Today we're excited to announce the winners of our biggest Build a Business Competition yet. This is our annual entrepreneurial challenge to build a business from the ground up in eight months.
This year's winners will receive the trip of a lifetime and mentorship from some of the world’s most respected and prominent entrepreneurs.
To participate in the competition, participants must have had no sales or brand recognition prior to June 1, 2014. After the eight-month competition, we combined each entrepreneur’s best two months of sales, and the businesses that sold the most are about to pack their bags.
It wasn’t easy to win this competition. Tens of thousands of competitors sold $256,000,000 – a quarter of a billion dollars – of their products, with a total of 4,035,360 orders shipped all around the world… and all within eight months.
These entrepreneurs took a leap into the unknown and decided to launch a business. Some dropped out along the way; others are still working hard to achieve results. But thousands of these competitors have built businesses that will last a lifetime.
Here are this year's winners...
Fashion & Apparel:
Based in London, England, Shore Projects was founded by three serial entrepreneurs with experience in ecommerce and branding, but who had never sold a product online before. They were chatting over a drink in a pub about something tangible they could create together. None of them was wearing a watch, but they decided to take on the challenge of creating something new; something that would serve as more of a fashion accessory than a timepiece.
Shore Projects’ watches have detachable bands so you can change the look and feel of the product daily. Their most important channel was social media, and user-generated content on platforms like Instagram was particularly valuable.
Already, they’ve had sales in more than 100 countries, with a deal to enter select Nordstrom stores in the USA. They’ve experimented with Shopify POS in a pop-up shop in London (watch a video about their pop-up construction here), and they plan to launch other businesses on Shopify after the success they’ve seen in the ecommerce space.
This is what co-founder Neil Waller had to say about his decision to launch the business:
“We felt we were on to something, and we knew from our previous experience with other businesses that you can’t wait to have all the answers to get started. In fact, it’s probably a bad thing if you do, as you want to leave room to learn as you go along, and adapt and improve your plan accordingly. We are all big believers in Kaizen – continual improvement.”
Electronics & Gadgets:
You know that bad habit you’ve been trying to kick? Pavlok might be the solution you’ve been looking for. The product’s name is an homage to Ivan Pavlov, the Russian scientist who conditioned dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell.
Pavlok is a wearable device that uses vibration, beeps and electric stimulation to change your habits. Give yourself a jolt every time you bite your nails or reach for an extra donut. Use their app to make sure you head to the gym every day, or that you don’t text your ex. You can even enable your friends to zap you using Bluetooth to make sure you stay on track.
Co-founder Maneesh Sethi tried out his own product so he could stop gorging on blue tortilla chips, and now says he’s disgusted at the sight of them. Maneesh says he’s found that in most cases, it takes five days or less to change the behaviour of the person wearing the device. Those using Pavlok to quit smoking have seen more than a 50% success rate.
Based out of Boston, Maneesh co-founded the company with Jim Lynch, the inventor of Lego Mindstorms and the senior lead engineer on the Roomba vacuum robot. They built their first prototype in June 2014, and raised $280,000 with an Indiegogo campaign in October. Now, they’re focused on shipping 800 prototypes to customers beginning in August.
Here’s the advice that Maneesh wants to share with other entrepreneurs like him:
“Make sure you look for the studies and science to show that what you’re doing will actually work. Once you have an idea in mind, make sure you keep focused. Seriously dude, focus. Also, sell what you already have — don’t try to sell what it can be.”
Art, Jewelry & Crafts:
Lucy Nourse and her husband Rob were working in hairdressing and insurance. They had no design experience. But they did have two children, and Lucy wanted to create a business where she could work from home to spend more time with the kids.
And then Lucy had an idea. She’d been trying to find marquee letter lights for her children’s rooms. Nothing on the market seemed to tick all the boxes: Child-friendly, good quality and affordable.
Lucy tried to make a letter light herself. It didn’t go so well. She met up with a designer and worked with them to improve their prototype. Within a couple of months, they’d manufactured their first sample and started selling. The company wasn’t on Shopify originally, but they were looking for a solution that would simplify shipping. They came across Shopify on Google and made a seamless transition.
When Lucy signed up for the Build a Business Competition, she figured she had nothing to lose but in the back of her mind, it was just a checkbox – not something she ever thought would be possible to win.
This is the advice Lucy would love to pass along to herself one year ago:
“I guarantee there will be times when you have doubt and feel like giving up. There will also be times when you feel like the workload is too much, and the problems you encounter are much too big to continue. But have faith in yourself, your plans and the universe. Pick yourself up, and trust that you will find a way. Because I guarantee, it will be worth it. I remember thinking at the time, ‘If I can sell 100 of these, I will walk away happy.’ I could never have known that little idea would grow into what it is today. I began with a solid plan scribbled in a notebook, a little faith in that plan and a lot of trust in myself, and here we are!”
Everyone has to go to sleep at night.
That’s why Leesa’s founder David Wolfe decided to enter the $14B mattress industry. The goal was to create an affordable mattress that could be shipped right to your house. To make sure it’s a good fit, Leesa decided to provide a 100-night return policy.
The Virginia-based company was founded in June 2014, which is when they began creating, sourcing and manufacturing their product. They paid attention to detail – down to the custom-designed mattress cover that allows you sleep and move comfortably on it.
Leesa’s first sale came in November, and they haven’t stopped since. The company boasts an average conversion rate of 2.7% on all visits, with 1,992 orders and 80,000 visits over the past 90 days.
And they’re just getting started. Future plans include giving away one mattress for every 10 they sell, launching a division of the company in the UK, and increasing their marketing spend by at least 100% per month. They’ve also just raised $9 million in venture capital at a valuation of $45 million.
David has some advice that you can use in your own business:
“I’m not a young entrepreneur, so I’ll just pass on the wisdom of one of my early mentors. Success is rarely linear. You will have ups and downs. It’s unlikely that your first venture will be the big one. Work your hardest when things are toughest and good times will come.”
Two additional winners
This year, we tried something different. Beyond our four category winners, we also introduced two specialty prizes.
The first is the Tim Ferriss Muse Build A Business Winner. Entrepreneurs entered our competition through Tim’s blog post, which highlights how he’s looking for case studies to feature in his next book.
Secondly, the Richard Branson Choice Award was a chance for Sir Richard himself to have a say as to who heads to Necker Island with him. His selection was based on sales as well as creativity, which could include social media and marketing strategies.
Here are the final two winners of this year’s competition.
Tim Ferriss Muse Build A Business Winner:
Travelling as an entrepreneur can grow old quickly. Bags can be lost; you face crazy fees for overweight baggage; and there’s nothing worse than your cell phone dying mid-trip with no outlet in sight.
No one knew this problem better than Jesse Potash, who was living out of his suitcase as an international development consultant. One day, he texted his friend Gaston Blanchet about how much he hated his luggage.
That’s how Trunkster was born. It’s a reimagined suitcase with a built-in GPS, scale, and mobile charger. It also has a zipperless, sliding door based on Jesse’s experience of how difficult it was to open up his luggage. (You can see what that looks like in their video here.)
To get things off the ground, Jesse and Gaston launched a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of raising $50,000. They raised $1.4 million instead.
With all these presales, Trunkster’s focus is now on manufacturing and shipping. The founders are living in China at the moment while they begin mass production.
Here’s what Jesse has learned throughout the process:
“In retrospect, I would tell my 12-month younger self what Gaston always says now: ‘Lo perfecto es enemigo de lo bueno,’ meaning ‘done is better than perfect!’ We were really concerned with launching a perfect product, but now after realizing how many changes were still to be made, we could have launched earlier and with a more raw design.”
Richard Branson Choice Award:
Jonny Teeling and Will Peirce are 26 year olds living in Leeds, UK. They’ve both studied marketing and have started various entrepreneurial ventures in the past.
They were looking for something useful and trendy that could make a splash for their next business. They honed in on two key trends: the desire for a teeth whitening product that was convenient but made of natural ingredients, and the concept of oil pulling – where you swish oil around in your mouth to “pull” out impurities.
Coco White is just that: a teeth whitening oil that you swish around to improve your oral health. It’s sold in convenient single-use packages, the design of which Will is responsible for.
Their first inventory order was, by their best estimate, large enough to last them a year. They sold out in two days. The pair had successfully launched a business in the past together, called Bootea, and they tried to replicate everything they’d learned from that business. This created what they called “hockey stick growth” from day one. The demand for their product has become so great that they’ve capped the number of orders and time of day that people can purchase from them.
Many celebrities are using and talking about their product, and Coco White’s three flavours have only been on the market for six months.
Jonny and Will have this to share about launching their business:
“Start as soon as possible. The development and manufacturing of a product will definitely take much longer than expected. Secondly, have a plan to get the product known. You could have the greatest product in the world but you'll have a tough time selling it if nobody knows about it.”
These six winners will travel to Necker Island in early September for the retreat of a lifetime. We’ll be sharing more about their experiences throughout the trip so that you too can learn from the mentors accompanying them on the island.
Are you wishing it was you packing your bags for Necker Island? You’ll have your chance! Stay tuned for our next Build a Business Competition...
It might seem like a lot to imagine that in less than a year, you could own a sustainable, profitable business. So stop imagining, and make it happen. Get thinking about what your big business idea is and how you can change your life.
Here are some guides to get you started.