Not Boring Newsletter on Shopify: the Cadence Edit

The Newsletter Editing Challenge, v. 2

Quick note: I recently wrapped up a writing coach arrangement with Ari Lewis, host of the Mastering the Attention Economy podcast.We really enjoyed working together (see Ari’s ROI here), and he proposed I take on a newsletter editing challenge.

The challenge: Twenty edits by 22 September, the first day of autumn 2020. In paired blocks below, you’ll find the original and my edit.

My primary goal: boost the author’s authority through clarity, concision, and cadence. For details on my process, click here.

Not Boring Newsletter, August 10

The key challenge for v. 2: strike a balance between preserving the author’s voice and getting the paragraphs in the right order. Once you start moving paragraphs around, the style edit can slide into a developmental edit.

Below, versions of the first paragraph appear in succession, and large chunks of text follow. Original and edit separated by “~~~~~~~~~.”

Key metrics:

  • improved the readability from 7 to 6 (hemingwayapp.com)
  • trimmed the word count by 16%, and
  • added a bit more humor and flair.

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Since 2017, Shopify’s stock doubled, and doubled again, and doubled again. So what’s their secret sauce? Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke claims “[we’re] trying to arm the rebels.” And that’s true, if by “rebels” he means everyone. But … by providing universal access to the same tools, Shopify isn’t taking up a cause as much as profiting off the chaos created by a glut of arms on the ecommerce battlefield.


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Lütke, of course, borrows “arming the rebels” from geopolitics. When a big, wealthy, powerful country wants political change in a smaller, poorer, less powerful country, it identifies a guerilla group and provides them with strategists, money, and weapons. Think of the United States, the Sandinista socialist government in Nicaragua, and the CIA’s support of the Contra rebels. Or the Soviet Union, apartheid South Africa, and the African National Congress.  

Shopify is an amazing company. It’s full of great people. But it’s not arming the rebels. 

Here’s the hard thing about easy things: if everyone can do a thing, there’s no advantage to doing that thing, but you still have to do it, just to keep up. 

By making super-user-friendly, direct-to-consumer (“DTC”) software, Shopify increases market entropy and, as a result, reduces the chances that multiple companies will generate sustained profits over time.

Remember playing GoldenEye 007 as a kid? (Not you, Boomer.) Getting ahold of the golden gun the hard way was dope. Once players used a cheat code to arm themselves, the game sucked. 

But let’s stick with the metaphor: when everyone has the same plug-and-play tools, profits flow away from the rebels and back to the arms dealers. Rebels respond by devising new tactics to grow profits. And, in geopolitics, well-armed rebels often win. The Contras prevailed. So did the African National Congress. In Afghanistan, the Soviets withdrew and, shortly thereafter, the Iron Curtain collapsed.

Today, Shopify’s merchants are in the midst of a bloody battle for customers and profits. 

So what is Shopify doing?


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Shopify — along with Stripe, Big Commerce, Google, Facebook, FedEx, UPS, Flexport, Anvyl, Boxc, Kustomer, Returnly, Alibaba, to name just a dozen of hundreds — has flooded the arms market. Now, using off-the-shelf software and services, anyone with an internet connection and a credit card can set up an online store and sell, sell, sell.  

During a recession, that’s a great thing. Low upfront costs and easy-to-use tools mean low barriers to entry, and it’s not a bad way to pay your bills. Today.

It’s much less of a great thing, though, for ecommerce companies that want to achieve scale and profitability. Why? Well, now that nearly every piece of the value chain has become modularized, the battle concentrates in one place: marketing, via paid acquisition and brand identity.

Looking at the DTC landscape as territory occupied by thousands of well-armed rebel groups opens four key points for exploration: 

  • Why everyone gets rich in ecommerce — except the DTC companies themselves
  • Porter’s Five Forces and Value Chains
  • Who competition is good for
  • What DTC brands can do to succeed in an increasingly chaotic space

(Note: I know, I know. DTC is just a channel, but I’m using it here to refer to all consumer-packaged-goods (CPG) ecommerce retail businesses.)

Do you like paradoxes? Excellent. So …


Let me let you in on a little secret: COVID aged ecommerce penetration growth ten years in three months.


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When the pandemic began, we bought 16% of our things online. Now, we buy nearly 34% of our things online. That’s the kind of hockey-stick-curve growth investors love to see, and the valuations of ecommerce infrastructure companies are skyrocketing. 

In just the past two weeks:

  • Shopify crushed earnings. 97% YoY revenue growth, led by 148% growth in merchant services revenue (payment processing and transaction fees that go up when overall spend to Shopify customers goes up). Crossed $31 billion in gross merchandise value.
  • BigCommerce, a Shopify competitor, went public and popped 292% on its first day of trading.
  • Square announced Q2 revenue of $1.92 billion (up 64% YoY) on a 50%+ YoY gross payment value increase. 

Ecommerce stocks have popped over the past six months, too:

  • Etsy is up 169.7%
  • Shopify is up 118.8%
  • Square is up 83.1%
  • PayPal is up 65.1%
  • Amazon is up 53.4% (to a $1.5 TRILLION market cap)
  • eBay is up 44.3%. 

Even UPS, which delivers so many DTC products, is trading at an all-time high …


And that’s a wrap.

To learn more about my editing process, click here.

To check out the metrics from a recent coaching client, click here.

To check out my newsletter coaching packages, click here.

As of August 19, I have room for three coaching clients starting in mid-September. To reserve your spot today, click here.

Thanks! Happy writing!

Published by Randal Doane

Living the good life in NE Ohio. I dig science and the written word. Let's build something amazing together.

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