News RSS

How I made $40k within Shopify's trial period.

Twelve hours ago, an email from Shopify notified me my trial period was expiring. It was an automated email usually of little significance, but it inspired me to write this post and reflect on how far we've come, the mistakes made, and lessons learned in a little over a month. For the past two months I have almost entirely gone by the pseudonym "anon" due to a series of internet posts that resulted in 259,594 unique visitors, 549,542 page views, $40,159 in revenue. Image from Shopify:

Shirtwascash is an anything goes user-submitted shirt design platform. People submit their creations to our subreddit at /r/shirtwascash, those go into a survey, people vote on which shirts they want and give feedback, then we do licensing / design work, and release the new designs on our website. Our first survey was completed 2,200 times - so how'd I do it?

After my previous startups in bitcoin, online ticketing, and a social network for festival goers, I made sure to test demand first and thoroughly. Last May I saw this post (very NSFW) "4chan designs some shirts" and was laughing my ass off. The pants shirt in particular was funny to me and I wanted it. Turns out a lot of other people did too. I created the first survey that night and posted it: "4chan designs some shirts [UPDATE]". ~1,000 filled the survey from that so I found a local manufacturer.

A mistake I thankfully skipped:

If you need your product manufactured, I highly recommend finding someone local. Yes, we could make more money offshore but being hands on with quality and maintaining a great relation has been a winning combination. I would have been completely fucked if I had started anywhere else due to quality control, design adjustments/changes, etc. We've already had repeat customers and that is extremely important to me.

Here's one of my first mistakes: I recruited a technical partner for a retail shop and gave away some equity. My platform-building startup history made me overthink the technology behind this. I wanted it to be similar to imgur in style so it was familiar and to accept bitcoin / dogecoin from the start. I recruited my roommate, who is a phenomenal developer (check out Launchkey), but turned out to be unnecessary. I never had any experience with Shopify until now, but it is incredible.

We launched with this beautifully simple website and made ~$10k in the first two weeks. I decided to switch to Shopify at that point since my roommate was busy and we needed a lot of changes to move forward. If you make a Shopity or similar marketplace provider, I highly suggest doing all of the setup and design work yourself. It's one of the easiest things to overcome / learn and if you'd rather give someone money to do it - then you're probably going to fail.

My encounter with Social Media "Influencers" aka popular internet kids

Have you ever wondered what type of results a tweet from someone with 334k followers will get you? So did I. My friends host parties called "The Influential House" that connects sponsors with social media influencers and hot girls. We decided to go for the $5k spot while still attending the Electric Daisy Carnival. The party itself #TINHouse trended #1 on twitter (although I have my doubts on the methods used to make that happen), but the kids didn't show us any love or even much respect. Some demanded free stuff from us, others stole from eachother, several stood around expensive rental cars out front flexing their muscles, and generally glamorized a lifestyle of abundance for having such twitter handles as "Bad Advice Dog". Photos from #TINHouse. 

We were told Shirtwascash received 10 million impressions from who knows where which resulted in: ZERO SALES. Not only that, but our focus on it actually lowered total visitors on our website over the three-day period. I still want to spend money on marketing that has a positive ROI but I haven't seen it yet. Organic and honest communication with your direct customers is the way to go. If that doesn't exist, then maybe you have the wrong product or market.

After that weekend of babysitting spoiled children, I doubt I'll be doing anything like that again. I love our customers, they call me a faggot and send me really funny & supportive emails. I decided I'll focus on just getting more people like that.

My second biggest mistake was underestimating international shipping. When we launched the initial website, orders were pouring in from all around the world. I had to very quickly figure out how to organize and ship abroad and that was difficult, until I found Shipstation.com. Now that we have Shopify + Shipstation in place, they sync with eachother. Our process went from data mining & excel sheets with the old site to clicking a button to print a prepaid label. I highly recommend this combination if you sell product online.

Ever since that sponsorship weekend, I have just continued to engage users on various forums online and spread the idea of "4chan designs some shirts". I track where others share our link to discuss things like "would you wear these" and inject myself into the discussion w/ an introduction and carefully answer questions. Our biggest moment so far was from a reddit post in /r/internetisbeautiful. We've been linked or directly related to 3 reddit posts that have hit the front page. Reddit makes up a significant amount of our traffic, but also has the lowest conversion rate.

Since reddit changed their default pages from 25 to 50, there is a lot more opportunity to get your startup exposure. The posts that hit front page from /r/4chan only are viewed by people in /r/all (most users view /r/front). /r/internetisbeautiful is a new default sub and popular posts go straight up the reddit viewership chain.

I have a history in corporate finance and operations at a major casino in Las Vegas - I am happy to announce that I put in my two weeks notice on Friday to pursue this fulltime and finally leave corporate behind. I am always available for questions or comments at anon@shirtwascash.com.

Best,
anon

Shipping Tip: Go to USPS.com and order all of your shipping materials for free.

Anon Shirtwascash July 14, 2014 0 tags (show)

Comments

Nick Warner said:

Such a simple/ ridiculous shirt idea. Maybe shorts that look like boxers is the next million dollar idea.

Robert said:

Thanks for the ShipStation mention – we’re happy your loving the Shopify+ShipStation combo!

Joe Mobile said:

Why is zoom on mobile devices disabled?

Alex said:

Where’s majority of the traffic comes from? Were you with Grier/Cameron kids at that Vegas house party?

Anon (Admin) said:

@ Joe Mobile – I wasn’t aware of that. I will look into it.

@Alex – The majority of our traffic from a single entity is direct, then reddit, then social / referred. I can’t tell where people going directly to shirtwascash.com come from but the social media is #1 Facebook and the referrals are mostly forums or sites like odditymail.com

Alex said:

Thank you for a fast response! You’ve mentioned bad results from influencers.. Do you mind telling what social network it was from?

Anon (Admin) said:

@Alex They were a group of people from various social networks. Particularly twitter, but also Vine, YouTube, Facebook, etc. Many were kind and even more I had no interaction with.

Let’s take for instance one person I liked a lot has 400k followers on twitter. He tweeted us out for a free shirt (one of the few) but had no picture on it or any real excitement in the message. On the other hand, some people that took really great pictures (but fewer followers) has helped us in the longrun because I use those photos for things.

The most we gained from our experience was it forced us to get a new website released within two weeks, we made really cool music festival totems that worked, and we learned a lot from first-hand experience. At the end of the day, it’s all about taking chances and making changes.

Peter said:

So you ship every shirt by yourself? Is it a lot to handle?
Also, how do you get the licensing and agreements in a timely fashion? How did you even do it at all?

Osayame Gaius-Obaseki said:

Great post Anon. Really informative, and sparked some ideas. I’m thinking about making some shirts. Would you recommend pairing with a designer, or just make the stuff myself?

Anon (Admin) said:

@Peter I do ship them all, sometimes with the help of my girlfriend. Basically, with my full-time job I just never slept. I put in my 2-week notice which should help and will consider part-time employment. I am proactive about the agreements and email them directly. I’m not working with large groups, so someone always replies. If I see a shirt submitted that is awesome and has a lot of feedback, I have begun emailing artists before the hsirt survey even happens.

@Osayame I think you should do whatever fits into your capabilities best. I have worked with photoshop in my startups and began in middle school on Counter-Strike clan websites.

gabe said:

@Anon – direct hit means they were browsing 4chan/reddit in incognito/porn mode. no referrer info then.

Anon (Admin) said:

@gabe That makes sense. Many of our users also use TOR.

Ray said:

Hi Anon, are you using Shopify Payment to process the credit cards? What is the percentage shopify keeps from your overall operation revenue? Keep up the good work. Thanks.

Anon (Admin) said:

@Ray 2.5% + 30¢. They have their pricing per package listed here: http://www.shopify.com/payments

Claudio Ribeiro said:

Hi. Your article is fantastic, and so is your idea! Here’s my question: how do you deal with hijacking? I’m from Brazil, and this is a vastly unexplored market. There’s plenty opportunity for this kind of business here, and nothing would [theoretically] stop me from doing the exact same thing you do and make heaps of cash before you can say “Hey! That’s mine!” Have you faced this? How have you dealt with it?

Anon (Admin) said:

I’m not really looking to compete in the meme-shirt business. We are building a platform which would be hard to overtake much like it would be hard for someone to overtake Threadless. Right now we’re just testing out some concepts and letting users decide what we do via our surveys.

We actually have some pretty exciting secrets in development now. The big picture will become clear in time and won’t be something easily replicable.

My biggest advice if you go do it, maybe less-so in Brazil would be to thoroughly understand and take licensing seriously. You likely wouldn’t be able to offer the ones we have agreements on but I’m not protecting that right. I’m trying to just move too fast to catch.

D said:

Nice work man, Really respect the work you put in with a simple idea and the work you put into it + the behind the scenes knowledge.

My questions are pretty loaded but:

(1)What were your past projects? Interested to hear more about them! Any essential knowledge before trying anything similar (coding, accounting, etc)

(2)How much capital/time did it take to start up this project?

You seemed to balance out the risk/reward aspect by keeping it as safe and smart as possible with the surveys and etc.

(3) Nearly all of your promotion was done online so you could track it right?

Thanks!
D

Anon (Admin) said:

1 – I am witholding that information mostly because they have nothing to do with what I’m doing now and I want to keep our message clear. Some traits have followed me like cryptocurrency transparency, festival friendliness, and fuck ticketing. I suggest you just hustle and learn what you can. Some people are made to be developers and others aren’t. I wish I could code. The most development I’ve personally done was the front end of this site.

2 – Tons of time. I still don’t go to bed before 3am. I also have had a corporate finance job and still do until the end of next week. The startup capital was zero because of how I portrayed what we’re doing and executed on it. There are reddit posts on that.

I’m able to make less risky decisions now. The biggest risks I avoided by being a perfectionist with a high attention to detail. Only very few things have slipped through the cracks and I make up for it.

3 – Our concept was born online, so it’s just natural. I wouldn’t mind getting wholesale going to boutiques. Our shirt quality is actually very high. Some designs are better than others, I switch out the ones we don’t like.

Beep said:

Sorta a semi-unrelated question, but do you cycle through new designs for shirts and remove old ones? Because I noticed a few new ones popped up on the site and the Woahdude vortex shirt is no longer there.

Anon (Admin) said:

We cycle through designs to test stuff out, offer the best products, and when licensing periods end. You can always reach me with general questions at anon@shirtwascash.com.

Our offerings are going to be changing in the next 3 weeks. The next design competition / survey will begin Monday. Check out our subreddit next week and sign up for our mailing list.

Omar Shoukry said:

Anon,

Thanks for sharing your story. Actually, i always wanted to open my online t-shirts store ( I’ve my local small store) but i never took the decision untill i stumbled upon your post. You’re an inspiration.

Btw, why is your facebook page only 50 fans? you can easily get a thousand fan through fiverr just as a base for poeple entering the page to feel they’re in a popular page. or maybe you beleive in earning each fan the right way?

Another question, am i crazy to think of competing with the big names in the market like threadless, zazzle..etc
I mean most of the poeple advise poeple who are starting their ecommerce business to pick a specfic niche. it’s just i’m dreaming big and i’m planning to compete with them.

Thank you and i wish you success in your startup.

Leave a comment

top