For Steve Deckert, it happened accidentally while rubbing shoulders over a drink at a pre-conference cocktail party.
For Kate Schneider, it hit in the midst of a session talk.
Joe Monastiero says he came with poster board and demo in hand, ready to make it happen.
Wherever they were, whatever they were doing, when the inspiration to collaborate hit at last year’s Shopify Unite conference, these Shopify Partners grabbed the opportunity by the horns.
A big part of last year’s partner and developer conference was about understanding how to grow your business alongside Shopify. It was the first time we’d ever held a conference, and for many of us Shopifolk, it was the first time we got to connect in real life with people we’ve worked alongside for years.
But something else happened at last year’s conference. Partners came away with new working relationships, collaborations, and joint project plans. It wasn’t just about hearing what Shopify had planned for the future of commerce, it was also about our partners making that future happen.
It wasn’t just about hearing what Shopify had planned for the future of commerce, it was also about our partners making that future happen.
With only a couple of weeks left before Shopify Unite 2017, here are four stories from four Shopify Partners who attended last year’s conference and came away with a new collaboration that changed their business for the better.
Lucid + Out of the Sandbox = No more update pain
Galen King has always admired Out of the Sandbox, an Ottawa-based theme building agency.
In fact, he sees parallels in how the theme developers run their business, and how he runs his own agency, Lucid, which is based in New Zealand and New York City.
“They're very low key and unassuming, just sticking to what they’re really good at: offering amazing support and building beautiful themes,” Galen explains about Out of the Sandbox. “I guess that's really what I admire about them; it’s this small team building a very successful business.”
Despite being a self-proclaimed “non-prolific networker,” and having no real strategy for who to talk shop with at last year’s Unite, Galen knew he wanted to say hello to Brad Miller of Out of the Sandbox.
Having developed Shopify themes in the past, Galen had been mulling over an idea for a while — an app that would make it easier to manage theme updates and track changes. He wondered if Brad might have some thoughts on it.
“I remember, I was sitting listening to one of the talks about some new feature that was coming out — I think it was the new Sections — and going, ‘Oh boy, this is a big change. I wonder what the implications are going to be for Out of the Sandbox?’”
Galen decided to find Brad in the sea of web design and development creatives, and share his thoughts. Simple as that. No ego, no fancy pitch; just idea sharing.
“I guess I’ve learned that sometimes it's better to just talk about your ideas,” he says. “Maybe somebody else will take the idea, but at least it will get built. It’s better than holding it close to your chest, and it never seeing the light of day.”
Maybe somebody else will take the idea, but at least it will get built. It’s better than holding it close to your chest, and it never seeing the light of day.
The funny thing is that Brad and his team at Out of the Sandbox had already been reaching out to app developers to work on a new app — something similar to what Galen was considering.
“When I met Galen at Unite, I described this app concept to him and he was the first to really understand the problem,” Brad explains.
A few weeks later, the pair set up a meeting, and by September 2016, Lucid had built Out of the Sandbox’s Theme Updater app.
The app helps automate the process of updating Out of the Sandbox themes, without setting up the theme from scratch again — a real pain point for some merchants who at times are confused by the process, creating unnecessary support requests.
“We saw an opportunity to automate this process, to help improve our customer experience, and alleviate theme support from upgrade requests,” Brad explains. “Customers absolutely love using our free app, too.”
With over 5,000 installs and a five-star review average on Shopify’s App Store, the Theme Updater app allows Out of the Sandbox to deliver more value to customers, and also helps promote their full collection of Shopify themes within the app.
For Brad, the app is just one of many examples of the talent that permeates the Shopify Partner Ecosystem.
Galen touts the success of the app as just one of many partner collaborations he has on the go. He adds that projects like this one are valuable to his business, as it gives his team a chance to work on projects they find interesting and challenging.
“I see a huge benefit; it motivates and inspires what they do,” he says. “When they work with another team they admire, like Out of the Sandbox for example, it gets them excited and gives them purpose. It gives them more joy at work.”
Galen adds that collaboration in the ecosystem really boils down to idea sharing, and seeing it less as competition and more as a community.
“There is more than enough work for everybody. What’s special about the Shopify community is that generally people don’t hog their knowledge and wisdom, they share it.”
What’s special about the Shopify community is that generally people don’t hog their knowledge and wisdom, they share it.
ZDCA + Chris Da Sie = A chance interview
Kate Schneider says it was a dash of serendipity and a bright purple v-neck that brought her an invaluable new employee.
Sitting in the main auditorium at Unite, Schneider, the president and co-founder of creative agency ZDCA Design & Development, was listening intently to one of the session speakers on day two.
She was feeling pretty inspired by what she’d seen so far, and was looking to recruit design and development talent to help expand her agency’s client base.
She posted a call for periodic help in the Unite recruiting Slack channel, and within a few minutes she’d received a reply from designer Chris Da Sie. They proceeded to set up a meeting at the end of the session.
“We exchanged defining information about our appearance so we could find each other easily — he noted he was wearing a purple v-neck t-shirt, at which point I looked up from my computer to the set of bleachers lining the sides of the auditorium, and basically looked right at him,” Kate explains with a laugh.
We exchanged defining information about our appearance so we could find each other easily — he noted he was wearing a purple v-neck t-shirt, at which point I looked up from my computer to the set of bleachers lining the sides of the auditorium, and basically looked right at him.
After the session, while standing at a table in the common area, the pair held an impromptu interview. Kate adds she was instantly impressed with his design experience, and how well versed he was in the Shopify space.
Chris met with Kate’s team a few weeks later in Santa Rosa, California, and started working with ZDCA part-time on specific projects. By September, it was clear that the designer’s many talents fit well with ZDCA’s myriad creative offerings; and so, he was hired on full time.
“He’s an essential part of our creative team,” Kate says. “We’re delighted that he’s a part of this endeavor.”
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Joe Monastiero + Shopify = Sales channel gumption
A demo, a piece of poster board, and some serious gumption — that’s all Joe Monastiero had.
On day one of last year’s Unite, Joe and his partner dragged a table to the back wall of the main lobby during lunch, and propped up a poster board featuring a well-dressed woman against the wall. In essence, the pair had set up an impromptu, and somewhat illicit, conference booth.
“I'm pretty good at corralling people,” Joe explains with a chuckle. “We wanted to try to talk to Tobi, Harley, and others; show them what we were doing, and see what they thought, and how we might be able to attack the idea together.”
The CEO and founder of recommendations platform nFlate, Joe was showing off a demo for his newest app, See It Buy It. An AI-based, mobile-first apparel marketplace, See It Buy It lets users take a photo of clothing they see in real life, and then generates hundreds of similar matches from various merchants.
“The poster board was so we could take a picture of one of the images, and show matches to that image in real time,” Joe explains. “It really blew people away.”
And while Joe was looking to make his own luck that day, he also stumbled upon some by chance. At Unite 2016, the new Sales Channel SDK was announced, and Shopify called for partners to start building and collaborating on new sales channels.
“When I heard the announcement, I just couldn't sit down. My head was spinning,” Joe says. “It was the perfect match for what we were trying to do.”
When I heard the announcement, I just couldn't sit down. My head was spinning,” Joe says. “It was the perfect match for what we were trying to do.
After Unite, Joe and his team spent the next few months working to get into the beta, and eventually, to build the See It Buy It sales channel. Working alongside Shopify proved to be invaluable for Joe and his team.
The Android beta version of the mobile app launched in December 2016, with the iOS version set to go live in April. Today, See It Buy It boasts 3,000 active users, 500 approved merchants, and over 150,000 products.
“The experience has totally changed our business in many ways,” Joe says. “For one, we got funded because of Shopify. Our initial funding of about $500,000 came because the story is so good. The promise of a partnership with Shopify can do amazing things.”
The experience has totally changed our business in many ways.
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Sweet Tooth + ReCharge = Random collisions
If Steve Deckert has one piece of advice for those attending this year’s Unite, it’s to avoid hanging out with the same 10 people you already know, and to instead make space for random collisions.
“If I hadn’t done that last year, I would have missed out on so much,” Steve explains.
Not only would the app developer have missed the chance to build an integration with another successful Shopify app, but he’d have missed the invaluable working friendship it also produced.
It all started while having drinks at a pre-conference, Shopify-hosted cocktail party, where Steve — the co-founder of loyalty app Sweet Tooth — bumped into Oisin O'Connor. The pair got to talking about their respective apps (Oisin runs subscription app ReCharge) and realized they had a lot in common.
“We both were going through the same things, trying to get our apps out there, and we really hit it off. By the end of the night, we were trading tips back and forth on everything from marketing tips, to product tips, to support.”
They swapped emails and stayed in touch. At first, the guys just got to know each other and continued sharing tips, but eventually their relationship and mutual respect grew into asking each other for advice, and using the other to bounce ideas off of.
Even though ReCharge and Sweet Tooth are complimentary apps, Steve says in the beginning an integration of the two wasn’t really a priority.
“We always knew that it was something that would be useful, but it was never the purpose of our conversations,” Steve says.
Eventually, an agency partner asked the two companies to consider a collaboration — turns out that a number of merchants using ReCharge also use Sweet Tooth.
The duo agreed and started building in November, opened their beta by December, and fully launched in January 2017.
The integration rewards any subscription order with loyalty points, and gives customers the ability to use those points via a discount on their next subscription order.
Within a month of launching, the integration had 15 Shopify merchants onboard, most of them Shopify Plus merchants. Today, the program has awarded more than 570,000 loyalty points to over 22,000 subscribers.
While Steve and Oisin are delighted the integration has been a hit with merchants, showing strong growth metrics month-over-month, the duo are most thankful for their collaborative working friendship.
“This relationship has been super valuable to our respective businesses,” Steve says. “Aside from the integration, it’s great just being able to bounce ideas off of someone, or talk about competitors, and how to get in front of merchants, or even just venting. It’s that kind of stuff. It's been so useful.”
This relationship has been super valuable to our respective businesses. Aside from the integration, it’s great just being able to bounce ideas off of someone, or talk about competitors, and how to get in front of merchants, or even just venting.
The pair have introduced each other to partners and resellers, and even swapped secrets about how they approach internal processes, like marketing automation or support systems, to compare notes and see what works for the other. Steve also says that navigating the Shopify Ecosystem has become easier with an app buddy; they’ve even had staff members meet up at different Shopify events around the world.
“Sometimes we tag-team partnership calls, and we often exhibit beside each other,” Steve says with a laugh. “It’s just been a really cool relationship.”
It’s just been a really cool relationship.
Steve says the organic relationship between Sweet Tooth and ReCharge happened because both were willing and open to new ideas and people.
His advice to others seeking such a relationship?
“I'd say, reach out. Just do it, whether it's while you're at a conference, on Twitter, or on Slack. Just reach out to people, because I think people are a lot more receptive than you think.”
Get out and grow!
Whether it’s randomly over a beer, or with intention and a scrappy plan, collaborating with others in the web design and development community can be a critical pillar to your business, and its future growth.
And while last year’s Unite conference worked as a springboard for these types of collaborations, you can make valuable connections at almost any industry event. Consider directly reaching out to those you admire most, whether they're competition or complementary.
Need an opportunity to start making connections? Check out Shopify Partner events around the world that are coming up this year, or buy your ticket to round two of Shopify’s partner and developer conference, and make Unite 2017 your time to shine.
Were you unable to attend Shopify Unite 2017, or want to look back on highlights? To watch recordings of all keynotes and track sessions, visit the Shopify Partners YouTube Channel.