What I Learned From A Visit To Shopify HQ

What’s the culture like at a multi-billion dollar SaaS Company?

Freeman Jiang
Nov 12 · 6 min read

One word: AWESOME!! For those of you who don’t know, Shopify is a three billion-dollar company headquartered right here in my hometown of Ottawa. Founded in 2004, they now have partners in 5000+ cities and 150 countries throughout the world.

What’s insane is that last Thursday, November 7, I got the opportunity with a few friends from TKS to see their DOPE office space in person!!

Rocking it out at the registration floor

But before I get into that — let’s talk about my first experience with Shopify.

Another Dropshipping Failure

The first time I heard of Shopify was when I was attempting to dropship pens, mechanical pencils, and erasers from AliExpress. Having watched all the dropshipping gurus’ YouTube videos, I was sure I was going to be a millionaire. It was the perfect plan. Start a dropshipping store in the summer, make thousands of dollars, and then move to LA.

It didn’t happen. The market was oversaturated, I didn’t actually have that much time, and I didn’t have the slightest idea about how to market my products. It was — all in all, a huge flop.

However, all along, I appreciated Shopify’s constant support. No matter how dumb, how pitiful my questions were, there was also someone I could talk to on the other end that would help me. I believe this is a critical component to Shopify’s success — this mindset of being customer-obsessed. Later, as we walked through Shopify’s offices, this was confirmed — the slightly altered motto “Be merchant obsessed” appearing around every corner.

Nonetheless, if someone would have told me two months ago that I was going to be able to walk into Shopify HQ and see how they work, I wouldn’t have believed it.

But — on November 7th, it happened, and here’s what I learned from that experience.

Shopify Culture

The moment you walk into the Shopify headquarters, you can tell there’s something different about it. It doesn’t just look like any other office, with cubicles, desks, and slaving employees. For some reason, its employees enjoy working here and when they come, for the most part, they don’t leave! Why?

Think Like an Owner

Most of the novelty of Shopify HQ comes from the fact that there’s a slide, a go-kart track, a fully decked arcade room, a yoga gym, and a band room. If you ask anyone who doesn’t work there what they think of the place, they’ll probably say, “Oh, it’s really nice”. Although that’s true, it’s important to note this isn’t what Shopify culture is.

Shopify encourages all its employees to think like an owner and it treats all its employees as if they were owners. Think: “Would an owner grab coffee?” or “Would an owner play some arcade games for fun?”. If the answer is yes, then every employee can do the same. This is the real reason Shopify has all these awesome amenities.

And yes — the slide. I went on the slide

Do Your Own Thing

What also struck me about Shopify was the amount of autonomy it gave to all its employees. On top of letting them set up a free Shopify store, all employees are actually given money and encouraged to start businesses on the side. These products are featured in a common area where they can be advertised to other employees for free! The fact that Shopify allows them much less encourages them to do that is pretty crazy.

All their employees also have access to life coaches, which offer advice in regards to lifestyle and career. To illustrate how much Shopify cares about its employees, they’re willing to even let them go if Shopify isn’t the right place for them.

Trust

One thing that shook me was the amount of trust that Shopify put in its employees. On top of everything I just mentioned, Shopify also doesn’t have strict working hours and it also gives its employees unlimited vacations.

The thing is, no one abuses this. Shopify’s theory of trust is that everyone they hire starts with a fully charged trust battery. Over time, that battery will only decrease if a wrong has been done. This sort of “innocent before guilty” mentality encourages employees to do the work themselves instead of feeling like they’re being pushed or forced to by a deadline.

Shopify’s Trust Battery

Transparency

All the things I’ve mentioned before are important to Shopify, but the biggest thing about Shopify — and the thing I think differentiates it from other companies — is its total and utter transparency. Chris told us that once a quarter, Tobi Lutke, the CEO of this multi-billion dollar company comes and gets in the hot seat.

In the dubbed “town hall” of Shopify, the employees can ask him anything (the questions are posted on Reddit and the most upvoted ones are answered). The fact that the CEO, the boss of this massive corporation gets straight-up grilled for a few hours answering some really hard questions just blew me away.

Tobi’s office is also right in the middle of the building. When you think of the words executive or CEO you think of the top floor. Of penthouse suites and of looking down at everyone. Not here. Before Shopify was a publicly-traded company, you could literally walk right into his office — it wasn’t even locked! The trust and transparency at Shopify were incredible to see.

The Shopify Town Hall

So, How Do I Get To Work Here?

If you’re anything like me, I wanted to work at Shopify so badly at the end of the tour. The company, the culture, the people, and the environment just seemed so amazing and welcoming. Fortunately, Chris gave us a pointer. Here’s the sentence he said.

Be authentic and tell your story

More than anything, Shopify doesn’t care what kind of degree you got or what title you have; they care about the person you are. They want to see that you’re not just a one-dimensional person and you have other interests as well.

“A great culture is the product of great people, strong values, and diversity.”

Conclusion

Before I finish, did I mention that the whole time he was giving the tour, we had NO idea he was an enterprise sales executive at Shopify!? We just thought he was a super nice, really chill, outgoing guy who was doing a nice thing for us fifteen/sixteen-year-olds.

For me, what that really revealed was that super successful, impressive people are just… well, people. We were just a bunch of teenagers, but he didn’t treat us any differently.

Having the chance to visit Shopify’s HQ was an amazing experience. If you want to keep up with new things I’m learning and follow my journey of personal growth, be sure to consider following me. Until next time — PEACE!


If you’re still here:

Hi, I’m Freeman, an Innovator at TKS (The Knowledge Society) and I would love to talk to you about leveraging exponential technologies to impact billions. I’m particularly interested in AI and autonomous vehicles at the moment.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/freeman-jiang-50b325190/

Email: freeman.jiang.ca@gmail.com

Website: freemanjiang.com

Freeman Jiang

Written by

Emerging Technologies Enthusiast and Innovator at TKS

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade