Introducing the Shopify Experts That Won Our Build-A-Business Competition!


When Shopify’s Build-A-Business Competition first launched in 2010, the idea was simple. If we wanted to prove how easy it was to launch an online store on Shopify, why not host a contest to see how quickly a business could go from Shopify startup to success story?

Now that we’re a few years in – with the number of participants and total GMV generated doubling or even tripling each year – we realized there was an important piece of the puzzle we were leaving out.

Behind many of these winning shops were Shopify Partners and Experts who had helped breathe life into their online stores. Without that help, perhaps our winners would never have won at all.

So, this time around, we created a whole new prize category. Each Shopify Partner who helped build one of the winning shops would receive $10,000 in Apple Gift Cards to put towards their business.

And the winners are...

We’re pleased to announce that four of our partners – all Shopify Experts – have been added to our list of Build-A-Business winners this year!

We interviewed each of our winners about the shop they worked on, and we’ll publish a three-part series profiling our winning Shopify Experts.

First, let’s chat with Jason Bowman at FreakDesign about his work on the CrossFit community website The WOD Life, which won the Sports & Recreation category.

How did you first make contact with the winning shop?

I’ve got some pretty cool clients and contacts, so The WOD Life crew had been referred my way. To make contact, they used the handy form on the Shopify Experts Marketplace. That page helped them figure out that we are both Australia-based, so we knew we had the benefit of the same timezone, which facilitates relatively easy communication.

Just quickly – I have to say that those Expert Pages are a great resource. Full credit to Dan Eveleigh and the Expert Program team for helping shop owners connect with various talents from around the globe. Surprisingly effective.

What impressed you about The WOD Life?

The WOD Life is a fitness Shopify store with a demographic ranging from gym junkies and CrossFit athletes, to avid joggers and the humble yogi. For those who don't know, WOD is a term meaning "Workout of the Day."

Right from the outset, it was pretty clear the team was looking to take things to the next level. That got my attention – as did their initial emails which, to date, are some of the longest and most cohesive I’ve seen.

What was your favourite part about working with The WOD Life?

Andy Lee and the team had a clear vision of what they wanted, and this mirrored my own thinking and reasoning for the best path forward. Being able to agree on the long-term plan for a store makes the process a breeze, and makes executing the specific additions enjoyable – especially when you start to see results.

One standout pleasure was being able to work alongside a team that had tenacity. When everyone is pushing the envelope to achieve the best outcome possible, it opens up many creative possibilities. Instead of hesitation, the team welcomed good ideas and were keen to implement them. The WOD Life crew realized early on that online stores (and marketing in general) are a constant work in progress, so we had plenty of chances to try out some clever things.

What was the most difficult obstacle you overcame while working on the shop? How did you overcome it? 

As with a lot of new stores, the main challenge was budget: big dreams, small budget. In this situation, careful planning and prioritizing tasks was needed, and good communication from both sides was key to maintaining core objectives.

Are there any lessons you learned from this shop that you can share with other Shopify Partners?

If there is any advice worth noting – and this is not just related to this shop alone – it would be these three things:

  1. Make sure you have an Expert page set up. Obvious really.
  2. Trust the store owner and respect that they know their product better than you ever will.
  3. Care about the shop and the work you’re doing. If a shop owner is asking you for help, just remember that it’s about more than just making something look nice or adding a new feature. Sure, from one perspective those things can be be seen as just superficial fixes, but in reality the shop owners are trusting you with their business dreams. That’s one of the awesome things about being a designer.

If you could go back and do one thing differently, what would it be?

The joys of hindsight, right? Thinking back through the year, I don’t think there is anything that I would have changed. That’s not to say there weren’t a few failed or crazy ideas along the way – there were – but you want a few of those. Didn’t Shopify’s own Harley Finkelstein say something about ‘failing fast and failing gracefully’?
Every little failure or wrong turn is just a new learning tool. The WOD Life crew was prepared to ‘fail fast’ and part of the shop’s success can be attributed to that agility.

What is your favourite feature on their shop?

My favorite features are the things you don’t see. I’m not talking about just the Theme Settings – though it’s a very comprehensive package. It’s the little things like the integration of metafields, smart content display, and clever menus. It’s those little things that make a shop admin’s life easier.
Whilst the front-end features added to the store may not be groundbreaking, they formed part of a larger, awesome list of carefully-planned additions. The aim with The WOD Life was to retain a clean, simple and slick website that made sense to their demographic. I think we did well in hitting those targets.
Considering that the store started with an early version of the Vantage theme, you can easily see it as a great example of the evolutionary process of a successful new online store. 

Were you aware that the winning shop was a frontrunner in the competition?

The WOD Life team had been performing really well and I did know that they had a shot at it. But saying that, it was an awesome surprise that they eventually won their category.
Since it’s been a long working process, I can’t express just how proud I am of those guys. It’s great to see the hard work pay off, and they certainly deserve it.

What do you think it is about the winning shop that made them so successful?

I think it’s a culmination of several things. Picking great brands to sell in a niche helps, as does strong customer support to push word-of-mouth, and it’s key to have the whole effort supported by a solid social media presence. 

The WOD Life crew also stand 100% behind their products and have true passion for what they sell. Rather than sitting back and hoping things will happen, they step up and work their backsides off. Visit one of their pop-up stores and you’ll see it in action.
Yes, the website design and features help to a degree, but ultimately the business itself possessed the kind of drive needed to give it a serious go. For many good ideas, that’s half the battle.

Any interesting anecdotes or fun facts about the shop you’d like to share?

They almost didn’t enter the competition. I bet they are pleased that they did now! Looking back through old emails, I found this little gem from when I had suggested that they enter:
WOD Life: “No chance we will be able to make the most amount of sales though!”
Me: “Don't count yourself out.”
Just proves the old “You have to be in it to win it” catchphrase, really.

What do you plan to do with your prize?

Is there an iBeer? Something tells me the WOD crew deserve a few of those. A portion will be used for shameless upgrades and shiny gifts.
The remainder will be turned in laptop(s) and donated – hopefully to aspiring devs and designers in need. Maybe they’ll help next year’s winner take top place, or just reach a few dreams of their own.


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