Going From Wantrepreneur to Entrepreneur — A Challenge

This week will be Entrepreneurship Week on this blog.

To start us off, this post is a benevolent kick in the ass. I’ll preface the kick with something I wrote in The 4-Hour Workweek:

For all of the most important things, the timing always sucks. Waiting for a good time to quit your job? The stars will never align and the traffic lights of life will never all be green at the same time. The universe doesn’t conspire against you, but it doesn’t go out of its way to line up the pins either. Conditions are never perfect. “Someday” is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you. Pro and con lists are just as bad. If it’s important to you and you want to do it “eventually,” just do it and correct course along the way.

But talk is cheap, isn’t it? That’s the whole point, so let’s get to the action.


In 2009, Tobias Lutke, CEO of Shopify, and I developed the Build-A-Business Competition to transform would-be entrepreneurs into real entrepreneurs. Now in its 4th year, the competition has created more than 15,000 businesses that have sold more than $60 million in product (!).

Several readers of this blog — first-time business owners — have ended up generating millions of dollars each… some as side gigs to their full-time jobs! A few examples generated $250,000+ per month.

You don’t need need experience, and you don’t need a bunch of money. You just need to take the leap: join the competition, decide on your product category, listen to advice from mentors and fellow competitors, and sell the hell out of your product. That’s it.

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

– Johan Wolfgang von Goethe

Intangible products can also be sold in the competition, including digital downloads, services, and subscriptions. Make sure you check out the Shopify App Store (apps.shopify.com) for tons of great plugins.

This year’s competition is in partnership with Huffington Post, so there will be even more PR and exposure. Past participants have been featured in everything from Fast Company to The New York Times.

Who are your mentors? These killers, thrillers, and 100-dollar billers:

** Arianna Huffington (The Huffington Post)

** Mark Cuban (Dallas Mavericks, Shark Tank)

** Daymond John (FUBU, Shark Tank)

** Chase Jarvis (Photographer, Director)

** Tina Eisenberg (Swissmiss, CreativeMornings)

** Gary Vaynerchuk (Wine Library, Vaynermedia)

** Selita Ebanks (Victoria’s Secret Angel, Cause Marketer)

** Lil’ Jon (DJ & Producer)

** Amber Mac (TV Host, Author)

** Tim Ferriss (Angel Investor, Bearclaw Eater, Author: The 4-Hour Workweek)

The Build-A-Business competition runs from October 1, 2013 to May 31, 2014, with each of the mentors providing exclusive advice and guidance along the way. In addition to $50,000 cash prizes, the nine competition winners will receive an expenses-paid VIP trip for two to New York City to meet their mentors. It’s one hell of a party. The competition is open to people in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, and New Zealand.

Click here for full details.

Time to explore entrepreneurship, don’t you think? If not now, when? What’s stopping you? Let us know in the comments, and maybe we (including other readers) can help.


Odds and Ends Elsewhere:

4-Hour Chef for Whaaaa?!?:

$35 retail for less than $15? Yes, my friends. New coupon–get an additional $5 off the full-color hardcover of The 4-Hour Chef. Here it is.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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108 Replies to “Going From Wantrepreneur to Entrepreneur — A Challenge”

    1. Hey I have actually have a few questions I need cleared up, one being when do the free domains start, because it isnt working for me.

      What is the contact email for questions concerning the contest?

  1. Thank-you thank-you thank-you for writing this. I needed this kick in the pants. I’m currently in that ‘holy crap holy crap holy crap’ phase where one gets themselves totally psyched out before they even launch anything. AKA terrified to pull the trigger. But I’m clicking on the link above to sign up anyway the minute I’m done writing this comment.

    Thanks for all the knowledge and encouragement you pass on! It is profoundly appreciated.

    1. Thanks for all the comments, enthusiasm, and kind words, guys! I could not be more excited about this year’s competition. It’s going to be HUGE.

  2. What a great competition… It is great to see all these avenues to help entrepreneurs, btw thanks for the free book a few days ago


  3. I have always wanted to start my own business. As an American living in Europe I am always worried about the tax implications. Any advice for an American starting a business abroad?


      We welcome you to the competition and you will have full access to the tutorials, guides and videos that we are creating and posting over the Competition Period. However, you will not be eligible for the prizes listed above.

      Source: http://www.shopify.com/build-a-business/faq

      I opened my Shopify store a week ago, can I still enter the competition?

      Yes you can. Any Shopify store that was opened after June 1st, 2013 may join the competition. Enter your store URL into the form at http://competition.shopify.com and follow the prompts.

      1. Hey Michael,

        Mark from Shopify here. You can participate, but due to complex gaming and contest laws you’re unable to win any prizes.

  4. Great article, just what I needed today! I guess too many ideas, got 2 months to make something crack before our son is born and finances are out. Half way meeting our monthly expenses online, just need to get the other half in before then. I guess I don’t full believe I can which sucks but articles like this help with this 😉

  5. For me, I never really achieved what I wanted to after uni, had plans to make a 4 hour workweek style muse since graduating. It’s been a few months now and I really need to get my butt in gear and do something. I think this kinda think will make a good deadline to get something done and go after my dreams.

  6. I did a year in Afghanistan as a contractor to do the entrepreneur thing. I wanted to build up some money so I could do it. Shopify was super simple and I’m hoping to move a lot of units soon!

    Areas I need help:

    Best way to advertise.

    How do you advertise/market without being a sleaze ball.

  7. Working my ass off in the hated day job trying to save enough money to quit and go full time is actually becoming counter productive to my goal… Going to read up on this competition heavily!!

  8. This is incredible. At the very least, the video is inspiring and should build some motivation within you. I must say it took me nearly 6 years to finally take the steps Tim suggested in 4HHW… and I’m glad I did. This is your chance to take a leap too!

    Take these entrepreneur’s advice and do something.



    A little more:

    I started my company about 5 months ago (with a class called Coding for Entrepreneurs on Udemy/Kickstarter) and now I am on track to do a little over 200k in my first year. The principals in 4HWW can 100% be applied and are still very relevant to this day.

    Remember this:

    Henry Ford didn’t invent the car

    Mark Zuckerberg didn’t invent a online social network

    Mark Cuban didn’t invent broadcasting

    Apple did not invent the smartphone or the multi-touch screen or the mp3 player.

    Invention does not equal success.

    Do Different.


  9. Even after reading the 4 Hour Work Week, I’ve had multiple ideas roll around my head that I just can’t seem take the first step on. I re-read it the other day and I still feel this hang up.

    When it comes to choosing a product to sell, which is a better choice: a passion project that is near and dear, or a product that you would gladly hand the reigns over to someone else after conception?

    Any help is appreciated. Thanks!

  10. Hey Tim,

    I remember this competition from last year, I love it!

    And this year I want to give the winning entrepreneur some bonus too – my services. I’m thinking: professional logo design + business card design + something else: letterhead, or flyer, or social media backgrounds and covers, etc).

    Can you point me in the right direction how I can add my services to the winner’s prize pool? (Here’s my site so you know that I’ve build quite a good reputation for my company: LittleGuyLogos.com … I help the little guys, hence my interest in this entrepreneurship competition)

    Thank you!

    1. Hey! I love you guys!!!! I saw your Kickstarter when it first came out. So true there is nothing “edgy” and cool in the kids costume market. Too many pirates. I’ll be sure to share your new website on my Facebook business page.

      1. Aww thanks for the support! It really means a lot. I actually just dropped off the last of the fabric needed to get production going!

    1. Zach: Brennan from Shopify here. The sign up link is working for me – if it’s still giving you problems email me brennan at shopify 🙂

    2. That’s rather odd, are you clicking the “Join Now” button at the top of the page? It should be bumping you down to the bottom where the signup form is.

      As a work around you can navigate there manually, and you should see something that looks like this (which is the actual signup form)


      Feel free to get in touch with me directly and we can figure this out!

      csaunders at shopify.com

      1. Yep, I am clicking the “Join the Competition” button and nothing happens, but no worries I can sign up at the bottom, I just didn’t realize that was the form to join the competition. Thanks for your help!

        ~ Ashley

  11. I always wonder why I didn’t do this the previous year, then I see that you guys exclude Louisiana from the competition…dammit man, why do we get none of the cool opportunities?

      1. Awesome! Your posts always spark ideas. I can’t imagine what entrepreneurship week is going to so to my brain!

  12. Maybe this is part of the ‘details’ after you sign up, but what if your product needs to be created/manufactured? You said no experience necessary so will the mentors walk you through that process? I guess I’m not sure how you could build an online store (step 2) without the product first being created. Please answer. Thanks!

  13. Hi Tim and friends,

    Thank you for the kick in the butt, this is exactly what I needed. I told myself this past weekend that I was going to start a business very soon. I know I have all of the skills and drive/determination to do it, but my only hesitation is that I don’t have a good idea. I do have a few ideas but I don’t think they are particularly novel or worth pursuing. If I had a good idea, I would be on my way already.

    Is this common? Is it a stupid wantrepreneur excuse? What’s the best way to overcome this and make it happen?

    I already have a career I love, so it doesn’t matter to me what I sell, I am just interested in a self-sufficient muse.

    All the best,


  14. Sell what?

    How are you going to buy what are you going to sell?

    Who’s going to buy it?

    What if you end up like the movie Pursuit of Happyness?

    I like the video, but it makes this very complex process seem too simplistic.

    1. I see what you mean. I am dealing with manufacturing and it’s a real bitch to make a physical product, I’m telling you. Like the creator of Goldie-blox said in a recnt interview “never underestimate how long it takes to get your manufacturing in order”. Without that, you have nothing to sell, or worse (and this has happened to me) people actually WANT to buy and they can’t because your manufacturing chain has big holes in it. Serious bummer. They seemed to have only concentrated on the selling part in the promo video. Of course selling is essential. But for someone like me (all businesses are different), it’s getting manufacturing right first and selling comes next.

  15. What an interesting day for this contest to begin. I’ve had a mustache since Movember, but shaved it off for my birthday (today) to start my last year before 30 new. Then, this shows up. Starting a side business is definitely a way to start the year new and differently.

    What’s been stopping me: So, I’ve been working on an idea for making a physical product. I hadn’t seen it anywhere until I found a kickstarter for it that got over 100k for it. It showed interest, but the funny thing is the kickstarter never showed up in real life. It’s been over a year and no product lanch. I worked on designed before I saw the kickstarter, but I’m at a sticking point in design with no clue how to produce, either. How do I get functional help with design? And, how do you get known? Open the Shopify store and start small and local? Try to get known on some random blogs? It always feels like a mountain.

    1. Draw it out or make a model to the best of your ability and start knocking on factory doors. Ask everyone in the field that you can find – how they would go about making your design. Unless your inventing the light bulb I wouldn’t worry about copying, people who do this never get anything done. Start talking to people, arrange loads of meetings, be persistent (manufacturers are busy) and that will get you closer to getting your design made. Good luck!

  16. I am a cartoonist and writer with aspirations to not only write and cartoon full time (ie, making money off of my work) but to head up my own micro-media company that will produce a variety of entertainment content. I don’t know if this sort of contest is for me, as I don’t know what sort of product I can sell (at this point in time, I maintain a website through which I publish my comic series).

    I don’t know if this Shopify contest is right for me, but what do you entrepreneurs think are steps I can take to pursue my aspirations? Mind you, I am not unaware of the typical business models for web cartoonists (I’ve read/listened/studied the bejesus out of that sort of thing).

    Anyone with any tips and insight, please share. Thanks.

  17. So let’s just say that – completely hypothetically – one were to niche down his or her target market to a fine gentleman called Timothy C. Ferriss and reverse-engineer a product in the Shopify Electronics & Gadgets category entirely based on this customer’s unique demands, how would this simple and low-cost gadget look like?

  18. This Post + Noah’s 24hr Business Challenge = Deadly combo for my inner wantrepreneur. Time to make moves. Thanks Tim & Noah.

  19. Great to see this competition is back in full force. Seems like it’ll be even bigger than last year! I got notified about this earlier today and let my clients know about it too. Will be encouraging everyone to sign up.

    Great mentors, great prize and always a positive spin. Looking forward to seeing what happens this year 🙂

  20. Been waiting for this to come around again!

    Just began Noah Kagan’s “How to make my first dollar” program. Hopefully I can utilize what I learn there in addition to reading 4HWW 3 times already and win!

  21. Tim, I’m an Australian citizen living in Hong Kong. Can I participate?

    Thanks! Your book was the catalyst to quit my job as a corporate lawyer 18mths ago and now I’m a successful sports/health journalist and content writer who runs ultramarathons Ana has a permanent smile 24/7.

    But now- perhaps another leap? Legend x

    1. Rachel: Brennan from Shopify here. We base eligibility on the legal residency of the storeowner. Everyone is welcome to participate but only those in the qualifying regions are eligible to win the prize. Good luck!

  22. I love the spirit behind this but I am a software developer, not a physical maker… I feel the competition is all about creating a physical good and selling it online? What if you are not already in the physical goods business.. you are expected to come up with an idea and make something that you can scale up to meet demand by Oct 1? Are software/info products feasible at all? Also, is the whole thing judged based on total revenue, or total profit (I could sell hand-painted Teslas…)?

    1. Paolo: Brennan from Shopify here. Yes, intangible products can participate in the competition including digital downloads, services, and subscriptions. Make sure you check out the Shopify App Store (apps.shopify.com) for tons of great plugins.

  23. Would love to join this competition but this doesn’t work for me. How would I use Shopify if what we are trying to get going a service not an item?

  24. I’m in. I wanted to build physical product earlier this month and when the 3D CAD model was done, plastic ordered, silicone ordered and all tools bought, i faced a problem with the design… and decided to put it away for now (that’s 7 days ago).

    But this competition seems to be the kick in the ass i needed to push through and make that product, which i really think there is a great market for. So instead of finding reasons, i’ll figure my way out!

    Also, the timing is SO PERFECT for me that i can’t ignore this opportunity and i’ll never be more ready than this…

    Wish me luck, I’m in!


    Note: THANKS TIM for the 4HWW, i am focusing only on this book, trying to master all important notions in it, reading it for the 7th time and taking the time to PRACTICE each notion in each chapter. This is insane that such a tool is only 15$ and some apeople read it and put it aside. The crazy thing is that i’m sure that if you’d sell the book 5500$ there would be MUCH MORE 4HWW success stories.

    As Gary Vaynerchuk said: “We are living in the gold rush of opportunities right now, and in a few year it will be gone. You either get in and take advantage of it or regret in a few years that you didn’t.”

  25. Thank you for posting this Tim. Just what I needed to read at this stage! I’ve been meaning to set-up my own coaching/expert business for quite some time, but busyness and lack of courage have been preventing me to fully step in into this project.

    I’ve recently started building my website (in between nappy changes and baby feedings as I am a new mum!).

    The Build-A-Business Competition may just be the push I needed to get me launched!

    Thanks again for making a difference in others’ lives!

  26. Tim can you comment at all on the manufacturing side of it? Is it nessecary to be producing and shipping items immediately or is just taking orders with the promise to produce and ship later enough?

    Some people including me seem to be a little mystified about how to start selling with just an idea for a product but no capital to start getting it produced.

    Can we use shopify as a way to take orders and determine/demonstrate demand… which will then help earn capital?. If you are taking orders for a product that will be produced at a future date do you take payment up front or after you have a manufactured product to ship out?

    These questions are holding me back

      1. Please answer! I’m curious about that too. Is this just for people that have acutal product in hand or just a concept idea?

  27. I would love to enter this competition, what i really want to do though is work with someone based in the us (or any of the other countries eligible for the prize). As a result of knowing several creative people over the years i have contacts that get me access to some unique arts and artisans in india and would really love to develop products with someone who is based abroad, has a designer mind. I can get get sampling done very? reasonably and so can get the shop going in a small budget. hopefully i figure out how to find the right partner. I am also wondering if someone wins ( but is not eligible for the prize , because of being based outside of the eligible nations, will they be able to meet their mentors if they are willing to pay tickets prize , get their own visa and arrange their own stay)

  28. Hey Tim,

    Thanks for all the wisdom & inspiration over the last few years from folks like you and Noah Kagan. I’ve read 4HWW and Noah’s “How to build a Million $ Business..” several times each.

    But the area which I always find lacking in guidance and advice is the area relating to patents, trademarks

    (write the patent application first? vs. go into production first? vs. do both on parallel track?) versus the need for protection when using outside vendors for prototype construction and then manufacturing. As we all know, NDA’s are worthless.

    This chasm has kept me from being a guy with hundreds of solid product ideas (wantrapreneur) to becoming an executor of product and business ideas (entrepreneur).

  29. Wow! This is totally awesome. I’ve been thinking about starting my first business online and have been looking for an exit strategy from my current position. This is perfect timing and on top of that gives me the opportunity to get more face time with you, Tim, as the plan will be to start a business in the electronics & gadgets category. By the way, we met last week at the Fireside Chat in SF which was an inspiration but we didn’t have much time to connect (did you happen to watch the video message I sent tweeted to you as a follow up? Here’s the link if not: http://t.co/8QPg7BXDWV). Couldn’t think up a better way for our worlds to collide than to enter a competition like this!

  30. In 4HWW you talk a lot about testing before you just launch something. Does this contest, or shopify.com in general abandon this principle? Or, would you recommend that we still implement the testing phase in what we do with this? If we are a reseller of a physical good and we have to buy a container load from China first, then I would think that testing would still be pretty critical, right?

  31. I have a Shopify store and really like how easy it is to use. It took me less than a week to get it set up and running and would have been way less if I had my copy and photos ready in advance. They have lots of cool new things to offer now. They are now processing credit cards directly, they can set up your brick and mortar store with to run off an iPad and tie everything into your online store including inventory. They also now have a great referral program. If you refer 5 people to them they waive your monthly service fee. There is also a 2 week free trial. If anyone is considering the contest or even opening a Shopify store I would be willing to pay your first month up to $60 just for the use use of my referral link. That would give you 6 weeks to get yourself up and running before having spend any money. I won’t post the link here but I’ll send it to you if you are interested.

  32. If someone wants to enter this competition but doesn’t have a product idea, you are welcome to mine!

    Several months ago I actually paid a professional to provide technical and CAD drawings for an eyelash curler (because the ones out there now are awful things)….

    The next stage would be prototype then get it manufactured then sell like crazy!

    Aaaaand since then haven’t taken it further. Now, I have a website that is doing quite well which I’m concentrating on, so just can’t see myself dedicating the time needed to get this product out in the near future.

    I’m open to someone willing to take it as far as possible – we can negotiate a price for the idea and drawings, and you take it from there!! If anyone is interested, let me know in these comments and we’ll go from there!

  33. Great opportunity, too bad I’m not from any of those countries… Do you know similar opportunities for latinamericans?? Thankss and good luck to all participants!!

  34. Hello Tim,

    We are living in Thailand, any chance we could be part in the competition? Would really love to give the business of my wife a kick.

  35. Clicked Join The Competition -> joined Shopify -> clicked Join The Competition again -> chose mentor -> was taken to the “university” -> have NO IDEA whether I joined the competition or not! Didn’t receive a competition Welcome email other than that from Shopify. Have no idea what’s next. The UX is not very well thought through (it sucks)!

  36. What a truly AMAZING week! Thanks so much Tim for continuously backing, blogging, being bloody brilliant and Kicking ass! Love your work, Cheers.

  37. The contest is not available for Europe!! 🙁 Too bad, I was going to start a business, but I won’t do any more.

    I am just kidding.

  38. Hi Tim, I am currently reading your book: 4HWW, because I’m at the limit of madness without knowing what to do with my life and work. I´m a 30 years old guy from Colombia and It was a luck to find that this book existed. I just took the challenge to write to someone important or famous and now the only person I want to ask something is you. Please try your best to answer me

    Even when conditions in Colombia are very different to America I know it is possible to achieve success here somehow.

    Three years ago I was fired from work on a domestic carrier because according to them I was no longer motivated … and it was true. I decided to create my own business (clothing store) and I went into debts with banks, it worked for a while and now I had to close the store due to low sales. I’m in debts up to my neck and your book is giving me a new hope. I am sure I don´t want to be an employed anymore, but whit this debts is difficult to recreate a new company.

    What would you do on these conditions so unfavorable?

    one thing is start from zero… another is to start from (-)zero. Please please please give me an answer. Thank you

  39. Thank you for sharing your experience as an entrepreneur. Anyone looking to start a new business may want to give this article a read.

  40. I want to enter but my problem is to many ideas!

    Idea one: Pillow swords- Sick of having pillow fights with boring ordinary pillows? Time to use Pillow swords! Pillows shaped like swords, shields and armour.

    Idea two: Asset store (untitled)- Need assets to create a game or app? From button graphics to sounds and 3D models, all available to developers at a lower cost then hiring (and without the hassle) of finding designers.

    Idea three: The Sleeve- Imagine going for a run and looking at your arm to see distance, time and speed. Imagine no more! The sleeve provides the power of a smartphone in a stylish way with a bendable screen, bluetooth and running on android.

    I’m not sure which idea to choose, so any feedback would be great! Also which would be the best mentors for these ideas?

    I’m located in QLD, Australia too, if anyone wants to collaborate.

    Also hope to see you soon in Brisbane Tim!

  41. Tim, Long time follower and thanks in advance for your time. I have half dozen, what I feel are good, product ideas. I throughly understand the marketing and promotion of products and have gained great knowledge from many of the resources you and others have tuned me on to. However, my question is where do I find the resources for manufacturing? Some of these products I just can’t bust out in my garage, they are a little more complicated. Where can I go to turn these ideas into actual prototypes and finally products that are packaged and ready to sell in the on-line marketplace? Again thanks for your time.

  42. I ditto this comment re:manufacturing……great question!

    And to echo my earlier question , how do we protect ourselves during conversations with candidate prototype manufacturers aside from a provisional patent? I think this is an area on which a lot of us really need just a little guidance. As always, thanks for all the inspiration!!!!!!!!!

  43. So, to ensure I understand this, you and the Shopify CEO created a contest that entices people and requires them to sign up for a paid account in order to qualify. Reminds me a bit of the auto-renewal sales enticements. On one hand, kudos on the attractive bait to get more revenue, and on the other, it seems more like a cheap gimmick to drum up more sales than a true entrepreneurial inspiration. Y Combinator and 500 Startups are two programs that both feel and act like entrepreneurial incubators.

  44. Love this and shared it with a friend that is starting her Inspirational Clothing Line. My start up is more service oriented like Eric R. I did not see an answer to his question. Any room for service companies? And if no, would you consider adding it to next year’s competition?

  45. Although I’m starting a little late in the game, I am excited about this challenge. Thanks for taking the time to mentor those in your category. Looks like I’ll have another mentor, but I’m sure they’ll all be great help and motivation.

  46. I am in the analysis paralysis, I have been wanting to create my own natural skin care range for about a year and a half now.I am lost in direction I think