Growing Together: A Look Back on the Shopify Partner Studio NYC

Partner Studio Wrap Up: 2016

Parting is such sweet sorrow…

After three months of working, collaborating, and hustlin’ hard, the Shopify Partner Studio residents have packed up their desks and said their goodbyes (sniff).

The second cohort to take up a working residence at Jeffrey Zeldman’s New York City coworking space, this stellar cast of creative professionals came from various corners of the city, state, and even country.

The group had access to the studio, received workshops and resources from Shopify staff, attended Smashing Conf NYC, and met with some of Shopify’s top and most prolific Experts.

But the biggest perk these five residents received was access to each other. These rising stars of the ecommerce world were already on their way to successful freelancing careers, but we like to think we gave them a competitive leg up, helping them reach bigger goals even faster. 

Read on to catch a glimpse of each resident’s journey with the Shopify Partner Studio, and check out where the Partner Studio might end up next!

Chanelle White

Partner Studio Wrap Up: Chanelle
Age: 40
From: New Jersey
How do you spur inspiration? “Being outside and connecting with nature. I live in a great shore community, I love the beach and taking a walk to clear my head and get focused.”

Her story: Chanelle White was in her late thirties and had already invested in a long career working communications and PR when she decided she needed a fresh start.

“I was doing the whole corporate thing and was burnt out with the hours and expectations. It was comfortable, you have the nine-to-five, and you know what you’re doing. At the same time, I just wasn’t fulfilled. I knew I wanted to work for myself independently, and web design became the answer.”

She made the career change in 2015, and never looked back. Self taught, Chanelle invested in online courses, and discovered Shopify through a Kurt Elster Skillshare course.

Today, Chanelle supplements her freelancing with a side gig as a substitute teacher, but she’s starting to see the fruits of her labor in the Partner Studio, and expects to be fully supporting herself through freelancing sooner than expected.

“I’ve learned that I have more control over my freelancing than I would have thought. In the past, I’d let clients dictate how I work with them, but after the Partner Studio I’m asserting myself more as an expert. I’m positioning myself as a strategist and I’m able to do that more confidently.”

Partner Studio Wrap Up: Mark Perini
Longtime Shopify Expert Mark Perini (front) with residents during a visit and workshop session he held at the Shopify Partner Studio in NYC.

Mark Henderson

Partner Studio Wrap Up: Mark HendersonAge: 32
From: Massachusetts
What do you like read? Hacker News, Google News, and Reddit (but not the terrible subreddits). :p”

His story: When Shopify Expert Galen King came to visit the Partner Studio residents, Mark Henderson was surprised by how much the two had in common.

“We’ve made so many similar moves in our respective careers, it was kinda crazy.”

After years working at some of Boston’s biggest video game companies (think Harmonix and Bioshock), Mark decided to start his own business in 2014.

Based in a picturesque seaside town outside of Boston, Mark wanted more freedom, flexibility, and work-life balance.

“I missed my daughter’s first steps while I was at work, and I was like, ‘alright, we’re done,’” he recalled. “My office is a three-minute walk away now, I don’t have to commute in and out of the city, and I don’t have to be away from my wife and kids for 12 hours a day.”

Mark primarily worked remotely from his office in Massachusetts during his residency, making the trip to the studio for important events and special workshops. Despite the distance, he made big efforts to collaborate with his fellow residents via Slack, constantly sharing stories, ideas, and roadblocks. He even made connections with round one Partner Studio resident, Adham Foda.

“Him and I talk all the time, about projects, clients, and work. It’s awesome.”

Overall, the most valuable part of the experience for Mark was making friends with other designers and developers, and getting a behind-the-scenes peek at Shopify and the Partner Program.

“It was invaluable to my growth going forward,” he explained. “I hope in the future I can even be someone like Mark Perini or Galen King, going and talking to the new Partner Studio members.”

Partner Studio Wrap Up: Galen KingProlific Shopify Expert Galen King (far right) visits the Partner Studio in NYC, with Mark Henderson and Daniela Otalvaro.

Daniela Otalvaro

Partner Studio Wrap Up: DanielaAge: 29
From: Born in Columbia/grew up in Florida
Who’s your design hero? My very first inspiration on all levels, both in design and fine art, had to be Picasso, specifically his cubism period. That to me was the leap from fine art to design, because of the angles. It inspired the first pieces of graphic design that I ever did.”

Her story: A self-described Shopify newbie, Daniela Otalvaro studied fine arts and graphic design, which heavily influence her design sensibilities today.

The Florida-raised surfer worked as an in-house designer for years, doing freelance work on the side.

She finally made the switch to full-time freelancer last summer, when she realized she wanted a piece of the digital nomad lifestyle. Working remotely and travelling, while remaining financially sustainable if not outright successful, had become the goal.

“So far, freelancing full-time has been great, however financially there’s definitely still a struggle, there are months with highs and months with lows. Luckily, right now I’m on a high and have a steady amount of work coming in.”

When Daniela came to the studio, one of her main goals was to connect with as many other creative professionals possible, but specifically to hook up with the developer sect for possible client work collaboration.

“I absolutely can code and have created my own websites. I like doing it, but I’m not the best at it. I know there are a lot of people who are way faster and more efficient, and I honestly prefer design.”

That’s how her and Mark Henderson ended up collaborating together, with future plans to share client work. The pair is even working towards improving their svg and moving animation skills, and plan on launching something of a practice website that will eventually live as an example for potential clients.

“We saw a great Smashing Conference talk on working with svgs and we just instantly went into a brainstorming stage,” she said.

Overall, Daniela says her time in the studio has helped her access a network of other Shopify-minded professionals, who she can collaborate with and bounce ideas off.

“Mark Perini and Galen King were great resources and had a lot of great information to talk about,” she said. “Just knowing that they’re in the city and that I can reach out to them, it’s huge.”

Partner Studio Wrap Up: SurfingPartner Studio resident Daniela Otalvaro catching waves in Florida. Daniela says she’s interested in the digital nomad lifestyle.  

Chuong Nguyen-Thanh and Xavier Armand

Partner Studio Wrap Up: Vaan GroupAges: Both 28
From: Chuong: born in Montreal, raised in NYC / Xavier: New York state
What food do you like to eat while working? Chuong: “I go through waves, but lately I’ve been eating a lot of cookies. When I go by my parents’ house, if there are cookies laying around, whether my mom made them or bought them, I’ll just snag a couple, throw them in a Ziploc and bring them to work. I’m kind of a cookie monster.”
Xavier: “Justin's white chocolate peanut butter cups are definitely one of my favorites to enjoy while I’m working. It’s a gourmet, organic take on the Reese’s peanut butter cup.”

Their story: These two New York City guys, the founding members of web agency Vaan Group, met in college while studying engineering. But in true hustler style, their first foray into ecommerce came up as a fly-by opportunity five years ago, with the rise of a popular new product: the e-cigarette.

“One of our friends discovered electronic cigarettes, and every time we had one out in New York, people were always asking us, ‘where do we get one?’” Chuong explained. “We looked at each other and thought, ‘maybe we can make something of this?’”

The duo found a company in New Jersey that was making the product and approached them.

“The company was thrilled two young kids from NYC were willing to hustle their product, and they knew less than we did about ecommerce and web design. So we assumed the role of expert pretty quickly and turned that site into a pretty successful one,” Xavier said.

One successful site turned into a few more, and with some hires and hustle, they eventually became full-blown ecommerce professionals with some major clients now under their belt.

Having worked on Shopify stores, the pair applied to the Partner Studio hoping to get a better understanding of the ecosystem in order to further grow their business.

“I look back with a bit of regret at not having taken advantage of the relationship with Shopify way earlier, because there’s been so many times where it would have been extremely helpful,” Xavier said. “The Partner Studio was a way to jumpstart that process.”

In an industry that can be competitive, Xavier and Chuong have come to appreciate the open and willing knowledge-sharing that’s happened, both with other residents and with guests to the studio. But the biggest plus for their business has been the tangible results they’ve already experienced with their shiny new Shopify Expert status.

“Once we were accepted into the Experts program, the amount of inbound leads that were coming our way enforced how strong and important the ecosystem can be for a business like ours,” Chuong said.

Partner Studio Wrap Up: Natalie Taylor
Chuong, Daniela, Shopify Partners Team Lead Natalie Taylor, and Xavier hang out and talk Shopify in NYC.

Where in the world will Shopify Partner Studio go next?

It’s sad to say goodbye to our latest round of residents, but it won’t be too long before we welcome the next batch. Be sure to stay tuned for upcoming announcements on the next instalment of the Shopify Partner Studio…who knows where it will land next? (Hint: it could be near you!)

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