If there's one thing Bay Street investment bankers would love to snap up on Black Friday, it's a piece of Ottawa e-commerce software firm Shopify Inc., which many believe could be the hottest Canadian initial public offering in years. There's a growing expectation that the fast-growing private company could go public next year after raising $100-million in its most recent venture financing a year ago, making it Canada's first Internet startup since the dot-com crash to reach a billion-dollar valuation.
Shopify isn't commenting on its financing plans and indeed has given no indication whether it will go public any time soon (not to mention whether it would list on NASDAQ, the TSX, or both), nor does it release any financial information. But one clue about how the company is faring comes from tracking the growth of a couple of metrics it does release: The number of online merchants using its e-commerce platform, and the gross value of the merchandise moved by its customers during the crucial Black Friday-Cyber Monday period coming up this U.S. Thanksgiving weekend.
On the merchant front, Shopify continues to do well. Harley Finkelstein, Shopify's chief platform officer, says the company now has 125,000 merchants using its platform, many of them small and medium-sized online-only ventures. That's up from about 80,000 at the end of last year, and about 40,000 a year before that. The company typically doubles the number of merchants using its platform every year, and seems on track to maintain its torrid growth pace this year.
As for U.S. Thanksgiving weekend sales, Shopify saw its merchants move more than $7-million in gross merchandise volume in 2011, rising to $23-million in 2012, and $63-million last year. According to high tech analytics firm Deepfield, the Shopify e-commerce platform was the third-busiest on Cyber Monday last year, behind only Amazon and eBay. This year, Mr. Finkelstein said "I suspect [gross merchandise volumes] will at least double" last year's figure. He added that Shopify merchants have sold $6-billion worth of gross merchandise since the company launched its platform in 2006 – $1-billion of that in the third quarter of this year alone. "It's really accelerating," he said. "It's important we have more and more customers joining Shopify, but equally important is that those customers are becoming very successful."