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Report On Business Shopify IPO could pave the way for Canadian tech startups

Retail software company Shopify is offering 7.7 million shares for sale to the public.

Tim McKenna/The Globe and Mail

Hot Ottawa retail software company Shopify Inc. is set to close its $100-million-plus initial public offering and begin trading this week, carrying on its shoulders the hopes of the burgeoning Canadian tech sector.

The company, which doubled its revenue in each of the past two years and is on track to exceed $150-million in sales this year, is expected to begin trading Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker SHOP, and shortly thereafter on the Toronto Stock Exchange under SH. The company is offering 7.7 million shares – equal to 10.3 per cent of total equity – for sale to the public and an additional 1.15 million to underwriters, priced at between $12 and $14 a share, for maximum proceeds of $124-million.

Canadian startup CEOs and their venture backers will be watching how Shopify performs once trading begins, and how much demand comes in from big institutional investors for the IPO. The offering is being led by Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse and RBC Dominion Securities, and most of the shares are expected to be snapped up by savvier States-side investors.

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Should Shopify stock take off, it could herald initial public offerings for other fast-growing Canadian tech companies, particularly those that, like Shopify, offer Internet-based subscription software services, including Vancouver's Hootsuite Media Inc. and PointClickCare of Mississauga, say industry observers.

Meanwhile, Shopify will join two other Ottawa software companies – Halogen Software Inc. and Kinaxis Inc. – that have gone public in the past two years, putting the capital region in the lead among Canadian tech hubs for producing publicly traded software companies in recent years, according to local economic development agency Invest Ottawa.

The IPO will make many insiders wealthy on paper. At least eight past and present senior executives will own millions of dollars of stock apiece with the IPO, including CEO and co-founder Tobi Lutke, whose nine million shares and 758,629 options give him a net worth of $130-million on paper at a stock price of $13. At that level, a total of 473 past and present executives and other employees will be holding stock options worth $172-million.

But Shopify's CEO doesn't have his eye on cashing out, even if many of his venture-capital backers start selling down their stakes in the coming months and years.

"I want Shopify to be a company that sees the next century," Mr. Lutke says in a letter included in the IPO prospectus. "To get there we not only have to correctly predict future commerce trends and technology, but be the ones that push the entire [retail] industry forward."

Shopify is guarding itself against unwanted takeover overtures by selling only subordinate voting shares to the public, keeping its multiple voting stock in the hands of executives and pre-IPO financiers.

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