Life at Shopify

How Shopify Helped Me Create a Global Shift From Canada

By Satish Kanwar, Vice President of Product at Shopify

When I was younger, I dreamed about building technology that would help people around the world, right from my hometown of Toronto. I knew in my gut that it was what I was meant to do. But two major problems stood in my way: there were very few homegrown tech companies in Toronto at the time, and I didn’t have an engineering background.

And so I did what many people in my position have done — I took a non-technical role at a global tech company with a Toronto satellite office that had sales and marketing teams. I thought it would be the perfect way to get close to tech and have an impact on Canada. About a year in, I was pretty disappointed about the size of the role I could play there. Our office was so far removed from the big decisions being made and who they were made for. It didn’t feel like I could make the impact I’d dreamed of.

I decided to try a different approach. I started a business with a friend. We took our skills as self-taught designers, an interest in business, and our commitment to tech to build an agency that helped other tech companies focus on design. We called it Jet Cooper. It was ridiculously fun, and one of the greatest challenges of my life. Over five years, we grew to a team of 25 multi-disciplinary people who worked closely with homegrown Canadian startups.

And then, the universe decided to test me. Shopify reached out to discuss ways we could potentially work together. I initially had reservations about an acquisition, but what caught my attention was Shopify’s global impact, 100-year vision, and the meaningful role my team could play to achieve those long-term goals. We decided to work with Shopify, and brought the whole Jet Cooper team with us.

I couldn’t help but wonder if it was the right decision. My biggest fear was that I would lose my decision-making control and my identity as an entrepreneur. I loved being the master of my domain and being accountable for my outcomes, and I didn’t want to take a step back in terms of my ability to reach my full potential. Thankfully, my fears were way off.

“I learned that you can be an entrepreneur within an organization, and feel even more accountability than on your own.”

I learned that you can be an entrepreneur within an organization, and feel even more accountability than on your own. The stakes are higher, and there are resources available to help you create a greater impact. Shopify had a bigger vision for me than I had for myself.

Shortly after joining Shopify, I helped create our very first buy button for social media. This paved the way for our multi-channel strategy, enabling merchants to sell anywhere people want to shop. I went from being a non-technical generalist to a product owner leading and managing large, multi-disciplinary R&D teams that ship global products. That career switch would take most people a decade, but I did it in my first year at Shopify. That’s something I will always be thankful for. I spent the next three years in product management before transitioning into my current role as General Manager and Vice President of our channels product. I’ve gone from leading a team of 25 at Jet Cooper to a team of hundreds spread across several cities.

Shopify is naturally set up to be a global company. Very early in its history, Shopify went from being a single city startup to a multi-city company. This allowed us to re-train our brains for remote collaboration. The groundwork we laid back then allows us to work well with people all over the world, whatever their location or time zone, and has provided some amazing international opportunities for my teammates. We’re headquartered in Canada, but most of our merchants have always been outside of our country. Since I joined, we’ve grown our merchant base by almost 10x across 175 countries.

“The groundwork we laid back then allows us to work well with people all over the world, whatever their location or time zone.”

Canada is a uniquely great place to do all of this. We can build for global scale and impact from Canada, because we have people from everywhere in Canada. Both in the literal sense of geographies and cultures, and also in terms of the diversity of disciplines, perspectives, and ways of working you can find here. Being born and bred in Canada, Shopify is inherently strong at applying all of these diverse perspectives to our decisions. This has given us a massive global advantage.

“We can build for global scale and impact from Canada, because we have people from everywhere in Canada.”

In some ways, everything has changed since I joined Shopify six years ago. In other ways, nothing has changed at all. I’m still an entrepreneur. My risk appetite is high, and I control the environment and decisions that allow me to deliver on that risk and opportunity. This is true for every Shopify employee. I like to think I’m the rule, not the exception, in terms of the career opportunities that exist here.

“In some ways, everything has changed since I joined Shopify six years ago. In other ways, nothing has changed at all. I’m still an entrepreneur.”

When you do things that improve Shopify, you improve the work and lives of millions of entrepreneurs around the world. That kind of reach is rare. I went from designing websites for one person at a time at my agency to designing a product that anyone around the world can use. I think that’s pretty special.

The best part is that we’re still in growth mode. We have more opportunity ahead of us than behind us — and we need more entrepreneurs to get there.

“When you do things that improve Shopify, you improve the work and lives of millions of entrepreneurs around the world.”

People here recognize your potential, and they pull that potential from you, whether you see it or not.

Meet more people at Shopify

Keep Your Friends Close, and Your Customers Closer

By Lynsey Thornton, Vice President of UX at Shopify

It started with a LinkedIn message and a one-word subject line: “Shopify?” I had just moved from Ireland to Vancouver. Before that, I led a research team at a gambling and gaming company. It was an interesting place to work, and a great way to try to understand human motivation.

Read more

What Music Notes and Sailboats Have to do With Building Great Products

By Jean-Michel Lemieux, Chief Technology Officer at Shopify

This month-long adventure is my choice for Intermission, a four-week leave for Shopify employees that have been with the company for five years. I’ve been leading the company’s engineering organization for that long now, but my journey to get here started years before that.

Read more

Why Shopify is Interested in Journey Over Resume

By Solmaz Shahalizadeh, VP of Data Science and Engineering at Shopify

I first realized how much I loved solving problems when I was in kindergarten in my home country of Iran. There was a kid in my class who was bothering everyone, and the teacher asked us, “What should we do? Raise your hand if you think we should move this kid to another classroom.” Everyone raised their hand except for me.

Read more