Entrepreneur and author Brad Feld once said that “building a startup community is not a zero-sum game in which there are winners and losers; if everyone engages, they and the entire community can all be winners”, and no one in the Shopify community exemplifies this philosophy more than Jon Kennedy. Between operating his two businesses, HeyCarson and Storetasker, and running the wildly popular Shopify Entrepreneurs Facebook group, Jon has made it his mission to bring Shopify merchants together to build a community that is supportive, passionate, and driven to succeed – together.
As an Out of the Sandbox partner, we’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Jon and his team over the years, and it has been so inspiring to see how instrumental he’s been in growing the Shopify ecosystem. He’s built a team of Experts who are dedicated to delivering a best-in-class experience for Shopify merchants, working with them on everything from small tweaks to store setups and custom development. He took some time out of his busy schedule to chat with us a bit about his journey as a small business owner.
Your first business, Hey Carson, was started in 2015 to provide Shopify merchants with support on completing small tasks, and as a result, identified a gap in the market which inspired you to launch Storetasker. Tell us about that process.
Yes, we've been on this little journey for a few years. It all started in 2002 when I started selling online with eBay. For years I tried to move over to my own platform, and it wasn't until 2009 that I managed to get something up with Magento. As a non-developer, I always had to hire help. Finding a good developer always felt like a struggle for me, but I never stopped trying since I didn’t want to learn development myself. I never knew what to ask or how to vet for quality - so I often made decisions based on price. Although I always figured things out, choosing who to hire based on price was often a mistake.
In 2014, I switched over to Shopify and I originally bought an OOTS theme for my shop. I was instantly able to do so much more myself in order to push my store forward. It was such a refreshing experience. I eventually got to a point where I needed help again. As I jumped into the Shopify world, I started to notice that many store owners had a very similar profile to mine. HeyCarson was inspired by a similar business in the WordPress space that had been running for years, WP Curve, who offered unlimited small tasks for a flat monthly rate. The HeyCarson small task service has since evolved into a sister company called Storetasker, an Expert marketplace for larger Shopify projects.
You clearly value the importance of partnerships with other Experts, and spend a lot of your time nurturing those relationships. How has this helped you in building your business?
I think this is a fun question because the magic of partnerships for me was sparked by an early conversation with Out of the Sandbox. I was fortunate enough to meet Brad Miller, founder of OOTS, over a coffee in 2015, just a couple months after we launched HeyCarson. By this point, OOTS was already the leader in the Shopify theme space, but even leaders have business challenges. With a short conversation, we were able to identify how HeyCarson could jump in and help relieve support challenges faced by OOTS. Since then, we've prioritized partnerships as a marketing strategy for our business.
You’ve recently launched your revamped website and marketplace for Storetasker, which also comes with an updated value proposition for merchants. How do these new changes position the business to offer the best possible service to your customers?
The vision for both HeyCarson and Storetasker is to help Shopify merchants get reliable technical help, on-demand, for a great price. While HeyCarson.com is focused on small theme tweaks and graphic tasks that take an expert less than 1-2 hours, Storetasker is focused on helping store owners with slightly bigger projects that still fall below what a typical agency is willing to take on. There is a huge chunk of Shopify store owners in this mid-market and they are hugely underserved. Storetasker is not just a place to get Shopify work done by a pro, it's a platform meant to build up much-needed trust systems for merchants and experts in the community. Our new services catalog is meant to show Shopify merchants more of the magic that is achievable with a good theme and Shopify.
As a remote CEO, what does a typical day look like for you?
I love working remote. There are some downsides, of course, but overall it's been the greatest gift of my life. I wake up, play with my daughter, have breakfast with my family - then decide which of the many neighbourhood coffee shops I'm going to work from. Slack is at the center of our remote team culture - so I catch up with everyone there. I spend quite a bit of time managing conversations in our FB community as well because I really enjoy it. I'm usually on partner calls or in-person meetings in the afternoon, before heading home to spend more time with family. I'm especially proud that this work-life balance is afforded to everyone on the team, not just me.
Storetasker operates as an entirely remote team – how do you foster a sense of culture and collaboration despite being spread across the globe?
Constant communication, accountability, and positive attitudes toward work and our customers are at the center of what makes a remote culture work. It seems like the culture changes every time we grow by five people, so we've constantly adjusted. We put a lot of effort into the hiring process to make sure the right people join our team and we’re getting better and better over time. We have clusters of people in different parts of the world, so there's a sense of community, curiosity, and respect. We encourage team members to gather in real life when they can. This has turned acquaintances into friendships and stronger working relationships.
There is no shortage of apps and productivity tools at our disposal to streamline workflow. Which ones could you not get through a day without?
Slack, Shopify, Skype, Trello, Facebook - We're a bootstrapped company but we're so grateful for billion dollar companies :)
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in starting and running your own business?
People. People within the business are the product, directly or indirectly. It's every company's most valuable resource and it needs to be treated like such. Learning how to find, organize, and develop professionals for successful outcomes is by far the hardest and most rewarding thing for me.
The Shopify Entrepreneurs group on Facebook has seen steady growth since it first launched. What was your inspiration for starting it, and how have you seen the group evolve?
The Shopify FB group has been my life's work. I started it as a shop owner because I suspected there were others around the world like me, who were working remotely, but were missing out on social connections. It then became a true asset for us to get the word out about our services. We've enjoyed sharing the platform with other Shopify partner companies and we've seen many members evolve from launch to 6-7 figures - many of them have used the network to solve really complex challenges. Of course, we have a few rules and spam is an ongoing thing, but the good far outweighs the bad. I get a real kick when Tobi (Shopify CEO) jumps in and leaves a comment or support advice on a seemingly random thread. It's great to know Shopify is watching, reading, and also getting value from the group. I enjoy managing and moderating it every day and I don't think that will stop.
Finally, what would be your biggest piece of advice to a Shopify merchant looking to grow their business?
Sell something you're curious about or have an advantage in over others. It's okay to quit and start something else but always focus on one thing at a time.