How 4 Shopify Partners Stumbled Onto the Unexpected at Unite

unite case study

When you go to a conference, you have some key expectations: you will meet a million people, you will forget some names, you will watch keynotes, you will hear new ideas. All of these experiences add up to your lasting impression of the event.

But sometimes, it’s more than the agenda, more than the people you meet, and more than the talks you hear. Sometimes at conferences it’s the unexpected and spontaneous moments that have the biggest impact on you.

We reached out to a group of Shopify Partners who attended Shopify Unite 2017—last year’s partner and developer conference. What we found was that those special and spontaneous moments were what really stuck with them after the conference, and had the biggest impact on their businesses over the past year. Turns out, it’s the moments you can’t prepare for that can be the most important moments of all.

Read on for the stories of four partners who experienced the unexpected at Unite 2017 (besides the power going out), and how those moments had a long-lasting positive impact on their respective businesses.

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Nick from Shogun

Nick Raushenbush is the cofounder of Shogun, a drag-and-drop page building app for ecommerce stores. At the time of Unite 2017, Shogun was a small agency, and their app was past due for a visual redesign. The prospect of undertaking such a huge project was daunting. Hiring a UI designer and creating a design framework is a large undertaking for a small agency.

As Nick headed to Unite, ready to mingle with fellow app developers and take in all the talks, his dilemma was in the back of his mind. As expected, Nick made some important connections and watched inspiring keynotes—but it was a surprise product announcement that ended up having the biggest impact.

Polaris was announced at Unite 2017,” Nick explained. “It couldn’t have been more perfect timing.”

The Polaris announcement at Unite 2017.

Polaris is Shopify’s design system, and while it was a big deal for a lot of attendees, it was an especially big deal for Nick. Unexpectedly, his design problem was solved: here was the basis for his app’s whole new visual identity. Nick acted quickly, and immediately rushed Polaris into the hands of one of his design-savvy front end developers.

Within a few weeks we were one of the first apps to have implemented Polaris.

Nick Raushenbush

“He ran with it,” Nick said. “Within a few weeks we were one of the first apps to have implemented Polaris.”

unite case study: shogun
Shogun’s Polaris-based drag-and-drop editor.

Getting their app to market so quickly with a newly-announced Shopify design framework is no small feat. Having a somewhat daunting problem for his company unexpectedly solved meant being able to lay the groundwork for the future of their business.

“Learning about Polaris and using that to completely reshape the visual identity of our software was a very impactful thing for us.”

You might also like: Announcing Unite 2018: Shopify’s Partner and Developer Conference.

Rhian from Venntov

Rhian Beutler is COO of Venntov, a Shopify app development agency. Venntov works exclusively with Shopify, meaning Unite is where Rhian goes to connect with people who truly understand her business.

“This is our homebase,” Rhian said of Unite. “I’ve gone to a lot of events around the world and there isn’t any other event that meets our needs the way that Unite does.”

unite case study: rhian
Rhian at the Unite afterparty with business partner and founder of Venntov, Josh Highland.

Last year, the conference turned into a unique opportunity for Rhian to pick the brains of other agency owners and discover how other businesses are structured.

It was cool to see that everyone can follow their dreams in different ways and get outcomes aligned with their own goals.

Rhian Beutler

“I spoke on a panel at Unite 2017, and got to talk with other panelists about how we all have these individual business models,” Rhian explained. “It was cool to see that everyone can follow their dreams in different ways and get outcomes aligned with their own goals.”

These kinds of conversations with colleagues can have a lasting impact for agencies like Venntov. Venntov is a small team, and learning from the experiences of others is an important way of staying efficient. For Rhian, these conversations helped her identify ways to scale Venntov’s support without spending resources on unhelpful products.

“Talking with other people about automation and tools, and hearing what solutions were awful and what were great is so important for a small team,” she explained. “Choosing bad products can cost you so much.”

Beyond the product launches, exciting keynotes, and insightful conversations, Rhian also had the chance to cross an item off her bucket list: being interviewed for a podcast.

Approached by Felix Thea from the Shopify Masters podcast, Rhian got the opportunity to speak about Venntov’s mission: helping small businesses build their businesses to last.

“It was a great chance to share that we’re here to help people build their legacy,” Rhian explained. “It was a chance to align with our brand and voice it. ”

Even for a veteran like Rhian, the conversations and opportunity to network at Unite led to unforeseen benefits for her brand and business.

You might also like: 7 Years of Business. 7 Pieces of Advice. How ‘We Make Websites’ Became #1.

Leonardo from Zyber

Leonardo Garcia-Curtis is the general manager of Zyber, a web design and development company in New Zealand. Travelling all the way to San Francisco for Unite, the team from Zyber wanted to stand out and rep their country. Their solution? To show up dressed in the uniforms of the New Zealand national rugby team, the All Blacks.

unite case study: zyber
The Zyber team in the All Blacks uniforms at Unite 2017.

“We wanted to show our merchants back home that we were representing them at Unite,” Leonardo explained. “What better way than to dress as the national team?”

The outfits certainly helped the Zyber team make an impression—conference attendees asked them for autographs, thinking they were professional athletes. It was a great ice breaker, and led to interesting conversations with interesting people, like Shopify founder and CEO Tobias Lütke.

“He loved the global reach Shopify was having and that it was in New Zealand,” Leonardo said of the conversation. “Talking to Tobi made us glad to know we’d backed the right horse from the start.”

The conversations Zyber had at Unite also helped them dive deeper into the ecommerce side of their business. They already loved using apps from the Shopify App Store to solve their client’s ecommerce issues, but after having the opportunity to speak to so many developers face to face, they were able to forge new collaborative working relationships. These relationships have not only helped Zyber gain a better understanding of what apps can do for their clients, but have also helped them connect more deeply with the wider Shopify developer community.

“Just seeing the ecosystem that Shopify has and how friendly everyone was really showed us how this conference is a wonderful place to gel with like-minded people,” said Leonardo. “Although, that could just be because we were wearing our uniforms,” he added wryly.

Zak from Hardage+Hardage

Zak and Lauren Hardage are the husband and wife duo behind Hardage+Hardage, a Shopify website design and development agency out of Texas. As a small agency, Zak and Lauren went to Unite with no business objectives—just the goal of enjoying themselves and putting faces to names. It was intended to be a low stress and low pressure trip.

Unfortunately when the conference finally came around, Zak was not feeling stress-free.

“We had taken on a big project that had gotten out of hand,” he explained. “I was creating elements I had never developed before and was struggling to solve this specific problem. Unite fell right in the middle of the project. On the drive to San Francisco, all I was thinking about was how I was going to code it.”

At the conference, Zak tried to put the project on the back burner and focus on the conference, but his problem stayed top of mind. Surrounded by other developers, he decided to seek some help. He scheduled time at Office Hours, where he had an opportunity to meet with Shopify developers. There, something surprising happened: by some fluke, three Shopify developers were free at the same time.

“I ended up sitting down with four developers from Shopify, all eagerly listening to me and offering advice and consulting with each other about what I should do. That kind of attention to what I needed was unreal.”

Being able to talk to people who fully understood Shopify, hearing their different concepts, and having them be really supportive of me…before Unite I had quite a bit of imposter syndrome. But talking with these other developers who were really impressive and having them validate my approach and my work was incredible.

Zak Hardage

The support extended beyond Office Hours. Zak began chatting about the problem with his fellow attendees, and his peers eagerly jumped in to help.

“It just became this incredible sounding board,” Zak explained. “All these other developers were giving me ideas and looking at different approaches to the project. Being able to talk to people who fully understood Shopify, hearing their different concepts, and having them be really supportive of me…before Unite I had quite a bit of imposter syndrome. But talking with these other developers who were really impressive and having them validate my approach and my work was incredible. I was able to go back and finish that project and have the confidence that my solution was good.”

unite case study: zak and lauren
Zak and Lauren chatting at a Shopify Partner Meetup in Austin.

In addition to the amazing support they received from the partners community, hearing Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke’s keynote made Zak and Lauren feel trust in Shopify.

“We invest so much in Shopify,” Zak said. “Seeing Tobi talk helped me see the underpinnings of the company and get the decision-making matrix behind a lot of the changes happening at Shopify. Knowing the philosophy behind them let me trust those changes, and trust putting my family business onto the Shopify platform. It’s really inspiring to know we hitched our wagon to the right horse.”

You might also like: How an India-Based Web Developer Quit His Day Job and Built an Agency.

Open to the unexpected

If there’s one thing to take away from these stories of Unite 2017, it’s to be open to the unexpected. Heading to events with a plan is always a good idea, but it’s the spontaneous moments that can have the largest impact on your experience.

From solving problems, to giving your business a boost, or forging stronger connections in your community, the unexpected is what makes conferences and networking events so powerful.

So whatever conference or event you attend this year, flex those networking muscles, enjoy the many talks, and be ready for those impromptu moments that can change everything.


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