Gretta van Riel – from broke to multi-millionaire with the help of Instagram and Shopify

Gretta van Riel – from broke to multi-millionaire with the help of Instagram and Shopify

From $24 in her bank account to earning millions

If you’re looking to one day launch your own branded product online and need some inspiration and useful tips, keep reading to the very end of this article for all the in and outs of a unique Shopify success story. 

You will see how with the power of social media marketing, Instagram influencers and the Shopify ecommerce platformGretta Van Riel went from having $24 in her bank account to owning several multi-million dollar businesses and becoming one of the biggest names in influencer marketing in a relatively short space of time. How can you not be inspired?

From zero to four thriving businesses with Instagram and Shopify 

Gretta’s business success is just one of many examples of how Instagram influencer marketing and a solid ecommerce platform like Shopify can turn high levels of social engagement into equally high numbers of sales.  

In a classic zero-to-hero story, this Australian entrepreneur has created a total of four different multi-million businesses (SkinnyMe Tea, the 5th Watches, Dropbottle and Skin Tox ) since 2014 based on listening to her potential markets and creating engagement with that audience through social media 

In addition to her four very successful businesses, Gretta has established Hey!, an influencer marketing platform that connects brands with influencers. 

Leveraging Instagram to take a business to new heights 

The main social media channel for Gretta continues to be Instagram, where she has amassed 16 million followers, across 25 different Instagram business accounts, and has worked with more than 5,000 different influencers. 

Gretta found Instagram to be the perfect launch pad to drive engagementcreate brand awarenessbuild a loyal following and ultimately achieve the intended goal of driving more sales. 

Shopify was the link between driving engagement on Instagram and other social media channels and generating sales.  

As the rise of these brands was so sudden, the scalability offered by the Shopify allowed for the continued growth of her various businesses.

Passion, market research and a unique product are the first steps 

The year is 2012. Gretta is 22 and working in digital marketing. She has a passion for healthy lifestyle and for tea, which led her to experiment with different blends of tea with the objective of creating aa unique detox experience 

The experiments started to attract the attention of her friends and co-workers, and many wanted to try these mysterious brews. 

After a few months, Gretta was taking orders through Facebook Messenger and through her e-mail account.  

Friends were enjoying the taste combinations and the health benefits from her detox tea creations Gretta had a feeling she was on to something with her tea.

Order overload… Shopify to the rescue 

As a result, the number of orders became too much to handle. Gretta soon realized that she needed help. One Monday morning, Gretta decided to turn to Shopify, and has never looked back.  

She created a store called SkinnyMe Tea (SMT) and made four sales via her store on the first day, from four buyers she didn’t even know.  

The business quickly grew, going from an incredible zero to 600,000 customers in just a month 

Gretta’s first year revenue for SMT was a staggering $7.2 millionSMT won the Shopify Build-A-Business competition in 2013 and Gretta flew to New York to meet the Shopify advisors team, which was the start of a close relationship between Gretta and Shopify. 

Why stop at one successful Shopify store? 

Most entrepreneurs would have been content with the remarkable success of SMT, but not Gretta.  

She discovered untapped opportunities and two years later, she partnered with Alex McBride to launch a new company The 5th Watches. 

The 5th Watches would focus on exclusivity and scarcity strategies to sell quality watches for under $200 each only on the 5th day of each month, for 5 days only 

Sounds crazy when there are potentially at least 28 days in any given month to sell as much as possible, but it worked. 

Again, leveraging the power of social media influencing, they made $100,000 on the first day and a $1 million on the first anniversary of the brand. 

In the following years, Gretta introduced a new product called DROP Bottle, a solution to incentivise the consumption of water while supporting a charity organisation. 

Gretta’s fourth business venture is called Skintox, offering a range of quality skin care products which she describes as “A skincare range designed with simplicity in mind to detoxify your skin from the outside, in”. 

Gretta then started Hey Influencers (originally called Nichify) as a platform to match brands and influencers. 

Know your target audience first 

Her signature strategy involves using social media to reach and study the target audience before fully developing a product.  

With this development strategy, interest and hype are generated early on, leading to a greater anticipation and larger sales numbers from day one when the product hits the market. 

Instagram is a very powerful marketing tool 

Gretta started by harnessing the power of mostly Instagram, by sharing the tea detox programs she created.  

As the quality of her products started to impress her friends and co-workers, she opened a Shopify store to ensure that she had a solid a reliable ecommerce platform to handle future growth. 

She changed her Instagram account name to that of her brand, SkinnyMe Tea (SMT), something uncommon in 2012.  

At that time, Instagram wasn’t a place where businesses went to make sales, but Gretta realised there was an opportunity to take advantage of Instagram’s interest-centric nature.

Following the target audience, manually

She used the SMT account on Instagram to follow her friends, friends of friends, and soon she was also manually following people from her target audience in different cities 

As the reviews and endorsements spread from person to personbuyer interest and confidence grew, and naturally lead to healthy sales 

Then one day, Gretta had the idea to send some free products to a woman with 1000 followersasking her to review the “Teatox” mixture in her account.  

The result of this action was $1000 in sales on the very same day. 

The rapid growth of the influencer marketing 

This strategy continued for a while, as SMT was offering free samples to multiple people on Instagram, asking for a review in return.  

This was when the term online influencer wasn’t broadly recognized, and people charged no money to do reviews.  

This way, SMT was spreading across different social circles thanks to the words, posts, and opinions of happy customers. 

Look at the competition and go one better 

As other companies started to realise Instagram’s potential and started working on their social media accounts there, Gretta also started following her competition to see what they were posting and what kind of reactions they were getting 

This had two results, firstly SMT could repurpose the most popular posts of the competition to drive traffic through the main Instagram account (also called the vertical account); secondly, it allowed SMT to do market research and find what product the target audience was looking for. 

Innovative market research approach 

Instead of thinking about a product first and then trying to promote it on the market, Gretta took the reverse approach. 

Gretta used the information she was getting from her online market research and started to understand the needs of her target audience and used that valuable information to develop the products to sell.  

This also led to the creation of other Instagram accounts, acting as branches from the main ones, where she could focus on content and interaction with her customer base, further strengthening her connection to her audience. 

Cross-platform and expanded social engagement also became important as time went by.  

Gretta explained: “Its important not only to follow on Instagram but also to visit the online store, to subscribe to its newsletter, to incentivize following on Facebook etc. 

Since new contacts and leads were coming from many different places – influencer accounts, shares, stories, and so forth – it was necessary to ensure that each follower would subscribe to every form of medium possible, to ensure that sales opportunities could be maximized through retargeting and email marketing. 

Leverage the power of exclusivity and scarcity 

Let’s look at how Gretta used these two commonly used marketing strategies to boost engagement and sales. 

One of the key factors is to generate interest and hype among the audience, even before the product is officially released 

The 5Th Watch Company (The 5th), which is also hosted on Shopifyonly sells their watches on the 5th day of each month, and only for 5 daysThe strategies used around the number “5” and “The 5th” also tie in with the brand name… pure genius. 

It’s a bit like a very popular restaurant only opening for 2 nights a week, it’s going to be over booked every week without failbe the talk of the town and have queues around the block (or both). 

The 5th launched with $100k in sales in a day, with over 70k followers. Imagine if you open a restaurant and on the fist night, no one turned up.  

Hype and excitement must be created beforehand in the most effective way possible. Today the quickest and most effective way possible is social media and influencers. 

Even with a conversion rate of only 1%, with so many followers, it is not difficult to reach 6-figure sales days from a store like The 5th. 

For example, 1% of 70,000 followers is 700 buyers. Let’s say the average watch sells for $100, 700 x $100 equals $70,000. 

5 Free Ways to Get More Sales for Your Online Store

A closer look at Gretta’s four successful businesses 

Gretta has obviously left an impressive mark on the ecommerce world and in the process has grabbed the attention of many due to her highly effective marketing strategies and subsequent phenomenal success.  

Let’s have a closer look at Gretta’s four businesses individually. 

SkinnyMe Tea (SMT) 

  • Founded in 2012 using Shopify; 
  • Went from 0 to 600,000 customers in just one month; 
  • $6.7 million annual revenue; 
  • Employs 35 people in Melbourne; 
  • Combined following of 520,000 followers (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter); 
  • Sold 11 million cups of tea worldwide in 5 years; 

Skinny Me Tea Shopify Gretta van Riel

Skinny Me Tea kicked off the rapid growth of Gretta’s online business ventures, from tea combinations shared with friends and colleagues to selling to the entire world in a very short time.  

Her eCommerce store on Shopify handles the sales load, scaling up as the orders increased, while Gretta worked on the social media side of things to connect to more people and raise brand awareness. 

The 5th Watch Company 

  • Founded in 2014 with Alex McBride; 
  • Day one sales results: $100,000; 
  • 70k followers before product launch; 
  • Quality watches for less than $200 each; 
  • Grew quickly from influencer-related advertising; 
  • Combined following of 700,000 (Facebook and Instagram) 
  • Made $1 million on the first anniversary of the brand; 

The 5th turned out to be the perfect way to implement what Gretta learned from launching and growing SMT and taking that to the next level 

By using exclusivity, scarcity, influencers, and managing expectationsGretta managed to greatly increase the value of her products and achieve astounding results.

DROP Bottle 

  • Founded in 2015; 
  • The company focuses on selling fashionable and functional water bottles to stimulate water consumption; 
  • Connected to the charity Drop4Drop, which provides water to communities in need; 
  • Combined following of 150,000 (Facebook and Instagram) 
  • Endorsed by Oprah; 

The DROP Bottle connects different factors: raising awareness to the fact that we need to drink more water daily; providing a stylish and functional object to do so, with recipe ideas to mix fruit with water, as a way to make it more appealing; and social conscience, by driving some of the profits towards a charity providing water to communities in need.


  • Up and coming new brand; 
  • Offers a range of skincare products, from face masks to bath salts; 
  • Combined following of 38K (Facebook and Instagram); 
  • Market strategy based on working closely with select influencers; 
  • A content-focused brand offering advice on skincare paired with selling quality products; 

Skintox’s strategy is heavily based on having a collection of reputable influencers and their shares, allowing them to spread the brand from social circle to social circle. This ensures that the brand is always presented in a good light and as a result fosters customer loyalty. 

Hey Influencers 

  • Founded in 2015; 
  • A platform where influencers and brands can be matched to increase social following, boost sales and create content; 
  • Gretta herself gives interviews, participates in podcasts and leads workshops to raise awareness about the brand, and to share her experiences; 
  • The Hey Influencer home page describes it like a dating app, not a marketplace app (such as Airbnb or Uber); 

Gretta was one of the first people to see the power of influencers, and with Hey Influencers, she continues to expand this relationship by allowing brands to look for compatible influencers and vice versa. The brands get the love and the influencers get the money. A win-win situation for everybody. 

Gretta has partnered with Shopify Academy to share the secrets of her success 

Gretta has now started to share her successful strategies with the world, so new entrepreneurs like you can have all the knowledge and inspiration needed to make your online business come alive. 

Specifically, you can now learn from Gretta how to leverage the engagement power of Instagram to drive more sales. 

This Shopify Academy course “Grow Your Business with Instagram” provides you with the basics when it comes to growing a business with Instagram. 

Be inspired…. You too can start from zero and make it big like Gretta 

hope Gretta’s multiple ecommerce success stories have inspired you and given you a good insight into what is possible today with market research, a good sought after product, online marketinginfluencers and a reliable and robust ecommerce platform like Shopify. 

Leave a comment below letting me know firstly if you found this article interesting and/or inspiring and what ecommerce platform you are or will use for your store.

Shopify has a 14-day free trial, with no credit card required, so check it out for yourself obligation free and see how easy it is. 

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