- Shopify founder & CEO Tobi Lütke
Tobi Lütke started his entrepreneurial journey by building an online snowboarding shop, Snowdevil. After finding that he wasn’t satisfied with any of the e-commerce platforms that were out there, he transformed the website template that he designed for Snowdevil into Shopify. One thing I share with him—and with just about every other entrepreneur, whether they’re famous or forgotten, on their first company or their 15th—is the thrill I felt when I made my first sale. That experience is so vital, so inspirational, that I figured I could get other entrepreneurs to talk to me about that moment in their own professional journeys. And that’s why it’s the name of our podcast series (available everywhere you listen).
When sisters Niki and Ritika Shamdasani couldn’t find the occasion clothing they wanted, they decided to emulate what their mother would do when she was growing up in India: make it herself. So they started a fashion company, Sani. They sell designs that are rooted in South Asian heritage and fused with the perspectives of first-generation South Asian Americans to make their cultural clothing more accessible.
“Our first customer’s mother was skeptical,” CEO Niki Shamdasani remembers. “We were just two young sisters who had come up with these designs and brought them over from India. But her daughter tried on a palazzo set and said, ‘Mom, this is what I want. Nothing that’s like too pink and too this and like too much.’ The mom told us afterwards, ‘I’ve never seen my daughter excited about wearing Indian clothes.’ That was our first sale.” In my interview with her, Niki goes on to recognize that while their first customer was the daughter, the mother was actually the one who made the purchasing decision, and their business necessitates appealing to both parties.
At Carpe, Kasper Kubica and his co-founder David Spratte both suffered from sweaty hands. David assumed that there wasn’t a solution for their problem on the market, and Kasper assumed that in a category as large and long-established as antiperspirants, there would already be many products already tailored to them. It turned out they were both right, and both wrong: when they began testing hand antiperspirants, their palms were left so greasy that it really didn’t matter if they were still sweating or not. It took a year and sixty prototypes before Carpe got to their first sale. Fast forward a few years, and their suite of sweat products is available online, and their hand and foot antiperspirants are in CVS and Target nationwide. Kasper talks about the challenges of regulatory compliance, customer acquisition vs. retention, investors, and more, in my interview with him. (Spoiler alert: those foot and hand antiperspirants? They’re the exact same lotion in different packaging. Because as it turns out, that’s what the people want.)
Maybe you’re nodding along to this, thinking back on the validation of your own first sale. Or maybe you’re still on the way there, preparing your first online store—and an automated sales agent to go along with it. If so, welcome to the community of entrepreneurs and small businesses, and let me know if I can do anything to accelerate your journey.