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Shopify co-founder and CEO Tobias Lütke (Ben Courtice)
Shopify co-founder and CEO Tobias Lütke (Ben Courtice)


Fluke and luck: Shopify’s co-founder profited from both Add to ...

Are you lucky?

That’s the one question Tobias Lütke always asks prospective employees. The co-founder and chief executive officer of Ottawa-based Shopify Inc. says the answers are illuminating because people really have to get into how they perceive the world around them. Plus, he finds it’s a bit of an indicator about how they will perform in an environment where everything is fast and fluid.

So does Mr. Lütke think he’s lucky?

“I’m ridiculously lucky,” laughs the 32-year-old computer programmer, a native of Germany who married a Canadian and came to this country a decade ago.

 “Growing up, I spent my time doing useless stuff looking at computers. It was sheer luck that what I was interested in accidentally turns out to be one of the most useful skills you can have right now.”

Indeed, Shopify came about after Mr. Lütke and a partner started an online snowboard shop out of his garage in 2004. When they wanted to set up a shopping cart for the site, Mr. Lütke didn’t like what was on the market, so he wrote his own code – and soon realized the real business was in selling the software he’d created for himself.

By 2006, Shopify was formally launched. The company is now an e-commerce platform that other companies use to create their own online stores. It is serving more than 30,000 clients in 80 countries, ranging from Rovio Entertainment Ltd. (creator of Angry Birds) to  Amnesty International to  General Electric Co.  

Although the privately owned Shopify won’t reveal its numbers, Mr., Lütke acknowledges annual revenue to be more than $20-million, and increasing by more than 100 per cent a year. According to the company, the gross merchandise volume for all merchants licensing its software is on track to grow to more than $500-million this year from about $275-million in 2011.

Shopify has also been very successful in securing outside funding, raising $22-million from investors in 2010 and 2011. After mobile sales doubled across its network last year, Shopify is focused on mobile commerce as its next area of growth. The company recently acquired mobile company, Select Start Studios – which builds iOS and Android apps for companies – as well as the domain name mcommerce.com.

As for that tricky interview question on luck, it may be worthwhile to come up with a good answer. Shopify pampers its 130 staff with perks such as catered breakfasts, lunches from local restaurants, gym memberships and even housecleaning twice a month.

Q: Is mobile the future of how we shop?

A: Mobile is the seismic shift that changes everything. In January this year, about 10 per cent of people bought products on our platform through mobile devices. By August, it was 22 per cent. And it’s going to become a lot more so.

What we have right now is really clunky – for example, to type in an entire address on a cell phone – yet, one in five people are already willing to do it. Presumably, if we put our heads together in this industry, we can make all this typing go away by smarter identities. It’s exciting. No one has figured out yet how to show a catalogue on a phone. They’re just taking the concepts that they use online, like a website, but it’s a different environment requiring a completely different treatment.

Q: How much are you investing in mobile?

A: It’s almost 50/50 of our R&D resources now. Given the current growth [of sales] on mobile, 50/50 could happen on mobile and tablet by next year at Christmas. How crazy is that? Tablets didn’t really exist until about three years ago.

Q: Will bricks and mortar become obsolete?

A: Absolutely not. It will be different but I think more important. I don’t think big-box stores will survive. They’re very utilitarian and you just go there to pick up a lot of things.

Q: You can now do a lot of that utilitarian kind of shopping online.

A: Exactly. Some box stores may still be around. But there are so many products and things out there, and so many communities, that the process of editorializing and curating collections of items is what’s going to be a big driver.

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