How Shopify Sharpens Its Platform: Hire Your Customers

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Dogfooding is a slang term used to reference a situation in which a company uses its own product to test and promote the iteslf, and that is exactly what Shopify is doing.

Founded in 2006, Shopify is a leading cloud-based commerce platform designed for both startup entrepreneurs and mega-sized merchants like Tesla and Google. Inside of ten years, Shopify has grown from a humble online snowboard shop to a publicly traded corporation valued well into the billions. Despite this tremendous growth, the company has maintained that core entrepreneurial passion that was so key to the company’s success. This is obvious when entering the reception area of their Toronto office which features a real-life store selling the products of several Shopify merchants—many who also happen to be employees–and that is not a coincidence. We had a chance to sit down with two entrepreneurs working at Shopify who are intrinsically connected to the product outside of the office.

StiffSalt

Steven Thomas is a Front-End Development Lead for the shopify.com web team. He and his Wife are also salt artisans who launched Stiff Salt Co. in 2014. The initiative to start this business actually came from Shopify’s internal program: a standing offer of $250 to any employee interested in starting a business using the platform. “My wife and I got together and decided what we can do … we had this idea to start selling flavoured salts. We started in 2014 just before the holiday season and much to our surprise it really took off. It became a huge part of our lives and has continued that way since then.”

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Steven Thomas and Jane Lee are employees at Shopify’s Toronto office who also use the platform to run their own businesses.

SillyB

Jane Lee is an Entrepreneur in Residence at Shopify Toronto however before joining the company she founded Silly B Intimates–A travel-friendly strapless, backless, silicone bra which she launched using the Shopify platform. Through her relationship with company, Jane joined six months following Silly B’s successful launch: “I started my store and it did really well … I was talking with Shopify back and forth and the idea of working there came about. I joined really because it was so closely tied to my business. It helped me become an entrepreneur so much faster and helped me in so many ways.”

“The characteristics needed to be successful at Shopify as an employee are similar to what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. The ability to hustle, move fast and break things is so important.” – Mark Hayes, Director of Communications at Shopify

Jane now works directly with Shopify merchants and nearly all of the departments within the company, working on new Shopify products. Hearing hers and Steven’s stories, it is easy to see the benefit of having passionate people on both sides of the product, not only for product loyalty and morale, but also understanding of the entrepreneur experience—technical or not.

“A lot of [employees] are starting stores as side businesses and we’ve gone through the struggles”, laughed Steven of Shopify and Stiff Salt Co., “Our first holiday season was such a sudden uptick in business and we really had no idea what we were doing. We were doing everything manually and there was a brief moment of clarity looking around our apartment when we had several food dehydrators running, we had gas masks and proper gloves for the spicy salts. It was a “Breaking Bad” sort of moment when you realize what you’ve become. That’s not a technical part of Shopify, but just being able to empathize with our merchants has been very helpful.”

20This philosophy is built into the culture at Shopify. Hiring for, and fostering entrepreneurship in every role has become a way to feed that passion back into the company itself. Mark Hayes, Director of Communications at Shopify, underlines how valuable this has become to the company: “Shopify was built by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs, which is why many of our employees have been inspired to run their own stores on our platform. The characteristics needed to be successful at Shopify as an employee are similar to what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. The ability to hustle, move fast and break things is so important.”

Steven is now a mentor for Shopify’s internal ‘Start your own business’ competition: On top of the standing $250 offer, all participating employees receive additional funding towards starting their own store. Further, the new business owners are connected to a mentorship program where they have access to experienced entrepreneur advisors like Steven. The winner is determined by who makes the most money and acknowledged within the company.

The very nature of Shopify’s product has allowed the company to unlock a dedication in its employees to its own product, attracting passionate people who otherwise may not even apply, like Jane Lee: “As an entrepreneur, I didn’t know if I would ever join a company again, but this is a company where I actually believe in the product and I actually feel like it will help so many people… I honestly believe it was the only company I would consider working for.”

Check out Shopify Toronto’s Killer Space

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