Have you ever entertained thoughts of being an entrepreneur? Perhaps you are slouched in your office cubicle, or glancing around the tired faces around you on public transport and thinking, “Surely, I should be doing something that makes me excited to get up every morning.” Or perhaps you have a groundbreaking business idea but aren’t quite sure how to get it off the ground. If you daydream of being your own boss, you aren’t alone. In 2012, 56,778 new business start-ups were set up in Singapore!
And why not? Singapore has a great environment for start-ups to thrive in. There are a slew of public and private funding to choose from, plus government entities like EnterpriseOne that support young start-ups. The time is especially ripe for online businesses – according to research by Paypal, the size of the Singapore online shopping market reached S$1.1 billion in 2010 and is forecasted to hit S$4.4 billion in 2015.
Harley Finkelstein, Chief Platform Officer at e-commerce platform Shopify was recently in Singapore and we sat him down to get his advice for up-and-coming online entrepreneurs. Trained in both law and business, Finkelstein started his own business at the age of 17. Apart from his role at Shopify, he also serves as a mentor and advisor to a number of entrepreneurial organisations and incubators.
What are some common misconceptions of e-commerce?
Newbies tend to have this perception that setting up an online store is difficult and expensive. But as an online retailer, there’s actually so much you can do that doesn’t even have to cost you. For example, if you have an online store selling hats, you could always start a blog or Twitter account that gives people interesting hat-related information … or send samples of your hats to key online influencers, who can help you generate buzz. Or if you feel the look and feel of your e-store isn’t working, you can change the layout in a matter of minutes. Technology has made everything much clearer and easier.
What are your tips for e-commerce retailers to keep their marketing ideas fresh?
In business, creativity and versatility is important. Just throw some spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks. At Shopify, we have “Hack Days” once every three months where people from different departments get together to work on new experiments. One of these experiments was Popify, an idea that Brennan Loh (Head of Business Development) and I came up with. Basically, we set up a pop-up store for several Shopify stores that only had an online presence. It was really amazing to see how well it worked for these retailers. There was this store that sold hammocks – their customers loved being able to try out the hammocks at a brick-and-mortar store, then going online to buy it (that way, they don’t have to lug a heavy hammock all the way home.)
If I’m looking to set up an online store, why should I do it on Shopify?
Because it’s so easy, anybody can do it! Plus, you’ll get a tremendous amount of support not just from the Shopify team, but from other Shopify merchants. Our Shopify blog is the second-most popular e-commerce blog in the world, and we also have something called the E-Commerce University, where we dish out tips on everything from marketing to design and even delivery. Shopify merchants are also very active on the forums, sharing their experiences and other business best practices with newbies. In fact, some of them have even taken these interactions offline. Some of the e-retailers in New York, San Francisco and Israel have organised gatherings to swap stories and ideas.
Finally, what’s your best advice for an aspiring entrepreneur?
Be tenacious and persistent. You may not succeed on your first try but you should work on building a culture of experimentation. Just put something out there and get feedback. Don’t give up.
About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 26-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets.
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