Start an online business, win $100,000

If you've thought of starting a business this year, but haven't gotten around to it because of the recession, maybe this $100,000 contest might spark your interest toward getting an online store running.

Shopify, a site that helps create online stores, is sponsoring a contest where the winner gets $100,000 for having the two best selling months by the end of June. Only new businesses with Shopify accounts are eligible, and monthly plans for the service range from $24 to $699, although the $59 monthly plan is typical.

"It's intended as a practical kick in the ass to get them started," said Tim Ferriss, a co-sponsor of the contest and author of The 4-Hour Workweek.

The low cost of starting a Web site removes the economic uncertainty, and Shopify can help turn it into something that takes less than five hours per week once the site is underway, Ferriss said in a telephone interview.

The contest was announced Dec. 14 and so far more than 600 new stores at Shopify have been created for the contest, said Dimitri Onistsuk, vice president of marketing. Some of the new sites include e-books, apparel, tea, T-shirts, bands and household items.

"They have to find something unique to sell and they also have to find unique ways to sell it, and that's what the competition is all about," Onistsuk said.

Doc Kane of Chicago has entered the contest and is launching on Feb. 1 to sell "cool, kind of quirky things that you don't see anywhere" to bake with, he told me in a telephone interview.

Kane, who runs a writing business full-time, has owned the Web site's name for years but never got around to putting the site together until now. "The real goal is go get a store off the ground," he said.

It doesn't cost a lot of money to open an online shop, and the typical Shopify user pays about $59 per month, which is often earned back within a month, Onistsuk said.

"Now is a great time because of the recession" to start a business, he said. It can be automated as a side business and promoted on Facebook, Twitter and other social sites to advertise, he said.

Facebook and Twitter have been the biggest revenue generators for Amanda Forrester, who started on Jan. 1 to sell diet supplements. She got her site up and running within a few hours online and things are going so well after only two weeks that her husband is quitting his job to join the business.

The recession is what led Jorge Martinez to start, which will launch in February to sell graphic design books. Martinez, 33, was laid off in April after three years at an ad agency in New York. He's now a freelance interactive art director at another agency.

"I am relieved to finally have some steady income coming in, but this layoff got me thinking about what I would do once this gig was over," Martinez wrote in an e-mail interview. "I need to think ahead."

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area who can be found at

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