REASON TO LOVE OTTAWA #7: Because we help the world shop

Because we help the world SHOP

Photography by Marc Fowler,

Lights flicker and arcs stream across a map of the world on the flat-screen TV in the Shopify lobby. Every time one of Shopify’s 11,500 international clients makes a sale, a little light goes on; an arc traces where the order is heading. At 5 p.m., the California-Australia shipping routes really pick up. It’s busy and beautiful, like the entire sleek, bustling office.

Shopify is a local start-up that can’t really call itself a start-up anymore. With a spacious new office in the ByWard Market, the e-commerce company that started out as a way for two hackers to subsidize their snowboarding habit is now so successful that it “incubates” new start-ups, offering them free space and advice in exchange for, well, whatever their protege can offer.

Founded in 2006 by Tobi Lütke and Scott Lake, Shopify gives anyone looking to sell something through a website the tools they need to do just that in a simple, stress-free way. In other words, one-stop shopping for anyone looking to set up a customized online store. Their solid reputation means they never have to hunt for clients; if anything, they can afford to be a bit choosy, targeting website designers, rather than entrepreneurs themselves, by offering designers a 20 percent cut of the fee.

Their mantra, Do What You Do Best, speaks volumes about the company. Their focus is simple: offer a fast, easy-to-use site that, in turn, allows their clients to focus on their cupcakes, custom headboards, or annual reports (Amnesty International is a client). If clients want apps that they don’t have, Shopify keeps it simple by referring them to tools they trust rather than developing apps in-house.

And they’re feeling the love. Clients send them things — a large unicorn poster, for example, because the people of Shopify love unicorns the way other staff love the Sens or Lost — and sing their praises through video testimonials. The men behind DODOcase, a beautiful iPad case made using traditional bookbinding techniques, can be seen on YouTube, surfing and biking on the beaches of San Francisco, pronouncing Shopify the solution to long days at the office.

Then again, if you’re spending your days at Shopify, which includes a gaming room and an espresso machine and feels like the condo of a very smart, very rich friend, maybe the office isn’t such a bad place to hang.  — Dayanti Karunaratne