Case Study : Shopify's Build a Business Competition Campaign

Shopify's Build a Business Competition Campaign

This case study explores the intricate details of Shopify’s Build a Business Competition, analyzing its structure, impact, and the success stories it has generated. By examining the competition’s evolution, promotional strategies, and the experiences of its participants, this study aims to provide valuable insights into how such initiatives can drive entrepreneurial success and contribute to a thriving business ecosystem. The case study also assesses the competition’s influence on Shopify’s growth and market positioning, offering a comprehensive understanding of its significance within the broader context of the e-commerce industry.

Case Study : Shopify's Build a Business Competition Campaign ​

1. Introduction

Overview of the Competition

Shopify’s Build a Business Competition, launched in 2010, is an annual contest aimed at encouraging and supporting entrepreneurship. Participants are required to build and grow their businesses using the Shopify platform, competing for a range of prizes that include cash rewards, trips, and mentorship from industry leaders. The competition has become a significant event in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, attracting thousands of participants from around the globe.

2. Background of Shopify

History and Evolution

Shopify, founded in 2006 by Tobias Lütke, Daniel Weinand, and Scott Lake, began as an online store selling snowboarding equipment. Unsatisfied with the existing e-commerce solutions, Lütke, a programmer by trade, decided to build his own platform. This decision marked the birth of Shopify, which quickly evolved from a niche online store to a leading e-commerce platform. By 2020, Shopify was powering over 1 million businesses across 175 countries.

Business Model and Market Position

Shopify operates on a subscription-based model, offering various plans that cater to different business needs. Its revenue streams include subscription fees, transaction fees, and additional services such as payment processing and point-of-sale systems. In 2021, Shopify reported annual revenues of $4.6 billion, reflecting its strong market position. Shopify’s market position is bolstered by its commitment to empowering entrepreneurs. The platform’s flexibility and scalability make it suitable for a wide range of industries, further solidifying its position as a leader in the e-commerce space.

Overview of E-commerce Industry

The e-commerce industry has seen exponential growth over the past decade, driven by advancements in technology, increasing internet penetration, and changing consumer behaviors. According to eMarketer, global e-commerce sales were expected to reach $5.4 trillion by 2022. Online shopping has become a mainstream activity, with consumers appreciating the convenience, variety, and competitive pricing offered by e-commerce platforms. As a leading player in this industry, Shopify has benefited from these trends. The rise of mobile commerce, social media shopping, and omnichannel retailing has created new opportunities for Shopify to innovate and expand its offerings.

3. The Concept of Build a Business Competition

Inception and Objectives

The Build a Business Competition was conceived as a way to encourage entrepreneurship and showcase the potential of the Shopify platform. Launched in 2010, the competition aimed to identify and support promising new businesses, providing them with the resources and mentorship needed to succeed. The overarching objective was to create a dynamic and supportive environment for entrepreneurs, helping them turn their ideas into thriving businesses.

Structure and Phases of the Competition

The Build a Business Competition is structured into several phases, each designed to test and develop different aspects of the participants’ businesses:

  1. Registration and Initial Phase: Participants register and begin building their business using the Shopify platform.
  2. Development Phase: Businesses work towards achieving specific goals, such as launching their store and reaching sales milestones.
  3. Evaluation Phase: Progress is monitored, and participants receive mentorship and support.
  4. Final Judging: Top performers are evaluated based on innovation, execution, and impact.
  5. Awards and Recognition: Winners are announced and celebrated, receiving prizes and ongoing mentorship.

Key Milestones and Changes Over the Years

Since its inception, the Build a Business Competition has evolved significantly. Key milestones include the introduction of new categories and awards, the expansion of mentorship programs, and the inclusion of international participants. Notable changes include:

  • 2013: Introduction of multiple prize categories, including Best New Product and Best Marketing Campaign.
  • 2015: Expansion to include participants from 150+ countries.
  • 2017: Launch of the Build a Bigger Business competition for scaling existing businesses.
  • 2019: Introduction of sustainability-focused awards and partnerships with environmental organizations.

4. Eligibility and Entry Process

Criteria for Participation

To participate in the Build a Business Competition, aspiring entrepreneurs must meet certain eligibility criteria:

  • Use of Shopify Platform: Participants must build and operate their businesses using Shopify.
  • New Businesses: Open to new businesses created specifically for the competition or within a specified timeframe.
  • Sales Threshold: Some editions require participants to achieve a minimum level of sales within a certain period.
  • Geographical Restrictions: While efforts are made to accommodate participants from many regions, there may be some restrictions based on legal and logistical considerations.

Registration and Submission Procedures

The registration process is user-friendly and involves:

  1. Online Registration: Entrepreneurs register through the official competition website, providing personal and business information.
  2. Shopify Store Setup: Participants set up their Shopify store and begin building their business.
  3. Progress Reports: Regular updates and reports are submitted detailing business progress, sales figures, and marketing strategies.
Selection and Judging Criteria

The selection and judging process involves evaluating participants based on:

  • Innovation: Uniqueness and creativity of the business idea.
  • Market Potential: Size and growth potential of the target market.
  • Execution: Quality of business execution, including website design and marketing strategies.
  • Sales Performance: Ability to generate sales and revenue.
  • Impact: Potential to make a positive social, environmental, or economic impact.

Judges use a combination of quantitative metrics and qualitative assessments to identify the top-performing businesses.

5. Promotion and Marketing of the Competition

Marketing Strategies and Channels Used

Shopify employs a multi-channel marketing strategy to promote the Build a Business Competition:

  • Digital Marketing: Online ads, social media campaigns, and email marketing.
  • Content Marketing: Blog posts, case studies, and video content showcasing past winners.
  • Events and Webinars: Online and offline events to engage potential participants.
Collaborations and Partnerships

Shopify partners with influential entrepreneurs, business organizations, and media outlets to amplify the competition’s reach. Notable partners include:

  • Entrepreneurial Networks: Partnerships with startup incubators and accelerators.
  • Media Outlets: Collaborations with business and technology publications.
  • Influencers: Engagement of social media influencers to promote the competition.
Role of Influencers and Media Coverage

Influencers and media play a crucial role in raising awareness about the competition. Influencers share their experiences and success stories, while media coverage highlights key milestones and success stories from the competition, driving interest and participation.

6. Support and Resources for Participants

Mentorship Programs

Participants receive mentorship from successful entrepreneurs and industry experts. Mentorship programs include:

  • One-on-One Sessions: Personalized guidance and advice.
  • Group Workshops: Collaborative learning sessions covering various business topics.
Educational Resources and Workshops

Educational resources and workshops are provided to help participants build and grow their businesses:

  • Online Courses: Courses covering e-commerce, marketing, and business strategy.
  • Workshops and Webinars: Interactive sessions on specific topics, such as digital marketing and customer engagement.
Tools and Technologies Provided

Participants have access to a range of tools and technologies to support their business growth:

  • Shopify Tools: Access to Shopify’s suite of e-commerce tools and apps.
  • Analytics and Reporting: Advanced analytics to track business performance.
  • Marketing Tools: Tools for email marketing, social media management, and advertising.

7. Success Stories and Case Studies

Overview of Past Winners

Past winners of the Build a Business Competition have gone on to achieve significant success. Examples include:

  • MVMT Watches: Grew from a startup to a major brand, generating over $60 million in annual revenue.
  • DODOcase: Expanded from making iPad cases to a broader range of tech accessories, achieving substantial growth.
Detailed Case Studies of Selected Winners

MVMT Watches

  • Founders: Jake Kassan and Kramer LaPlante
  • Business Idea: Affordable, stylish watches.
  • Competition Journey: Achieved significant sales growth during the competition, winning the grand prize.
  • Impact: MVMT Watches became a leading brand in the affordable luxury watch market, eventually acquired by Movado Group for $100 million.


  • Founder: Patrick Buckley
  • Business Idea: Handcrafted iPad cases.
  • Competition Journey: Rapidly scaled their business during the competition, winning the Best New Product award.
  • Impact: Expanded product range and achieved substantial growth, becoming a recognized name in tech accessories.
Impact on Their Businesses Post-Competition

Participation in the Build a Business Competition has had a transformative impact on many businesses, providing them with:

  • Increased Visibility: Media coverage and exposure to a wider audience.
  • Financial Support: Cash prizes and funding opportunities.
  • Ongoing Mentorship: Continued support and guidance from industry leaders.

8. Impact on Shopify

Growth in User Base and Revenue

The Build a Business Competition has significantly contributed to Shopify’s growth. Key impacts include:

  • User Base Expansion: Attracted thousands of new users to the platform. From 2010 to 2020, Shopify’s user base grew from 100,000 to over 1 million businesses.
  • Revenue Growth: Increased subscription and transaction revenues. Shopify’s annual revenue grew from $23.7 million in 2012 to $2.9 billion in 2020.
Brand Image and Market Positioning

The competition has enhanced Shopify’s brand image as a supporter of entrepreneurship and innovation. It has positioned Shopify as:

  • A Leader in E-commerce: Recognized as a top platform for building and growing online businesses.
  • An Innovator: Known for its innovative approach to supporting entrepreneurs.
Long-term Strategic Benefits

The competition has provided long-term strategic benefits for Shopify, including:

  • Increased Market Penetration: Expanded Shopify’s presence in global markets.
  • Enhanced Customer Loyalty: Built a loyal customer base through continuous support and resources.

9. Challenges and Criticisms

Common Challenges Faced by Participants

Participants in the competition often face several challenges, including:

  • Time Management: Balancing competition requirements with regular business operations.
  • Resource Constraints: Limited financial and human resources.
  • Market Competition: Competing with established players in the market.
Criticisms and Controversies

The competition has faced some criticisms and controversies, such as:

  • Accessibility Issues: Concerns about the accessibility of the competition to entrepreneurs from different regions and backgrounds.
  • Resource Allocation: Debates over the allocation of resources and support to participants.
Shopify’s Responses and Improvements

Shopify has responded to these challenges and criticisms by:

  • Improving Accessibility: Expanding the competition to include more regions and underrepresented groups.
  • Enhancing Support: Increasing the availability of resources and mentorship for participants.

10. Future of the Competition

Potential Changes and Innovations

Potential changes and innovations for the competition include:

  • New Categories: Introduction of new award categories to recognize different types of businesses.
  • Technological Advancements: Incorporation of new technologies to support participants, such as AI-powered analytics and personalized mentorship.
Expanding Global Reach

Shopify aims to expand the global reach of the competition by:

  • Increasing Participation: Encouraging more entrepreneurs from diverse regions to participate.
  • Building Partnerships: Collaborating with international organizations and networks.
Strategic Vision for the Next Decade

Shopify’s strategic vision for the next decade includes:

  • Empowering More Entrepreneurs: Continuing to support and empower entrepreneurs through the competition.
  • Driving Innovation: Fostering innovation in the e-commerce space.
  • Sustainable Growth: Promoting sustainable and responsible business practices.

11. Conclusion

Summary of Key Findings

This case study has highlighted the significant impact of Shopify’s Build a Business Competition on the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Key findings include:

  • Encouragement of Innovation: The competition has fostered innovation and creativity among participants.
  • Support for Entrepreneurs: Provided valuable resources, mentorship, and financial support to aspiring entrepreneurs.
  • Impact on Shopify: Contributed to Shopify’s growth, brand image, and market positioning.
Final Thoughts on the Impact and Legacy of the Competition

Shopify’s Build a Business Competition has created a lasting legacy by empowering thousands of entrepreneurs and fostering a culture of innovation. As Shopify continues to evolve and expand the competition, its impact on the global entrepreneurial landscape will only grow, solidifying its role as a catalyst for business success.

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