Shopify has been going through some big changes after a year of monster growth.
Founded in 2006, Shopify found success with a business model of providing e-commerce tools to small and medium-sized businesses lacking large technology budgets. That success accelerated in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced many businesses to take their e-commerce operations more seriously, some for the first time, and consumer shopping habits shifted online.
The trends were apparent in Shopify’s financials: It reported 86% revenue growth for 2020. Its gross merchandise volume – or the total sales conducted on the platform – grew 96% year over year.
Insiders say that the past year has meant changes for Shopify’s culture, too. Current and former Shopify employees say there’s been a “wave” of turnover, both in the company’s C-suite and in its middle ranks. Frustration over how CEO Tobi Lütke and other leaders handled a series of racial incidents in the summer of 2020 also came to light.
Here’s a rundown of Insider’s reporting on Shopify, including recent departures, cultural issues, growth ambitions, and high-profile partnerships.
Cultural stumbles frustrated some employees
Current and former employees told Insider about a series of incidents in which they felt company leadership failed to properly respond to internal debate on racial issues in the summer of 2020. With protests in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd also taking place at the time, tensions were high.
One such incident involved a conversation among staff about the uploading of a noose emoji to Shopify’s Slack messaging system. As the discussions grew heated, Lütke changed a Slack channel where debate was taking place to be read only. A few weeks after, he sent an email to managers clarifying his stance on the role that companies should play in their employees’ lives.
Shopify announced in April that its chief talent officer, chief technology officer, and chief legal officer would be leaving the company soon. The news followed the departure of Shopify’s chief product officer in September.
Shopify works with more than 1.7 million merchants and has ambitions to attract even more businesses to its platform by launching new products and services. It also plans to hire more than 2,000 engineers in 2021. Shopify now employs more than 7,000 employees.
Here on the home front, reports that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is slow-walking legalization – he has yet to make nominations for the Office of Cannabis Management – have raised eyebrows across the New York cannabis world.
The New York Post reported that the delay was because of Cuomo’s anger over the legislature’s lack of action on his proposed MTA legislation. Sen. Dianne Savino, who co-led the push for cannabis reform, said that she expects Cuomo to be able to “walk and roll a joint at the same time.”
Speaking from experience, that’s much harder than it looks.
What else happened?
Yeji has a pairof stories in her series on what’s in store for the burgeoning psychedelics market. You should read those if you want to get quickly up to speed.
Growing quality cannabis isn’t easy. Biotech startups are chasing what Wall Street analysts say could become a $115 billion market for synthetic cannabis compounds. “It’s a biosynthesis revolution,” one cannabis biotech executive told Insider. “Biology is to the 21st century what physics was to the 20th.”
Tilray CEO Irwin Simon told Insider he’s not waiting on legalization to make a deal with a US company. Instead, the executive said he’s closely watching US cannabis companies with good assets and branding. “I’m making a big bet,” he said.
In the third edition of Insider’s psychedelic VC predictions series, top investors said they expect big changes to the landscape. Some said that many companies will fail as the market corrects itself. Others predicted a new era for psychedelic compounds.
Psychedelics giant Compass Pathwayssaid on Thursday that Guy Goodwin, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at the University of Oxford, would join the company as chief medical officer.
London Stock Exchange-listed medical cannabis company Kanabo is acquiring Canada-based Materia Ventures, to create what the companies say is the largest European cannabis company. The financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
Cannabis company Veranoannounced on Monday that it would acquire Nevada-based cannabis company Sierra Well in a $29 million cash and stock deal.
Poseidon Garden Ventures, Poseidon Asset Management’s third fund in the cannabis space, said on Monday that it invested in its first three startups: cannabis operator JKL2, cultivation tech company Adaviv, and dispensary tech provider Dispense.
Psychedelics company Field Trip Health began trading on the Nasdaq on Thursday under the ticker ‘FTRP’, the latest of a slew of psychedelics companies to list on a US exchange.
Atai Life Sciences, the largest psychedelics company in the world by market cap, said on Wednesday that it had launched InnarisBio, a company focused on nose-to-brain delivery methods for various treatments, alongside the University of Queensland.
Pennsylvania‘s Supreme Court ruled that the public has a right to review applications for the state’s medical marijuana licenses, Law 360 reports.
The House approved a far-reaching spending bill that provides protections to banks that work with legal cannabis companies, allows cannabis sales in Washington D.C., among other cannabis elements, Marijuana Moment reports.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is creating a Cannabis Business Office for the state, to promote social equity in the industry, The Denver Post reports.
Research and data
Legalizing cannabis federally would reduce arrests but could put some minority entrepreneurs out of business, according to research led by Carnegie Mellon’s Jonathan Caulkins and published in the Boston University Law Review. The analysis shows that expunging records for cannabis possession could advance social equity goals more than other reforms.
Hemp goes ‘hot’ – as in, exceeds the legal threshold of 0.3% THC – because of genetics and not environmental stress, as was previously thought, according to new research from Cornell University published in the journal Global Change Biology-Bioenergy. Hemp that exceeds the THC threshold can cause farmers to lose their entire crop.
Tilray released its fiscal Q4 2021 results on Wednesday, reporting $142.2 million in net revenue and $33.6 million in net income.
Chart of the week
Canada’s regulated cannabis sales are expected to grow 54% in 2021, according to Headset, double the US growth rate. The cannabis data company said that the Canadian market is newer and smaller than that of the US, making growth more noticeable:
Black creatives and media moguls have been working hard to gain equity in their own storytelling, but what does the next chapter of that fight look like?
Insider will host a panel on August 18 at 12 PM EST/9 AM PT on the future of Black media, moderated by entrepreneurship reporter Dominic-Madori Davis. Panelists include Michele Ghee, CEO of iconic brands Ebony and Jet Magazine; Detavio Samuels, CEO of REVOLT, the cable network owned by hip-hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs, and DeShauna Spencer, founder of KweliTV, a video streaming service dedicated to the issues, stories, and culture of the global Black community.
They’ll discuss what it’s like running a Black-owned media enterprise in the 21st century, as well as the challenges in maintaining control over Black stories in the US. They’ll reveal their career journeys and how how they’re increasing equity for the next generation of creative leaders.
Three months ago, Aaron and Christine Lager traded their 1,100-square-foot home outside San Francisco house for a 3,500-square-foot property in Huntsville, Alabama.
The aerospace and defense company Lockheed Martin had offered Aaron a good, well-paying job, and Christine was enchanted by the city’s quaint downtown.
Huntsville is one of the winners of the pandemic migration boom. The metro area had a positive net domestic migration – the number of people moving into a metro area from elsewhere in the US minus people moving out to another part of the country – of 8,964 from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020, according to the most recently available US Census Bureau data. This was higher than the 6,815 in the same period a year earlier.
We anticipated its success: In summer last year, as moving became a popular conversation topic, and people debated the best places to ride out lockdowns and work remotely, Insider decided to use available data to create a list of the best cities to move to after the pandemic. The metropolitan-area data, which was mainly from before the pandemic, covered nine metrics. For example, low unemployment rates, low cost of living, and high ability to work from home would likely lead to a higher place in the ranking. Huntsville came out among the top 10, in part for its high educational attainment and high share of jobs that could be done remotely.
Now that it has been over a year since we came up with our list, we were interested in seeing if people moved to the cities that made up some of the top spots.
As seen in the chart below, people did move to Huntsville and Cheyenne, Wyoming, which we anticipated. But two other cities we thought would do well – Rochester, New York, and Champaign, Illinois – lost residents.
But gains and losses for these metro areas aren’t new.
Huntsville, which came in ninth in our ranking, is a prime example. It had positive net domestic migration every year, according to data from the past decade. Meanwhile, Rochester, which ranked 15th in our ranking, experienced the opposite. From 2010 to 2020, its metro area recorded negative net domestic migration every year. We thought that COVID-19 might result in some new areas experiencing an influx of residents given the flexibility for people to work remotely, but the destinations of choice actually didn’t change that much.
To be sure, the census estimates don’t cover the full year of 2020 and aren’t the official decennial count. Others, like The New York Times and Bloomberg, have used US Postal Service change-of-address data to figure out where people moved during the pandemic.
One thing’s for certain: We were right that the pandemic offered a huge opportunity for some people to rethink where to live. Just because one in five (according to one Pew estimate) people moved during the pandemic or knows someone who did doesn’t mean they dramatically changed where they moved. And we didn’t take into account previous moving patterns to and from metro areas when coming up with our own guesses for relocators’ destinations of choice.
Below are our deep dives into four locations from our best-city list: two with positive net domestic migration and two with negative net domestic migration during part of the pandemic.
Huntsville was perhaps our best call, ranking ninth on our best-city list. The census statistics show that, over time, more people have moved there from other parts of the US than moved out. Outside the government-data release, an annual study from United Van Lines National Movers found Huntsville was the fourth most popular city to move to in 2020.
Why? Thousands of tech workers are flocking to Huntsville — Alabama’s unsung “rocket city” — for good jobs and Southern hospitality. The longtime NASA hub is luring Facebook, Boeing, Blue Origin, and other major employers. Plus, new arrivals from Silicon Valley find their money goes much further.
Cheyenne ranked 12th on our list of cities to move to after the pandemic, in part because of its shorter weekly commute and lower population density. Indeed, Wyoming’s rugged capital saw an influx of residents during the pandemic that mirrored five years of steady arrivals.
Conservative politics and wide, open spaces have drawn herds of relocators. Take Microsoft employee Troy Nowak, a California native who wanted to move his family to a place with outdoor activities, low crime, and no traffic. He chose Cheyenne.
Unlike Huntsville and Cheyenne, more people left the upstate city of Rochester for elsewhere in the US — in line with years of population decline that preceded the pandemic. So while Rochester ranked 15th on our list of places to move after the pandemic — in part for its per-pupil spending on education and share of jobs that could be done from home — it didn’t actually gain residents last year.
Betty Battaglia, a local broker, was shocked to hear that “American’s first boomtown” — a five-hour drive northwest of Manhattan and sandwiched between Syracuse and Buffalo — lost residents. She described a red-hot housing market with dozens of prospective buyers placing competing offers on each listing and pushing prices up.
It turns out that while people did leave Rochester in 2020 — some to head south or to other low-tax, warm-weather states, in a continuation of migration trends of the past decade — many moved to upgrade their quality of life locally. There was enough demand for homeownership from locals, in fact, that the population loss barely registered.
As Americans flee urban hubs for larger homes and a lower cost of living during the coronavirus pandemic, the Champaign-Urbana metro area seems like the perfect landing pad. It’s in central Illinois amid corn fields, about 135 miles south of Chicago and 125 miles west of Indianapolis — within a two-hour drive of either city. It has a rural but lively college-town feel thanks to the state’s flagship public university, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Champaign-Urbana placed third in our ranking, in part because of its shorter weekly commute and higher educational attainment. But it also lost residents during the pandemic.
Even as people leave Champaign in droves, the local real-estate market remains emblematic of the national frenzied housing market marked by all-cash offers, sight-unseen purchases, and creative buyer tactics. There are still enough people who want to buy homes in the college town, and inventory is so limited in Champaign and nationwide that demand has driven prices up anyway.
Whether they’re rags-to-riches entrepreneurs or old-money heirs, many of the wealthy have created their own family offices to oversee their assets.
Citi estimates that as many as 15,000 family offices have been created in the past two decades alone.
Insider spoke with more than a dozen family-office professionals to find out who the wealthy go to when deciding to set up their own shops. Whether they’re lawyers or wealth managers, here are 21 must-know family-office experts.
Hello, welcome back to Insider Advertising, your weekly look at the biggest stories and trends affecting Madison Avenue and beyond. I’m Lara O’Reilly, Insider’s media and advertising editor. If this was forwarded to you, sign up here.
As always, my inbox is open for your thoughts, tips, and perfectly shot pet portraits (more on those later). You can find me at email@example.com.
YouTube’s ad business jumped 84% to $7 billion. And it looks as if next quarter will be strong for the video property, too. Ad-industry sources told Insider that YouTube’s sales representatives had a barnstorming US upfront this year. (The NewFronts presentations ran in May.) Of course, it’s a fairly easy narrative to sell: Traditional TV viewership continues to fall, while YouTube use continues to climb.
Still, some of the volume commitments that YouTube secured were fairly eye-popping. Sources said in some of the sales talks, particularly for tentpole sports, YouTube was pushing for – and in some cases able to secure – 30% price hikes. When contacted for comment, a Google representative didn’t respond specifically to the company’s NewFronts performance but pointed toward company blogposts from earlier in the year highlighting how many people watched YouTube on their main TV screens.
Google’s duopoly buddy, Facebook, also had a solid quarter, reporting $29.1 billion in revenue versus the $27.9 billion analysts had expected. Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, said on the earnings call that its strongest verticals were those that performed well during the coronavirus pandemic: e-commerce, retail, and CPG.
Elsewhere: Twitter and Snap also reported earnings beats in Q2. And, for all you “triopoly” fans: Amazon is due to report earnings after today’s market close.
Track to the Future: Part II
Hold on a minute, wasn’t the sky meant to be falling for digital ads hawkers this quarter after Apple rolled out its App Tracking Transparency privacy update in April?
The simple, boring, and noncommittal answer is that it’s too early to tell how it’ll shake out. Yes, the ATT change immediately made it more tricky for many advertisers to precision-target and measure the effectiveness of their mobile ads. And there’s some data showing that some advertisers have even upped their spend on Android, which hasn’t yet rolled out a similar anti-tracking measure for apps.
But in spite of all of this, the big trends favoring digital ad platforms – the rise in digital content consumption and spending on e-commerce – were so buoyant that they cushioned any early underlying turbulence.
“While some were expecting major fireworks when App Tracking Transparency went into effect, ATT was never going to dramatically hurt the walled gardens in the short term,” said Alex Bauer, the head of product marketing at the mobile measurement platform Branch.
“Longer term, the full impact is still to be seen: Walled gardens have a huge trove of incredibly valuable first-party data, but ATT means Apple is planning to enforce an equal playing field for everyone,” he added.
So, there may be trouble ahead. Facebook’s CFO, Dave Wehner, warned investors of a significant slowdown in growth and said the company expected “increasing ad-targeting headwinds in 2021” from regulatory and platform changes, which it expects to have “a more significant impact in the third quarter.” Alphabet, too, faces several antitrust inquiries, both in Europe and stateside, and it isn’t immune to Apple’s tracking changes, either. Plus, Alphabet in particular will have tougher comparable year-ago quarter.
“Don’t worry, it’s all under control,” is essentially the narrative coming out of NBCU, where execs are trying to convince impatient ad buyers that events like the Olympics often deliver results over a longer period of time.
Ultimately the real test for NBCU won’t be its ability to peddle multi-mix modeling reports and charts demonstrating “top of the funnel” awareness but its ability to spin up compelling storylines for viewers – against the odds.
There’s precedent for it. As told by Disney’s executive chairman, Bob Iger, in his book, “The Ride of a Lifetime,” the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta, were a mess on the face of it too. High winds, fog, and warm weather meant many of the alpine events had to be called off.
ABC, the broadcaster for those games, pivoted to human-interest stories: the Jamaican bobsled team and the unlikely British ski-jump hopeful, Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards.
“Somehow it all worked,” wrote Iger, who was ABC’s senior vice president of programming at the time. “The ratings were historically high.”
WPP’s GroupM pulled out of Facebook’s media agency review. People familiar with the matter pointed toward Facebook’s request for strict contractual terms as one of the reasons – WSJ
The TV seller Vizio is cutting off some adtech companies from ad targeting data as it tries to build a TV ad business to compete with the likes of Roku and Samsung – Insider
Brands including Nike, AB InBev, and Red Bull have set up or are building in-house teams for esports and gaming – Digiday
Kuaishou, a Tencent-backed Chinese TikTok competitor, is on a US hiring spree as it prepares a big marketing push to launch “a new global brand” – Insider
The basketball star Kyrie Irving alleged on social media that Nike was set to release a “trash” sneaker collaboration carrying his name without his permission. Nike hasn’t responded – Bloomberg
Weddings are back! But this time it’s different. Brands like Zola and David’s Bridal are trying to cash in with new ad campaigns, digital services, and perks – Insider
And finally: Apple’s long-running “Shot on iPhone” ad series is back, and this time it’s teaching us how to take the sorts of portraits of our pets that Annie Leibovitz would be proud of. It is your duty as Insider Advertising subscribers to send me your results: firstname.lastname@example.org – Adweek
That’s all for this week. See you next Thursday. – Lara
Dr. Carlos Burnett, a plastic surgeon in New Jersey, has appointments booked every day until March 2022.
Burnett said he previously considered his practice busy if he was booked two or more months in advance, even as he services the upscale Westfield, New Jersey, neighborhood. The plastic surgeon said he had not expected the huge spike in surgery bookings after spending months without work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You don’t want to jinx yourself, but it’s something that I’ve not seen in 25 years of practice,” Burnett said regarding the high demand for cosmetic surgeries.
Burnett is one of several plastic surgeons who told Insider they are seeing record numbers of patients make appointments for butt augmentation and other procedures as pandemic restrictions lifted this spring.
Facial procedures and Botox saw an unexpected spike in demand during the COVID-19 pandemic, which the American Society of Plastic Surgeons dubbed the “Zoom boom” after more people spent time staring at themselves on video calls.
Demand for plastic surgery has extended into 2021, according to The Aesthetic Society president Dr. William P. Adams, driven by a high demand for butt augmentation procedures.
In 2020, surgeons performed 40,000 butt augmentation procedures that brought in $140 million worth of revenue, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. The number of butt augmentation surgeries – also called Brazilian butt lifts or “BBLs” – increased by 90.3% between 2015 to 2019.
Adams attributed the significant growth of butt augmentation procedures’ popularity to celebrity trends and social media. One TikTok purporting to show butt augmentation patients crowding in an airport line has 3.2 million views.
The surgery’s new popularity has even led to a meme: the “BBL effect.” Coined by TikTok creator Antoni Bumba, the BBL effect is the unbothered confidence of those who have elected to bolster their buttocks.
New York City-based plastic surgeon Dr. Norman Rowe said he’s seen a record number of patients inquiring about a BBL. A year ago, Rowe said he got a phone call asking for butt augmentation consultation around three to four times per week; now, he gets multiple calls asking about butt lifts everyday.
Like Burnett, Rowe said his schedule is booked for the next calendar year. His procedure numbers are 30% to 35% higher than last year.
Burnett said he believes demand is up as more of his patients opt to spend their disposable income on plastic surgery than vacations or expensive jewelry. Average national costs for butt augmentation dropped from $5,507 in 2018 to $3,329 in 2020, making the procedure slightly more accessible beyond just the rich and famous, Burnett added.
Brazilian butt lifts have also become safer to perform when done by board-certified plastic surgeons, according to Dr. Mark Mofid, a California-based plastic surgeon and author of the 2017 paper “Report on Mortality from Gluteal Fat Grafting.”
Mofid and his team at the Aesthetic Surgery Education and Research Foundation found gluteal fat grafting, or the process of transferring stomach fat to the butt, had a “significantly higher” mortality rate than other cosmetic procedures because surgeons would more regularly inject fat into deep muscle and use smaller surgical instruments.
Since Mofid’s paper came out, board certified surgeons have adopted safer methods of performing butt augmentation procedures. Mofid and the doctors quoted in this article said the procedure is safer than in the past, but cautioned prospective patients to find a board-certified doctor who can perform the operation in a hospital and who stays up-to-date with latest safety research.
Mofid added he’s now the busiest he’s ever been in his career. Despite the heavy workload, each plastic surgeon told Insider they don’t feel burned out because they are passionate about their work.
“Am I working harder than I was two years ago? Yeah,” Rowe said. “Would I trade places with anybody? Not a chance in hell. I love what I do.”
Mainstream retail investors are trying to get into private market investments.
Wealth and asset management firms are trying to meet clients’ demand with new products and hires.
Here are some of the people connecting firms and investors with alternative investments.
Investors are flocking to the growing world of private markets.
Asset managers and wealth management businesses have been scrambling to keep up with the demand from investors seeking alternatives to mainstream mutual funds and ETFs and looking to tap into big names staying private for longer.
Asset managers are increasingly focused on developing new alternative investments, namely private equity and credit, and getting those out to wealth-management firms, financial advisors, and their clients.
Wealth managers are also seeking to bolster their menus with products that were previously considered too risky or expensive for client access.
From private equity giants like Apollo Global Management to massive money managers like BlackRock, firms have been ramping up their distribution efforts.
In May, Apollo Global Management formed a unit to sell more of its products to wealth managers and individual investors. That month, Pimco hired executives from Blackstone and Wells Fargo to lead similar efforts. In June, T. Rowe Price poached a Pimco executive to oversee alternatives distribution. And KKR’s private-wealth team has tripled in size in the past year.
Insider has pinpointed key leaders pushing asset managers’ alternatives products to clients.
Analysts expect wealth managers’ allocations to alternatives for their clients to continue to grow. Morgan Stanley and Oliver Wyman pegged illiquid assets and alternative assets for the ultra-high-net-worth set to increase to $24 trillion in 2024 from $16 trillion in 2020.
Meanwhile, the US government has worked to get private equity and credit into the hands of small-time investors by loosening restrictions on what qualifies a person to invest in the space and allowing private equity in some retirement funds.
An enormous amount of due diligence and risk management is required when allowing more exotic investments into the hands of financial advisers’ clients as they can often be illiquid and less transparent.
Insider has identified major wealth managers’ top executives responsible for overseeing the menu of alternative investments that firms and their advisers can choose for clients.
When Jeremy Kim and John Dalsey started their hard-seltzer company, Nectar, late last year, they went door to door to 200 stores in Los Angeles looking for someone to carry their product. “We would go to these stores, drop off samples, and then, you know, I’d be excited because we’re getting all this positive feedback from our friends and family and their friends – these store owners are probably going to have the same reaction,” Kim told Insider. “Nobody would give us a call back.”
Kim said the constant rejection made him and his partner nervous that they had missed their window of opportunity by selling the summer beverage in late fall. That’s when they decided to hop on TikTok, which was surging in popularity amid the pandemic.
“First I put together a video, basically just chronicling our journey of how we got our first box and just to see whether or not anybody would be interested in the drink,” Kim said, noting that he added a phone number that viewers could text to show interest.
“I posted the video in early November and it did OK, got like 30,000 views, and we’re, like, ‘Right, you know, a hundred more of these videos and we’ll be the biggest brand ever.'”
The video showed Nectar in production – the cans of hard seltzer being filled, sealed, and boxed – superimposed with captions detailing the time it took to bring the product to fruition. Kim said they put a lot of effort into their videos regardless of whether they go viral: “Shooters keep shooting.”
A few weeks later, on Black Friday, Kim said that he got a notification that TikTok took down their biggest video for breaking community guidelines. A spokesperson for TikTok told Insider that Nectar’s video was flagged by the algorithm for sharing personally identifiable information by adding the phone number in the caption.
“I quickly reposted it, and I texted everybody in our group chat, ‘Dude, they took down our biggest video,”‘ he said, adding he was “freaked out” by the move.
Much to his surprise, the views on the reposted video grew tenfold. Three days later, Kim said the video had more than 300,000 views, and “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people across the entire United States” texted the phone number to express interest. As of Thursday, the video had 415,000 views.
The duo took the videos and hundreds of phone numbers to two mom-and-pop liquor stores in Los Angeles. They put 150 boxes on the shelves at each location and sent out a text to those who texted the phone number from their viral video to let them know that the seltzer was available for the first time to customers.
When they arrived at the stores the next morning, Kim said it was “pandemonium,” and Nectar sold out in under an hour. “I will always remember this day for the rest of my life,” he said. Since then, the popularity has only grown, with other viral videos gaining 500,000 views each. The company’s TikTok had 39,000 followers in seven months.
Nectar ended up hosting more pop-up events and gaining more traction on TikTok before eventually distributing their product with alcohol retailer BevMo and delivery startup GoPuff, which acquired BevMo in November of last year.
The company also made it known to their followers that they would take their product to any city that gets 300 people to text the company phone number and recently sold more than 300 boxes of Nectar in Seattle.
“Seven months ago, we had zero customers and followers,” Kim said. “Today we are in 100 stores self-distributed across California. We ship direct across the entire state of New York. We did this with no distributor, no publicist, no marketing budget.”
Nectar wasn’t the only small business that leveraged the growing popularity of Tiktok and the platform’s algorithm to launch their success. The popular video-based app has joined the ranks of other social-media platforms like Facebook and Instagram to help businesses build their brand and get their name out there.
Digital marketing isn’t new, but TikTok’s been a game-changer for small businesses
Analiese Ross, the CEO and cofounder of AMR Digital Marketing, said using social media as a marketing tool “can really level the playing field for all the businesses, specifically all different sizes and income levels.”
“You see like the big players on there – Nike, Coca-Cola – and then you see small businesses that have a fraction of the budget, but are actually doing way better on social,” Ross said. “And that’s like one of the very, I think, unique things about [digital marketing]. That really doesn’t happen in any other area of marketing.”
But what sets TikTok apart from social platforms like Instagram and Facebook, however, is the video app’s unique ability to make videos go viral. Ross said the biggest draw to TikTok are the fluctuations in video traffic, even if you have a smaller base of followers.
“You’re not going to see those big fluctuations on Instagram where, like, one post gets a million views and the other gets 200,” she said. “That ability to go super-viral and not have it be dependent on your follower count is very unique to TikTok, and it provides, I think, a huge opportunity for a small business who doesn’t have a ton of followers, who doesn’t have all those resources.”
Small businesses can use TikTok’s interest-based algorithm to get their product in front of the right demographic, Ross said. Whether it is viewers who are looking to buy a specific item or are simply coming across merchandise representing their existing obsessions, the algorithm identifies the viewers’ interests and puts specific videos into their news feed, known as a “For You Page.”
“I mean, you can have 200 followers on TikTok and have a video go viral, and it gets a million views and it completely changes everything for you,” Ross added.
“It’s really all about showing people what they want to see,” she said. “So Instagram is all about connecting you with your friends, with people that you know, and you have to be able to find those people and follow them … TikTok is just about what you like.”
That facet of the TikTok algorithm lent itself to the business concept behind Nice Shirt. Thanks!, a custom-clothing company, and helped build its following.
Hayden Rankin and Mason Manning brainstormed the idea of their comedic apparel company in October of last year because the pair “wanted to be able to monetize art and comedy.” Customers send in a prompt of what they want on their shirt, and artists contracted with the company design the shirt without the customers’ knowledge of what it could be.
“We had a few ideas, like, ‘Oh, maybe the customer could create their idea,’ or ‘Oh, maybe we could design something,’ and then, sure enough, it just came to this idea,” Rankin said. “Our interpretation is going to be put down on what the customer wants onto a shirt, and we’re going to keep it as a surprise until the customer gets it.”
“This is a market that we don’t really think exists quite yet,” he added.
Prompts from customers could range anywhere from designs featuring their favorite musicians and pop-culture fandom to suggestions such as “I like hedgehogs, but I also have borderline personality disorder.”
Their business concept lends itself to social media: Their product is the result of a conversation with consumers. While they do have 27,000 followers on Instagram – where some customers can post their order on their Story – and an even smaller audience on Twitter, Rankin said their TikTok account, which has 230,000 followers, reaches the most people, especially with the potential of their customers’ videos going viral alongside their own.
The next logical step after giving customers a surprise design on a T-shirt was getting the reaction, which customers are asked to post on TikTok with the hashtag #niceshirtthanks. The hashtag has nearly 50 million views.
Rankin said they noticed their growing popularity early, prompting them to caps the number of shirts they could sell in one day. “Because of the nature of the business – each shirt is individualized – we can’t mass-produce a ton of one design,” he said. “We found that we’re going to have to limit the number of orders because we don’t know how many we can produce quite yet.”
He added that as the company grows, the pair hopes to increase the number of allowed sales and continue working full time on expanding the brand and the appeal of comedic apparel.
Going viral on TikTok persuaded some small business owners to turn their side gig into a full-time venture
Like Nice Shirt. Thanks!, TikTok fame convinced another small-business owner to invest in their business full time. Alyssa Brianna started her business, Fabulyss, last July selling self-defense key chains and jewelry. Brianna, a 22-year-old recent college graduate, said she made herself a key chain after she was harassed on campus and later decided to sell self-defense products.
Brianna said she initially intended on casually running the business on the side until graduation, and she said she was only advertising products on Instagram, which mainly friends and family followed. About a month into creating Fabulyss, she decided to make TikTok videos for fun.
“And then one day, one of my TikTok videos blew up, got millions of views,” Brianna, who has 1.3 million followers on TikTok, said. “And ever since then, I’ve been selling out consistently since November because of TikTok.”
Brianna has since expanded her business to an office space in February and has two family members working for her. She said she hopes to get a warehouse for her products within the next year and do pop-up shops to meet her customers in person – a vision that would not have been made possible if she had not gone viral on TikTok.
“Because of, like, the algorithm, it changed my entire future. I actually didn’t want this as a full-time thing,” Brianna said. “I thought once I graduate, I’ll just stop it, but it showed me that I can just be my own boss and do what I want.”
She added: “So if it wasn’t for TikTok, I would just be working a regular 9-to-5 job like everybody else does, but instead I get to do what I want and on my own time.”
Going viral can put big pressure on a small business
Having their businesses go viral can be a welcome surprise for entrepreneurs looking to build their customer base, but it doesn’t come without drawbacks. For Clariz Marielle, who owns a custom pet-jewelry business, Woof Palace, millions of views generated a lot of sales, as well as a lot of pressure.
Marielle receives photos of her customers’ pets to turn into line-art drawings she designs herself. From there, the designs are engraved onto jewelry pendants to create personalized accessories for her customers, a process that takes a few weeks. Marielle posts videos of her design process on her business’ TikTok account, which has nearly 412,000 followers.
In one of her first viral videos, which has 9 million views, she talked about a customer stealing from her business by complaining about the necklace and refusing to return the product after Marielle granted her a refund.
“It generated a lot of sales that I couldn’t really handle,” Marielle said. “I mean, I didn’t think about stopping my store. So I just took all of the orders, thinking that I could draw everything in one week and then ship them out the next week, but that wasn’t humanly possible.”
Though Marielle scrambled to keep up with the new demand as a result of her viral videos, she said her customers started to complain and send angry messages, and some even posted publicly accusing her of scamming them.
Ali Mirza, a digital-marketing strategist and founder of #iSocialYou, said he has seen small-business owners and entrepreneurs getting overwhelmed by a lot of sudden attention from social media. Mirza told Insider that businesses can safeguard themselves from those situations by setting the right expectation and capturing customers’ contact information to notify them of a restock if they order when inventory is sold out.
He also advised owners and entrepreneurs that find themselves in that situation to remember that social media is “just one piece of your whole business. It’s not the business.”
“My perspective is, we want to use social media to build our business – we don’t want to be used by social media,” Mirza said. “I want to use social media to bring traffic to me, but then I have other aspects of my business to really capture that traffic and use it to my benefit.”
Since going viral, Marielle said she brought on her friend to help with customer service and her uncle to help with the pet pendant engravings, and she said the positive reactions from her customers receiving such a personal product gives her “so much drive to wake up every day and do something for my small business.”
“Seeing the reactions of my customers made me feel so happy and content inside because, you know, I feel like I created that,” Marielle said. “I drew their dog, and seeing them really happy and just cherish the jewelry is really what motivated me to keep going and do it every day. And ever since I think I didn’t have a free day for like six months, and it was so much fun.”