Determination and Devotion: How Two Entrepreneurs Changed the Ecommerce Industry in Mexico

how to grow a service business

Renata Raya didn’t set out to become the cofounder of Mexico’s premier ecommerce agency.

With a deep love for marketing and lots of ambition, Renata saw herself living in New York City, working at a top advertising agency and founding her own business later in her career. But life—and entrepreneurship—are funny, and rarely go according to plan.

Instead of chasing her movie cliché American dream, the opportunity to start her own business came in Mexico City, when Renata and her coworker Juan Sotres took the leap and founded their own agency, Triciclo.

Today, Triciclo is a leading Shopify Partner in Mexico—but success didn’t come easy. Renata and Juan’s willingness to seize opportunities and face challenges head on served them well, as the reality of entrepreneurship hit them hard.

This is the story of how a dynamic duo navigated the early struggles of starting a business in Mexico, overcame nearly going out of business, and went on to become a mega-successful Shopify Partner.

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How it all began

Renata was always ambitious, and travelled extensively for school. Having studied in London and Paris, she returned to her hometown of Mexico City and began work at a social media marketing agency. Juan was the creative director, and Renata worked with him closely.

Though both of them loved the work, they shared the same frustrations: being left out of major agency decisions and doing work in someone else’s name didn’t align with the career goals Renata or Juan had set for themselves. They bonded over their shared ambition to have their own business and shared a strong love for helping clients grow and succeed.

In 2015, they decided that it was time to make a change. They wanted to start their own social media and digital marketing agency, which meant leaving the stability of their day jobs.

“We made a pact to quit together,” Renata explains.

Juan quit first, then six weeks after, Renata left too.

“It was funny, I had Juan calling me asking if I was going to actually go on this venture with him,” Renata laughs. “In truth, I just had a big project to finish up for some clients I Ioved, and I didn’t want to leave them in the lurch.”

In the early days, the brand new agency had to be scrappy. They ran operations out of a living room, which made meeting potential clients and earning their trust challenging, if not outright awkward.

“Competing with huge agencies when you’re a small team feels impossible. It’s hard to find a competitive advantage because you lack so many resources at that early stage,” Renata recalls. “Luckily we had friends, and friends of friends, sending us clients, but we still found that we were taking on any project to make money.”

how to grow a service business: office
Triciclo’s first office space after graduating from working out of a friend’s living room.

Despite doing the best they could to get their business off the ground, Triciclo struggled to find its footing. They lacked a focus and speciality, and having dried up all their networks in search of clients, their bank accounts were starting to look thin. They needed a solution, and fast.

The pivot to ecommerce

The answer to their problems came from an unexpected place.

It was the early days of buying online in Mexico, meaning any agency taking on Shopify clients was of interest to Shopify’s Market Development Manager for Mexico, Eduardo Casta, who had heard about the promising young business and decided to reach out to Juan. The conversation included an invitation to Shopify’s annual partner and developer conference.

“At Shopify Unite, there was this vibe and excitement that comes with being part of the ecosystem. I was posting photos and videos while I was in San Francisco, I couldn’t help but share my excitement,” Juan recalls.

Fueled with inspiration, Juan returned to Renata, certain that ecommerce was where Triciclo would find success, not to mention the money to cover their past due bills. He was sure their future lay in becoming major stakeholders in the growth of Mexican ecommerce.

As Shopify Partners, Triciclo needed to know the Shopify platform inside out. They needed to pivot away from being solely social media marketers, and learn vital skills like store setup and web design. They already had their marketing prowess, and they could use that to propel their business and clients forward.

They spent the next month focusing their prowess on the Shopify platform, by further learning how to build and design Shopify stores using development stores, a feature in the Shopify Partner Dashboard that allows partners to build stores for clients and test out new themes and apps. They also studied the Shopify Blog and the Web Design and Development Blog, digging through partner tools and resources, and discovering useful apps in the Shopify App Store.

While connecting with their ecommerce community and colleagues provided exciting inspiration and a new direction, adversity still lay ahead. Renata and Juan were about to learn all about the challenges of cash flow, money, and growing a sustainable business.

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Striving to become a profitable service business

In addition to learning all about Shopify, Renata and Juan also realized that they needed to learn vital sales skills. Market awareness of Shopify in Mexico wasn’t high and potential clients weren’t always aware of the platform. To help their clients get on board with the idea of Shopify, the team took a big risk and offered to pay their clients’ monthly subscription fees.

Covering these Shopify fees allowed Renata and Juan to build out a nice portfolio and bring in more clients. But the weight of supporting Shopify subscriptions, hiring an excellent designer, and moving into a new office space was getting heavy, and it was taking its toll on their finances. Their cash flow was becoming a big issue for Renata.

“We weren’t paying ourselves, we were putting everything into the business,” Renata explains. “So I told Juan that I was applying for a job.”

She was three years out of college and had only held down an agency job for a short time, not long enough to have financial reserves. Her finances were depleting fast and she saw her personal finances going further and further into the red. Her faith in the business was starting to waver.

“I hadn’t had a payday in months and the financial burden of having personal and business expenses to handle was becoming too heavy for me. I cracked, I couldn’t take it.”

Renata went so far as to apply to a job with Facebook, and even went through three rounds of interviews. But in the end, she couldn’t go through with it, no matter how appealing the financial security was.

“I wanted to succeed with Triciclo no matter what.”

Growing into a profitable service business involved doing what it took to survive and be competitive, but they were running short of options. To make this work, they desperately needed something to ease the financial burden.

Renata and Juan had gambled by paying the subscription fees for clients, so they tried to shift some of the subscription fees. They found that all of their clients were happy to take on the cost after four to six months, which helped Triciclo’s cash flow considerably.

That eased up some finances, but they needed more as they had office space and salaries to pay. Renata and Juan tried to turn to a bank but couldn’t get a loan on good terms as their business was just a handful of months old.

Fortunately, Juan was making vital business connections and a lifeline came in the form of an angel investor. Juan had shared their growth roadmap and plans around ecommerce, and the investor fully believed in the model working. Triciclo secured a generous loan from an angel investor that would rescue their business from overwhelming debt. Not only did the cash injection generate new opportunities to be conscious about growth, but the investor has remained a vital advisor in their business.

Combined with the loan, they had the capital to invest in growth—and their growth exploded. Using their new funds, they hired essential personnel to build more stores more quickly, and invested in their marketing and sales to attract more clients—and the next client they attracted was a big one.

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Triciclo’s first major client

Online bag retailer Kipling already had their Mexican retail division on Shopify, but they needed help optimizing their sales funnel and improving their mobile site. As Triciclo were one of the few Shopify Partners working in Mexico, they were an obvious choice for the business.

The early days of working with a successful worldwide brand was daunting for the Triciclo team, and Renata admits they initially felt the pressure.

“Sometimes we’d promise something we couldn’t deliver—but we did everything to figure it out and deliver it for them,” she explains.

“Perhaps that’s the funny side of landing big clients. You want to seem capable. But they’re defining moments for your business and who you are as a person. You need to take big risks, and it’s why we became entrepreneurs in the first place. That early risk paid off for us because Kipling are still clients.”

But they’re defining moments for your business and who you are as a person. You need to take big risks, and it’s why we became entrepreneurs in the first place.

Renata Raya

With the grit and determination to succeed, navigate their financial troubles with the help and guidance of their angel investor, the dynamic duo finally had a solid portfolio with an international brand to leverage. It was just the start of their success.

Leading Shopify Partners in Mexico

Triciclo is one of the leading ecommerce agencies in Mexico. Since 2015, they’ve seen their sales double, at minimum, year over year.

“It feels so rewarding to look back at the start when there were three or four Shopify Partners in Mexico. Now there are hundreds,” Renata points out.

“We feel like we’re at an advantage because we were among the first movers in the Mexico market. We’ve started being recognized for our work and other agencies that specialize in social media and marketing have started coming to us to build partnerships.”

how to grow a service business: growth
Triciclo’s growth in pesos over the last four years.

Lessons learned as Shopify Partners

how to grow a service business: juan
Juan photographed at Shopify Unite 2018.

As Triciclo becomes a more mature agency, past challenges have given way to lessons learned. Below are three of the top takeaways Renata and Juan have so far.

1. Share responsibilities

When Triciclo first started, they quickly had their role and duties defined. Juan was leading a technical role in store and theme development, while Renata was leading store setup, visual design, and project management. As they grew, things had to change.

“We’ve developed expertise and we’re lucky because we have a lot of talent inside Triciclo, but we’re still a small business,” Juan says. “To be honest, the hardest task has been switching roles. Letting go of certain tasks is really hard, but it has definitely helped us grow.”

Give your team members more responsibility and learn how to build up their confidence so they’re able to do things on their own. Juan explains that this creates an empowered and stronger team.

“We still face many challenges and uncertainties on a daily basis, but our problems evolve and we find new ways to tackle each situation.”

2. Focus on your clients

Aside from focusing on delivering quality work, Triciclo got to a position of strength by focusing on what matters most: their clients.

“Customer service is something that clients appreciate the most. It’s something we prioritize to stand out against the competition,” Renata explains. “It’s not a chore to us, we love what we do and we love ecommerce. When we meet with directors or managers to discuss projects, sometimes we run over time because we’re passionate about how we can help them.”

This dedication has paid off for the team, as Triciclo has not only built valuable long-term client relationships, but has won many projects via past client recommendations.

“We get inquiries daily, and sometimes we can’t handle the inbound requests!”

3. Don’t take financial management for granted

While things are dramatically different for Triciclo now, Renata warns new founders about not taking financial administration for granted.

“In the beginning, none of us took ownership of our books; we thought things would just kind of work themselves out,” she explains. “Since we used personal credit cards, and we struggled financially for some time, that history still harms us today.”

If you’re a new business owner, you want to work on bringing in more clients and doing the work you love, but Renata stresses that focusing on the financial structure of your business is just as vital.

“Put someone in charge as soon as you start the business, and if you’re able to put aside a nest egg to help support your life while exploring a new venture, even better.”

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Up next for Triciclo

Other ecommerce agencies have emulated Triciclo’s success in Mexico, but the team has no plans to let the new competition catch up any time soon.

Renata and Juan are busy helping grow the ecommerce industry in Mexico further by starting an ecommerce university that teaches people how to sell online; it doubles as a way to gain more clients, too.

They also plan to continue experimenting with everything the Shopify platform has to offer. Inspired by a recent build of a bespoke private app for a client, they’ve hired a developer to further explore the Shopify App Store.

In addition, they’re experimenting with migrations.

“Because of our size and the growing awareness of Shopify in Mexico, a lot of migration projects are coming our way. Clients want our help in moving from WooCommerce or PrestaShop onto Shopify,” Renata says.

A passion for growth and learning seems to be burning strong in the hearts of Juan and Renata as they continue tapping into new ways to expand their service offering, and explore global expansion.

“We have a sales partner in Madrid, who is selling our services there. If we go global, that’s where our next office will be,” Juan confirms.

how to grow a service business: team
The Triciclo team.

Grow your own small service business

It’s no secret that entrepreneurship and small business management is hard. Triciclo struggled with their financial problems early on in their work as a Shopify Partner, but with the right mix of perseverance, passion, and a little bit of luck, they were able to build a successful business in just a few years.

One aspect that makes Triciclo stand out was that they quickly found what they loved and valued, and prioritized it. They loved being their own boss, working in ecommerce, and helping clients reach their goals.

Another aspect that can’t be ignored is that they invested in a niche market where their services were needed. They were early adopters of ecommerce in Mexico and took advantage of a fast growing industry.

These are some of the tips from the Triciclo playbook that you can use to support your own growing ecommerce agency.

Grow your business with the Shopify Partner Program

Whether you offer marketing, customization, or web design and development services, the Shopify Partner Program will set you up for success. Join for free and access revenue share opportunities, tools to grow your business, and a passionate commerce community.

Sign up

Grow your business with the Shopify Partner Program

Learn more