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[Interview] Engine Studios: From a Love of Programming to Becoming a Top Shopify Expert

[Interview] Engine Studios: From a Love of Programming to Becoming a Top Shopify Expert

PageFly now supports over 23,000 Shopify and Shopify Plus merchants around the world. Customers find PageFly through different channels such as the Shopify App store, word of mouth, search engine, and others. It’s no secret that Shopify agencies use PageFly to customize the storefronts of their clients. One of our VIP PageFly partners is Engine Studios from Singapore. 

After joining the Shopify Plus Education partner day in Singapore, we had a chance to get a direct interview with Angela, co-founder of Engine Studios. In this blog post, you’ll learn more about her business, clients, and how PageFly has been a great solution for her clients.

Angela and Tuan at Engine Studios Office

Saturday, October 12th, 2019 - Engine Studios HQ, Singapore.

T: Can you tell me about yourself and your personal interests.

A: Ok, so my name is Angela, I’m from Engine Studios and I have a lot of (laughing) personal interests, so of course definitely programming is one of them. And I have a background in accountancy, I studied at Queensland University of Technology and then later on I actually did a second degree in computer science at NUS in Singapore - the National University of Singapore. 

Personal interest-wise, I’m very interested in sports and nature. I do all kinds of sports. I think I’m talking too much maybe (laughing), can we start again?

T: I think it’s ok! We can still keep this concept just more simple with the blog post. How did you start your ecommerce journey and your agency?

A: In the past I have worked several jobs. When I first started out I started as a web developer in a web design agency. And in the past,  have had the opportunity to work in a skate shop business where I was the operations manager, and in one of the pro shop outlets, we sold speed skates, hockey skates and aggressive inline skates, which is also (amongst) my interests - I used to play inline hockey and I was actually (on) the national team before, (where) we played at the FIRS Inline Hockey World Championships.

So, on one hand, having been in the retail industry I also have experience serving customers and in fact I created the website for them at one point in time, and I actually started a Shopify store for that business (laughing).I went to work for MTV Asia, so I was there for several years and I worked different roles starting as a Sharepoint developer and in the end I managed the MTV Asia website itself.

After my experience at MTV, I came out and started Engine Studios, where we started building all kinds of websites and all kinds of ecommerce stores from different platforms., Magento, WooCommerce - a lot of open source platforms - but in the end we found that Shopify was the most stable, reliable and easy-to-use and customize platform. We really enjoy using Shopify.

T: I’m curious, how did you find Shopify? Through other partners or just from searching?

A: I think at that time when clients came to us and asked us about ecommerce platforms we searched and did our research trying out all kinds of platforms and of course Shopify emerged as one of them. At that time most people were not willing to pay for a monthly subscription and they would actually rather go for say, WordPress or WooCommerce, thinking that it’s open source and would be free. But actually when you look at it, you have to pay a lot for the plug-ins and maintenance for these websites, and they’re not as simple as you might think because you need a programmer to help you solve any problems or troubleshooting. 

However, although you need to pay a monthly subscription for Shopify, there’s a really good support system. Shopify themselves have their own 24/7 support system not only to support merchants but also their partners, like us. From my personal experience, the quality of support is very good and the response time is very fast.

T: Thank you. How many members in your team? Are they from Singapore or do you outsource, etc.?

A: There are 6 of us at the moment, a combination of programmers, designers, project managers, and copywriters as well. My business partner Jeannie, she is actually remotely working from Vancouver, Canada right now and the rest of the team is in Singapore. 

T: I see, moving on to services, what services do you offer with Shopify? I also noticed you organize Shopify workshops.

A: Yes, our main specialty is customizing the Shopify themes, so a lot of clients come to us either wanting to revamp their current Shopify website or migrate their website from a different platform. So we do migration as well, and we have a really great designer, Shirley, both of us have worked at big agencies before. And we also conduct Shopify workshops to teach people how to start up their own store.

T: So what do you believe makes you different from your competitors?

A: I would say we have quite a long number of years of experience (laughing). And Shirley, Jeannie and I have worked with a lot of clients and gone through a lot helping them with any problems they might have. A lot of people like to come to us with problems and we will try our best to offer solutions, helping them to think about how to solve any business problems they have. We also suggest the best solutions in the market there is and most cost efficient, practical and creative ways to solve them.

On top of that, we also make how to videos to serve as a reminder of how to do certain things in Shopify for the special theme customisations of features that we add. This way it’s easier for our client’s staff to remember the steps especially if there is a change in staff.

We also personally believe in writing good code and documentation, so we utilise a git repository and changelog to keep track of all the changes to the themes, so it’s easy for anyone in the team to work on any project.

T: Ok, I see. So what’s your daily job and what’s your favourite part about it?

A: My main job is working with clients to identify their ecommerce business requirements and how to serve those needs. I have a technical background so I mostly spend time providing consultancy and technical problem solving. I also do hands-on programming myself. So mostly programming and interacting with clients, yeah (laughing). Solving these problems gives me a lot of satisfaction, and so does making my clients happy.

T: I agree, there are a lot of challenges especially as a co-founder during 10+ years, and  a lot of new problems to find. Now let’s talk a little about your customers. Can you tell me about your customers who are they and where did they come from? 

A: Our customers come from a lot of different industries. We have florists, online grocers, of course clothing/apparel companies, skate shops (laughing). Previously we not only built Shopify stores, but  also microsites for companies like DHL, MTV Asia - so we have some small companies and big ones as well, so it’s quite a varied group. 

T: Can you share with us what was a memorable client? What was a challenge they presented and how did you overcome it?

A: One of our memorable clients was Sasha’s Fine Foods. They came to us to do a rebranding exercise for their Shopify website. Previously they were called ‘The Barbie Girl’s’ (laughing), so that might’ve been a bit confusing as you can imagine.  Can you guess what they sell?

Actually, in their case, ‘Barbie Girls’ had something to do with barbecue. They were selling salmon and fresh meats (laughing). But one thing really great about them is that the fish and meats they sell are antibiotic and hormone free so it’s very safe to eat. They also make sure their suppliers source their food sustainably, so they’re very conscious about that.

I know that the owner, Sasha, actually goes to every single farm and supplier to check how the animals are  being raised (laughing). I’ve seen the videos - the pigs and chickens have a good life, they actually get to roam indoor and outdoor - so there’s no need to feel guilty for eating these products. 

So where we came in was to help rebrand them from ‘The Barbie Girls’ to ‘Sasha’s Fine Foods’ (laughing). We did logo design, for the website,  on the delivery vans and stickers on the products as well. We also revamped the Shopify website for them, with a new look to match what they really do.

T: For those who want to join the Shopify Partner ecosystem, what would be your main advice?

A: I guess it mostly depends on what kind of service you are planning to give. I would say most people  usually start off as maybe freelance web designers with clients who might ask them for ecommerce websites, which is similar to what our journey was like. Nowadays there are many Shopify academy courses for the customers and the partners. When I first started out, there was none of that so everything was trial and error for me and I had to learn through the forums. 

These courses are really great, I’ve watched them and they teach you so much, even going in-depth on how to do the digital marketing, and everything you can do with Shopify.

T: I agree completely, I have also taken advantage of Shopify business courses and they add tremendous value. Moving forward, you are one of our VIP partners with PageFly. Can you tell me more about how you first found the app?

A: At that time there was actually another Shopify partner that introduced you (laughing) to me by email and I became a PagFly partner. Before finding PageFly, I knew about Shogun and Zipify, which some of my clients were using, but once I tried PageFly I was happy with the additional features and how easy to use it is - what you see is actually what you get (laughing). 

T: And how do you use PageFly for your clients?

A: We build a lot of landing pages for their marketing campaigns, and the pages on their website, for example the About Us page. Because Shopify by default doesn’t allow you to create columns on pages, using tables  to make columns on a page doesn’t look so good on mobile phones. So actually that was the main feature we really liked, PageFly will make your pages web-responsive and you can see the different views for desktop, tablet and mobile within the PageFly page editor itself.

T: What was the challenge when getting started with PageFly and how did you solve it? Did you need to rely on the PageFly support team at all?

A: Because there are a lot of sections and within those sections there are smaller sections, sometimes it’s a bit hard to find or click on what you need. The buttons at the left of the page editor allow you to see all the elements, so that’s a good thing, but sometimes we need to customize it to a further extent to more than what PageFly can do. Certain things like PageFly tables doesn’t allow us to add images inside the table, so we had to use custom HTML code to do it. It would be nicer if you could add images or add HTML inside the table itself.

Ultimately, we are using PageFly because we want it to be easy for our customers to edit the page  without HTML knowledge. So that’s the whole point of using PageFly.

T: I completely see your point. These are great recommendations on what we should focus on to improve PageFly.

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Angela with her team provide different Shopify services including consultation, custom web design, workshops and more. Engine Studios is a trusted PageFly partner, so if you’re looking for custom service projects you can get in touch with them at https://enginestudios.sg.

If you have any feedback feel free to mail us at happytohelp@pagefly.io with Subject Line: (PF Blog - Feedback)

P.S. if you’re a Shopify partner and looking to join the PageFly Partnership program, read more here.
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