Launching an Online Store and Documenting the Journey


Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?

I’m Dennis and I run an online store called Apes In Space where I sell space posters.

Space is one of the few things reminds us that we’re really a tiny speck in the whole universe. Since the stars aren’t visible in a lot of places, I want to use these posters is to bring a little bit of space back into our daily lives.

The store is about six months old and revenue has been slowly increasing. February was the biggest month yet with over $1,300 in sales.


What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I’ve been an e-commerce consultant to for about seven years. And during most of that time, I’ve blogged about what I learn from these client projects. But, I’m always pretty limited to what I can share openly due to client confidentiality.

For this reason, I started an online store where I document and share everything.

The goal was not to build the most amazing business – but to have an honest and truthful account of what it takes to start and grow an online store, and also because the “make money online” world is littered with BS.

Seeing the inner workings of another business gives them ideas to try for their own projects, but also resets their expectations to something that’s a little more realistic.

When it comes to the e-commerce side of it, people would have you believe they are making seven figures dropshipping shitty AliExpress products. However, the reality is a lot more sobering.

Starter Story is a good counterweight to that. You get to see actual revenues and work from real people. And it’s exactly why I started Apes In Space.

The results aren’t amazing (yet). Progress has been slow and I’ve invested a lot of time into the project. But I love trying out new ideas that I could never test with clients. And the response has been good as well.

A lot of people have reached out to say that my monthly updates on my blog have really helped them. Seeing the inner workings of another business gives them ideas to try for their own projects, but also resets their expectations to something that’s a little more realistic.

Describe the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing the product.

I don’t have a complicated production process. I search the web for great images that have been released into the public domain and on put them on a poster.

Then when someone orders, the poster is printed and shipped directly to the customer.

So one weekend in September, I decided I was going to do this and launch with products available for sale come the next Monday morning.

These last two steps are handled by my printer, Printful. I had done a project with them before and liked their platform and support.

After some research, I realized they were still the biggest player on the market, so I decided to use them again. The added benefit of using Printful is that they have two fulfillment centers. One in the US and one in Europe. That allows me to ship faster and cheaper to my customers.

As far as legal stuff, I already had an existing business incorporated, so I was simply able to plug this new one into that.

Describe the process of launching the online store/business.

I had been sitting on the idea of starting my own online store as a case study for a long time. And it always felt like it never was the right time to actually do it.

So one weekend in September, I decided I was going to do this and launch with products available for sale come the next Monday morning.

That really motivated me. I live-tweeted and live-streamed the whole process on YouTube. Everything from coming up with the name, store setup, logo, products, payment stuff, etc.

This drive to just get something out was really motivating. After about ten hours, the store was up and running and someone stumbled onto the website and made the first purchase!

Today, I think I’m still in the process of launching the store. Revenue has been up and down over the last couple of months. So, until I discover one reliable way to bring in traffic in sales, I’m still ‘starting out’.

My biggest takeaway from this launch is just to get started.

I’ve had way too many ideas that have died inside of my to-do list. Apes In Space might not be perfect, but it’s out there, making sales and gathering data. Now I can improve an existing project, which is a lot easier than shipping the first version.

Since launch, what has worked to attract new customers?

After the buzz of the launch (I shared it with my personal network and posted it in a couple of Facebook groups) the traffic died down again.

During the launch, I had the idea that I could start a “Today In Space History” blog that would cover historic space events. It would also perfectly tie into my posters because I would use these exact images for my posters.

So far I’ve written about 50 articles about space history events. With each article, it also gives me content to promote on Facebook, in Facebook groups or on Twitter. Here is an example of the anniversary of the Apollo 8 launch.


But from my experience, I know SEO can take a very long time to kick in. So I knew I needed some short-term wins to keep my motivation going. That’s why I turned to Facebook Ads and Google Adwords.

I’ve figured out how to get cheap traffic (less than $0.05/click) from Facebook Ads. But I’ve still got no system in place to convert the traffic. So, for now, I see it as a way of branding and promotion of the articles. My Google Adwords ads are doing a lot better. They still need some tweaks, but they’re driving some sales.

Another benefit from the articles about space is that they are a good way to discover what resonates with your audience. Last December, I wrote a post about the anniversary of the first successful SpaceX landing of a rocket after launch. I also posted a video of this event on my Facebook page which really took off. I had 100+ views despite only having 23 likes on my page (mostly friends and family).

So I learned to pay more attention to what SpaceX was doing. And when they launched their new rocket, the Falcon Heavy, I made sure I had a blog post about the event and posters with the actual images up as soon as possible.


That worked, I saw a $1,000 bump in sales from that campaign alone. I’ve documented this launch in detail.

So right now I’m experimenting with the following marketing channels (in order of importance):

  • Content marketing: writing articles about space history
  • Google Adwords: promoting categories and products
  • Facebook organic: posting articles and products
  • Facebook ads: boosting organic posts that do well
  • Instagram: posting great space images
  • Email marketing: automated ones like a cart abandonment email

Something that has always worked well for me is to focus on the intersection of what I’m good at and where my customers are at. I’m always looking how I can use content creation and advertising to reach a particular audience.

A lot of people think they have to do X or Y for marketing just because their competitors do the same. But if you hate the way you sound on video, you’re going to get burned out pretty quickly making videos promoting your brand. So, choose wisely.

How is everything going nowadays, and what are your plans for the future?

Like I said before, I’ve got the feeling like I’m still in the early stages of this business. The few sales I have made are proof that there is a market out there and that my products are attractive to them.

So currently I spend most of my time on marketing.

In the next few weeks, I want to get my email automation in place. That will take care of new email subscribers and remind existing customers what’s happening with the store.

I would like to outsource the majority of the article writing for the blog, which isn’t cheap. I’m using this online store as a case study, so I don’t mind losing a little money to try all sorts of cool stuff. But even if I hire mediocre writers, it will easily increase costs by $500-600/month.

So before I do that, I need to get closer to profitability. I’ll probably do this by increasing prices and by keeping the other costs in check (especially the ads).

If I manage to do the above, I think the store should be providing more consistent sales.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

My biggest lesson has been to always listen to your market to find out what works.

And something that works might not be a flood in sales. It can be a simple as getting a few comments on a blog post where all your other posts didn’t get any comments. What was it about that one that got people to care enough? Can you do more of it? Can you tweak your approach slightly to get more from your work?

This is exactly how I stumbled into a sales bump with the Falcon Heavy launch.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

I never do much comparison shopping. That’s why I like Shopify so much, the ecosystem is well developed. So if an app surfaces to the top of their app store, the quality and support will be high quality as well.

Here are the tools I’m currently using:
Printful – Printer on demand.
Privy: Email popups with discount codes
Bold Multi Currency: To display the prices in my visitor’s currency
Beeketing Personalized recommendations: Shows related products on the product page
Beeketing Sales Pop: Adds some social proof
Klaviyo: Email marketing tool
Stripe: Handles payments

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources for your business?

This project is a mashup of everything that I’ve learned, read, heard about throughout the years.

I’ve learned a lot from a couple of Facebook groups, Shopify Entrepreneurs in particular. It has a super high signal to noise ratio. That’s mostly thanks to the hard work by Jonathan Kennedy and the admins who run the group.

When it comes to marketing books, I really like Traction by Gabriel Weinberg. It gives you a bunch of marketing ideas, but more importantly, it shows you the mindset you need to test these different ideas.

Another book that had a big impact on me was Purple Cow by Seth Godin. E-commerce is super competitive. So you need to do new, weird, unique or remarkable things to stand out with your business.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

When you’re starting out, I think it’s important to know why you’re starting your store:

  • What makes you unique to start this one?
  • Why should people care?

If you have good responses to those questions (don’t lie to yourself), make sure it is reflected in your store and brand.

Many people that I speak to either don’t have a compelling reason for their store to exist, or they have a great reason, but fail to bring it out.

Where can we go to learn more?

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