Shopify co-founder, Tobias ("Tobi") Lutke, received a Commodore 64 from his parents at the age of six, and by the time he graduated from elementary school had begun rewriting the code of games and modifying the computer's hardware. Tobi's fascination with computers and his indifference toward formal education led him to leave school at the age of 16. He pursued an apprenticeship in computer programming, which rewarded him with early success in his native Germany.

When Tobi wasn't coding, he wanted to be on the slopes, snowboarding. And it was during a trip to Canada's Whistler resort that he met the love of his life, a Canadian diplomat named Fiona McKean. After she had spent a year living in Germany, it was his turn to spend a year in Canada, and so they arrived in Fiona's hometown of Ottawa in 2002. Tobi had accumulated a wealth of experience and knowledge during his formative years in the tech sector, but alas, had no formal degree. If he was to make it in Canada, Tobi believed entrepreneurship was his best option, and so in 2004, along with a small group of friends, Tobi set up an online store to sell snowboarding equipment.

However, there was one problem delaying their site's launch; the existing ecommerce solutions on the market didn't meet his standards. In a later interview, Tobi would explain, “as an engineer, if I have to do something twice, it's okay. If I have to do something three times, I wonder why it's so tough to automate it. Tobi wanted to automate his site's ecommerce solution so that his team could spend more time marketing their products and less time bothered with administrative tasks like manually collecting analytics and managing inventory. So being a programmer by trade, he decided to build his own ecommerce solution. The team soon realized there was actually more value in the software they had developed than the online snowboard store, and Shopify was born.

Fast forward to 2015, the company has taken advantage of an explosion in online retail sales growth. While the 20%+ annual growth rates seen over the past decade in the U.S. are expected to taper off between 2014 and 2019, sales are still projected to reach more than $2.1B annually, compared to $1.2 billion in 2014 and $603 million in 2010. What is more interesting is that the global ecommerce market is forecast to reach a staggering $1.64 trillion by 2018, according to Forrester.

Shopify has helped drive the growth of online retailers by making it easy for anyone to set up an online store, and it now supports more than 175,000 merchants. The success has helped the company reach ‘unicorn' status. In addition to receiving a $1 billion+ valuation from investors, Shopify has captured interest from some of the world's largest companies, including Facebook and Amazon. Shopify's solution for Facebook allows retailers to display their products directly on their Facebook Page, meaning they don't need to leave the Facebook website or mobile app to check out. According to Shopify, the move will create a safe and secure buying experience. Moreover, shoppers will be able to save their payment information, making future purchases easier –especially for mobile purchases. Around the same time, Shopify also announced it would step in as Amazon's preferred partner for their Webstore clients. Amazon has provided the Webstore platform to its merchant partners since 2006, but in March 2015, they announced that the platform would be ending its service by mid-2016. This opens up another tremendous opportunity for Shopify.

It is safe to say, Tobi Lutke does not regret his decision to move to Canada in 2002. Now a Canadian citizen, he speaks highly of Canadian talent and the technology companies that are emerging from cities like Ottawa and Toronto. “We have a lot of really great companies in Canada, and I think there's always been this fear that great in Canada doesn't mean great on a world stage,” Tobi told The Globe and Mail. “We need more self-confidence. We are building incredibly good businesses with incredibly good people, being loyal, dedicating themselves to solving important problems.” Tobi, his wife and three children still live and conduct business in Ottawa, where they recently purchased a local ski resort.

Learn why Ontario is one of the best places in the world for entrepreneurs




September 29, 2015

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