When Auckland, New Zealand-based Eugene Yao shared a restaurant experience with some friends on social media, he had no idea that he was also about to start a company. “I took a photo of my brunch just like any other day and posted it on my Instagram. A few moments later a friend walked right into the cafe I was sitting at after seeing my photo,” he recalls. “That was my eureka moment. Everyone knows word of mouth is the best, but with social media we actually have the opportunity to scale that word of mouth.”
eVouch first started by helping local restaurants gain business through word of mouth from diners sharing on social media. Things were going quite well until COVID-19 ravaged the hospitality industry. COVID-19 restrictions had a profound impact on many companies, eVouch included. Once lockdowns were in place, the pandemic effectively halted business for the new startup.
However, Eugene used this as an opportunity to pivot to a much larger audience and take eVouch to the next level. “I knew word of mouth works and I knew that every business in every industry could use it too,” he says. “eVouch combines the trust inherent in word of mouth with the scale of social media. It has great synergy with ecommerce and I was jumping to get at it.”
Then, fate intervened: Eugene saw the Shopify 2021 App Challenge, an opportunity that would give him the chance to take his app to millions of merchants around the world. By participating in the App Challenge, Eugene would also be able to build on Shopify, gaining access to merchants around the world, as well as garner promotion on the Shopify App Store.
As he explains: “I was doing research and the App Challenge sounded interesting, plus if we finished on time, then we also get a boost from promotion. As I did more research, I realized Shopify is growing and the opportunity in the app ecosystem is insane, so I thought let’s give this a go.”
Eugene has more experience on the business side of app development, and not as much on the technical side, which posed some challenges as he tried to build for the Shopify platform. But, he knew he was in the right place because of all the resources available at Shopify.dev and the help that Shopify was able to provide.
“Being a bit rusty and building on a completely new tech stack meant that the one-on-one help sessions from Shopify were a big help for me,” he says. “Jay [his support representative] went above and beyond. He was so active in the community and got us developers talking, which honestly isn’t the easiest thing to do.”
Getting the app built, approved and launched on the Shopify App Store took Eugene about eight weeks, which is much faster than the average app development time, especially for someone who is not a senior developer. He made sure to use a hero video, product screenshots and clear descriptions so that merchants could quickly understand what the app does and how to use it.
“When we got that first organic merchant install it was amazing,” he says. “Doing direct sales is something, but when someone searches for a solution, finds yours and actually installs it? Now that’s what you call validation.”
Eugene found that investing time in building out a robust marketing profile for eVouch was critical in helping the app stand out. “We found that creating a genuine, thought-provoking app listing video did the trick, with many people commenting on our Kiwi accent,” he explains.
More merchants were quick to follow; eVouch grew to support over 400 brands only four months after launch, with more joining since then. Rapid growth isn’t uncommon on Shopify, but Eugene credits the App Challenge for the early boost.
“The app challenge was the perfect segue into the ecommerce space,” he says. “Getting featured on the front page of the Shopify App Store boosted us so much that the whole team ended up having to juggle everything from bug fixes, to merchant support, to marketing. For their awesome work during that hectic time, I would like to thank the team at eVouch, Angie Fan, and Alonzo Nieves. I wouldn’t have been able to complete the App Challenge without them.”
The future is looking bright for Eugene and eVouch. Going forward in 2022, the company is already starting to take meetings for further investment to keep up with new international demand, and is looking to bring in additional developer support.
As Eugene sums it up: “Scott Cook from Intuit said, ‘a brand is no longer what we tell the consumers it is, it is what consumers tell each other it is’. Marketing is changing, it’s all about community now, and what better way to build community than through the word of mouth of your shoppers? At eVouch we’re building a way for all businesses to access the most authentic form of marketing, at scale.”