The exterior of one of Shopify's corporate offices, this one in Los Angeles. Courtesy of Shopify.
As it turns out, when people have access to the internet but are forced to stay inside due to a global pandemic, e-commerce takes off. Consumers spent $861B online with U.S. retailers in 2020, up a whopping 44% from $598B in 2019, and companies like Amazon, which in Q4 2020 reported over $100B in quarterly revenue for the first time in company history, have been obvious benefactors.
Outside of Amazon, though, few e-commerce companies have been on the same kind of rocket as Shopify.
The Ottawa-based, all-in-one digital shopping platform went public in May 2015 at $17 per share (NYSE: SHOP), holding steady for a few years before cracking $100 in late 2017. After sliding into the $350 range during the March 2020 dip, the stock has almost quadrupled, hitting an all-time high of $1,499 in early February. Shopify is trading at $1,280 at time of publication, powers over 1.7 million businesses in more than 175 countries, and remains one of the fastest-growing companies in Canada.
If the numbers aren’t convincing, do a quick Google of NYSE:SHOP - the top suggested result is “Why is Shopify up so much today?”
So who are the people and teams within Shopify responsible for this explosion? The answer starts with product design.
Shopify has a great, if not classic, founding story. In 2004, a German-born Canadian programmer named Tobi Lütke started to try and build an online snowboard store called Snowdevil along with two co-founders. As Lütke began writing the e-commerce software on web application framework Ruby on Rails, his major pain points were not around his snowboard product, but in the software itself. The founding team decided to pivot and launched Shopify in 2006. Lütke has been CEO since 2008.
Since inception, Shopify has been known for smooth product functionality and beautiful design, and that's not an accident. Lütke has always been heavily involved in product design, much more so than your typical founder and CEO. Even as Shopify was moving forward on its IPO, Lütke still made it clear to investors that his focus was more on the company’s product than on the company’s fundraising.
“This was to set expectations because I knew I wasn't going to attend very many investor conferences,” he said in December 2020. “Fundamentally, my attention belonged to the product, not to the sales and marketing of it.”
Almost two decades after inception, Lütke still seems to spend most of his focus on the product. When Shopify Chief Product Officer Craig Miller departed the company last October, Lütke himself absorbed the product team. The company’s two VPs of product, Daniel Debow and Archie Abrams, both report directly to the CEO, as does Brandon Chu (VP, Product & GM, Platform), Carl Rivera (VP Product, Head of Shop), Satish Kanwar (VP, Product Acceleration), and the rest of the product team.
For a company that started in e-commerce and now markets itself as a platform to sell products to anyone, anywhere - whether that’s in person with a POS system or online through websites, social media integrations, or marketplaces - uniform, cross-functional products under the same beautiful design, will remain key.
The other big personnel move announced in October was the promotion of Harley Finkelstein from Chief Operating Officer to President. The former lawyer has become one of the public faces of the company, as he does a majority of the company’s media requests as well as on platforms like Clubhouse, the new live voice-chat app.
Other key executives include CTO Jean-Michel Lemieux, the former VP of Engineering at Atlassian and an owner of two U.S. patents on software configuration management, and Alexandra Clark, the VP of Strategic Initiatives who worked her way up from Director of Policy and Government Affairs and Chief of Staff to the CEO since joining the company in 2016. Additionally, scale and development specialist Lynsey Thornton holds two major leadership roles: VP of User Experience and GM for Shopify’s Core Product.
Moving forward, the company has stated its intention to continue moving beyond e-commerce to become the world’s first "retail operating system." Shopify has already added tools in marketing, ordering management, and its knowledge base to the suite over the last few years, with more tools for entrepreneurs on the way. The 7,000+ person company of, “astrophysicists, high school dropouts, salsa dancers, and business owners,” will push those initiatives through another hiring spree.
Shopify has already processed more than $277B in sales on its platform, and at the rate it's going, $1 trillion in lifetime sales processed doesn’t seem that out of the question.
“We think the future of retail is retail everywhere,” Finkelstein wrote in a November article. “A brand that’s going to be successful in 5, 10 or 15 years from now needs to sell across any platform and across any channel where they have customers. The idea is that it all feeds back in one centralized back-office, the retail operating system, which is Shopify.”
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