Shopify partners have designs on greatness

Half a dozen years ago, Chris Pointer was a website designer trying to make a name for himself like legions of others, working out of his condo and landing contracts where he could.

Then one day, he got a tip that changed his life.

“A friend of mine got hired at a little startup called Shopify and recommended that I come and find out more about them,” the graduate of Kingston’s Saint Lawrence College said in a recent interview with OBJ. “They were starting a partner program to basically help people who wanted to get on e-commerce design their sites. I said, ‘OK, I’ll give it a whirl.’”

That “little startup,” of course, had hit on a pretty big idea. Shopify was already well on its way to becoming the darling of the Ottawa tech community when Mr. Pointer signed on as one of the company’s design experts in 2011, a decision that spawned a successful startup in its own right.

The firm that grew out of his connection to Shopify, Pointer Creative, now employs a staff of 10, and the company’s revenues have cracked the seven-figure mark after doubling in the past year.

“That’s something that I never saw coming,” he said.

And Mr. Pointer long ago moved the business out of his condo – the firm now occupies a 1,000-square-foot space in the heart of the ByWard Market that used to be home to another fast-growing web design startup, PageCloud.

The 35-year-old Mr. Pointer was one of Shopify’s early expert partners, a group that now numbers in the thousands around the world.

Shopify’s experts are independent providers who work with the e-commerce platform’s merchants, offering advice and assistance on everything from website design and marketing to photography and building custom apps. The program is free to join, and Shopify shares the revenues it earns from its merchants with the experts.  

Pointer Creative is among Shopify’s most highly rated experts, and one of just a handful of Shopify design experts who are located in Ottawa itself. Today, the company works exclusively with Shopify merchants, designing their websites from scratch.

Signing on with Shopify has allowed Mr. Pointer and his team to work with rising U.S. brands such as MMA Warehouse, which sells mixed martial arts apparel and gear, and Death Wish Coffee, a New York-based coffee distributor that garnered huge publicity after it won a $5-million commercial that aired during Super Bowl 50 in February.  

“Their brand has skyrocketed,” Mr. Pointer said, a Death Wish mug sitting in front of him. “It’s really awesome to kind of be that close to that kind of success. That’s something that typically would never have happened if I had stayed in my condo working as a designer. You’re kind of riding (Shopify’s) coattails. It’s opened up opportunities that I would have never had.”

Most of his clients are now based south of the border, meaning Pointer Creative generates most of its revenues in U.S. currency.

“It is the ultimate business from a designer/developer standpoint,” Mr. Pointer said with a grin.

Still, he hasn’t turned his back on his hometown. His company has done design work for Kichesippi Beer – its product is on tap at Pointer Creative’s headquarters – and recently completed a job for the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, redesigning the merchandising sites for OSEG’s three sports properties – the Canadian Football League’s RedBlacks, the North American Soccer League’s Fury and the Ontario Hockey League’s 67’s.

With the CFL season kicking into high gear, the deal with OSEG came together with lightning speed. Mr. Pointer’s team did its own version of a two-minute drill, finishing the project in about two and a half weeks.

“With OSEG, it was like, ‘This is a premium brand in the city,’” Mr. Pointer said. “It was a really quick turnaround, but it was awesome. Not only do we get the chance to build the RedBlacks website – we’re season-ticket holders here – but we also get to build the Fury and 67’s sites.”  

Pointer Creative’s expert page on Shopify’s website lists a total of 97 testimonials from satisfied customers – the kind of advertising you just can’t buy, the firm’s founder said.

“I think that gives us a huge competitive edge,” he said. “Every day when I come in to the office and I look at my inbox, there’s requests. And they’re all driven from the experts directory.”

In fact, Mr. Pointer said his biggest challenge is keeping up with the sheer volume of work. The firm has between 15 and 20 projects on the go at any given time, he said, a mere fraction of what’s out there for the taking.

“We could hire 50 people and be busy,” he said bluntly, noting he receives at least half a dozen new requests from potential clients each day. “We just pick and choose the ones we want to work with. There’s so much opportunity.”

His partnership with Shopify has been fruitful, and Mr. Pointer couldn’t be happier about hitching his wagon to the e-commerce giant.

“To me, it’s a no-brainer,” he said. “It’s just a great environment to be in.”