THE BLOG

How A Fast Food Tray Turned Into A Business

03/26/2014 02:05 pm ET | Updated May 26, 2014

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By Steven Watts, Slyde Handboards

Few businesses can say they got their start from a tray. But that's exactly where I got my idea for the business I launched on Shopify.

To most, the inconspicuous fast food tray is nothing more than a handy device to carry your Big Mac and fries to the old rusty, immovable table on the beachfront boardwalk. However, to a 14-year-old spending his or her day on the beach, those trays meant so much more.

As kids, we would spend the hot South African days during the summer break generally making nuisances of ourselves and dreaming up all sorts of "wave riding" apparatuses from fast food trays to the trusty old flip-flop (yes, believe it or not, you can surf a wave with a shoe). I won't go into details for the sake of brevity, but let's just say the results were anything but favorable. I'm sure it would be concerning for any onlooker to see the results of misguided hydrodynamic principles being put to use on an eight-foot wave.

It was the lowly food tray that held the throne in our quest for wave-riding perfection. As is the human condition, we felt the need for perfection and innovation. Let's just say, not all trays are born the same. Of course, it became our mission to sort the wheat from the chaff. Tray hunting was serious business back in the day, and the need for the perfect ride often outweighed the need to not be chased down the beach by flailing armed restaurant staff.

Modification was rife and I guess you could call it early product development. In hindsight, what better way to spend a day than perfecting wave-riding machines? The lift and extra speed these improvised handboards provided were the driving forces that inspired a line of boards enhancing the bodysurfing experience. That was the birth of Slyde Handboards and a dream.

Fast forward through many years of travel around the globe and a degree in product design. I finally settled In Venice Beach, CA. It may seem random but it had been my goal all along and there had never been a doubt in my mind that I wanted to start my business there. Venice and California are where great things start, especially in the surf industry. Venice has an electricity and vibe that an entrepreneur can feed off of. I feel it's really important to be somewhere that energizes and inspires you on a daily basis.

However, it is California, and rent is expensive. Set up for a traditional brick and mortar style business was way out of the question, considering I had little more than a few hundred dollars to start.

I found Shopify, and it was exactly what I was looking for. As a designer, I was very particular on every visual aspect of The Slyde Handboards Brand. I am not a programmer, but it allowed me to create a beautiful website that complimented our brand and, most importantly, displayed our passion.

These days it's not impossible to put your company on the same playing field with the big dogs. It may sound cheesy but to quote Field of Dreams, "Build it and they will come." Shopify has given us the tools to achieve just that. Now, all that's left to do is inspire every kid in America to put down their iPads and PlayStations, head out to the beach and start "Slydeing"!

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Slyde Handboards ® was established by the founder and creative director, Steve Watts. Steve grew up surfing the beaches of Durban's Snake Park Pier, breeding ground for some of the world's great surfers, including Shaun Thompson and Jordy Smith, along with the odd bull shark. It was here on the shores of the South African coast that the initial seed for Slyde was born. After spending over nine years extensively traveling to many of the great surf destinations of the world (including the outer islands of Indonesia, both East and West coasts of Australia and New Zealand), and stopping off along the way to get his Degree in Product design from the central school of Saint Martin in London, Steve settled in Venice, Ca. to start his lifelong dream of creating a brand centred around the sport of bodysurfing.

This year, Shopify's Build A Business Competition is bigger than ever. Shopify is giving away more than $500,000 in cash, prizes and mentorship in its fourth annual competition. Contestants create a store and try to sell the most in their category for a chance to win $50,000 and a VIP trip to NYC to meet their mentor.