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How The Woobles scaled from garage to large-scale operation in under 4 years with Shopify

As Justine Tiu looked down at her crochet penguin, she was filled with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. She’d spent her last few weekends cobbling together information from a hodgepodge of YouTube videos, diagrams, and crochet bags to learn how to make this adorable handmade gift for her friend, and finally, she’d done it.

She hadn’t experienced a feeling like this since she was in school, and remembered the confidence that comes from learning something new. She felt like she could take on whatever came her way—but why did such a great feeling have to be so hard to come by?

Enter The Woobles, a learn-to-crochet company that exists to make learning easy—and through that process, instill that same confidence Justine felt after making her first crochet character.

Like any entrepreneurial journey, there were some bumps along the way, but ultimately, The Woobles founders Justine Tiu and Adrian Zhang were able to:

  • Scale from operating out of their garage to now having taught more than 500,000 people to crochet in under four years (and without having to hire any additional employees for the first two years).
  • Set up their store in an afternoon instead of multiple weeks on their initial platform.
  • Go from a slow-loading site that would regularly crash to enjoying Shopify’s 99.99% uptime.

The Woobles: Confidence-inspiring crochet kits

The Woobles sells learn-to-crochet kits for beginners, but in many ways, they resemble an ed tech company. Each kit not only comes with everything you need to crochet a complete character, but also a paired online tutorial that walks you through the process, start to finish.

Their site, which is believe it or not on the free Shopify debut theme, features kits for all experience levels, bundles, tutorials—even private workshops and office hours to help their customers get the most out of their crochet kits.

When asked how they manage to have a site with so much functionality and personality on a free theme, Adrian commented that most of that comes from the brand, not the platform. 

I think the vast majority of ecommerce is pretty straightforward. You don’t need super advanced functionality. A lot of it comes down to your product, your messaging, and your story.

The Woobles

Adrian Zhang — Cofounder

Today, you can find The Woobles online or in retail stores like Barnes & Noble—it’s hard to imagine that just a few years ago they were only beginning to test out their concept on Etsy.

The challenge: An unreliable site that couldn’t keep up with their growth

After testing their concept on Etsy and getting some traction, Adrian and Justine decided to build a website of their own.

At this point in The Woobles journey, it was still just Adrian and Justine. They didn’t have a ton of resources, and still weren’t positive this was going to become a “real” business. So they decided to go the free route and build their site on WooCommerce.

Adrian got busy learning all about WooCommerce, and quickly realized just how much you have to learn to be able to implement it.

At this point I was realizing the high cost of free. I now had to figure out how everything works.

The Woobles

Adrian Zhang — Cofounder

Even for a small shop that was just getting started, it still took him a few weeks of fiddling around, getting a host, and overall just trying to understand how to implement it all. Eventually he got everything up and running, but as The Woobles’ popularity continued to increase, so did their page load times.

The site started getting really slow and despite spending a lot of time trying to diagnose the issue, we could not for the life of us figure out why.

The Woobles

Adrian Zhang — Cofounder

Eventually they realized that what they were saving in platform fees was far outweighed by the technical difficulties and high time cost they were having to dedicate to managing their website, and that it was only going to get worse as they grew.

In the beginning, it didn’t matter a ton if the site was down for like six hours at a time, but we were at the point where we were starting to get traction. If our store isn’t open, that has a significant impact—we can’t make any revenue. We just reached the point that we knew we needed a real store.

The Woobles

Adrian Zhang — Cofounder

The solution: A platform that could scale with them

Adrian and Justine considered all their options. On one side of the ecommerce platform spectrum you have solutions like Squarespace and Wix—popular options for mom-and-pops that want an easy-to-implement solution. On the other end, you have solutions like BigCommerce and Adobe Commerce (Magento)—solutions often used by larger sellers.

Adrian was aware of Shopify because “everyone was using it,” but through his research also came to realize the Goldilocks nature of Shopify—just right whether they stayed their current size or grew into a huge operation.

Shopify can do both really well, and I think that’s pretty rare.

The Woobles

Adrian Zhang — Cofounder

When it came time to migrate from WooCommerce to Shopify, it took Adrian all of a single afternoon—a stark contrast to the setup on WooCommerce that took multiple weeks.

Reliability was one of the first things they noticed a significant improvement to, as well as more third-party support on Shopify than they had on WooCommerce. As a two-person team, that additional support was huge. Adrian began to be able to shift more of his time away from website maintenance and onto the business.

They also soon realized the value of the app ecosystem. Adrian recalled an unassuming checkout promotion app that had a huge impact on their business: ”I think that app single handedly raised our AOV by about 10%. It had a significant impact, and it also only took about ten minutes to set up.”

The Woobles also sells bundles, something that had previously presented inventory headaches but was now seamless and cost effective on Shopify. “If you were to go outside of Shopify to buy software that can do this same thing,” said Adrian, “as you scale up, that software gets really expensive. It could be well over a thousand dollars a month just to keep your bundle inventory in sync, and it costs next to nothing on Shopify.”

It was the same story with things like Shopify Flow, post-purchase checkout functionality, and other apps—Adrian was pleasantly surprised by what a huge impact they had relative to the low time and money investment required to set them up.

The results: Four years of growth and one less hat to wear

The Woobles has grown from a business that existed in Adrian and Justine’s garage to a sizable operation, and that journey happened almost entirely on Shopify. In fact, The Woobles cofounders consider their business’s birthday not the day they registered their business name or sold their first product, but rather the day they launched on Shopify.

There’s this portion of the journey where you’re just trying to figure it out, then you commit. For us, that commitment was paying for Shopify. That was when we said ‘We’re going to be a real store now.’

The Woobles

Adrian Zhang — Cofounder

Unlike on their previous website, the growth The Woobles have been experiencing hasn’t come at the expense of the site’s reliability or their time—in fact, Adrian and Justine haven’t had to do any dev work to reach their current scale, and didn’t even have to hire additional headcount for the first two years.

As Adrian thought back to those early years, he had this advice to offer those who might be finding themselves in a similar situation:

When you're on a platform like WooCommerce, you wear a lot of different hats, including software developer. With Shopify, that’s one less hat you have to wear, which is incredibly important in the beginning of your journey as an ecommerce founder, because you already have so many hats to wear. The more you can get rid of, the more you can focus on the most important thing, which is creating a quality product. We, like I’m sure many others, were on WooCommerce because it was free, but you’ll likely get to a point where six hours of your website being down is worth a lot more than whatever you’re paying for that platform. That point comes pretty early on in your journey, sooner than you’d probably think. It did for us. There are a lot of distractions like that trying to prevent you from focusing on the one thing that you should be focusing on. That's an incredibly high cost that you have to pay, and very quickly you'll find that it's worth the cost of Shopify to be able to get rid of that hat.

The Woobles

Adrian Zhang — Cofounder

So what’s next for The Woobles? This year, they’ll be celebrating their fourth anniversary as a company (and throwing a party at Shopify NY to celebrate 🎉). As they look back at when they first started, although much has changed, it’s still very much about that original mission of sharing the incredible feeling you get when you learn something new.

Whether they’re licensing new characters, making their product even more fun and intuitive to use, or finding unique ways to delight their customers, without having to wear the hat of developer, The Woobles are able to dedicate more of their time where it belongs—on moving their mission forward.


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