After winning the Build a Business competition, Neil Waller ended up with not one business, but three.
Every year, Shopify hosts Build a Business, which is an entrepreneurial competition based on creating a Shopify store online and outselling the other contestants. The winning businesses get an exclusive week of hands-on mentorship with some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs.
Neil and his co-founder entered Build a Business with their brand, Shore Projects. Shore Projects is a seaside inspired watch brand that lets you easily change your watch strap to change the look and feel of your watch.
“Shore Projects took off a lot faster than we had ever expected. Though, it did take longer than we thought to conceive, produce, test and sample the product.”
Once they had all of their R&D done, it was time to start selling. Shopify was an obvious choice. Neil believes Shopify is the most forward-thinking ecommerce platform – right down to the design and how Shopify presents their information and back-end system.
“It provides us with more value than just being an ecommerce platform. Through it, we actually learn how to do stuff better,” says Neil.
What he loves the most about Shopify are the apps, plug-ins and community. On average, Build a Business competitors use four to five apps along with the Shopify platform. And Shore Projects is no different. They use Xero, Mailchimp, Zendesk and TradeGecko to streamline all of their business functions. In fact, it was through Shopify Support that Neil found Xero.
“We should’ve used Xero from the get-go. I wish we had, because it would’ve been so much easier. Not a single person on our team has an accounting background, and Xero is very easy to use,” says Neil
The two together let Shore Projects operate like a big business even though they were just starting out.
“If you aren’t super experienced, and you couldn’t afford a full-time bookkeeper, it becomes very difficult. But with Xero, it’s so easy. And the same with Shopify. As an ecommerce platform, it allows us to provide an online shopping experience that can stand shoulder to shoulder with any major brand outlet,” explains Neil.
Neil and his team use various reports in Xero – such as Inventory Items Summaries and Balance Sheets – to understand which products are flying off the shelves and adjust inventory accordingly. They are also able to get a better grasp of their overall business health.
“I think [Shopify and Xero] also teach you how to do better with ecommerce. Xero is set up to export data easily from Shopify. It gives you real-time access to numbers and cash flow to see how you’re actually doing,” says Neil.
With all systems firing, they entered the Build a Business competition to see how their ecommerce store matched up against the other participants.
“You’re already trying to do the best you can, but the Build a Business competition was that extra little carrot dangled in front of you to do even better. Winning was ridiculous. Words cannot even describe the experience. Meeting the other mentors and other winners and learning from each other was really helpful.”
Like all of last year’s Build a Business winners, Shore Projects named social media as an essential tool for marketing and engagement. Users on platforms like Instagram began posting beautiful pictures of their products, which provided a refreshing change from the professional product photography Shore Projects had previously been using on their website and social accounts.
They found that this strategy builds a unique sense of authenticity that would be difficult to achieve otherwise. Now, nearly 80% of their visual brand content is created externally.
Since winning Build a Business, Neil and his team have turned this competitive edge into another business. They’ve launched Whalar, an innovative platform that allows brands to search, communicate and collaborate with a carefully-curated community of exceptional Instagram influencers. They also took their mentor’s advice and launched a British seaside-inspired knitwear brand called Old Harry using Shopify as well.
We love our customers just as much as they love us. The people behind the small businesses all have unique stories to tell. Follow Xero on Instagram to see more beautiful customer footage.
We’re eager to see what more of our customers get up to behind the scenes – share your own mini-story and image with the hashtag #XeroStories so we can check it out!