Get Inspired: 8 Great Small Business Stories from Shopify Workroom

What does entrepreneurship look like? That’s kind of a trick question. If we’ve learned anything from the 500,000+ merchants who use Shopify to run their businesses, “entrepreneur” takes many forms. It’s more of a feeling, really. And, when you pack many of these brilliant independent business owners into one space, it’s palpable.

We met hundreds of Shopify merchants during our week-long Workroom event in both LA and NYC this month. Everyone we spoke to had an amazing story to tell.

Store owners on both sides of the U.S. shared their remarkable and unique journeys with us. Their stories may have been different, but regardless of where they live or what they sell, they all had one thing in common: a passion for what they do every day.

That passion brought them to Workroom, where they learned the value of face time for independent business owners. They worked one-on-one with Gurus to level up their businesses and get ready for Black Friday Cyber Monday. And most importantly, they left recharged by the collective energy.

We asked eight store owners about their motivation to start their businesses, about that cha-ching moment when they landed their first sale, and what they learned from Workroom that will help them get through the busy BFCM season.

Get inspired by their stories:

1. The MoMeMans

Monica, Brooklyn, NY

Monica started her business almost by accident. Little characters she doodled to amuse herself during advertising meetings at her day job, took on a surprising life of their own. After Monica was laid off and gave birth to her daughter, what were once diversions became the foundation for a new business idea.

She expanded on her world of characters, writing backstories and songs for each one, taking a content approach while testing the designs on physical products. She launched on Shopify and uses Printful and Printify (both integrating with her store) to print and dropship The MoMeMans merch, including mugs, leggings, and kids’ decor.

While Monica’s past life gave her a good foundation in marketing, her experience was limited to large established brands. She found out quickly that launching a small business from scratch required a different skillset altogether.

“I was asking a friend for SEO help to make sure I was labeling everything because if someone tags something on Pinterest I want it to be sure to come back to me. He was like, ‘I really need to help you with this because I like your stuff but no one is going to see it.’ That's the hardest part: getting noticed. I'm still trying to figure it out.”

That's the hardest part: getting noticed. I'm still trying to figure it out.

2. Putchipuu

Giovanni and Todd, Los Angeles, CA

On a trip to Colombia in 2014, Todd and Giovanni discovered the Wayuu tribe and became enthralled with their way of life and beautiful handcrafts. They learned, though, that they were a culture at risk of exploitation.

They launched Putchipuu (meaning messenger of the word/protector in Wayuunaiki) to support the Wayuu community through the sale of their goods. Through fair wages and activism, Putchipuu helps protect their access to education, fresh water, and clean living conditions.

Todd and Giovanni now sell handcrafted Wayuu bags and accessories in their Shopify store. Each product page reminds customers of their mission with messages like “Purchase of this item provides 15 people water for 7 days.”

Tell us about your first sale.

“On our first trip to Colombia we held a pop up at a friend's house in Culver City. This first sale and hearing the Shopify App cha-ching made it feel like a reality, that we had officially started our business. Connecting face to face and sharing our experience and journey is what brings everything together.”

This first sale and hearing the Shopify App cha-ching made it feel like a reality, that we had officially started our business.

What was the best thing you learned at Shopify Workroom?

“(The best thing we learned was) that we need to be blogging on a regular basis and to try mix it up with more video and possibly a podcast of our adventures to Colombia when we are working with the Wayuu people.”

3. On This Rock Jewelry

Janet, New York, NY

After working in book publishing for 22 years, Janet Talbert started what she calls her “second act”. She launched her brand On This Rock Jewelry in 2008, and has been making Christian and inspirational jewelry ever since. Her first big break came when Kathie Griffin chose her sterling silver cuff as one of her daily “Favorite Things” in December 2010.

“I had lots of orders to fill so my friend and bible teacher Chris Burge reached out to people from his bible study to see who could help. It was like the scene in the classic Christmas film It’s A Wonderful Life when the folks in the town give money to Jimmy Stewart’s character to help his failing bank—except in my case people came with their gifts and talents and helped me get out the orders.”

Through a friend, Janet secured some TV love for her jewelry once again, and it can be spotted on Susan Kelechi Watson's character on the NBC hit series This Is Us.

What advice do you have for other store owners just starting out?

“Don’t let fear get in the way. Keep moving. Keep going. Don’t quit!”

Any Black Friday Cyber Monday plans?

“Debut a limited edition suite of jewelry, tag all items so they are Instagram-ready, and follow the instructions in the marvelous BFCM Toolbox. I will also be doing a pop-up at West Elm Lincoln Center on Saturday, the 25th and I’m excited to use the Shopify Card Reader!”

Don’t let fear get in the way. Keep moving. Keep going. Don’t quit!

4. Kirrin Finch

Laura and Kelly, Brooklyn, NY

Named for two literary tomboys, Kirrin Finch is the business brainchild of Laura Moffat and her wife Kelly. The couple found that they were frustrated with clothing lines designed for women. Though they found options they liked in menswear, the fits didn’t work for their bodies. Without any experience in fashion—Laura was in marketing and Kelly a teacher—they quit their jobs and launched their business.

Kirrin Finch, an online-only brand manufactured in New York, marries menswear style with women’s cuts. With the help of the Brooklyn Fashion Design Accelerator, the women learned the ropes, hired a patternmaker, and built a strong community around their brand.

Laura attended Workroom NYC because, she says, you should just say yes to things because “you never know”. She also says, “As entrepreneurs we have our heads down in the weeds a lot of the time and it is good to get a different perspective on what you're doing.”

What was the best thing you learned at Workroom?

“The thing I love about Shopify is all the apps that give you so many opportunities as an ecommerce company to keep improving your site and growing your company. But there are so many to choose from, so it can be overwhelming and the cost can rack up the more you add to your site. I spoke with one of the Gurus about what apps she thought were the best for a growing ecommerce company and I got some great tips. Some of them I already had, so I felt validated in our approach and I am planning to implement a referral program in a month based on her feedback.”

Any Black Friday Cyber Monday plans?

“We haven't traditionally been very sale focused. We occasionally have sales when it feels like we need to, but we don't have a big Black Friday holiday plan. My wife is pregnant with twins, they are coming in a month and a half. The plan is really to have the kids while trying to keep our business going. It's what business people do—you just figure it out.”

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5. Nutri-Patch

Nadine, Stamford, CT

Dr. Nadine Hokayem, a Naturopathic Doctor of 15 years, worked with a lot of patients who had trouble swallowing vitamins and supplements, or couldn’t absorb vitamins when taken orally. She developed Nutri-Patch based on an existing technology already used in birth control, quitting smoking aids, and other drugs: a stick-on patch that delivers medication through the skin.

Nadine had zero experience in manufacturing or ecommerce, and built her business by asking questions.

“I knew that the 3M company had medical grade tape, so I contacted them because all they do is they sell the the adhesive. I asked them about manufacturers that were using their products. So I worked backwards. I called various companies and asked them about putting vitamins on the patches.”

I adore the Shopify Gurus. They walked me through it every step of the way. Saturday mornings, Sunday mornings on the phone. All hours.

She has also relied heavily on Shopify customer support to help her learn the ecommerce side of her business. “I adore the Shopify Gurus,” she says, “They walked me through it every step of the way. Saturday mornings, Sunday mornings on the phone. All hours.”

What was the best thing you learned at Workroom?

“I went to Workroom so that I could meet the Gurus that have helped me so much on the phone. I enjoyed putting the faces to the voices. They helped me prep my store so that it can run optimally by highlighting free shipping on my store’s site. I asked a Guru to show me how to video blog and how to publish it using my smart phone.”

Any Black Friday Cyber Monday plans?

“The Gurus gave me various ideas to attract customers and in the end I decided to use discount codes to offer free shipping for Black Friday Cyber Monday.”

6. The Boss Box

Hillary, Shalini, and Heidi, Santa Monica, CA

Hillary started her entrepreneurship journey at the age of 10, and although she dabbled in the corporate world, she always came back to being her own boss. She founded an event production and marketing company in 2009, and in 2012 created StilletoGal, a community and media company for women in business.

Her latest venture, co-founded with her equally entrepreneurial partners Shalini and Heidi, is The Boss Box, a quarterly subscription box for ambitious women. Each box is a mix of business tools, lifestyle products, and inspiration for millennial women. The subscriptions also include business mentoring and access to content and community.

“We are a very diverse founding team made up of powerful women who want to change the way women do business. The box is not just a collection of things—we are a resource and community to help these young women achieve their full potential.”

We are a very diverse founding team made up of powerful women who want to change the way women do business.

Tell us about your first sale.

“We received our first sale on July 6th, 2017, the day of our launch, from a woman in Southern California. She was so excited to become part of our community. After her purchase, I reached out to her directly to see if she had any questions and if I could help her with her business. She asked if I would mentor her as she wanted to become an event producer as well. We set up a time to meet and I helped her to start her new business. I felt such a sense of accomplishment and was completely humbled that she wanted to work with me.”

What was the best thing you learned at Workroom?

“(I learned) how shipping works and also that Shopify has great, negotiated shipping rates for our customers. This will come in handy as we scale the business.”

7. Ambrosio Jewelry

Nicolas, Brooklyn, NY

Argentina-born and now living in New York, Nicolas designs and handcrafts jewelry adhering to strict Italian jewelry-making practices. For years, he travelled the world and credits his time in Milan as his greatest period of growth as a designer. It was there that he launched Ambrosio Jewelry.

When we met Nicolas at Workroom, he had just joined Shopify. He was looking for a way to consolidate his online efforts—he currently manages a website, multiple marketplace listings and stores, and a blog all on separate (and unconnected) platforms and channels.

Shopify will allow him to manage his business in one place, and even sync listings from other sales channels like eBay. While his new store is still a work in progress, his collection can still be viewed on his current website.

What was the best thing you learned at Workroom?

“Workroom created a great and inspiring environment. It was really pleasant to work there too. One of the most useful things I learned is that I can build my website in different themes and upload them accordingly to change the appearance of my store.”

8. Forage Paper Co.

Christina, New York, NY (by way of Oakland, CA)

An illustrator by trade, Christina’s creations have graced the pages of publications like The New York Times and Los Angeles Times. Her business, Forage Paper Co., is an online store and an ode to traditional mediums. Cards and prints all start as Christina’s original drawings that are “inspired by nature and the simple beauty of everyday life”.

What was the best thing you learned at Workroom?

“The 'Why Digital Brands Need Physical Retail' (event) challenged me to rethink how we approach our events/tradeshows and also how we can keep growing our wholesale side of the business. It led me to think about the stories and behind-the-scenes we can share or how we can elevate the shopping experience for our customers. Overall it was a good reminder to work on the physical retail experience just as much as we're constantly revisiting our representation and outreach on the screen.”

Inspired by the talk Christina polled her Instagram audience to learn more about their shopping habits:

Shopify has popped up in cities across North America and around the world. If you’d like to know when we’re in your neck of the woods, stay in touch. In the meantime, our amazing support team is ready to help you 24/7—give us a call, or jump on live chat.

There is also tremendous value in connecting with your local entrepreneur community to share knowledge, ideas, and resources. Look into meetups in your city and apps that link you with like-minded people.

Have a great story to tell, too? Share it with us.