Behind the Scenes at Unite: Our New Card Reader, Shopify Pay, and One Incredible Story

Unite is Shopify's annual Partner and Developer conference where we celebrate the Shopify ecosystem and make our major product announcements for the year.

In this two-part takeover of Shopify Masters, we’ll unpack what went down at Unite 2017 with behind-the-scenes interviews with our Chief Product Officer Craig Miller, VP of Product Satish Kanwar, and other guests.

This episode will explore the thinking behind two major product announcements—the new Chip & Swipe Card Reader and Shopify Pay—as well as the powerful story of Mohammadu Mifras, a Shopify Partner based in Sri Lanka.

Listen to Shopify Masters below…

Download this episode on Google Play, iTunes or here!

"Alan Kay, a pioneer in computer engineering once said, that people who are serious about their software, should make their own hardware."

Tune in to learn about

  • The new Chip & Swipe Card Reader for Shopify POS
  • Shopify Pay, a simplified and accelerated checkout
  • Mohammadu's Shopify Partners story 

Show Notes


[SATISH @ KEYNOTE]: “Alan Kay, a pioneer in computer engineering once said, that people who are serious about their software, should make their own hardware… I’m so excited to tell you that that’s exactly what Shopify has done… And for the first time ever, introduce you to our Shopify designed card reader, the brand new Chip & Swipe for Shopify POS… We’re announcing today Shopify Pay, and it’s a game-changer. Our ultimate goal is for nobody to ever fill out a checkout form if they don’t have to…”


I’m Anshuman Iddamsetty, and I’m Shopify’s new podcast producer.

For the next two episodes, I’m taking over Shopify Masters to showcase Unite 2017… Our annual Shopify Partner & Developer conference, which was recently held at the Fort Mason Centre for Arts & Culture in San Francisco.

Unite is where we celebrate the Shopify Ecosystem and make our major product announcements for the year.

In this episode, we’ll unpack two of those product announcements… The ones that matter to you, the Shopify Merchant.

The first announcement is the sleek New Chip & Swipe Reader for Shopify POS….

… Which allows you to accept in-person credit payments no matter where you sell—be it a pop-up shop, or farmer’s market, or a dedicated retail space.

And the second announcement is Shopify Pay.

… A new checkout feature that makes it faster and easier for a customer to buy your products. It’s the Shopify checkout, simplified and accelerated.

And as you heard our VP of Product, Satish Kanwar, say at the top of the show, it’s a game changer.

We’ll also hear from our Shopify Partners. And one in particular. A young man, with a remarkable story.

[MOHAMMADU]: “I came here as an individual person today, and next year I may come with my team. I’m 100% sure I’ll do this.”

Oh, and don’t worry—Felix isn’t going anywhere. After we’re done, we’ll return to the Shopify Masters you know and love.


Our first announcement, possibly our biggest, is, in many ways, also our smallest.

How small you may ask? Tiny. I mean, very small.

[SATISH]: “Certainly smaller than a credit card. It’s just wide enough for a credit card to fit neatly into the top of it.”

That’s Satish Kanwar, Shopify’s VP of Product. You heard him at the top of the show.

I spoke with Satish on the second day of Shopify’s Unite conference, and I asked him to describe the Chip & Swipe Reader for us.

[SATISH]: “It’s got a little thumb dome on the front… So without looking at it you can really orient yourself when you’re holding it and walking around.”

And unlike our existing credit card readers, the new Chip & Swipe reader was designed from the ground up by Shopify.

VO: [CRAIG]: “The response has been phenomenal. People are really excited about the hardware and I’m super excited to see Merchants getting it, too.”

And that’s our Chief Product Officer, Craig Miller. Craig spoke with me from our downtown Toronto studio. You’ll hear from him later in the show.

Now, back to Unite…

[SATISH @ KEYNOTE]: “Alan Kay, a pioneer in computer engineering once said, that people who are serious about their software, should make their own hardware. I’m so excited to tell you that that’s exactly what Shopify has done. And for the first time ever, introduce you to our Shopify designed card reader, the brand new Chip & Swipe for Shopify POS.”

[SATISH]: “What’s so special about this device is how much versatility and power it packs in something that can fit so nicely in the palm of your hand. It’s chip enabled so it’s super secure. It has a back-up swipe reader on the front of it for all kinds of credit cards, and yet it’s wireless, so you can use it anywhere you are. We’ve really put a lot of craft and care into a credit card reader for Shopify POS, that can help Merchants of all sizes get started in retail selling of any style. Whether they’re doing Pop-Up shops or opening their first store. It’s just a magnificent device.”

[CRAIG]: “When I joined Shopify six years ago, Shopify was known as the best website with a shopping cart builder. And that’s probably what we were at the time. The challenge was…. We knew that the world was moving to a spot where multi-channel was going to be something real. And multi-channel sounds like a very technical term. It sounds like something you go to conferences with Fortune 500 executives and they talk about this. But basically it means you’re not just going to sell in one spot, you’re going to sell a few different ways. Once we started surveying our Merchants, we found that one of the top ways they were already selling was offline. And so we decided to build a system that let them sell offline. And so we launched Shopify Point of Sale–Shopify POS—and when we launched it we had to include some hardware with it. So we included a credit card reader, and this is a couple of years ago when we were a smaller company and we necessarily weren’t sure if this was going to work, and we subcontracted to a third-party company to actually build that reader and Shopify POS actually took off, in spite of the hardware that was not designed by us and was rather clunky. Fast forward today and Shopify POS is now used by… I think it was sixty-five thousand Merchants? It’s actually one of our top channels outside of the online store. Merchants really love it, but the credit card world has changed. So offline, it used to be about swiping your credit card. Increasingly it’s about something called EMV, which is the chip. And so our hardware, our old hardware, actually didn’t support chips, it only supported swipes.”

[CRAIG]: “A couple of years ago, we decided we wanted to actually get serious about hardware instead. We started hiring hardware people, industrial designers…”

[SATISH]: “We really wanted to focus on creating a device that was there to support an authentic retail experience, and not to be the star of the show. The goal was to have an intuitive, simple and very trusted device that kind of blends into any environment that it’s with and is easy and obvious to understand how to use, which really just allows the kind of human-to-human experience of buying a product and visiting an independent retailer to come through.”

[CRAIG]: “One of the biggest struggles I have being an ecommerce company, an online company, is that people don’t necessarily get the ability to touch and hold some of these things. We spent a lot of time and effort figuring out what the right weight was… for the base for the reader. What the right gripping should be like so if you actually put it against your phone it doesn’t slide off.

[SATISH]: “Y’know, we think it’s been hard for people to get that kind of quality with that kind of versatility from other solutions in the market and especially with that kind of design philosophy going into it.

[CRAIG]: “There’s so many details in that reader. It’s just mind blowing and until you hold it, until you play with it, you sort of don’t gain an appreciation for it. But I think once you do, you just start really respecting all the effort that went into it in a whole other way.”

[SATISH]: “And the reader, in the broader scheme of the transaction is the least important part of it. It’s there as a utility, it’s there to be invisible…

[CRAIG]: “And, sort of an industry first, despite it costing us a lot of money to actually design and produce, we’re actually going to offer it for free for all Merchants in the United States. Which we think is super, super cool.”


Our second major product announcement is Shopify Pay. We’ve taken the same secure checkout experience and added another way for your customers to make their purchases.

It’s faster and simpler. Think of it as an… express lane for checkout.

And it solves a problem many of us have when shopping on mobile devices…

[MARY-ROSE TALKING TO HERSELF AS SHE SHOPS ONLINE]: “Ok, I’m going to get the bag I saw earlier today online it’s so nice. It’s such a cute purse. Ok… Annnd checkout… So, Shipping Address..? First name. Ugh, this keyboard. S-U-T-T-O-N. Uhhh… Address..? Ugh… Shoot… Eugh!! Ok. I don’t think I’m going to buy it anymore. I’m done with it. It’s taking too long.”

That was Shopify’s Mary-Rose Sutton. Thanks Mary-Rose. Now! Let’s get back to Unite…

[SATISH @ KEYNOTE ]: “Our ultimate goal is for nobody to ever fill out a check out form a second time if they don’t have to. It’s just expected by consumers and is required in this mobile first world. So the last piece I want to share with you is an entirely new kind of accelerated checkout that’s been here, in front of us, all along.”

[SATISH @ KEYNOTE]: “We’re announcing today, Shopify Pay. And it’s a game changer.”

[SATISH]: “What we’ve done with Shopify Pay is essentially open the network power of all four hundred and thousand Shopify Merchants back to them. What it does is when a consumer buys from any Shopify store, at the end of that checkout process they’re able to check one final box that says ‘Do you want to remember your information for the next time with Shopify Pay?’ They can enter their mobile phone number and it stores that information securely with their own personal and portable identity. So the next time they come back to that same store they love to shop from or any other Shopify store, at the first field of the checkout when they enter their email address it’ll actually text them an authorization code to complete the checkout experience.”

[CRAIG]: “So if you go back a couple of years ago, we started seeing a trend where mobile shopping was starting to take off. So people more and more were accessing Shopify stores on their phone. The challenge we saw was that despite the time they spent shopping on mobile they actually weren’t buying on mobile. And I know it sounds like I’m saying the same thing, but they would come to the website, look around, add items to their shopping cart, get to the checkout form and think, ‘Argh, my thumbs are already tired. I don’t want to fill in my name and information. It’s too much!’

[CRAIG]: “What the hell, why don’t we, actually, try to solve it ourselves. So we launched Shopify Pay which is a very simple solution to this kind of bigger problem. So, today when you go to a checkout form, there’s about sixteen pieces of information you need to fill in…”

[SATISH]: “…So instead of going through all sixteen fields of a standard transaction,they’ll only have to go through two to completely finish a purchase. So Shopify Pay is just this invisible part of the checkout experience that’s there when you need it, not when you don’t, and it provides this kind of underlying layer of trust and speed to all Shopify stores. At the end of the day, it’s just a happier experience, as someone buying things.”


Our product announcements, as cool as they are, only tell half of the Unite story.

At our core, Shopify is about making commerce better and easier for everyone. From our Merchants to the people who power the Shopify ecosystem.

And by ecosystem I mean the third party partners and agencies that get their clients to use Shopify…

[RHEANN]: “My name is Rheann Beutler and I’m the Chief Operating Officer of Venntov. I have a small business background and the reason I got into that was because I liked watching small businesses succeed. I love watching people build legacies for their families and build something cool for generations to come.“

The developers that build Shopify apps in the app store…

“… And so we started building apps for Shopify, and then we built our affiliate networking app and that really took off so we invested very heavily into that, and now we’re pretty much only working on that. Hi, I’m Shibo, I’m the COO of Refersion. And Refersion helps merchants run their own private affiliate network.”

… And the experts that help Merchants, like you, get setup.

[KIM ERICSSON]: “My name is Kim Ericsson. I’m a Shopify Merchant, and at the same time, i spend part of my time being a Shopify Expert. Other website owners contacted me asking me about, ‘Well, how did you do this?’ and ‘How did you solve the shipping… The payments… So, I started helping other shops. ”

But at this year’s Unite, one Partner’s story stood out from the rest.

It’s the story of Mohammadu Mifras. A young man from Sri Lanka. Though, to be fair, his story begins when he was much younger.

[MOHAMMADU]: “When I was 18… I was so depressed. All my friends were so happy! 18 is such a good age, y’know? [LAUGHS]: There’s no worries… We can enjoy. But my think is totally different.”

[MOHAMMADU]: “We didn’t have a stable life. We’re just a middle class family in our country… Like, we can afford food, but it’s really hard to afford lots of other things… Father couldn’t complete his studies. Mother was the same, she stopped her education. They couldn’t pay the loan for a house. We couldn’t pay the electricity bill… That’s the main thing. They were the poorest, ok? My father, he doesn’t know how to maintain a business. He did, three shops. He bankrupted [them]: the same way he bankrupted the last two shots he did the third shop.”

[MOHAMMADU]: “I was like, what’s going on?”

But Mohammadu worked in those shops anyway. He had to—his family’s future was at stake.

After school, on weekends, Mohammadu went to work. He cooked meals for the customers of his father’s hotel. He sewed. He pressed bedsheets, if need be.

[MOHAMMADU]: “Normally, other people [have]: hotels but they live a good life. But my father doesn’t know how to manage a hotel. We work hard but we [don’t have]: any savings.”

No matter what he did, the shops, the hotels, were still failing. His dad couldn’t even afford to keep him in school.

[MOHAMMADU]: “That is the worst part that I remember. In the first subject they call the names in front of all the students, and they just grab us out and take to the office. It was going on for a while. Everyday. Again and again.”

“It’s like going crazy! No-one is happy inside the house.”

And that’s when it occurred to him: He was stuck. Worse, he was sinking.

[MOHAMMADU]: “ I told my father, I’m going to stop coming for the hotel. Please don’t call me.You do your work. I’m going to stop this. Because this is not my work and I’m going to do some courses.”

So Mohammadu decided to leave his father’s business behind. And a decision like that isn’t easy. It can’t be.

[MOHAMMADU]: “ It’s really sad to say something like that…. Because he’s trying to help me… But, I have to say that. Because it’s not going to work. “

And so it became the turning point of Mohammadu’s entire life.

[MOHAMMADU]: “I had no idea what I should do. I’m sure I had to do something with my computers. But I didn’t know what I should do… So I went for an IT course in my nearby city.”

And there, Mohammadu had a chance encounter with a classmate.

[MOHAMMADU]: “One of my friend in that class, he was doing freelancing. He was just talking something about Fiverr, and the kind of work that he does. I quickly came home and hopped on my computer and created an account.”

He signed up for an account on Fiverr where he started taking small gigs.

He set up SSL certificates for website owners, sold hosting packages. Minor stuff, web 101.

[MOHAMMADU]: “I was building maybe one or two websites. BUT, the thing is, I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what are the steps I should follow, and what are the things I needed. There are resources outside about that but the thing is, it’s not in one place.”

And one day, a client asked him to set up a Wordpress. Not difficult, but not straightforward either. Mohammadu admits, he took on the job without really knowing what Wordpress even was.

And so he did what he had to do, in this case, he turned to YouTube.

Mohammadu climbed another rung of the ladder. He joined UpWork. He took more classes. He built his reputation. But Mohammadu was getting frustrated. The number of jobs he took on grew, but due to the nature of Fiverr and UpWork, the returns were small.

A familiar feeling started to creep in…

[MOHAMMADU]: “But still I was thinking… It’s going to be like my hotel!”

He was stuck. Again.

Around this time, Mohammadu started hearing about the lucrative world of ecommerce.

[MOHAMMADU]: “Then I realized how many people come up to me asking about Shopify.”

And that’s when a client from Florida reached out to him: He wanted Mohammadu to build him a Shopify store….

[MOHAMMADU]: “When I got my first project, I started to learn more about Shopify. Let’s say, If I don’t know something… there’s a forum. It was so active. It was not like any other forums. I kept on learning.”

Soon, Mohammadu was helping Merchants all over the world.

[MOHAMMADU]: “People were talking about Shopify.”

He joined Shopify’s Affiliate program in the summer of 2015.

[MOHAMMADU]: “I started taking Shopify projects for twenty dollars, fifty dollars… [CHUCKLES]”

Soon after, at the advice of the Shopify Partner Manager for India and South Asia, Mohammadu signed up to become an official Shopify Partner.

[MOHAMMADU]: “He… [CHUCKLES]: He was awesome. Like, [ he guided]: me from the day I started at Shopify. It’s not like other platforms. I am able to talk to a major guy in the company!.”

As a Partner, Mohammadu entered a new world of opportunity. But he still had to grind, and so he did. He built store after store after store…

[MOHAMMADU]: “I’m really happy I did like more than a 11 websites [SMIRKS], right? Even I [don’t ]: know I did those websites. I was working really hard and when I look back I have done that much of stores now. 100 stores, individually. I didn’t even outsource anyone for these works.”

[MOHAMMADU]: “Now, after one and a half years of struggling and working hard. Now, I take projects a minimum of six hundred dollars…”

And this changed everything.

[MOHAMMADU]: “Two thousand, three thousand…. Even five thousand. It came up to Five thousand.”

[MOHAMMADU]: “It went for another level. I stopped working on Fiverr. I stopped working on UpWork. I was only focusing on Shopify Experts, because I was getting a lot of leads.”

Shortly after Mohammadu became a Shopify Partner, about 8 months or so, he paid off his father’s massive debts—including the loan for the family home.

In fact, with the money he was making, he managed to transform every facet of his family’s prior life. He renovated their home, left no debt unpaid… And yes, he even takes care of the electricity bill.

He also has a car. And he travels—for fun, not just to attend technology conferences.

Which brings us to this year’s Unite conference. Where something wonderful, but not entirely unexpected happened. Mohammadu got his first client for Shopify Plus, our enterprise ecommerce solution for high-volume stores and brands.

[MOHAMMADU]: “I told him frankly… I know about Shopify. But I don’t know much about Shopify Plus. It’s just the beginning, I told him: ‘I’ll put my foundation properly.’ And he said ‘ok.’ And now I’m really happy that I’m going to start this project. And for sure when I’m in the next Unite, 2018, I’ll be a Shopify Plus Expert, and an app builder…

[MOHAMMADU]: “I came as an individual person today. And next year I might come with my team. I’m hundred percent sure I’ll do this.”

[MOHAMMADU]: “….And now I’m growing. Growing since the day that I started. And there’s still more to come. And even this is just the beginning.”


And that’s the end of part one of our special miniseries, live from Unite 2017.

In this episode we unpacked two of our major product announcements.

The new Chip & Swipe Reader for Shopify POS… A credit reader designed by us to help you sell anywhere, any style.

… And Shopify Pay. A faster, easier checkout that reduces the number of fields a customer has to fill out from 16 to just 2.

And we heard the remarkable story of one of our Partners, Mohammadu Mifras.

You can find more information about these announcements —and Mohammadu—on our site, Shopify dot com slash blog.

Thank you to our voices, Satish Kanwar, Craig Miller, Mary-Rose Sutton, Mohammadu Mifras, and, of course, our partners.

And special thanks to Arati Sharma, Emma Borg, Jane Lee, Erika Strong, Alexandra Middleton, Natasha Singh, Dasha Sivkov, Nick Chen, Casandra Campbell, and Braveen Kumar.

This special series was produced by me, Anshuman Iddamsetty.

Mark Macdonald was our executive producer.

Parts of this episode were recorded at The Post Office Studio.

Oh, and a quick reminder: Felix and Shopify Masters will return in two weeks.

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