Archive for eCommerce

China’s ‘Mark Zuckerbergs’

Personal branding

29-year-old Leo Chen, also known as Chen Ou, has kept a high profile through his charismatic personal branding.Leo Chen, co-founder and CEO of, the first China-based cosmetics group-buying site made himself his company’s public face. The handsome young man has not only starred in a popular online commercial for his company but has also appeared on billboards and various TV shows. He has also kept a high profile by remaining active in social media.

“I endorse my own brand because I think a company’s reputation and value is indelibly linked to that of its leader. The CEO naturally becomes the company’s public face,” he said.

The young entrepreneur also believes that he has an insight into the company’s target female consumers.

“Why do I sell cosmetics to women? Because I believe women like to make themselves look good for people who appreciate them. So men’s opinions are important in women’s choice of cosmetics,” Chen said.His site has ascended to become one of China’s top cosmetics e-tailers through this blanket promotional strategy. The budgeted personal branding, as Chen said, has saved his company about 100 million yuan in advertising expenses.

Leo Chen studied in Singapore from the age of 16. In 2005 during his last year at Nanyang Technological University, he founded Garena, now one of the world’s largest online game platforms. Later he received an MBA from Stanford, sold Garena, and moved his business focus to China.

Initially a cosmetics group-buying site, has grown into a major B2C (business to customer) platform for cosmetics.But before Chen established the site in 2010, he and two other co-founders, both male, had no experience in e-commerce, or in the selling women’s cosmetics.


Convenient Store At Your Door

Yakir Gola and Rafael Ilishayev launched goPuff when they were only sophomores at Drexel University in 2013. GoPuff is your convenient store on wheels, bringing over 3,000 items ranging from snacks and drinks to necessities and electronics – straight to your front door in 30 minutes or less. The idea came to them as car-less freshmen roommates constantly asking for rides to get basic necessities or cigarettes. There were apps for full-blown grocery shopping or gourmet food, but what about just a plain old convenient store run? – and goPuff was born.

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Before they had even fully launched, they were already getting orders from fellow college students and residents of Philadelphia. At first, the roommates worked 17-18 hour shifts with their (new) cars to deliver the snacks and goodies, but with time came employees and they now have dozens of drivers in twelve different cities across the US.Image result for gopuff

Gola and Ilishayev don’t see other food delivery services as their competitors – they see the brick and mortar convenient stores as their primary competition. Competition is a loose term however – in 2014, they already had 25,000 customers in Philadelphia alone just a year after launch.

While it’s unfortunate that their services don’t extend to Grove City, they are constantly expanding and setting up camp in more major cities across America. So the next time you’re in a big city with a hankering for Ben & Jerry’s, goPuff’s got your back.


Justin Wetherill built a multi-million dollar business out of his bedroom in Orlando, FL. What started out as a simple problem – a broken iPhone screen – turned into an idea that Justin developed into uBreakiFix, which is now an international franchise operation.

After working as a staff accountant for a few months out of college, Justin quickly realized that he didn’t want to be stuck behind a desk for the rest of his life. He and his friend David Reiff tried their hand at a few different business ideas, including an online custom t-shirt business and a custom gaming computer business. Neither of them picked up much traction though. It wasn’t until Justin dropped his iPhone 3G and broke the screen that the idea for uBreakiFix was born. Not wanting to pay $200 to have the phone fixed by Apple, Justin ordered some parts online and decided to learn how to do it himself – and proceeded to break his phone even worse. But that didn’t stop him. He went on to buy a bunch of broken phones on eBay and learned how to fix them through trial and error. David built a website to advertise their services. For $79.99 you could mail in your phone and they would fix it and mail it back. The business took off, and they quickly realized that customers wanted same-day repairs, so they opened up a storefront. In the first month, they made $18,000 in revenue and $28,000 the second month – Justin quit his job in the third month.

The business expanded from one store to two quickly. Justin would hire and train his friends and paid them $10 an hour with a deal that if they worked hard for six months, they could own a store. Within three years, uBreakiFix went from zero to 47 corporate stores and a revenue of $27 million. Currently about 15% of the stores are owned by former employees.

Justin’s story shows that entrepreneurship is a lot of trial and error and learning to get back on your feet when something goes wrong. It’s also about accepting risk – the reason why his company was able to grow so fast was because they put almost all the revenue back into the company, betting on the fact that their idea would be successful.

To read more about Justin’s story, see this interview with him in Forbes.

Feeling just Fine

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In 2012, as a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Daniel Fine started selling foldable sunglasses out of his dorm room. After gaining interested investors, “Glass-U” grew into a remarkable product that launched at the 2013 Rose Bowl and was the official sunglasses provider for the FIFA World Cup. The design of fully foldable sunglasses attracted huge interest, and Daniel Fine’s company rebranded as “NEU” with their expansion.

Daniel Fine

NEU is only one of Daniel Fine’s success stories. Daniel Fine has started four companies – Team Brotherly Love, which funds research to find a cure for juvenile diabetes; Match Tutors, which matches tutors with students in Boston; Dosed, a new way to accurately track insulin; and Glass-U, now NEU.

Daniel Fine has been named one of the top 5 young entrepreneurs by Entrepreneurs Organization, was on Forbes’ 2016 30 under 30 list, and was one of TIME Magazine’s Top 25 International Leaders of Tomorrow. He has received numerous awards from both the Bush administration and the Obama administration, and in 2014 was nominated as one of the top 30 student entrepreneurs in the world.

He has a heart for diabetes research because of his diabetic brother, and is very philanthropic in that area, including the creation of a research foundation. Daniel Fine graduated just last year, but shows no signs of stopping his innovation. Read more about him here.

Good Clothes for a Good Cause

Ivory Ella started when five college students and a high school business teacher came together and wanted to create “good clothes for a good cause.” Ryan Duranso, Jacob Castaldi, Richard Henne, Matthew Fiano, John Allen, and Esma Ilyas founded the company on April 18, 2015 and has grown rapidly ever since.


The company is driven by the elephants getting poached in Africa. In the last decade Africa’s elephant population has declined by 64%. The founders of Ivory Ella saw a need to build awareness and help the cause. Ivory Ella is partnered with an organization called Save the Elephants. This organization is operating out of Kenya, where it researches elephants and calls attention to the problem of the declining elephant population. Save the Elephants has started to see a growth in the elephant population since they have been raising awareness.


Ivory Ella has already been so successful in the short time they have been open. With 10% of their proceeds going to Save the Elephant, many people buy the shirts just for the social aspect. Not only is their company driven to save the elephants, but their designs are really cute as well! The have a variety of different designs targeted to girls from middle school to college age. Along with t-shirts, they also sell outerwear, hats, jewelry, and drinkware.

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The company prides themselves for connecting with their target market and really listening to the customers. This is very evident when you look at their customers and see how satisfied they are. These young entrepreneurs have created a great brand with great meaning.

Vivy Yusof, the Malaysian Fashion Entrepreneur

Young Vivy Yusof built a Southeast Asia fashion e-commerce site from nothing but a frustrating shopping experience and a personal blog. After returning from studying in London, Vivy and her husband had the idea to bring online shopping to Malaysia after driving in heavy traffic from shop to shop in the rain. They started Fashion Valet in 2010 with a capital of MYR100,000 (about $24,000), 10 designers and 20 staff. In just six years, the business grew to include over 500 brands and hundreds of staff with offices in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Jakarta.

Vivy attributes the business’ success to her thousands of followers on her personal blog and social media accounts. “They were my only customers when we first started,” she said. This gave them an edge against their competition once big competitors moved into Malaysia. However, no startup is perfect – Fashion Valet tried to beat their competition at their own game and made the crucial mistake of lowering their standards of what they sold. This affected their brand identity, but Vivy and her husband went back to their roots and rebounded from the mistake. Their focus is on a direct and affordable connection to local designers and personal connections with their customers. Recently, they’ve opened up a retail location, specializing in offering fashionable hijabs. Fashion Valet has had some major investments from Malaysian internet company MY EG and Silicon Valley’s Elixir Capital, enabling Vivy to search for more collaborations with designers and celebrities to continue to grow their business.

Want to learn more about Vivy’s journey as an entrepreneur? Check out her personal blog where it all began.

Sole Men

It’s been said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but what one shoe company called “Greats” is doing with their new line of product is giving old dogs new kicks and everyone is loving it. CEO Ryan Babenzien set out in 2013 to create a shoe company that would break the traditional model of the shoe industry by creating something that could appeal to a broader market of customers by providing them a product unlike any other in the marketplace. Babenzien says “Let’s pick the greatest silhouettes in men’s sneakers and footwear, and design our DNA into them.” The company accomplishes this by combing old school leathers and colors with new styles for a one of a kind design.

By marketing to customers directly online, Greats lowers the cost of their product significantly. Where one leather shoe that would retail at a high-end department store for over 500 dollars, it can now retail for somewhere in the region of 100 dollars. The company really saw potential in taking tow different concepts, and combining them in a way that created something entirely new. Consumers also appreciate the product, and by 2015 the company expects to make somewhere in the region of 5 to 7 million dollars next year, proving to the industry that classic shoe styles never die, but their “soles” live forever.


Blue Apron: A better way to cook

In 2011, investment firm associate, Matt Salzberg, and his computer programmer friend, Ilia Papas, decided that they wanted to create a business.  After quitting their jobs, they tried to establish several different start-ups, but they were all unsuccessful.  It wasn’t until they drew upon their combined love of food and cooking that they found success.  As Salzberg stated, they both “liked trying new ingredients, new recipes, new techniques, but [they] found it really inaccessible to cook at home.  It was expensive, it was time-consuming and it was difficult to find recipes that [they] trusted.”

Blue Apron

Their company, Blue Apron, named after the aprons French chef apprentices wear, was able to solve these common problems associated with cooking and trying new recipes.  Blue Apron develops delicious new gourmet recipes for its subscribers to try and creates videos on how to make the recipe.  The ingredients needed to make the meal are measured and sent to the user so there is no waste involved.  All of the food comes delivered that day in refrigerated boxes.  Some examples of recipes for this week are North African-spiced shrimp and couscous or mushroom brown butter cavatelli – food most people wouldn’t dare try to make on their own.  Check out their website and other menu options here !

Salzberg and Papas had no experience in the food industry, so they enlisted the help of a family friend, Matthew Wadiak.  Wadiak had worked as a wholesaler of truffles and avocados and was familiar with the food industry.  He became Blue Apron’s food expert and COO, while Salzberg became the CEO and Papas the chief technical officer.  This diverse founding team was key to the company’s success.  Each person had very different backgrounds and talents, which allowed the company to pursue more opportunities early in the founding process.  It also allowed them to access very different networks in which to market their idea.

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Since its start with only some family and friends as customers, Blue Apron has expanded significantly.  They now ship more than 5 million meals per month across the United States!  After being in business for only 3 years, Blue Apron is worth more than a billion dollars!  Clearly, they were able to identify a common problem and provide an easy (and delicious!) solution!

Millionaire at 16

Owens was inspired to get into the business world by the former CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs. At age seven Christian Owens received his first computer. Then at the age of ten he taught himself how to web design. By the time Owens was 14 he had created his own companies by the names of Mac Bundle Box and Branchr. Mac Bundle Box was the first venture website Owens had created.

Mac Bundle Box was created to make it cheaper for consumers to buy popular Mac applications. Owens made this possible by selling these applications in a bundle rather than the applications being sold by themselves. This new way to sell apps had great early success by pulling in $700,000 in its first two years.

Owens then used the money earned from Mac Bundle Box to launch another company named Branchr. Branchr is an advertising pay-per-click company that Owens launched only a year after Mac Bundle Box. It works as a stage for owners of websites to sell advertising, and for business owners to buy this advertising. In its first year Branchr brought in a whopping $500,000. Combining this with the success from Mac Bundle Box is what made Owens a millionaire by the age of 16.  Branchr now has over 11,000 clients and sells more than 250 million advertisements a month.

Even with the success of his two businesses Owens does not plan to stop anytime soon. Owens plans to become the top name in mobile advertising and the top name in the internet world.

She Reads Truth

She Reads Truth LogoThe idea of She Reads Truth began in 2012 with a few godly women who wanted to help girls get into God’s word daily. In 2014, She Reads Truth became more official and launched a website and an app. They wanted to help foster a community of women committed to growing closer to Jesus by reading His Word. She Reads Truth is a daily blog of devotionals that are either written on one book of the Bible or on a topic, such as Advent or Lent. She Reads Truth is also an e-commerce store selling beautiful devotional books that mirror the daily blog, creative prints and other merchandise that help bring women closer to the Bible.

She Reads Truth Prints

I discovered She Reads Truth on Instagram with their lovely images of daily Scripture verses and other truths. I was intrigued by their social media, so I visited their website and was drawn in by the clean design and by the truth they were sharing in their devotionals. She Reads Truth is the first model I have seen that merged a website, an app and social media to get women studying the Bible and interacting with each other. She Reads Truth is able to offer free devotionals because of the support they receive in their e-commerce store which supplements their blog. Each time I scroll down to the comment section, I feel like I am a part of a vast community of fellow believers.

She Reads Truth is a high touch entrepreneurial business. It is more than a website and an app, it is helping women all over the world pursue meaning and purpose in their lives. I would encourage you to check out their website and start exploring what they offer. And if you are a guy, you are in luck, they just launched He Reads Truth this past month, so go check it out!