His First Venture Didn’t Work Out. Now His Shopify Reviews App Has Tens of Thousands of Users

When Peter-Jan Celis was brainstorming ideas for his next venture, there were several things that piqued his interest.

The serial entrepreneur had spent the last two years building an email arbitration product. He refers to it as the “small claims court for the internet,” which was legally binding in 146 countries. 

While the venture attracted a ton of organic and media interest, swelling it to the top of online rankings for several competitive keywords, PJ and team weren’t able to hit the revenue targets they wanted.

Some may have packed up their bags, licked off their wounds, and tried to pursue stable employment at another firm. PJ had other ideas.

His prior experience running and scaling a startup gave him insight into the marketing and lead generation issues internet businesses faced. PJ was determined to avoid some of the mistakes he had made in the past, and deemed it necessary to build a solution with consistent, recurring revenue.

“In my previous company I didn't like the marketing side, so we picked Shopify as a platform to do that for us. We also wanted stable, high quality revenue so we loved that Shopify allowed us to charge monthly for our app using their APIs,” explains PJ.

Building social proof

After considering several ideas for the Judge.me domain, one of them a dating site, PJ decided to go all in for a products review and customer feedback app built using the Shopify API. Judge.me came to life with the vision to build the best review app currently out there at the lowest possible price.

 

The first lines of code for Judge.me were written in January 2015. Since then, the app has grown to 38,000 active users according to PJ. With 7,400 of those stores paying a flat 15 USD / month, Judge.me has an annual revenue of over 1.3 million USD.

Growing with Shopify

Assisted by his CTO, Linh, PJ says the process of building apps on the Shopify platform has been an excellent experience, and one that he would “absolutely recommend” to other entrepreneurs.

“The app store takes away any marketing worries, allows us to focus on building products and delivering great support, with growth coming organically. We love this dynamic and think it's a great innovation that results in B2C level pricing for merchants using all those B2B apps,” gleams PJ.

The team has been so heartened by its success that they’ve built 3 more apps exclusively for Shopify. 

The list of features has grown exponentially, too. Other than its core product suite of automated review requests and review widgets, Judge.me also integrates with apps like Google Shopping, Klayvio, FOMO, PushOwl Notifications, and Shoelace Facebook Ads. 

For larger clients, Judge.me can also build out a custom review platform for a customer’s specific requirements. 

The decision to operate in Vietnam and build a local team in Southeast Asia has served the company well. 

There’s enough talent in the country to cater to its requirements and PJ explains that they have no plans of ever hiring “hundreds of people”. The idea here is to remain nimble, lean, and highly profitable. 

"In fact at Judge.me customers per employee and revenue per employee are important metrics as efficiency is something we care about. Plus, we don't cheat by raising prices or restricting our free plan,” he smiles. 

Hustle for success

 PJ explains that his passion has always been in charting his own path by building products other people love. 

“[For Judge.me] we did it part-time after work and on the weekends. It took us about 16 months to go full time. Growth was steady so it was a nice experience,” he says.

But while the entrepreneur has found the most traction on the internet by building web-based products, he’s quick to dispel the notion that he’s committed to the internet forever. Building software for other entrepreneurs is a “good fit”, but he’s open to pursuing business ideas that may not rely on the internet as a core acquisition/marketing channel.

“One thing we really like is serving the same customer base for a long time. This can mean recurring revenue with Saas in the case of Judge.me, or selling whiskey to the same fans every month for Whiskey.com,” says PJ.

It’s this commitment to learning on the job and building your own path that PJ values over and above anything else. He advises budding entrepreneurs not to get swayed by so-called ‘best practices’ or shortcuts to success. 

 “The essence of a business is creating a customer. If you focus on that customer and not on yourself, you will already be ahead of most of the competition. Then show up for work every day but don't overwork yourself,” he affirms.

Founders are often attracted by the glitz and glamor of the startup world, but it’s easy to forget that traditional, ‘boring’ businesses that don’t depend on venture capital funding to supercharge growth can be profitable from the get-go.

PJ wants others to “ignore the VC and PE firms.” He urges new founders to hone in on what will help them grow and stand out: their customers. Friends and family have to take a back seat as they won’t determine whether your business succeeds or not.

For him, opportunity is “everywhere” because there are so many things that need to be fixed. It’s essential to remain consistent and “overinvest in support” as it “always pays off.”

“Product innovation is the most sustainable way to build a brand. All company cultures have one dominant subculture, make that product and not sales or marketing for a low bullshit, real value-creating work experience,” attests PJ. 


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