By: Tomas Šlimas May 05, 2016

This post was originally published on TNW.

22-year-old Melvin Chee from Melbourne, Australia went from experimenting with eCommerce dropshipping during his semester break to a 6-figure business in just 3 months. He had previously started several different businesses, many of which failed spectacularly. Some of his efforts were featured on BBC News and StartupDaily, but his biggest hit so far was started largely by accident. It was a discussion he saw about dropshipping with Oberlo in a Facebook group that got the wheels turning. As he explains it:

I decided to give it a go after coming across Oberlo in a Facebook Group back in December. I thought, why not give it a shot as an experiment during my semester break, and that’s how it got started.

What’s Dropshipping?

eCommerce dropshipping store-owners can sell and ship products to their customers without actually ever seeing or handling the products. After you sell a product, you simply buy it from a supplier and have it shipped directly to the customer. Dropshipping is far from perfect, but it’s clearly one of the easiest ways to jump-start an online store.

Melvin got started with less than a $100 investment. All he put in was his time, a domain name, and a Shopify + Oberlo subscription. “Dropshipping allowed me to focus on what I do best; bringing in traffic and converting customers” he says.

Picking a Product Idea

Given the access to thousand of dropshipped products, Melvin started off by picking his store category — clothing. He then narrowed that very broad category down by testing a constant stream of ideas, retaining the ones that gained traction and removing the ones that didn’t work.

As a tiny startup, he knew he needed to find a niche to inhabit. The challenge in a clothing niche is the difficulty of gaining attention with a simple daily use product like basic T-Shirt, even if it’s competitively priced. The key for him was adding value to the T-Shirt through what’s printed on it. When you sell shirts with messages like “I speak fluent sarcasm,” suddenly you have something that will appeal to a specific audience, and you can use that to your benefit.

Tag someone who you’d chill with now on Friday night ? Shop now ?@apparels_co?(link in bio)

A photo posted by ?@APPAREL ? (@apparel) on

Melvin notes, “I first considered plus-size or fitness clothing, but then picked youth clothing and accessories with trendy hipster style, which fit the Instagram marketing channel where I had some experience.”

Launching a Store

When building a store, Melvin recommends putting aside your dreams of being a huge supermall, at least in the beginning. What you really need as a small startup is a simple approach to selling your products, and a basic online store serves this goal perfectly well.

You can go to Shopify or another hosted eCommerce platform, register a store, pick a ready-to-use store theme, and you’re ready to roll. Don’t invest a lot of time in customizing it or designing the perfect logo; that can all happen later as your ideas gain traction. If you lack confidence in your eCommerce skills, search for free eCommerce courses that can lead you through the entire launch process.

Keep in mind, however, that “building something nobody wants is the ultimate form of waste.” Making sales is the only proof of your store’s utility, so that needs to be your first and primary focus.

Marketing Strategy

Before actually launching his store, Melvin spent a good deal of time building an audience on Instagram. “Hands down, Instagram has been the greatest in terms of ROI on every dollar spent,” notes Melvin. In 3 months, he’s managed to build over 130k followers on Instagram and find ‘loopholes’ to utilize Instagram as a go-to channel for building an eCommerce business.

Tag someone who would wear this ??? Shop now ?@apparels_co? (link in bio)

A photo posted by ?@APPAREL ? (@apparel) on

Melvin analyzed Instagram content and shared what is already popular, such as clothing with humorous hipster quotes. He then retargeted the traffic he received from Instagram over to Facebook to further push the target audience to make purchases.

Instagram posts combined with relatively low-key calls to action such as “Tag Someone Who Would Wear This” boosted Melvin’s store engagement and reduced advertising costs, which in turn allowed his Apparels Co. company to quickly build momentum.

Melvin goes on to say that new store-owners must quickly learn to speak the same language as their customers. The first thing to do is establish a voice or theme for the business, as well as shaping the right image before anything else. He notices that many eCommerce startups are trying to speak too many languages to a poorly defined audience, which only serves to confuse the customer and fails to make a store stand out in a crowded market.

For those of you who question if Instagram is right for your business, Melvin suggests checking out Shopify’s guide, 50 Ways to Make Your First Sale, which he says is the beginner’s Holy Grail.

It looks like the combination of focus on sales, a specific niche product, and the right message delivered through the right channels worked quite well in transforming what Melvin thought of as a summer break experiment into a life changing business.

After serving more than 4,000 customers, Melvin sold his business to focus on finishing his studies. He’s looking forward to traveling as a nomad for few months, as he says, “to experience life while building the next dropshipping venture.”

Want to learn more?

Is there anything else you’d like to know more about and wish was included in this article? Let us know in the comments below!

  • Joey Degz

    Hey, great article Tom! Any advice for a novice entrepreneur that is looking to start their own E commerce business?

  • Targeting on Facebook:
    Over 20 years old.
    Interests: Doritos, Spongebob Squarepants,
    flex targeting: must also be >behaviors> lazy
    Hey wait lazy isn’t a targeting option… Oh wait.
    Add to interests + Facebook.
    Digital Activities>Behaviors>FB Payments>Higher than average spend
    Boom. money. ch-ch-ch-ching..

    Disclaimer: this is a joke. Do not sue me for using these targeting options thanks.

  • Hey @joeydegz:disqus, my best piece of advice would be to focus on sales/marketing. People often get hung up on the details (store optimization, design, brand, etc.), but end up making $0 in revenues because there’s no traffic to their store. I described this focus question here: https://www.oberlo.com/blog/ecommerce-how-to-start-and-succeed/

    Also, I recommend you download this eBook (at the bottom of the page) for more technical step-by-step guide to launching your first eCommerce store: https://www.oberlo.com/success-stories/

  • Victor

    what is the URL of his store? I checked his instagram but… there is no link to the site. 😀 😀

  • Inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

  • William Deng

    Yes, very strange that he has tons of followers on his instagram but not a single link to his store…

  • Andi Rismansyah

    amazing articel mr thomas

  • Angus McKinnon

    A lot of the “testimonials” on this site feel VERY spammy. Melvins site looks like https://eubi.com.au/ Seems legit. I used to live in Melbourne so figured I’d Google him 🙂

  • Angus McKinnon

    Minor update. He now has 3 new sites, and they look great. You can do your own Googling to find them. I’m convinced he is legit. Cynicism over 🙂

  • Mario

    Who can explain how to get around 6 k likes on the second post on Instagram??

  • h a

    no wonder people suck at e-commerce. too busy trying to find the fakeness or the scam. keep your comments to yourself loser. His “loopholes” on Instagram is how he got his followers for the sole purpose of exposure. It’s called leverage if you know anything about how to utilize platforms to gain traffic. Yeah it might be cheating but it’s effective. You obviously have no clue who this guy is and how successful he actually his. You must be blind.

  • k smalls

    Where’s the links? These success stories don’t seem legitimate.

  • Samiah Davis

    Every success story the website suddenly disappears….

  • Hey there! There’s a valid reason behind that: we simply don’t want to reveal the store names to prevent our merchant’s idea/niche/strategy from being copied. Hope that makes sense!

  • Hey! I just answered the same question above 😉

  • h a

    It’s because e-commerce is just one facet of his success. Oberlo was more like anew experiment. His knowledge goes beyond what you’re looking for.


  • h a
  • El

    And the IG account was deleted too? Because it’s so easy to build a 130k audience in 3 months.. of the 3 articles I have read so far on this blog zero seem legit.

  • Keithra

    That makes a lot of sense.

  • Graham Daniels

    sounds like a T-spring project!

    I tried to set one up. Its not that easy

  • Graham Daniels

    ref not showing the successful stores – Show us at least one – perhaps the one that you sold. I’ve searched hard and dug deep, using your name, but, hey – can’t find it. Come on – astound us or stop peddling this rubbish. More politely – put up or shut up.

  • Thomas Chambers

    Totally makes sense. Some people love to poke holes…Amazing article! Inspiring! Thank you

  • Sensation P

    Would there be a supplier in your marketplace who can make custom products based on your request? Like that of his t-shirt business with catchy quotes.

  • Hey Graham! I do not own the store anymore, therefore I’m not able to share it with you.

    I’m afraid we can’t share our users’ stores either to prevent their businesses from being copied.

  • What did you struggle with the most? Let me know and I’ll do my best to help you out!

  • Hey. Unfortunately, Oberlo does not have such functionality.

  • John Salerno

    What a ridiculous thing to say, why would someone have a business if they are afraid of it being copied? The whole point of a successful business is marketing to as many people as possible….this is 100% a scam

  • Sensation P

    Is it necessary to have a customer support hotline for your store? It is not possible for me as a starter. I don’t have any established customer service team. Or is it okay to just provide email or chat support instead?

  • Hey there! In the beginning of your business, chat and/or email support will be sufficient 🙂

  • Luke Bonner

    Hey Tomas,

    Thanks for the article, man. Just the inspiration we needed 🙂

    Can you shed any light on the whether it’s worth converting our newly created Instagram account for our Shopify store to a Business account or leave it as Personal?

    I’ve googled the crap out of that and still got no more insight.

  • Utkarsh Srivastava

    sir I live in INDIA and I also want to start a dropshipping store and sell my products in USA. Can I do this. I hope u will mentor me.

  • Hey Luke,

    I’d suggest to have a brand account. If your goal is to build a brand, not just run after a few sales, it’s better to start establishing it right from the start.

    Good luck!

  • Hey there Utkarsh,

    You sure can! First of all, you’ll need to launch your Shopify store. This comprehensive guide covers it from A to Z: https://www.oberlo.com/blog/how-i-launched-my-ecommerce-store-in-less-than-30-minutes/ You’ll then need to work on your marketing strategy.

    Visit dropshipers community forum for tips, tricks and inspiration: https://ask.oberlo.com/

    In case you get stuck at any step, give us a shout at hello@oberlo.com. Our Customer Success managers got your back!

    Best of luck! 🙂

  • Sensation P

    Do we have to deal with tax and legal issues if you operate a dropshipping business? Or its really not needed?

  • krishna kumar mv

    Hi Im KK from Singapore can anyone help how to do R commerce business and drop shipping i needs help how and which website to choose, How to select the products, here i want to purchase all the products which i given in my website if so how much appro.,. investment. Please help me Thanks

  • Hey there,

    It is indeed needed. Once you start making sales, you’ll need to register a business entity and pay relevant taxes. Keep in mind that business licenses vary from country to country, therefore I’d recommend that you reach out to a local government representative, or similar local authority, for more information.

    Good luck!

  • Hello,

    First of all, you’ll need to launch your Shopify store. This guide covers it from A to Z: https://www.oberlo.com/blog/how-i-launched-my-ecommerce-store-in-less-than-30-minutes/

    The next step will be choosing the right marketing strategy. Most dropshippers start with Facebook ads and they’re sufficient in the beginning. If you don’t have experience with it, this tutorial will come in handy: https://www.oberlo.com/guides/facebook-tutorial-launching-first-campaign

    In case you get stuck at any step, there’s a massive active dropshippers community on Oberlo ask forum: https://ask.oberlo.com/. They’ll be ready to answer all the questions you have.

    For assistance with Oberlo settings in particular, visit our Help Center at https://help.oberlo.com/ or reach out to Oberlo Customer Success Managers at hello@oberlo.com. These guys got your back!

    Can’t wait to see your store grow! Best of luck 🙂

  • Francis Edet

    You talked about sales/marketing, please where can you recommend me me to start learning about sales/marketing.



  • Francis Edet

    WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO COPY SOME ELSE BUSINESS? Users Businesses cant be publicize due to copy infringement policies.

  • Hey there Francis,

    Most of dropshippers start with Facebook ads. We’ve put together a series of tutorial that can help you launch your first Facebook campaign. Check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oce_bNA5obM

    In addition to Facebook ads, there’re more marketing methods, such as Instagram ads, email marketing, Snapchat ads, etc. This blog is a good resource to learn about them all – devote some time browsing through.

    Good luck!

  • Francis Edet

    How can I design a professional shopify design ?

  • You don’t need to do a store design yourself. Shopify has a number of themes to choose from (both free and paid). Here’s a list: https://themes.shopify.com/

    If you’re unsure which theme would work best for your business, this article might help: https://www.oberlo.com/blog/how-to-choose-ecommerce-store-theme

    Best of luck!

  • Utkarsh Srivastava

    Thnxx sir

  • Mandy Duff

    Hi Tomas, can you suggest any reading material / forums / websites which actually delve into ‘tageting’ for facebook ads? My store looks good, I have picked good products, I make good facebook ads … however when it comes to selecting keywords, behaviours, interests for facebook ads, I completely fail ! I believe I am selecting the right criteria, but my results are low to none. Could my ad spend have something to do with it also? Everyone says to start out with $10/day ads … does that really work? Do I choose conversion or traffic? Approx what number should be target audience be 250K – $400K??? These are all questions that I cannot seem to get a direct answer from anyone or any webinar I watch.

  • Hey, Mandy,

    Did you have a chance to check the Facebook ads series that we recently launched? We touch upon targeting there too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oce_bNA5obM&list=PLbam2U6VuWtkh2p7dRutEzVdznbsLYoag

    I also enjoy these blogs a lot: Jonloomer.com; digitalmarketer.com. Give them a try.

    Regarding the budget: there is no magic number at where you should start. Start at the budget you’re comfortable to spend even if you don’t get any conversions, because at first it’s pretty hard to get them.

    As for the objective, go for conversions – lift conversion event a bit up. This means – select conversion event “View Content”. After a while, when you’ll get more Added to Cart event, you can go lower and start optimizing on Add to Cart. In the end, you should be able to optimize on Purchase event. Basically, you need 20 – 25 conversions per week on the specific conversion event, like Add to Cart, Purchase and so on, for Facebook’s algorithm to work properly.

    Hope this helps! Best of luck!

  • Utkarsh Srivastava

    Hello sir,I wanna ask u that I have a sbi global debit card and I have also enabled international transaction yet I am not able to buy shopify plan with this.plz help me.

  • Utkarsh Srivastava

    I want to know why I m not able to buy a shopify plan by using my sbi global debit card from India.

  • Utkarsh Srivastava

    Sir is there any way to pay for shopify without credit card.Ability is also not accepting my ability global debit card payment.

  • Hey,

    Did you try contacting Shopify support https://www.shopify.com/contact ? I’m sure they’ll be able to assist!

    Good luck!

  • 松本 せりか

    thanks for sharing! this gave me more guts to focus on my business!

  • Philip Ofor

    Hi Tomas, thanks for your inspiration…Pls is oberlo a plugin or what…help me understand better.. thanks.

  • Leah

    Its now alsmost 9 months when i started with shopify and i havent gotten any sales at all.I even redesigned my shop by the help of a shopify master but still didnt get any sales.Don FB ads,also been using kit,beekiting and ad-words as well.vinod partner advertising also but nothing.can someone help as i feel like i will shut it down. http://www.visual-vogue.com

  • Thomas Daniels

    Been trying to drop ship on ebay and finding it hard to make sales, any tips. I live in Japan and want to work full time online.

  • Hey, Philip!

    Oberlo is an application, which allows you to easily import dropshipped products into a Shopify store and ship them directly to your customers – in only a few clicks.

    To find out more, have a look at our beginner’s guide here: https://help.oberlo.com/welcome-to-oberlo/how-dropshipping-with-oberlo-works

    If there is anything else you would like to know, drop us a line at hello@oberlo.com!

  • Hi, Leah!

    It is quite difficult to give some advice when we do not know more details about the campaigns you ran. At first, you need to identify where the problem occurs. If you are not getting enough traffic to your store, maybe you are promoting products not to the right people. If you drive lots of traffic, however, someone hardly buys from your store, this means the problem can be with your website, product description, payment gateways or trust.

    I recommend spending more time analyzing your marketing results and making some decisions!

  • Hey, Thomas!

    I recommend trying publishing and promoting your products on other sales channels such as Facebook, Instagram, Blogs, etc. But at first, you should identify your target market!

    If you need more assistance, drop us a line at hello@oberlo.com!

  • Utkarsh Srivastava