Scratch Your Itch


We’ve opened and closed a bunch of eCommerce stores in the past 5 years. The one that remains the most successful and still generates a decent monthly income is our first store –TOPI Covers ( It was one of the pioneer stores to use the Shopify platform. In fact, when we opened the store back in July 2010, we were store number 2716. Now Shopify hosts over 140,000 stores around the world and we are actually in the first 1% of users who started using it.

So what made us start TOPI Covers?

The answer is The Itch.

TOPI Covers came about because back in 2010, iPhone was all the rage and Android was still up and coming. One day, Irene went to Sim Lim Square to try and find a small rubber stopper for the charging port of her HTC Hero. She was tired of getting dust in it and concerned it would eventually stop working. However, she came home empty handed. The shops were full of covers for the iPhone, but had nothing to offer Android users. Mini USB ports, micro USB ports had no protectors and no one was able to tell her where to find one.

This happened at a time when we had both just read “The 4 Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferriss and were looking for a muse. After some discussion, she decided to go online to search for it. We were convinced that it could be found in the factory of the world – China. Indeed she quickly found a supplier who could ship directly to Singapore. Although the micro and mini usb port covers were not their main product, they did stock them and some other port covers as well. We then did basic research on Google adwords and looked at websites that were ranking on the key words we has picked. Most were forum pages where people were looking for the same product. It confirmed what we thought and helped us make the decision to start the business.

Within a couple of weeks, we ordered the goods and started planning the name, logo and website. The name of the company was derived from the Malay word topi which means cap. True to the 4HWW philosophy, we outsourced the logo design via Elance and got our logo for below $50. The domain was registered via Bluehost as I had an existing account with them. There was a slight learning curve when the products arrived as they were tiny and difficult to photograph. The fact that we were using a point and shoot without a proper macro lens did not help. It took us some time to get the lighting right and a lot of editing was involved. Fortunately, we found Shopify which made building the website portion a lot easier and we were ready for orders in a week.

The store launched on 4 August 2010 and our first order came in for 20 covers on 6 August 2010! Orders started coming in regularly for the entire month. Even at $1.99 per piece, it was flying off the shelves as people could not find it anywhere else. We broke even in the first month. At this point we had done virtually no marketing, just some basic Google ads costing about $50 and somehow we were organically moving up the ranks. I believe the meta data Shopify feeds the Google spider bots were part of the reason we were able to move so quickly. On top of that, we had a great product that people were looking for and could not find. Within a couple of months, TOPI Covers could be found on page 1 of about 5 keyword searches. We started getting corporate orders and suddenly we were selling them by the thousands. Our customers ranged from universities to hospitals to companies that build planes and even Intel has purchased covers from us. For a small business run entirely online, that’s not a bad result.

Since then, we have started other eCommerce stores that have not fared as well. All the other itches turned out to be not as “scratch-worthy” as this itch. It may have been a case of first mover advantage and being at the right place at the right time. Yet, I am sure eventually we will identify another good itch. In the meantime, do you have any itches that need scratching?

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