icon-folder-black Entrepreneurship

Heroes of Ecommerce, Learn From Successful Entrepeneurs

icon-calendar 2020-12-09 | icon-microphone 31m 48s Listening Time | icon-user Joseph Ianni

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It starts with an idea, or perhaps a lack of. In this episode, Joseph takes a look at the breakthroughs made by entrepeneurs in ecommerce. Whether it's allergy friendly cookies or industrial strength earplugs, they've all found a way to add to the net good.

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Good to have you here. One of the recurring themes on this show is that we got to talk about the big boys, Google, Facebook, Amazon...The federal reserve… It’s impossible not to, they’re too important to not talk about in our sector. But in doing so I often want to try and balance it out by shining a light on other companies and businesses. This balance so far has been difficult to strike, so this is the first in what will likely be an ongoing series within Ecomonics, a Debutify Podcast, we are going to dedicate a full episode to entrepreneurs and operations, obviously within the Ecommerce space, some will have a physical presence, but long as you can shop with them online, they’re in. If you have an operation and feel you qualify for this episode, I honestly have no idea why you’re already coming to that conclusion you haven’t listened to the episode yet. But if you listen atleast 42% of the way in and still feel the way you do, we want to hear from you, podcast@debutify.com

The first website on this list is partakefoods.com, cookies that are gluten-free, vegan and allergy friendly. The first thing I was struck by was the color presentation. Brown is a warm color, and is the primary color choice, followed by greens. The idea here is to create an earth tone, that accentuates the natural/organic selling point of the product. This is a classic example of identifying a problem followed by a solution to match. In the founder’s words; They hadn’t given food allergies much thought, until their daughter started having them. Faced with a sudden problem begging for a solution they went right to work. First they did want to see if there were any options out there, mainly for snacks, and the supply wasn’t there, but judging by their success, the demand was. It goes to show that the difference between who becomes a major success and who doesnt is the difference between people who solve the problems for themselves and the ones who solve the problems for others. And the founder, Denise, did her research. She found that 1 in 10 kids by 2020 will be affected by one of the eight major allergens (wheat, tree nuts, peanuts, milk, eggs, soy, fish and shellfish) which, in addition to the restrictions on diet, also lead to social anxiety and rejection by their peers. So you see, a problem isn’t just in a vacuum, improving someone’s life leads to improvements in multiple areas. This would also explain why they went with “partake” as the company name. The idea of one being able to participate in something, promotes inclusivity. Now I do want to point out some critiques, I’m not here to trash any of these businesses, I’m just making observations about the website that might be worth looking into, nothing major, the footer menu and the top menu have two different sets of links, the top one has a shop, blog, find us, about, contact and account. The footer has press, FAQ, contact, Terms of Service and privacy policy. I might not realise there’s two sets of options, like I said, small. Secondly, on my desktop monitor, the rewards button overlaps the contact button. I assume it’s a contact button, I can’t tell for sure because of the overlap. I’d also recommend an affiliates system, where other businesses adjacent to what they're selling can cross pollinate audiences. These foods look delish but they’re just cookies. Maybe there’s another business that sells milk that also falls within these standards. Something I didn’t consider before, was to have a press link so that we can see how the business continues to be relevant in the media. Seeing the company continue to be active drives home their commitment to their mission. News articles go as far back as November 2016. What we can see from this is the company, being a one woman operation, has used it’s authentic goal as a means to be reported in the media. It got a celebrity endorsement from Jay-Z, so the influencer box is firmly checked. To show their passion, they also participate in charity, such as Blessings in a Backpack, a nonprofit organization that provides food for school children on weekends. A couple hacks I spotted, a top banner ad letting you know the product is available in stores, 2700+, including Target, this top banner by the way is going to show up alot this episode. Clicking the link takes me to a store locator so I can see if anything I’ve got nearby will do. It also leads to discovery, where I can come across stores I may not have known of before that carry the product. A newsletter popup provides first time visitors like myself with an option to get discounted cookies on my first order. Hilariously, the decline button reads “no thanks, I don’t want to save money on delicious cookies.” Good one. Without even buying anything, this brand has already contributed to the net good, it’s taught me a few things about allergies, and provided me peace of mind that when I become a parent, fingers crossed, it’s one less thing to worry about. The blog is active, with tips and recommendations for activities and other snack ideas. You get the sense that, because they’re basing their product off their own life, the content they write is content they actually live by. 

Number two is Decibullz, moldable earplugs. First impressions are this might be overkill for me, which is not in any way a bad thing. I’m pretty passionate about sleep, and I dedicate a third of my life to pursuing that passion. So as I mentioned in a previous episode, blanking on which one at the moment, I have a big tube of disposable foam earplugs. I wear them for a week then out they go. My strategy was, if you’re not sure if something’s ideal, get a cheap one just to test and then commit the funds to a better one. Well not that it’s my job to shop but this business appealed to me aesthetically as well as in terms of practicality. These bad boys can be heated, and then molded to fit each person’s unique ear shape, then they can be reheated if need be. So the reason why I say overkill is from a marketing perspective, it comes across as a product that more than fits my needs to filter out general racket. You can tell the target market is for heavy duty users, one giveaway is that in their top 9 activities you should have earplugs on for, shooting range comes in at number one. Also on the list, sandboarding, snorkeling, concerts, travelling and watching a space shuttle launch. I assume in person. If it’s too loud at home you have bigger problems than earplugs. Additionally, they market themselves to industrial workers, on their site they provide a cost calculator to find out how much the current earplugs cost the company.The one thing I wasn’t 100% on, and had to look around was if they’d be ok to sleep in. So I took to the blog to see if there’s any mention that you shouldn’t sleep in them. I didn’t quite see a confirmation either way, so I contacted customer support, they said go for it, just when molding them, use your sleeping position so they are fit ideally to that circumstance. Of all the ecommerce sites I’ve been to so far, this was the first time I had seen an accessibility widget. I suspect safely that other sites have used it, but because they use primarily black and white, the orange icon stuck out nicely, as it should. So the story of this product, or rather, the problem in need of solving, is that the founder Kyle was struggling to find headphones that would stay in his ears while doing his athletics. This made me realise for the first time, since I started working with this company is the way a product is an extension of the creator. Yeah, people want to make money, but you can see how the money isn’t what’s driving them, it’s the desire to make everyone’s lives better. Whether it’s vegan friendly cookies or earplugs that fit no matter the ear, when I say the net good, I now picture a net, with many threads criss crossing, each person bringing their own thread, strengthening the net for others. Of course, you don’t need to be an entrepreneur to contribute, but that’s for a different show, so let’s move on. I didn’t spot any discounts or popups, I did see “free shipping” on orders 25.99 and up in the U.S on the top banner. These are premium quality, are made in the US, so I don’t expect to see many discounts, unless you’re ordering in bulk. The question a company like this leaves me with is, now that I discovered them, where else would I go to consider my options? 

Third on the list is Umbra, and to their credit, they are now the second one I’ve spotted with the accessibility option, so clearly people are using it. Again a key element here is to make it stand out among the rest of the aesthetic. But on to the actual site, Umbra is a design brand, specializing in decoration and practical housewares like hooks, garbage bins, soap dispensers, toothbrush holders, what makes their product unique is a sleekness, emphasizing their line of stainless steel silver products. Their main mission is to produce products that last, offering up a 5 year warranty along with free shipping and returns. Umbra has a storefront in the heart of downtown Toronto, I’ve passed by it a number of times but it never occurred to me what I was looking at. A vibrant pink exterior leaves the observer guessing as to what’s inside, being in one of our trendiest areas, one might guess it’s a design school or a condo. The site uses a white background with a soft offwhite on the images, directing your attention to the products. Their top banner is “free shipping on all orders over 35, free returns” On the designers page, I think I would have gone with images of the product and not the designers, on their page they should have their headshots, but when I look at the design page I’d have to manually go through each designer to know what they’ve got on the mind. 

Number Four is a mattress company named hyphen, off the bat they indicate a 200 night risk free trial, that they’re made in the USA, and have a 20 year warranty. A warranty that lasts that long in my experience ends up being a discount on a newer model. I’m not saying outright that’s their plan, but in fifteen years, either the pr oduct is perfect all this time and always has been, or it’s improved, replaced or a better model is ready to go. So if the previous model is 200, and the new one is 324, your warranty may just get you the newer model at cost. Still a good system in my eyes. As has been a complete coincidence, these guys also use a white background, but they use a softer color for their font than just black, I wouldn’t know the exact color, but it’s closer to a dark blue, where the blue is so subtle you might not notice. But the objective is to create a more comforting, softer feeling for the customer than a sharp, crisp black. Reviews are second to the main image, that of a woman in her mid 20s ecstatic about falling back on to her mattress. Regarding the net good, as I mentioned before, I’m a big fan of sleep, and Hyphen mattresses approach problem solving on a more nuanced level than sleep masks or earplugs. With earplugs and sleep masks, you have to convince the customer they need these things, customers for the most part have beds, but you need to convince them for a better bed. They use a comparison of your current mattress, memory foam pulls a person inwards, is too hot and provides poor support, compared to theirs which contours to your body, lets you control the temperature and adapts to your support needs. Part of their pitch is hassle free, no middleman shopping, which suggests that their target market is people looking to get a new mattress, first time buyers/renters, college students moving in to campus. One route towards solving problems they take is to point out that it solves problems in other areas you might not think about. According to their research, a good sleep leads to decreased stress, improved concentration, a strengthened immune system and more energy. It’s possible that the customer will discover this was a solution to their problem approached from an angle they hadn’t prior considered. Their top menu includes a phone number directly to their sales line, and their four top menu options include a referral program and reviews, suggesting they have a great deal of confidence in their product. 

For this next one, I specifically wanted to make sure I was looking at a dropshipping website, and for the next round of these I’m going to do an episode solely on dropship as that’s one of our key operations at Debutify. So credit to dodropshipping.com for a link to lifeboostershop.com, the first thing I see on visiting is a full page image of a woman holding up a comforter on a dock, implying freedom. The first thing that sticks out to me as the only drop shipped site is that you don’t get the same sense of connection between the seller and the products. There’s no blog, about page, inspiring story about the inspiration behind it. They just get to brass tacks. The FAQ covers all the questions I’d ask if it were me, how long does shipping take, estimated delivery time, cancellations, returns and payment methods. -The unifying trait for this store I would characterize is life improvement, not far off from the title of the company. They use a rounded font that’s easy on the eyes, and on their front page the first options below the welcome image are the collections, so the user knows what products to expect. Beneath the collections is a trending list of the most popular items being sold right now, so for your research purposes, I would keep tabs on a site like this and other ones in the categories you’re interested in, they’re doing the research for you. I will say, as someone who is looking at a lot of online businesses, for work and for m’self, I’m seeing products here for the first time. First one being a cutter that turns a glass bottle into a cup, the breakdown and instructions are provided on the page, giving the user a clear idea what to expect. Not gonna lie this thing seems pretty cool, has a rustic vibe I might go for. Layout however is crucial, on my desktop the images all scan to the right column, leaving a huge swath of unoccupied white space. Curious, I looked at it on my mobile, and found the trending section did not appear on the front page, so i used the search. On my mobile phone, the layout looks excellent, and it leads me to believe that it was intended to be looked at on the mobile device, which checks out, statistically mobile users are the best target market. But consider if these little details matter to the look and operation of your store. 

One of the hardest aspects to marketing a product is getting people out of habits they formed for a lifetime, a challenge being faced by lastobject.com and their reusable tissues and cotton swabs. I can’t exactly put my money where my mouth is, but in the interest of showing more of the net good, this business is well worth a mention. Their key product, reusable tissues and cotton swabs boast a few ambitious features, one swab is worth 1000 disposable ones, one tissue pack of six replace 3000 uses. Their about page illuminates their position, to end single use items in favor of reusable, sustainable ones, in doing so, their product has 10x less environmental impact than a traditional single use one. Some stuff I didn’t know from having checked out their video, is we produce over a billion cotton swabs every single day, and while we don’t think about the whole supply process, we should, the resources are extracted from the planet, manufactured, packed, shipped, sold, disposed of and sent to a landfill. -The thing I have to imagine, wanting to use reusable tissues, and forgive me, I will try not to do this too often, is the gag factor. If I have a cold, tissues are… going to go through some stuff… and I’m receptive to cleaning them but the idea of storing them to clean later makes it hard to look forward to using them. Plus it’s bacterial. So in my mind, I imagine having a set for eating, cleaning, emergency spills, but for biohazard waste I may want to stick with disposables. One interesting tidbit from their site is, having their video on Youtube, at the end of the video, Youtube pops open several windows to entice me to keep watching, some are American idol, one is about narcissism, and several are related to the product. So of them all, I clicked on a video review where the person’s face seemed perplexed and dismayed by the product. She observed that it wasn’t as effective as a dry cotton since it absorbs the wax more, but the makeup remover side did a lot better. My takeaway is that a product like this would help reduce the brunt of using disposables over and over-The name, lastobject is clever because it makes the implication that A, it’s an object built to last and B, it’s the last one you’ll need for some time, possibly ever, depending on how often you clean your ears. Which I suggest you do, especially if you listen to podcasts. As with other sites on this, let's go over what they do to contribute to the net good without even asking the customer to commit funds. They raise awareness of an issue impacting the global environment, and ask customers a question about how much their convenience is worth. Me, as I established, I vouch for a balance. Use reusables whenever possible, but don’t make life worse on yourself when you need the extra luxury of something disposable. From the reviews on tissue, there’s only one that appears on the site. A 5 star review, granted, but having just one review isn’t the best reflection as having many. So while collecting reviews is ongoing, one alternative would be to link to Youtube Videos of people using the product, a gallery of people’s handsome faces holding my product may even suffice, as these are public personalities with reputations. Colorwise, again, white is primary, orange on the add to cart button to entice action, and then soft greens and blues to relax the eye as it browses. 

I’ve mentioned my own sordid history with 3D printers, on my ecommerce journey episode part 1 (episode 14) but I’m always keen on checking out what’s going on in the 3d printer world to see if there’s an out of the box one I can afford. On this site, not so much, but honestly, save your money and get a good one. MakeGear stands out as a 3D printer manufacturer off the bat with a cool combination of a dark grey menu, orange buttons and white background for support. The opening image also cleverly uses orange printed buttons to keep the color scheme of the image in line with the site layout. The visitor is tempted to click the gallery buttons, and in doing so, the website answers questions for the consumer right off the bad, they are industrial grade quality printers, are ready to go out of the box, are easy to maintain and built to last for the long run, customer service is highly prioritized, and are made in the USA. Theres also a thank you message to the medical service providers amid covid 19, so clearly the company is keeping up with the current times. The user scrolls down, and are met with some high profile endorsements including Princeton, Toyota, Lockheed Martin and NASA. Continuing downwards the user is met with imagery of the printers on sale, followed by their distinctions for business and for education. As the user scrolls down, products made by the printers are on display, showing a 3d printed metal scorpion toy, a customized hockey helmet and a viking statue, showing the range of fun, to functional. I guess if it were me, I would like to see some of the heavy duty work the prints are doing but it might be confidential. Lastly before arriving at the bottom menu, the customer is invited to request a sample, to see the results for themselves and then to sign up for a newsletter. The idea here is, using the visitors own curiosity as a catalyst, to answer the questions before they’re asked; on what authority do your printers have? What are the products? What does your company do to contribute to the net good? How can I get involved? The call to action portions are at the bottom, as the visitor is filled with preliminary information beforehand and are more likely to act. I’m saying visitor by the way, since committing funds is less likely on impulse, given the price point of the printers. From there, the website lets you check out the origin of the company, along with some early prototypes so you can see how far along 3d printing has come, and by golly it has come a long way, then instead of a blog, they go with “stories” showing the company’s involvement in society at large. Were I to read through these articles, I expect I would have a larger take away about the industry. But what I do walk away with is knowing that 3D printed products are good enough for Space Travel. So that’s pretty good. 

Ok, note to self, next round of these I’ll mention the background if it’s not white. I pick 10 sites at random and so far they've all used white. Next up on the list we have package free, a brand that also has a proposition. It invites me to be skeptical about this, because package free? They’re going to mail me a bar of soap as is? I suspect it’s just going to be minimal packaging, but lets read on. The top banner lets you know about free shipping on U.S orders over 35$, 100% plastic free shipping. One good takeaway I hadn’t noticed until now is that the banners up top give you a sense of the optimal price point they encourage customers to pay. If it were orders over 120 dollars the customer would have a different impression of the target market. Before I shopped around, my first instinct was to find out exactly what’s going on with their mission statement. The menu gave me a few options on this subject; a link to trashisfortossers.com, mission, history, and commitment to inclusivity. The origin of this website harkens back to a viral story I recall, about a Lauren Singer who managed to fit eight years of waste into one jar, that's when she started the trash for tossers blog. A lot of eyeballs were drawn to her work, and demand started, people wanted no-waste products like the ones she was using, which prompted her to go into business. Sometimes responsibility calls to you, you know? The product here is not solely her creation, it’s a convergence of eco friendly brands aimed to make quality, natural products free of plastic. So to answer my skeptical question from earlier, they do jump on this grenade for me, on the FAQ page, they acknowledge it can’t be helped for some of the products, like toothbrushes, which have to be packaged. Their position is that they’re in the lead when it comes to results, they sell and send products in packaging if that package is 100% recyclable, compostable or illegal not to. The product is shipped in a package, but is 100% recyclable and compostable. So this begs the question, should we call them out on this? The answer is of course, no, go die on a hill worth dying on. As I’m already compelled to investigate the business proposition, in doing so I have found plenty of information to satisfy my curiosity, including the rewards program, gift cards, how to become a vendor etc. Understanding what the objectives here are, my next instinct is to scan the shop because essentially, every product is also a solution to a problem, potentially one being solved by another product. For instance, in order to be plastic free, they offer stainless steel food containers. Another nice touch is when I hover my mouse over the images, other images of that product appear. This is also the first example I’ve found of a product line that’s half product half mission. The zero waste kits encourage visitors to consider where they can reduce usage in different areas of their life, travel, hygiene, first aid. As has been the recurring theme for many of the brands we’ve illustrated today, going to these websites teaches you something for free.

Skinnymetea.com.au gets us to number nine. The first impression is that this website’s target market is unambiguously female. I’d go for a detox just to see what the results are, so it doesn’t deter me from wanting to buy it for that reason, I may want to look around and see if there are options more catered to males for health reasons. The upper banner reads “Free tracked shipping worldwide on orders over 40$, made in Australia” The landing image shows the body of an athletic woman in athletic gear, but the eye is also drawn to the glass teapot and mug, both of which lets the visitor see the tea in full color, vs a ceramic set where it would be obstructed. They also have an image of the tea pouch with some of it strewn out of the bag. A bold choice, since it’s vital to them they show the tea, but it being spilled on the desk isn’t something that happens on purpose in life, clean as the porcelain countertop is. As I scroll down, I see references to the company in a few outlets, Women’s health being the one on the left, it’s the most clear cut of the titles, and so it gives the reader a sense of what the other ones might be about. Followed by two product lines, the detox teas and the anytime ones. This is a good choice, if people enjoy the detox tea overall, it would be wise to also include options for regular consumption. Further down the page is a brief backstory, that could be expanded upon if I were to click. Further on is an endorsement by an instagram influencer and then a detox program which you get with the tea purchases, helping the customer make sure they’re doing it right. At the bottom of the page, I noticed there’s a results option. It’s their word for reviews, and this is where I commend the site users, because they took selfies of their before and after bodies. They’re willing to show that vulnerable side of them, easier I suppose since the product works, but in doing so create extraordinary legitimacy to the product. 

Rounding out our number ten spot (by the way these weren’t ranked) is quad lock, a smartphone mount designed primarily for cyclists. It’s applicable to cars, or people on foot, but the inspiration for the product were cyclists who, mid cycle, didn’t want to have to stop constantly to check their phones for directions. The idea had been in development shortly after the release of the first iphone, having been a cyclist even from that time, it occurred to him pretty early on how useful the device was. But as it was so new, no one had devised a satisfactory mounting mechanism for him, so like with many of our entrepreneurs, he took it as a call to action. The product went on to kickstarter in 2011 and got funding within two weeks. The icon for the product pulls double duty, it's the icon and it's also the product, a four pronged mount that attaches to the case for whatever device you have, the icon is also in blue, which is their main color choice in their imagery, as they want to evoke the blueness of the sky. As a nice touch, you can see a video montage on the splash page banner, where the phone is mounted to a blue motorcycle. They stuck to blue as much as they could.. Having looked through the site, it’s largely just the one product, but the variety is within the many forms of cases and mounts; so drivers, walkers, sitters at desks and cyclists all have options available to them. Even the accessories are all meant to support the mount and cases, so no hats, pencil cases or tote bags. From the main page, scrolling through, we have the collections as I mentioned above, followed by links to reviews both by professional outlets like Wired, a brief explanation of the product, and the reviews, there are two on display but to date, they have 46681 of them. Having gone through all these other sites, I’ve gotten into the habit of seeing how these businesses look for ways to give back, and this one is no exception, they contribute to World Bicycle Relief, which provides bicycles to people in need. Another fine touch I hadn't spotted before is at their footer, they also have a live count of their social media numbers, which include 60k instagram followers, 3k youtube subscribers and over 300k likes. The one thing that sticks out to me with this little hack is I’m not 100% sure what metric they represented without checking it out. It refers specifically to followers, for your information.

And that’s it, we did ten and we’ll do ten more next time. What’re some main takeaways? Well, white makes for a good background, it emphasizes the colors that you do value for your brand. Many entrepreneurs are spurred on not by money, but by the idea that they can improve the lives of others as much as they’ve improved their own, in some cases the people turned to them for such a solution. So that I would say is the major takeaway, everyone wants to make money, but the people who got into this business used money as a leverage to motivate themselves into doing something spectacular that changes the lives of others. Here’s hoping you’ll consider similar terms. Let us know what you think, email podcast@debutify.com and thanks for getting past the 42% mark. 

Written by

Joseph Ianni

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