Today we’re thrilled to announce the five winners of our Build-A-Business competition.
During the 8 months of the competition period, over 10,000 entrepreneurs created new online businesses that sold more than $55 million in products. The five new businesses that sold the most over any two months of the competition each win a $50,000 US investment.
We sent each of the winners on a VIP trip to New York City to meet with the industry experts who served as mentors to the participants throughout the competition (Timothy Ferriss, Daymond John, Tina Roth Eisenberg and Eric Ries). Here's a glimpse of their trip to NYC:
In addition to the grand prize investment and NYC trip, each winner gets a special one-hour media strategy training session with editors at Fast Company Magazine, and $20,000 toward digital advertising for their business.
Here’s a visual overview of the competition, including our five amazing winners. You can click on the image to view in full-screen.
We’re excited to see so many great ideas grow into successful businesses through this competition. Our winners really took it to the next level, combining brilliant products with savvy marketing to sell an amazing amount of products.
Here’s a look at our five winning stores, their cool products, and the entrepreneurs behind it all:
GameKlip (Electronics & Gadgets)
GameKlip is the brainchild of gamer-turned-inventor Ryan French, an Applied Computational Math Science student at the University of Washington. Frustrated by the inefficient game controllers on his phone, Ryan crafted a precision-moulded clip to connect a PlayStation controller to his smart phone, allowing for mobile game play with a full-sized controller.
Ryan's product was originally created from simple resources. He bought a few sheets of plastic and used an industrial-strength hairdryer to shape the clip that attached the game controller to his phone. He was amazed at how well his creation turned out. “The simple piece of plastic transformed my phone into a real gaming machine,” said Ryan. “It worked so well, I had to share my creation with the world.”
Ryan decided to share his invention the way any true gamer would - he created a short video with his phone camera. When other gamers saw the video, they wanted clips of their own. Ryan started taking pre-orders and was blown away by the response.
“The first wave of orders was very exciting, but overwhelming. In the beginning, GameKlip was all handmade and built to order, which meant I had to spend most of my time bending plastic into the correct shape and processing orders. I had no ecommerce or order processing software at that time, so everything was done with a spreadsheet. I was working 18-20 hours a day, seven days a week, to build, process, pack, and ship my orders. Something had to change!"
"Discovering Shopify was one of the big turning points for my business. It was easy to set up and drastically cut down my workload. To further my productivity I setup ShipStation to automate the process of taking an order, generating a shipping label, and keeping records. The massive increase in workflow productivity allowed me to focus more on my product, and less on the busy-work.”
Ryan used his newfound “free” time to take his business to the next level. He purchased an injection mold so he could contract out the manufacturing of his product, and ensure the quality of each GameKlip was exactly the same.
Ryan French is still developing new iterations of GameKlip, and continues to grow his business online. He has shipped his product to over 80 countries, and has big plans for the future.
GoldieBlox (Design, Art & Home)
Debbie Sterling raised $285,881 on Kickstarter to fund her groundbreaking product: a construction toy that encourages young girls to get into engineering, develop spatial skills and hone problem-solving abilities.
From Bob the Builder to Star Wars Lego sets, engineering toys have traditionally been marketed to little boys. Debbie, a University of Stanford Engineering graduate, came up with the idea for GoldieBlox while discussing her career choice with a fellow female engineer.
“We were discussing why we became engineers. My colleague grew up with three older brothers and played with their hand-me-down Lego and Lincoln Logs. When it came time to pick a major, engineering seemed like a great choice, and it never occured to her that it was a weird career for girls. I started to think that I had missed out. My parents didn’t buy me construction toys because they didn’t think I would like them. They thought of them as boy’s toys. If I had played with construction toys as a kid, I probably would have developed my passion for engineering much earlier.”
Debbie set out to find examples of construction toys in the “girls” sections of toy stores, and was disappointed to discover very few options. “I started thinking about all the little girls out there who could be great engineers but would never even consider it. When I walked down the pink isle in the toy store, I felt like I was back in the 1950s," said Debbie. "This was an amazing opportunity to open little girls’ eyes to the possibilities of engineering. I became obsessed and it was all I could think about, all I wanted to do.”
Debbie created the character of Goldie, a spirited female engineer, to be her toy line’s mascot. The line’s debut toy, “GoldieBlox and the Spinning Machine,” turns construction into a game, where little girls must build a belt drive to help Goldie’s dog chase his tail.
Fresh-Tops (Fashion & Apparel)
Fresh-Tops is a “bubble-gum, hipster-chic” fashion brand spawned by an orgy of glitter, ice cream and electro-pop. Creator Nella Chunky produces limited edition women’s clothing and accessories.
Nella’s success wasn’t an accident – she experimented with several different brands and clothing lines before she decided on the Fresh-Tops line. “We started up with a couple of designs and just went from there. We really listened to what our fans wanted. We listened to their suggestions and just kept experimenting,” said Nella.
Nella chooses new pieces for the Fresh-Tops clothing line based on suggestions and requests made by her fans on Facebook and Twitter. This novel and progressive use of social media meant that Nella was able to produce the exact product her fans wanted. She attributes her success to the relationship between her fans and her business: “You really have to listen to what people want, and then give it to them. You have to be flexible and keep adapting to their needs.”
SkinnyMe Tea ("Everything Else")
Gretta van Riel created this successful brand of tea in order to help people detoxify and lose weight. The teas, made from natural ingredients, are said to increase metabolism and even improve digestion, complexion, and sleep.
Gretta was working as the digital marketing manager at a large media agency in Melbourne, Australia, when she came up with her great idea. “I actually had a dream about the teatox,” said Gretta. “I woke up with a name, an idea and a vision, and made the website using Shopify the very next day. It was so great to be able to have an idea and go from conception to inception so quickly with the help of Shopify.”
Gretta developed her line of teas using all natural ingredients that help people shed unwanted weight by increasing metabolism and removing harmful toxins from the body.
It wasn’t long before the sales started flooding in, and Gretta had a difficult decision to make. “I had to choose between a steady job that I liked, or following SkinnyMe, which was really my passion. Luckily the sales started coming in quickly, and that helped me make up my mind.”
“There aren't many other detox products on the market that utilise only tea and that are completely natural. So the concept has caught on quite nicely. It helps that the product works really well, with many of our customers experiencing some truly incredible results. This has meant that our vision was able to spread very quickly via social media and word of mouth.”
Now SkinnyMe Teas are popular all over the world, with their most popular product being the Teatox pack, an all-natural detox program.
Canadian Icons (Canadian Winner)
When Aron Slipacoff decided to create a store that sold Canadiana, he didn’t want it to be just another consumer website. Instead, he created a unique shopping experience where visitors can buy iconic Canadian items, and also get a taste of Canadian history and culture. The shop sells everything from mukluks to unique paintings by Group of Seven artist, Emily Carr. Even the service, which is prompt, friendly and trustworthy, is a truly Canadian experience.
The idea for the shop came out of Aron's deep love of Canadiana and his desire to share iconic Canadian products with the world. “I wanted to present Canada’s past in a new, contemporary way,” said Aron. “As someone who lived in the Canadian Arctic, I am really passionate about what Canada’s north offers the world geographically and culturally. I wanted people to experience the stories and products that are inspired by the north.”
Aron wanted his customers to understand why the Canadian products he sells are so special. “To fully appreciate a Canada Goose parka for example, you need to see its connection to Canada’s Arctic peoples, how Canada Goose works with Inuit elders on design, how the company gives back to these communities. You need a more complete picture of the uniquely Canadian connection to the product to really get the feel for what makes it iconic.”
So instead of launching a store that simply sold products, Aron built his shop to be a bit like a Canadian museum, with the history and stories of the product built into the shopping experience.
“Items like Canada Goose coats and Manitobah Mukluks are being sold and admired all over the world, but the Canadian stories behind the brands were left untold. There is a trend now where people want to become more knowledgeable about what they consume and spend money on. The marriage of these ideas was how CanadianIcons.ca was born.”
Aron also wanted his customers to experience what Canadian culture is so well-known for: its friendliness and warmth. So he decided to ship orders for free. “We thought about it and decided to offer 90-minute delivery in the nation’s capital, and we offered next-day delivery everywhere else in the country. Living up to that promise was a challenge. Through all of the Canadian weather and the holiday rush, we realized pretty fast that fulfillment required daily attention and diligence." Aron's focus on service is what sets Canadian Icons apart, and has helped contribute to the business’ quick success.