Outlive. Outlast. Outsell. Why your business should enter this competition

Enterprise 2 July 2012 Shopify comp POST

When it comes to competitions for entrepreneurs, one of the most impressive in the world is Shopify’s Build-a-Business competition. Shopify is a Canadian ecommerce platform that I first discovered back in 2006 and I have been watching its growth with interest ever since.

This week, the competition (which is open to Australian businesses) opened for entries and the prize is, quite simply, amazing. Entrants have to open an online store via Shopify and the four stores that sell the most over a two month period will each receive a $50,000 USD investment for a 5% equity stake from a mentor. This seed funding will value each company at $1,000,000. The competition mentors are:

* Tim Ferriss, startup investor and author of The 4-Hour Workweek
* Eric Ries, author of bestselling bible The Lean Startup
* Daymond John, investor on The Shark Tank (the US version of Dragon’s Den)
* Tina Roth Eisenberg, design guru at swissmiss

I’m thrilled to be participating as a guest mentor and looking forward to providing advice to a range of this entrepreneurs around the globe.

The competition runs from July 10, 2012 to February 28, 2013, with each of the mentors providing exclusive advice and guidance along the way. In addition to the $50,000 investment, the four competition winners will also receive:

Trip for two to New York City to meet all the mentors
$20,000 Google AdWords credit
Feature article on Fast Company’s website

This kind of prize and exposure is an opportunity that money simply cannot buy. And I’m particularly excited because, based on last year’s results, Australians are in with a big chance.

“Last competition, a large amount of our category winners were from Australia. In fact, Australian stores accounted for 8% of participants, but made up an impressive 38% of the leaderboard. This year, we are especially excited to see what Australian entrepreneurs bring to the table,” says Tobias Lütke, founder and CEO of Shopify. “Our first two competitions were extremely successful. In total 4,438 new businesses were created, selling an impressive $15,751,024 worth of products.”

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

I’ve personally spoken to a couple of the Australian winners of last year’s competition. They not only grew their businesses beyond their expectations (amazing what a bit of healthy competition can do for you) but they also won the opportunity to go to New York to meet with Seth Godin over lunch. Chris Peters, co-founder of Annex Products, was one of the winners.

“Traveling to New York to meet Seth Godin was an amazing experience and we are very thankful for the opportunity and for the awesome lunch. Meeting Seth was a very down to experience. When we arrived at Seth’s office, about an hour north of New York, we were greeted by Seth at the door and welcomed into his office which to my surprise was more like a home than an office space. There were pictures and painting on every wall and some very unusual objects scattered about the place including a few Kickstarter projects. As Seth explained, it is key to have a story to sell a product. He pointed out that everything in his office has a story behind it and went on to tell us a few of the more interesting ones.


Chris Peters and Rob Ward MEDIUM

Chris Peters (L) and Rob Ward (R)


Seth Godin MEDIUM

Seth Godin


“Seth spent time talking to each of us in turn and very quickly got to grips with our products and businesses. He has this uncanny ability to cut through all the fuzz and narrow down to what it is you are really doing and identify who your customers really are. This provided a lot of a-ha moments and allowed us to get a clearer understanding of the next step or product we should be focusing on.”

I love the idea of the competition because, as Tim says, it’s a “kick in the ass”. Not to mention a chance for your company to be valued at $1 million. This may just be catalyst that can take your business to the next level.

Naturally, this inspired my post this week in Enterprise which you can read in full here including tips on how to run your ecommerce store.

About Valerie Khoo

Valerie Khoo is founder and national director of the Australian Writers' Centre, the country's leading centre for writing courses. She is a journalist, blogger and author. Her latest book is "Power Stories: The 8 stories you MUST tell to build an epic business" (Wiley). Valerie is a keynote speaker, small business commentator, and investor and mentor to startups and businesses in Australia.
  • http://www.thatlittleasian.com/ Wendy Huang

    Congratulations Valerie!! Looking forward to some Aussies kicking some butt overseas 😀

    • valeriekhoo

      I’m really excited about it. I hope lots of Aussie businesses enter and do as well as (or even better than) last year!

  • http://twitter.com/DianeL Diane Leonard

    Hi Valerie, As the guest mentor for the competition, how do we get access to you? Will there be a forum or something set up on the shopify website or will you be posting tips, etc on your blog? I read your article in SMH yesterday and I am really keen to get involved in this but already have some marketing related questions. Just wondering if there is an organised forum for us to access your wisdom and advice?

    • valeriekhoo

      Hi there Diane,
      We’re currently finalising all that right now :) So stay tuned to this blog and I’ll be announcing how to work with me directly in the competition.
      I’ll just ping Mike from Shopify about this comment and he can add where this will be announced on his end. Mike?

    • Mike Freeman

      Mike from Shopify here – When you sign up for the competition, you’ll receive access to a special competition mini-site which has a Q&A and other goodies. This is where we will release videos from our mentors and do special Q&A sessions and mini-contests (to win skype calls with the mentors). Some of the mentors will also post to their own blogs, so you’ll have an opportunity to talk with them there.

      Our mentors won’t be able to talk with everyone 1-on-1 due to the large number of entrants, but we’ll have lots of opportunities for people to learn from them. Hope that answers your questions.