“Entrepreneurial spirit”: Shopify fosters innovation by encouraging employees to have businesses on the side


Shopify director of partner platforms Atlee Clark. Source: Supplied.

When Shopify founder Tobi Lutke started a business selling snowboards, he was frustrated at the lack of platforms for makers to sell their products on.

Having started writing code when he moved from Germany to Canada in 2003, he decided to build something for himself.

The snowboard company wasn’t doing well, but other entrepreneurs started approaching him about the platform he’d built. Sensing an opportunity, Tobi convinced best friend Daniel Weinand to join him in Canada to shape the startup.

Shopify officially launched in 2006 and now serves over 600,000 merchants in 175 countries.

Encouraging businesses on the side

According to San Francisco-based director of partner platform Atlee Clark, “it’s an amazing place to work”.

“We’re very intentional about our culture and it stems from serving entrepreneurs,” she tells StartupSmart.

These aren’t just empty words, either. A whopping 42% of Shopify’s 3,000 plus employees run their own businesses and are encouraged to do so.

Having recently become a mother, Atlee started a baby sleeper business with two other mothers. Bododo, meaning good sleep, launches in January, and is, of course, powered by Shopify.

A ripple effect

The Shopify app store boasts over 2,000 different tools and solutions to help entrepreneurs simplify, market and manage their businesses.

Shopify also has a growing list of partner channels through which merchants can choose to sell their goods, which includes the likes of eBay, Facebook Messenger and Instagram.

When it comes to advertising, merchants have various options. Shopify has a marketing section where merchants can buy Google and Facebook ads and view analytics within their own backend store, as well as a ‘Google smart shopping campaign’ feature designed to do all the heavy lifting. Based on the amount spent, Google automatically chooses which products to advertise, how much to bid, who to target, and which creative to show, delivering the highest return on ad spend.

Interestingly, Atlee explains these merchant-friendly features are the result of a focus on company culture.

Shopify employees are constantly testing the platform through their own side businesses, enabling them to collect first-hand feedback and improve the product in a broader sense.

“Shopify really is something special. As a platform that helps entrepreneurs, when an entrepreneur succeeds, Shopify succeeds,” Atlee says.

“It’s not a permission-seeking culture”

“Entrepreneurial spirit is deep within our culture,” Claudia Lo, a Canadian-based employee tells StartupSmart.

“The company gives employees time and space to do things that are outside the norm for their roles,” she adds.

Atlee agrees “decision-making is individualistic and team-based”.

“We have an ownership culture, and by that I mean directives don’t come down from the executives,” Atlee says.

“We’re not prescriptive in terms of how someone’s going to get something done.

“We hire smart, talented people who are empowered to make decisions. It’s not a permission-seeking culture,” She adds.

Close and personal

Shopify has a full-time professional coaching team on board that provides one-on-one coaching and group coaching to employees, whether in-person or virtually, to drive a culture of constantly striving to be better.
Workshops strengthen interpersonal communication skills and leadership qualities, while helping employees to overcome challenges in career development.

Each week the company live streams a town hall meeting hosted by each different office in rotation, with Tobi dialling in to answer questions from team members once each quarter.

But if you’re thinking Shopify sounds like an awesome place to work, note if you do apply, you’ll need to be ready for an interview dedicated to your life story.

“Everyone does a life story interview where the person is asked about their approach to growth,” Atlee explains.

“We want to know how have they grown? What’s their approach to learning? How do they deepen their craft, understand the world better?

“Shopify wants to understand the whole person,” she adds.

NOW READ: How “Pinterest meets Shopify” platform Referboard is aiming to help retailers boost sales

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