shipping label printer and an automatic tape dispenser. When I first started I was running sticker paper through my home printer, cutting the labels out with scissors, and using tape from my local office supply store. I managed to ship over a thousand packages this way, but I could have saved a huge amount of time and money if I adopted a better system earlier.

Any other advice to people starting their first online businesses?

Don’t feel like you need to know everything, or that everything has to be perfect before you start. I knew nothing about running a business, had no idea how to have something manufactured, and had no idea how to ship a package overseas. I’ve now shipped thousands of units to over 80 countries worldwide. It won’t be easy, there’ll be many points where you feel like giving up, but it’s worth it.

What’s next?
I am still pushing forward at full speed. I hope to have the GameKlip on store shelves around the world.

Design, Art & Home Category Winner: GoldieBlox

Who are you and what is your Shopify store?

Debra Sterling, Founder of GoldieBlox

Describe your product in 1-3 sentences.

GoldieBlox is a book series and construction toy starring Goldie, the girl engineer. Throughout Goldie’s adventures, she encounters problems she needs to solve by building simple machines. As kids read along, they get to build along with Goldie, learning basic engineering principles with each story.

How much revenue is your company currently generating per month (on average)?

Over 300K per month.

To get to this revenue number, how long did it take after the idea struck?

About 6 months.

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

When I first started, a lot of advisors were telling me to ditch the idea of a toy entirely and just do an app. I decided to do a physical toy (in addition to an app, which we are launching around x-mas this year) because I felt that the tactile experience of building things was a better way to introduce mechanical engineering principles. Screen play alone just doesn’t do it justice.

My earliest toy sketches were girly Legos… curved shapes, tiny decorative pieces, girly themes like princess castles and stuff (a lot like the Lego Friends line of girl construction toys that just launched, actually). I ditched this idea because I felt like it was reinforcing all the same old gender stereotypes. I wanted to push the envelope and develop an idea that didn’t rely on those stereotypes to engage girls. I knew that little girls are more than just princesses and that I could make something different and empowering that they’d fall in love with.

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

My big ‘a-ha’ moment came when I realized I needed to incorporate a book into the game element. I did extensive research into the differences between the learning styles of boys and girls. I met with neuroscientists and teachers, and I spent a lot of time playing with kids. I asked kids to bring me their favorite toy. Girls would always bring me a book. Boys would bring me a toy. After the fifth girl brought me a book, I decided I needed to blend the construction components of my boardgame with a story. This was a huge ‘a-ha’ moment for me because it significantly changed the direction of my toy.

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

My biggest waste of money so far was when I first hired a law firm. I met with a few different law firms and I felt really, really good about one with whom I really connected. I liked the lawyer, but he was expensive and because I had limited capital, I hired a cheaper law firm I didn’t like as much. I almost instantly regretted my choice. I eventually had to leave the cheaper law firm and went with my original choice. The cheaper firm made me pay money upfront, while the one I eventually went with was willing to defer payment until I was in a stronger financial position. I wasted a lot of money by making the wrong choice.

Key manufacturing and marketing lessons learned?

1. Prototype and test everything! It’s important to prototype everything beforehand. Then test the prototypes on your target demographic. Long before I approached a manufacturer, I designed the toy myself in my living room. I made crude working prototypes using ribbon, clay, wooden dowels, thread spools, Velcro and pegboard from the hardware store. I wrote and illustrated a book where Goldie built a belt drive to spin her friends, and mimicked the action in the book with the physical pieces.

I probably spent a total of $250 on the prototypes. I tested everything on children around the Bay Area – I went to over 40 homes and 3 schools. I observed girls and boys, ages 4-12, interacting with the game. Every time I observed a child and/or parent playing with it, I learned a new insight, which I incorporated into the next version. I quickly iterated and improved the design until it rocked.

2. Be prepared for the manufacturing part to take a long time. The whole process of prototyping and manufacturing is huge. Example: I sketched out detailed drawings and dimensions for each piece of the board game, but I needed the drawings in CAD. One afternoon, I snuck into an Industrial Designers Society of America “happy hour” to try and find an industrial designer who could assist me. I met a really talented engineer there who was passionate about my mission and agreed to help. Then, I needed the prototypes to be printed, so we used 3D printing technology to take them to the next level. I hired a professional sculptor to create the character figurines to match my drawings. I sent everything to the factory, and they made a manufacturer’s sample. Once I approved the sample, we began the tooling process, which is timely and expensive. It took several months of back-and-forth revisions of the plastic parts until the tolerances were perfect. This resulted in a lot of hair pulling. We are still tweaking the molds. Nevertheless, we finally hit the green light and went into production on a first run of 40,000 toys to fulfill our pre-orders from Kickstarter and our website. Seriously, you can’t underestimate the time that manufacturing takes.

3. Decide if you’re an entrepreneur or an inventor. When I started out I was incredibly secretive because I didn’t want anyone to steal my idea. But then a friend asked me if I wanted to be an inventor or an entrepreneur. An inventor works by themselves in a lab, but an entrepreneur needs to inspire others to lend their expertise. I realized that I needed help. I went out and found the best mentors in the fields I was working in and asked for their help. I had to be specific about what I needed and asked them exactly what I wanted them to do. I was amazed at how much help I got! I saved so much time and money by getting help from someone who had been in the toy business for 30 years.

4. Create an authentic and emotional story behind your product. When it comes to my marketing strategy, I am a brand-driven person and I believe that the most important thing is creating an authentic and emotional story and brand. We’re more than a product, we’re a social mission and I like to give the product a face and personality (mine!) For example, our decision to launch on Kickstarter wasn’t about raising funds. We used it as a platform for sharing our story in a video format. Because then it wasn’t: “Hey! Here’s this toy for girls,” it was: “Hey, here’s this female engineer who is trying to do something about a problem in our society.”

5. Plan your Kickstarter exit strategy. We started on Kickstarter, but a lot of these products just fizzle out when their campaign has ended. We started our Shopify store ahead of time so that people who missed the Kickstarter campaign could still participate. My online store was my saving grace because my video went viral and my shop was up and running to capitalize on the publicity. My online store far exceeded the sales I had made on Kickstarter.

Any PR wins? Media, well-known users, or company partnerships, etc? How did they happen?

Our first PR win happened very early, in fact months before we even launched. I was still in the earliest prototyping stages, but I created a blog to share my stories of building GoldieBlox with friends and family. A friend-of-a-friend’s sister found the blog, she was a writer for The Atlantic. Another friend-of-friend found the blog, who happened to be a writer for TechCrunch. I set up phone interviews with both of them and gave them the “exclusive story.” They both posted wonderful pieces about GoldieBlox the day we launched, which created a ton of buzz.

Another win was that we got Tim Schafer (cult video game designer / Kickstarter celebrity) to make a cameo in our Kickstarter video with his 4-year-old daughter. He then tweeted the link to his 90,000 Kickstarter backers. I met Tim through my banker. When I told my banker I was about to go up on Kickstarter, he made the introduction to Tim’s colleague, Justin, who had just joined on board at DoubleFine Productions (they had raised over $3 million dollars on Kickstarter). I arranged a meeting to learn how they’d done it and to get advice. I hung around there a couple times, until I ultimately persuaded Tim to appear in our video.

When we launched on Kickstarter, we had a lot of influential people in tech backing our project: Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook), Craig Newmark (founder of Craigslist), Alexis Ohanian (Founder of Reddit), Mayim Bialik (Actress, Big Bang Theory), the list goes on.

We also got written up in Forbes, Huffington Post, The Guardian, Wired, TIME, Ms. Magazine, The Boston Globe, The San Jose Mercury News, interviewed on BBC world radio, and NPR. We didn’t have a PR agency or anything. These reporters simply emailed into “info@goldieblox.com” and we set up the interviews.

But our biggest PR win to date was on November 14, 2012, we call it “G Day.” Eduardo Jackson from upworthy.com posted our Kickstarter video about a month after the campaign had ended. It instantly went viral. In just a couple days, the video spiked to almost a million views. There were so many orders, we literally sold out of our first shipment and had to push back the delivery date.

What software/tools and resources, mentors or groups did you find useful for growing, if any?

StartingBloc, a social entrepreneurship fellowship program, was by far the biggest game-changer for GoldieBlox.

Pacific Community Ventures, connected us with a pro-bono advisor, Sam Allen (founder of ScanCafe) who has been instrumental to our business.

I got to pitch GoldieBlox on the main stage at SOCAP and met really great contacts in the social innovation space.

The books “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg and “Start Something That Matters” by Blake MyCoskie both inspired me.

And my mentors: Terry Langston (founder, Pictionary), Brendan Boyle (head of toys, IDEO), Bob Lally (co-founder, Leapfrog), Jake Bronstein (founder, BuckyBalls), and Clara Shih (founder, Hearsay Social) played a huge role in helping me learn about the toy business.

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

I would ask for help from the start. Also, in the beginning I thought I had to make a range of products, but this spread my team too thin and it wasn’t very realistic. I had this idea that if you are a startup, you have to work around the clock until you just about kill yourself. If I had to do it over again, I would only work on one thing at a time.

What’s next?

This month we’re launching into retail stores. And we’re also very busy developing new products to add to the line.

Fashion & Apparel Category Winner: Fresh-Tops

Who are you and what is your Shopify store?

Nella Chunky, Founder of Fresh-Tops

Describe your product in 1-3 sentences.

Fresh-Tops is high end fashion for hipster trendy teenage females. Our products are inspired by pop culture with a girly twist. We sell everything from leggings, accessories, crop tops, sweaters and anything that our customers requests that makes sense.

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

I experimented with a bunch of brands until we found one that really worked. I ended up with my current brand by being inspired by pop culture, and a love for bright colors and creating fun, cute little things. I believe that to be successful in fashion, you have to stay fresh, and that’s where the name Fresh-Tops came from.

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

My biggest tipping point was realizing how important social media is to the growth of my company. Being able to interact with our customers 24/7 on various social media platforms has been really, really important.

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

My biggest mistake was with packaging. When I first created Fresh-Tops I was convinced that fancy packaging and the experience of our customers opening our products would increase sales. Nope. Its better to focus on fast delivery and high quality products rather than packaging, which only eat out on your profits. Once our brand became more established it made more sense to invest in pretty packaging.

Key manufacturing and marketing lessons learned?

1. Network. Getting to know people in my industry played a huge role in developing my company. We found all our manufacturers through referrals from personal relationships. Get involved with the market of your specific products. If you’re in the fashion industry go to every fashion event you can.

2. You can’t ignore social media. Our marketing strategy is completely focused on our social media. We use Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram and Twitter to share pictures of our clothing. Then our fans share those pictures with their audiences. This social influence is very powerful. People tend to shop where their friends shop and they feel left out if they’re not involved.

3. Secure your brand name. We keep our ears open for the next popular network, and we’ll then immediately establish accounts. It’s important to do this for two reasons. First, to secure your brand name before someone else gets. Second, you want to be in these social circles in case they catch buzz. For example, there is a lot of buzz around Keek right now. It’s a social site which allows users to post videos no more than 30 seconds long. We don’t know how we’re going to use this as a marketing tool yet, but at least we have reserved our company user name before anybody else could.

Any PR wins? Media, well-known users, or company partnerships, etc? How did they happen?

No company partnerships as of yet but we are looking to partner with a PR firm and a very well known web development company this year.

What software/tools and resources, mentors or groups did you find useful for growing, if any?

We don’t really use any fancy software or tools. You’d be surprised how much you can do with very little integrated software. A couple of my mentors who I study, and who inspire me are Kimora Lee Simmons and Tony Hseish.

Conference wise, learnt a lot from Fashion Week and Stitch Trade Show in Las Vegas.

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

Our biggest challenges so far have been holiday seasons. During the holiday season, it was tough to keep up with increased demand, so I would have ensured our stock count was big enough.

Any other advice to people starting their first online businesses?

I would really suggest that if you are starting your own business, it’s very important to listen to your customers and use their input to drive the growth of your business. We relied on email requests and suggestions from our social media fans when deciding how to move forward and what items to add to our line, and it worked really well.

The second thing I would say is just do it. Keep experimenting and keep trying different things and different brands until you find something that works. Be versatile and flexible and you’ll learn and grow as you go along. Stick to doing a few things really well and don’t overextend yourself.

What’s next?

This spring we are starting a new line of shorts which are fun and colorful.

Canadian Category Winner: Canadian Icons

Who are you and what is your Shopify store?

Aron Slipacoff, Founder of Canadian Icons

Describe your business in 1-3 sentences.

Canadian Icons is an online museum and store that shares stories about iconic Canadian brands like Canada Goose and Manitobah Mukluks alongside rare objects from Canada’s past. We ship every order overnight for free – and sometimes even faster than that. Our aim was to make our website a place where you can always encounter an inspiring collection of Canadian treasures and find out about organizations working to produce, preserve and protect them.

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

We wanted to offer items with incredibly strong connections to Canada’s past. If it was something that really resonated with what could be considered to be truly ‘Canadian,’ and it was something iconic, the decision wasn’t really ours to make—the items and the stories behind them would just speak loud and clear.

The items in the Canadian Icons collection are as relevant now as they were 50 years ago, and they will be just as relevant 50 years from now. And, of course, everything had to be made in Canada.

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

The only real tipping point was when the media began talking about our unique concept of combining storytelling with online sales.

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

We spent a lot of time early on pursuing a hard copy version of the Canadian Icons collection. We wanted to make a book that could live in the physical world but the web proved to be a much better medium to tell the stories and conduct business at the same time.

Key manufacturing and marketing lessons learned?

It’s important to learn where you can add value and how you can stand out amongst your competition. We quickly learned that customer service was the way we could really provide value. We saw opportunity to fill a gap with our Canada Goose jackets in particular because our competitors weren’t great on service because the demand for these products is so huge. So we decided to offer the best possible service to our customers. This meant overnight shipping in Canada and 90 minute delivery within 50km of our office. We also decided to offer a full return policy, no questions asked and no postage required. Risky, but ultimately worth it.

Any PR wins? Media, well-known users, or company partnerships, etc? How did they happen?

PR wins: Our PR approach for Canadian Icons was determined right up front, we wanted high quality links for Google juice, and we wanted brand mentions in good publications to help drive traffic and support our reputation. We hired a firm to help with PR and have received lots of positive media mentions in Canada.

Partnerships: First, I developed great historical content. I wrote stories about Canadian icons such as the canoe, the snowshoe, and the Group of Seven. I began to curate a collection of high quality content. Then, I approached national cultural organizations such as the Museum of Civilization and got them on board.

Once I had these great partners and stories in place, I presented an idea to some iconic brands, suggesting that Canadian Icons would be the most authentic Canadian place online to tell their brand stories and offer iconic Canadian products in a new way.

For brands like Canada Goose and Manitobah Mukluks, it was clear early on that they “got it.” Both of these companies take great pride in their product’s deep and unique connection to Canada.

What one thing (knowledge, skill, tool, etc.) would have saved you the most headache if you had it when you just got started?

There really weren’t any headaches. I had a lot of experience in Canadiana, in writing, marketing and PR, and I actually enjoy cold-calling and developing strategic partnerships and building relationships.

The hardest part, for me, was building the business online – the actual coding and backend – but that really wasn’t that difficult.

Any other advice to people starting their first online businesses?

Build it and they will not come! You need to put a lot of work into PR. Get your name out there, get featured in the press, get backlinks. Getting in the media really helped people to get to know us as well, but the links that the media mentions gave us really improved our SEO ranking.

What’s next?

We are going to continue to strive to provide Canadian products delivered in a manner never before seen in Canada, stories and world-class service you can only really get right here at home!

Everything Else Category Winner: SkinnyMe Tea

Who are you and what is your Shopify store?

Gretta Van Riel, Founder of SkinnyMe Tea

Describe your product in 1-3 sentences.

SkinnyMe Tea is an all-natural detox and weight loss program designed to provide fast results and kickstart a healthier you. SkinnyMe Tea is formulated with all-natural, high-potency ingredients rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre. The natural ingredients in SkinnyMe Tea aim to cleanse and detoxify, increase metabolism, assist in the digestion of food, suppress appetite and much more.

How much revenue is your company currently generating per month (on average)?

Over 600K per month.

To get to this revenue number, how long did it take after the idea struck?

It took around 9 months after we launched to reach this revenue; however, as we’re still a very young company (we turn 1 next month) our revenue is still increasing.

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

I had a dream about “teatox” one night which gave me the inspiration for the name. When I woke up, I knew that I had a great idea and I started building my business literally the same day. While I have experimented with various ways to package and sell the product, my vision for the product has been the same from the start.

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

The biggest tipping point is when our revenue from one week was above my yearly wage at my previous job. That’s when it really hit home. I get so excited when we meet targets we never even considered possible when just getting started. I guess it’s time we start setting more challenging goals.

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

Our biggest mistake was underestimating our rate of growth. We were constantly finding ourselves catching up. Apart from being quite stressful, this meant we had less time to look at the bigger picture and had no time for planning and creating strategies about the new directions our business should be going. That was a big mistake, being able to strategize high-level direction is really important for long-term growth.

Key manufacturing and marketing lessons learned?

1. Make sure you do your research and know which certifications you need. In Australia it’s important to find a manufacturer with TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) approval which isn’t always very common for tea manufacturers because tea isn’t often classified as a therapeutic good per say. That was a challenge in itself.

2. Make sure you will be able to scale your business to keep up with increasing demand. When you can afford it, be overstocked rather than under-stocked. In today’s push-button society everybody wants everything yesterday.

3. Social media can work both ways, it drives discussion but not always in the direction you intended. Be ready to deal with negativity, and listen to your customer’s feedback… sometimes that’s more important than the numbers game and driving sales.

4. Take a personal approach to social media. Your overall message should target your key demographic, but your responses should always target the individual.

Any PR wins? Media, well-known users, or company partnerships, etc? How did they happen?

We have a lot of very well known customers but of course for their privacy we cannot reveal who they are. No significant PR or media wins and no company partnerships, we have tried to stay quite low key while getting started.

What software/tools and resources, mentors or groups did you find useful for growing, if any?

We almost exclusively used social media to grow our brand. We found Instagram to be the best tool for us, we now have over 180K followers on Instagram! With social media we are able to harness the broader messages surrounding health and wellbeing and tie them into our marketing. We don’t just talk about the product, we talk about everything in the health industry and emphasis our product as a part of a healthy lifestyle, not a ‘just another diet’ per se.

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

I would have given us more time to plan things out. If I had anticipated the incredible rate of growth we would be enjoying, I would have embraced it and planned accordingly rather than considering it some sort of fluke that would pass.

What one thing (knowledge, skill, tool, etc.) would have saved you the most headache if you had it when you just got started?

With so many websites around now, it’s really important to be able to give your website an individual look and feel. You should do something to stand out. For example with the ‘Happy Ending’ Shopify app we now add a personal message that says “You’re Amazing!” at the end of checkout. Although it’s a small thing, it’s a nice personal touch which our customers have responded really well to.

Any other advice to people starting their first online businesses?

Just do it! Believe in yourself and your vision. Everyone has an idea, turn your dreams into plans before somebody else does!

What’s next?

We’re working on lots of innovative new products and the worldwide distribution of our existing products. We’re really excited for what’s to come.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Thinking of giving it a shot yourself? You don’t need to go it alone.

Check out Shopify’s “Build-A-Business” competition forums, which include all of the questions and answers from the 2012 competition that the above 5 companies won. The forums cover almost every topic imaginable.

Also check out the “Build-A-Business” mentor lesson videos featuring Tim Ferriss (that’s me), Daymond John, Eric Ries, and Tina Roth Eisenberg.

What other questions or topics would you like explored? Please let me know in the comments.

###

ODDS AND ENDS ELSEWHERE: $10,000 MEMORY CHALLENGE RESULTS

Here’s another example of a success “recipe”…

The biggest memory competition ever held now has a winner! The competition was co-created by me and Grand Master of Memory Ed Cooke, then announced on this blog — it challenged “ordinary” people to learn to memorize a pack of cards in less than a minute.

Irina Zayats, a 24 year-old Ukrainian woman, showed just how quickly a brain can be trained. Miss Zayats had no previous experience using memory techniques, but she learned to perform the gold standard of memory skills (memorizing a shuffled deck of cards) in just five days. In doing so, she won $10,000 and, to her surprise, a job offer from Memrise, the learning platform that ran the competition.

Keep in mind that the American record for this feat was, until recently, 1 minute 40 seconds. And those were trained competitors!

So, how did Irina do it? Here’s the full blog post, and an incredible video of her performance is below:

Posted on: April 24, 2013.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

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)

244 comments on “Case Studies: How to Build Online Businesses That Gross $250,000+ Per Month

  1. I love reading this stuff. It would be interesting to see how many of the 10,000 start ups made money. I would say that would be less than 1%. The correct question would be – what are common traits, habits and behaviors exhibited by those that succeeded?

    Like

  2. Good article for some ideas. However, only few get to the point of 250K per month. There are some greater case studies like EN where numerous and numerous individuals crush it. Thanks for sharing!

    Like

  3. I’m always learning and growing in my business ventures. I have an amazing partner that I have been in love with since October 2003. We have grown so much with each other and have acquired quite a bit as well. We finally have a home to call our own that we purchased in December 2012. We’re able to provide more for our 2 adopted children and create cemented memories to last a lifetime. I detest the fact that our children had to deal with my partner and I being away for hours at a time day after day. My guy punched a time clock just like me, and it’s got more and more inconvenient for us by the minute. After all, they are unfortunately only going to be young once. I didn’t want my thoughts to race when I got older remembering the good times along with how much we missed out on. The shoulda’, coulda’, woulda’s so to speak. It just couldn’t be a possibility for me and my family.

    I wanted what I took part in as a career to generate an income for me and my family to allow me to have more time at home, relax my financial stresses, spend money without suffering from the woes of buyers remorse, help extended family and friends… the list goes on and on as I am sure it does and/or has for you and many other readers.

    I knew in my heart that there are many successful people in this world doing very simple things behind what’s made them a success. I really believed that (still do!), and I was dead set on making that my kind of reality.

    After many long red-eyed nights of searching the internet, time and money wasted – I watched a video that really empowered me to forget the fear and skepticism about achieving financial success online. I knew the possibility was there. Just like many other hopefuls, I was taking the wrong approach to things. Not anymore.

    You are obviously looking for the same big break as I was. I’ve searched my butt off, read numerous sites with pointless info, paid more than enough money than I wanted to, and harassed people that had no interest or belief at all in what I was doing or offering to them. I did all of that (and more!) for about 8 years. After all the chaos, a big break had to take effect. Can you relate?

    Close out your facebook news feed, pause the youtube video you’re wasting time laughing at, silence your cell phone, just get rid of whatever would sidetrack your attention and take advantage of the information you’ve come across here on this site. Share this site with any family or friends that you know could benefit and apply it to an online task they would like to pursue. I’m a big believer in the whole pay it forward approach to life. Taking something good that has happened to me and sharing it with another person is a trait I think we all need to act out more in our lives. The world is full of negativity, and in my opinion a lot of that negative atmosphere forming around us is due to the fact that we’ve forgotten to respect, love and help one another. We all have a lot more in common than we think, and that needs to be recognized. If it weren’t for someone else doing something for me (or to me) throughout the years who knows where I would be today. Of course, we all learn from the good and the bad. It’s a heck of a lot easier to spread the good around though, don’t ya think?

    Definitely be willing to gain more knowledge to get yourself on the right track with whatever it is you are trying to achieve with your online business or other internet ventures. Trust me! It’s completely worth your time.

    BEST WISHES
    Chris

    Like

  4. I have a small business, good product, but low customer traffic. How to bring more customers online and to a physical location? I have no budget left for Marketing and PR. Thanks for any recommendations.

    Like

  5. Really touching stories ! I used to have some business ideas but i always worry about how i’m gonna get capitals for starting a business.. Every little thing has a price.
    Thank you for giving me some hope :)

    Like

  6. The first and most important success strategy that we can adopt is to treat our home Internet business like a real business, not a hobby. There are basic proven success strategies that the highly successful online business owners put into practice on a daily basis and we can implement them too.

    Like

  7. For me, the lesson here is simple. Provide awesome value and then you will get people come to you even if they have to pay you. They will actually love you for it.

    Like

  8. One more thing that is really important to note is the increase of gaming console. You can see that now people love to use these consoles to get the best feel. On the other hand there are certain games that give you more pleasure while playing on PC. So pc strategy games and shooting games can be recognized under this category, these can also be played on console but you cannot be able to get the same pleasure and feel. So following are some of the pc strategy games that you can play on your pc.
    Because I know you understand me, you visionary, I know Is it wrong?

    Like

  9. I think there was a way to cheat the Memrise game since it was an online game with referees checking on webcam only.
    Basically, there is a computer script language called Sikuli which can automate decisions based on what is shown on the screen :
    http://www.sikuli.org/gaming.html

    I’m not saying that Irina was cheating, but I’m saying that it is possible to beat her time with that kind of scripting.

    Like

  10. Hi, I have recently thought of a few new products, mainly involving smart phone cases, I have done research and failed to see anything similar in the market. What is the best way to further the product idea, and how can I give myself enough confidence to go ahead with the project. As in I’m sure it will sell, but the problem is finding the right contacts to make is happen.

    Any suggestions will be great. Many thanks.

    [Moderator: Email removed]

    Like

  11. I’ve used ship station also. It saved almost half an employee work day. It’s amazing how many solutions exist out there (cheap too) but you just have to know where to look. Thank for the inspiring article.

    Like

  12. As someone starting out a business with a physical product I truly enjoyed the wealth of real business experience and mistakes made launching their business. Had a few AHA moments reading this article. Great Stuff! Thanks again Tim for another great article.

    Like

  13. Awesome list of simple idea start ups. Im working on my 4th start up and the one thing I always keep in mind is the mindset I have to have. That mindset is to do less talking and more action. At the end of every start up day is how much have you done, not how much have you talked about what you’re going to do.

    Like

  14. I enjoyed reading this article and of all the success these entrepreneurs have achieved. I too have a new product that I’ve developed which happens to be a transdermal energy patch. I created it as a result of hearing friends often say that they either didn’t like the energy drinks or pills on the market because they made them feel too “jittery” or because they were tired of the extra calories from the drinks and energy bars. So I sought to create an all natural, low caffeine, no calorie energy booster and came out with a product that met all 3. The problem I’m running into now is how to obtain product liability coverage. My product has less caffeine then a can of coke and if you’ve ever taken a multi vitamin without any problems then you wont have any problems with my product. But I remember Tim noting in his book that when he created Brain Quicken he received every oddball question and concern about his product so since his was a digestible, I’m assuming he had some sort of product liability or did he just incorporate to protect himself? I’ve called over a half dozen large commercial insurance providers and it’s almost as if I’m asking some off the wall, never thought of question. Can any provide any ideas or advice?

    Dave

    Like

  15. What a great story, Thanks Tim.

    As long as I understand, it is all about monetizing an idea rather than having an idea. Also tons of work, sleepless nights, setbacks and finally being in a right place,meeting the right people. Also the entrepreneurial spirit is crucial which I sadly don’t have.

    Like

  16. Hi Tim,

    Thank you for the great case studies. Here are summaries of what I have learned from the five successful entrepreneurs:

    “Once you think you have a good business idea, make a simple plan and just do it. Believe in yourself and your vision. Listen to your customers and be humble to ask for help along the way.”

    1. Having a real shipping system and the hardware to back it up.
    2. Don’t feel like you need to know everything, or that everything has to be perfect before you start.
    3. I would ask for help from the start.
    4. I would only work on one thing at a time.
    5. I would have ensured our stock count was big enough during the holiday season.
    6. Listen to your customers and use their input to drive the growth of your business.
    7. Just do it, keep experimenting and keep trying different things and different brands until you find something that works.
    8. Get your name out there, get featured in the press, get backlinks.
    9. I would have given us more time to plan things out.
    10. Just do it! Believe in yourself and your vision.

    Like

  17. Your article very informative but so much lengthy. I mention only one point for business and E-commerce website holders. Use live chat support on their website. Its so much beneficial for them.

    Like

  18. Hi thanks for the great and detailed article. I would emphasise having a unique product, and dominating your niche as being keys to success. It is too hard to compete against the big brands with big wallets, but if you have your own unique product or offer, then with a little bit of work you will be able to get great rankings with little competition. Thanks again,

    Like

  19. Tim, people seem to expect almost instant gratification more these days than when you wrote The 4-Hour Work Week. Do you still think it’s possible to get away with a 6-week delivery time, or is it important to invest in stock?

    Like

  20. Inspiring stories! Because of the Shopify content, I understand why the 5 winners all sell a physical product. But I’d love to hear about similar success stories (grossing, say 5 figures/month) from people selling a *service* rather than a product.

    I would think “getting to success” might be easier because there’s no need for physical prototyping, manufacturing, packaging, or distributing. Marketing, promotion, and user acceptance would still be needed though.

    Can anyone point to such success stories? I’d love to become one, but I’m not sure how to start or what pitfalls to avoid.

    Like

  21. Tim never fails to post interesting material that inspires and excites the reader. It’s so good to read about people starting successful ventures. Uplifting accounts such as these are why I keep coming back.

    Like

  22. “The highest monthly sales…”

    Highest monthly? The most successful of the contestants then? How is this an argument? It would be one if it said “The minimum monthly sales…” So I don’t get this.

    Nonetheless – very inspiring post! I love reading Tim Ferriss.

    Like

  23. Amazing stories to read. Loved reading this post today. Great points to carry for myself as well. Pat on the person who brought these interviews for online readers :)

    Like

  24. Hi Tim,

    Fantastic piece about ordinary folk doing extraordinary things because they had a dream and never gave up. Most people give up too easily when they are faced with challenges, hurdles or difficulties. You do not have to be clever, or rich or famous to become successful nowadays. The internet (just like the Colt .45 of the old west) is the great equalizer! Anybody can build a very successful business online with practically no money using free tools if they did their research, emulated others and never gave up.

    Thanks for inspiring me once again!

    Like

  25. Tim, thank you very much for sharing these case studies. It’s definitely an inspiration for those who are just starting their first online business. Not to mention, there are a number take-aways we can implement immediately.

    Like

  26. Great blog! I’m having trouble finding decent keywords via Google PPC that range from the $.05 to $.50 price range that Tim discusses. Can anyone provide some insight as to what I’m missing. Thanks so much!

    Like

  27. Thanks for this post Tim. Very interesting case studies. Having a good platform, guidance and step by step training and tools can lead you on right path of success.

    Like

  28. Very good post Tim. Interesting case studies. I believe that having a good platform, guidance, step by step training and tools will give you a better outcome to start your online business on the right path.

    Like

  29. Case studies like these are so cool and helpful. It made me realize that I don’t need breakthrough ideas to build a business that works. From everyday experience, one can come up with an idea and turn it into a business.

    The thing is, how can one take advantage of those everyday ideas? I mean, how to turn those ideas into something that will create value?

    Thanks again for sharing this, Tim. These are real-world scenarios and these things are what we need.

    Like