5 ways startups and entrepreneurs can embrace e-commerce

Ashley Francisco, Sarah Katyal / November 2020

Google’s Startup Developer Ecosystem Team partnered with Shopify on a digital First Fridays event, addressing how entrepreneurs can embrace the recent rise in e-commerce. The online event featured Google experts, Canadian founders and Shopify leaders. We’ve rounded up five key takeaways from the event.

Find new opportunities in a more equal e-commerce landscape

“Over the last decade, the majority of growth in e-commerce has gone to only a handful of really large players. The average small business or entrepreneur looking to start a business doesn’t always have access to participate fully in e-commerce the way the large players do. That doesn’t mean they don’t play an important role. In fact, tens of millions of merchants engage in e-commerce today, many of whom may not even have websites or are getting online for the first time, those are actually some of the merchants that sit behind the largest e-commerce sites,” said Bill Ready, President of Commerce at Google.

“I’m really amazed by how much creativity and opportunity could be out there if we could only even the playing field and put the building blocks of e-commerce into the hands of the many, instead of the hands of just a few. A thriving ecosystem doesn’t just benefit merchants and providers, it also benefits consumers because it means more choice, more access to innovation and more creativity.”

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Focus on getting a product into market, not getting it perfect

“As an entrepreneur, having a growth mindset is key. In order to thrive on this change, you can’t be afraid to fail. Always learn, and don’t need things to be perfect before you launch,” said Sylvia Ng, General Manager of Start Shopify.

“Focus on getting to product market fit. Really know your audience and the products they need for you to make a viable business. Test and iterate until you have a base of customers that can’t live without your product. Unfortunately, I find entrepreneurs can look to get things perfect before they launch but that just means they don’t get a fast feedback loop coming in from the customers...try to get feedback often and go out even if it’s not perfect, and start testing your concepts and ideas as soon as you can.”

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Find ways to scale but anticipate growth and demand

“Deeply understand your cash flow. If you can get everything else right, you’re going to have a lot of demand and you’re going to have a network of partners that can help you meet it, and you’re going to have all of the pieces in place, but if you can’t figure out your cash flow, you’re going to hit death by growth,” says Benjamin Sehl, Co-Founder and Chief Digital Officer at KOTN.

“If you grow too quickly, the margin that you make from what you sell is not going to cover what you need to produce the stuff in the first place. You need to work on things like payment terms, understand the cost of capital, what types are good and what aren’t… raising money from venture capitals may seem very cool but it will have different implications for where you take your business… understand the mechanics of your business and how every dollar that you earn gets broken down.”

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Create and capture your own demand during times of uncertainty

“Black Friday, Cyber Monday is not the only kid on the block anymore. We need to be prepared for things like flash sales and product launches,” said Sara Scurfield, Ecommerce Marketing Lead at Google.

“There’s an increasing amount of volatility right now. Customers are doing different things, the economy is doing different things, and there are so many tools. But we need to do a better job of surfacing all the data we can so that we can make better decisions about the businesses, can make those pivots as much as possible, and capture demand.”

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Let your pivot become a rallying cry for your company

“We’re in a very volatile and continuously changing environment and everyone needs to stay close to customers and stay close to data, and be open to change,” said Satish Kanwar, Vice President and General Manager of Channels at Shopify.

“We were very early to understand and declare… that there was no going back to a ‘normal’ and we were entering a permanent change environment. For us to be successful we needed to delete all the plans. Anything we thought we were going to do before was just not relevant anymore because the entire context had changed around us.”

“We also adapted our mission to say that ‘because Shopify exists, more small businesses will survive this pandemic’ and that really became a rallying cry for us... we gave the entire company Shopify ‘hack days,’ an entire week to work on anything they wanted that could align those two things -- something not in our plans but that would help small businesses survive. We took every single person, from kitchen staff to engineers, and said ‘let’s work on this together.’”

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First Fridays for Startups is a recurring event series hosted by Google Developer Ecosystems, bringing startups across the Americas together on a regular basis to learn, connect and grow.

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