How Shopify Acquired 35,000+ New Customers During Its Startup Phase With ONE Marketing Tactic

It was December 2009.

E-commerce platform, Shopify, had only launched a few years earlier in 2006.

But thanks to a great product and hungry market caused by the shift to online retail — Shopify had quickly gone from zero to over 6,000 customers.

Despite this, Shopify’s founder, Tobias Lütke, knew there was still enormous potential ahead in the global e-commerce industry.

In 2009, global e-commerce revenue had already surpassed $480 billion and was growing at more than 18% a year.

However, as small start-up which had only sold $100 million via its platform since its inception (in comparison, in 2009 alone, eBay sold over $48 billion of goods via its platform), Shopify needed to think outside traditional routes to supercharge its growth.

The Idea Which Catapulted Shopify Into Popularity & Helped It Acquire 35,000+ New Customers

It started out as an idea between Shopify CEO, Lutke, and Tim Ferris — author of the best-selling entrepreneurial book, The Four Hour Work Week.

Ferriss had earlier created and automated an online business, allowing him to travel the world full-time working only a few hours a week.

He launched the book to show others how they could do the same and had build an audience of millions through his book and blog.

Shopify and Ferriss' idea was to partner together.

Shopify had a product which could help entrepreneurs who wanted to build online businesses they could heavily automate.

And Ferriss had a huge, highly engaged audience of these people.

So they created a competition.

But not a competition where people simply entered their names in a lucky draw and passively waited for their names to be drawn to receive a prize.


Shopify smartly created a competition which isolated their target market, got people buying and using their product, tell others about it, and most of all, spurred them towards action.

They created the now-famous 'Build A Business' competition.

Shopify Announcing The 1st Build A Business Competition

Shopify offered a grand prize of $100,000 to the new Shopify store which posted the highest grossing sales in six months.

To further support people in participating in the competition and cement their relationship with Shopify, Shopify organised for Ferriss' and other experts to conduct webinars on launching and running a successful online business.

The idea was a huge success.

Over 1,300 people (new customers) entered the competition.

Not only that, the competition was quickly picked up by top publications including the New York Times, giving Shopify enormous free coverage and credibility as a platform.

Shopify’s Build A Business Competition Created Enough Buzz To Get It Featured In Top Media Publications Like The New York Times

Between 2009 and 2010, overall customers grew 70% year-on-year, from 6,656 to 11,323.

Not one to let a successful tactic go to waste, Shopify ran the competition again the next year, this time offering over $500,000 prizes.

This time over 3,000 people entered.

The third time Shopify ran it, over 10,000 people entered.

And the fourth time it ran it, over 21,000 people entered.

Shopify has since grown into one of the world’s leading e-commerce platform, with over 1+ million customers and $1.6+ billion in revenue as of 2019.

It now has much more money to invest in marketing (it spent over $472 million on marketing and sales in 2019, $177 million of that on advertising alone).

But had it not been for that one smart tactic hatched in December 2009, it might have found itself on a much different trajectory.

If you would like to dive deeper into Shopify’s marketing strategy and tactics, see the CMO’s Guide To Shopify: An In-Depth Analysis Of Shopify’s Business & Marketing Strategy, Channels & Evolution.

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