How Singapore’s Jumpstart Commerce is Taking Over the World

How Singapore’s Jumpstart Commerce is Taking Over the World

jumpstart-commerceLet’s go back—way back. Step into a time machine and join me sixteen years ago, in the year 2002. The MacBook does not yet exist. You still need a landline for internet. Nokia has the best-selling mobile phone. And Xavier Lee, CEO of Jumpstart Commerce, is starting his first business—at the tender age of 18.

Xavier lived in Singapore, and was no stranger to the burgeoning world of the internet. Growing up, he was fascinated by technology, and was already exploring the internet in his spare time.

“In my bedroom, you could always hear the sound of the modem dialling up, like ermmmmm,” Xavier says, imitating the now infamous sound of dial-up internet modems. “My family would always yell, ‘Get off the internet! We need to use the phone!’”

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Family members weren’t the only challenge to young Xavier’s interest in technology. In 2002, usability wasn’t a huge concern, so if you wanted to really deep dive into technology, you needed someone who could show you how. In addition, it wasn’t cheap. Since the internet connected through phone lines, you can only imagine what Xavier’s phone bill looked like.

"Along the way, they’ve learned valuable lessons about scaling, growth, and entrepreneurship."

And there was something else—having an interest in technology and the internet was great and all, but there weren’t the numbers of technology companies or jobs that there are today. Xavier’s passion and interest were there—but the opportunities weren’t.

“If I could go back and talk to my younger self, I’d tell him to lock himself in his room and wait for 2018,” Xavier now says.

Time travel notwithstanding, Xavier persevered. Today, he and his partner Jeanette Lau are Shopify Experts at the helm of Jumpstart Commerce, a design and development agency with offices in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Jakarta, and Bangkok. Along the way, they’ve learned valuable lessons about scaling, growth, and entrepreneurship. They sat down with us to tell their story.

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Getting into this technology thing

jumpstart-commerce-meetup
Xavier speaking at a Shopify Meetup in Singapore.

Despite the technological challenges facing him in 2002, Xavier’s entrepreneurial spirit was indomitable. So that year, he launched a business in an industry that let him get as close as he could to working with technology: advertising.

Advertising has long been a groundbreaking industry. For Xavier, it was an opportunity to dive into some of the technologies that were beginning to shape culture—Flash, Macromedia, and Photoshop among them.

The next year, Jeanette Lau joined the business. The pair had previously worked together at a business management and consultancy firm, and both brought experience and drive to the organization.

"While the business was trying to push the boundaries, they were scrambling, trying to find talent to fill the ranks and stay innovative in a world where technology was getting more and more prominent.”

But starting a business is never easy, and Xavier and Jeanette had to learn the intricacies of being business owners. In those early days, staffing was a challenge. While the business was trying to push the boundaries, they were scrambling, trying to find talent to fill the ranks and stay innovative in a world where technology was getting more and more prominent. It was a full time job to keep building connections and finding the right people to fill specific roles.

“We knew the world was out there,” Xavier says. “But the internet wasn’t really connecting people yet, so we didn’t know how we could get out there. We knew there was something better, but we didn’t know what it was.”

At the same time, the world was changing. In 2006, the first iteration of the iPhone launched. Travelling through Thailand a couple years later, Xavier saw a large group of people lining up outside a store to get their hands on an iPhone of their very own. Looking at the hordes of people getting ready to spend money on a handheld device, Xavier knew the time had come.

“It was time to get into this technology thing."

The new world of ecommerce

jumpstart-commerce-presentation
Jeanette speaking at a Shopify Meetup in Singapore.

In 2008, they made the jump to technology. Using their years of experience in advertising, Xavier and Jeanette began applying their expertise in technology to help businesses grow, by building cloud and mobile apps focused on workflow digitization and automation.

While there were some pretty huge differences between being in advertising versus technology, some things stayed the same. Namely, the team was still struggling to find the right employees to help them scale and keep up with the ever-changing tech they used.

One such technology was ecommerce. More and more clients were asking for ecommerce functionality, and so it become a bigger and bigger area of focus for the team. In 2016, they pivoted yet again, and became an ecommerce-focused company. They called themselves Jumpstart Commerce.

"We realized that this is our moment, this is what we actually want to do—we can grow a business out of this."
Xavier Lee

That same year, the team faced their first big ecommerce challenge. Since 2014, they had been working with Robinsons, a massive 160-year old department store chain and one of Singapore’s most recognized retailers. Jumpstart Commerce had helped create and manage Robinsons’ website, but the retailer hadn’t yet been ready to make the jump to ecommerce. That all changed in 2016, when Robinsons told the team that they were ready to join the ecommerce game—with a timeline of only three months to get up and running.

While researching how to build Robinsons a reliable online store with full functionality—without needing a team of engineers to support it—Xavier found the Shopify Partner Program. Shopify was set up to take care of all the back-end, technological details the team didn’t want to deal with, allowing them to focus on the areas they really wanted to work on—designing and developing really good stores.

Xavier’s first thought?

“Is Shopify legit?” he recalls with a laugh. “But it was! We realized that this is our moment, this is what we actually want to do—we can grow a business out of this.”

Xavier’s team jumped in feet first, and signed up for the partner program. Three months later, Robinsons’ online store launched.

“We thought, ‘that was quite easy.’”

Next stop: world domination

With nowhere to go but up, the team at Jumpstart Commerce started leveraging the Shopify Partner Program to grow their business. Xavier now had a simple goal of where he wanted to take Jumpstart Commerce: he wanted to conquer the world. And to do so, he needed a plan.

“What I realized is that I needed to work with the ecosystem.”

Building partnerships

jumpstart-commerce-community-presentation
Jeanette connecting with the community at a Shopify Meetup.

With an entire world of other Shopify Partners at their fingertips, the team dove into the various community groups that have popped up around the program—specifically Slack and the forums. With his goal of world domination at the forefront, Xavier started reaching out to app developers in North America and beyond, building connections and finding business opportunities. He’d work all day at Jumpstart Commerce, and spend all night talking to the other side of the planet.

When asked how he managed to balance his day job with his nighttime connection-making, Xavier laughs. “I learned how to not sleep so much.”

The ecosystem helped the team at Jumpstart Commerce transition onto the Shopify platform, and learn the ins and outs of building on Shopify.

"We believe in partnerships. That’s why we not only partner with Shopify, but also with a range of professionals to help merchants."
Xavier Lee

“With other platforms, people are so secretive and don’t want to share anything,” Xavier explains. “But when I started reaching out in this ecosystem, people say, ‘You should do it this way, these are our best practices, if you have issues reach out to me, here’s my email…’. I was like, are you seriously nice to me, or is this a trap?”

But so far, no trap. And Xavier pays it forward too, most often through the Partners Slack channels.

“Any newbies that come in and ask questions, I’m like ‘Okay, I know where you are, I feel you. I was once like that, let me help you.’”

Jumpstart Commerce has taken their networking offline, too. They’re hosts of Shopify Meetups in Singapore, where merchants and partners come together to talk optimization, retail, and the Shopify platform. The networking at the meetups helps both the merchants and partners make valuable connections and grow their businesses.

Partnerships remain a key part of Jumpstart Commerce’s ethos. Jeanette, now Merchant Success Director, also stresses their importance.

“We believe in partnerships,” she says. “That’s why we not only partner with Shopify, but also with a range of professionals to help merchants.”

The team’s comfort with reaching out and building connections has allowed them to work with talented artists, designers, photographers, and marketers to offer merchants a full support system to rely on.

“That way, they can put all their energy into planning and growing their business, without worrying about the rest,” explains Jeanette.

“It takes a village to raise a child,” Xavier says, “and it takes a whole entire world to go through the journey of having a business.”

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Going global

jumpstart-commerce-unite
Xavier at Unite 2018 in Toronto, Canada.

As Jumpstart Commerce continued to build strong connections throughout the Shopify ecosystem, their reach began to grow. In 2016, the same year that they launched Robinsons’ ecommerce website, Jumpstart Commerce took the first step towards world domination.

By looking at where their Shopify leads were coming from, the team was able to identify which nearby countries had clusters of merchants that needed help. This information was invaluable for the team, and allowed them to begin plotting where in the world they’d go next.

In addition to having an active merchant community, the chosen country also needed to meet two other criteria: it had to be a country where they spoke the language, and it had to be within a two-hour flight.

“If there are any issues at any office, I want to be able to take a quick flight and be there,” Xavier says.

Based on this, Bangkok was an obvious first choice for Jumpstart Commerce. In 2016, the team opened an office there, officially becoming an international company.

The growth continued. In 2017, Jumpstart Commerce became Shopify Experts and, seeing the impact Shopify was having on their business, chose to work exclusively with Shopify in 2018. That year, they also opened two new international offices: one in Malaysia, and one in Indonesia. And the team still has their eye on which countries they’d like to expand to next.

Always growing

Looking back on his sixteen years in business, Xavier has some insights to share. The most valuable of them, he says, is to stay humble—remember that there’s always something new to learn, and that it’s okay to not know the answer.

“Sometimes you think your question may be ridiculous, but if you can articulate your questions, other people will help you,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to ask.”

"Sometimes you think your question may be ridiculous, but if you can articulate your questions, other people will help you. Don’t be afraid to ask."
Xavier Lee

It comes back, he says, to knowing that you have a community around you that’s willing to help, so long as you reach out to them. Opportunity, partnerships, and new experiences have all come to Jumpstart Commerce by leveraging the community and taking advantage of the network that Shopify Partners have built.

But it helps to have a little something extra, too. Recently, on his way back from Malaysia, where he signed a client in record time, Xavier was asked what he did to close the deal so quickly.

“Oh, it’s just my charm,” Xavier answered with a smile.

Community, drive, and being a bit cheeky—Jumpstart Commerce proves it’s a winning combination.

Become a Shopify Partner

Working with Shopify is your opportunity to provide clients with the customized commerce experiences they need today. By becoming a Shopify Partner, you’ll have revenue opportunities and educational resources to empower the growth of your business. Take control of your business’s future today!

Become a Partner

About the Author

Amelia is the Editor of Shopify's Web Design and Development Blog. Previously, she worked with individuals and small businesses to help them find their voice and build their brand. When she’s not writing, Amelia can usually be found in the woods, hugging trees.

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