The world of eCommerce is one that is constantly evolving – both in terms of public perception and concerning how the industry serves customers.
In the 1990s, the very idea of buying something online (not to mention entering your credit card information into a computer) was unthinkable to a lot of people. Flash forward to today, and eCommerce sites are used all around the world every single day. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it even became the dominant way that people got essential items due to the fact that many stores in their area were closed due to lockdowns and other restrictions.
Throughout it all, one of the biggest names in eCommerce has been Shopify. Originally founded in 2006 by entrepreneurs Tobias Lutke, Daniel Weinand, and Scott Lake, the Canada-based service was used by more than 1.7 million businesses in 175 million countries as of 2021. Shopify’s continued success story and the way that it upended the way we think about eCommerce in the first place is an important one to observe, as are the lessons that we can learn from the story itself.
Shopify: In the Beginning
In 2002, Tobias Lutke and his partner Scott Lake took it upon themselves to create a company called Snowdevil. Its mission was simple: it acted as a convenient way to sell snowboarding equipment online.
However, they quickly grew frustrated with how difficult it was to get an eCommerce site off the ground. The solutions that existed at the time were time-consuming and lacked essential features, so Lutke decided to build his own platform.
Though the snowboarding business wasn’t successful, Lutke and Lake saw a different opportunity. They could sell the platform they had built to other businesses so that everyone could easily sell their products and services over the Internet.
From the beginning, the success of what is now known as Shopify is one built on disruption. Lutke and Lake saw a gap between what the marketplace was and what people needed it to be. They designed a product that could fill that gap and were suddenly off to the races.
Another key ingredient to the company’s success was that they focused on delivering the features they themselves wanted when they were still working on Snowdevil. The earliest versions of Shopify were all about the essentials – customizable store templates, tracked order feeds, robust inventory management capabilities, and more. It also offered PayPal and credit card integration to help streamline the payment processing system as much as possible.
An Era of Disruption and Success
It’s also important to note that Shopify was an entirely bootstrapped company in those early days. After getting everything up and running themselves, the founders generated a revenue of just $8,000 in the October of Shopify’s first year of business, 2006. Flash forward to 2018 and the company crossed $1 billion in revenue for the first time.
Indeed, this is a big part of the inspirational quality of the Shopify story – Lutke and his partners were true entrepreneurs in every sense of the term. Lutke in particular began his career as a computer programmer. It’s not like he woke up one morning and decided that his trajectory was to upend an entire industry and one day be the CEO of one of the biggest companies in the world. He loved computer programming, he wanted a career in that field and would have happily continued to be that until this unbeatable opportunity presented itself.
Lutke himself has indicated that it took years to get from the point he started – a period of his life where he had absolutely no business background – to becoming the CEO of Shopify took a lot of care, hard work, and attention to detail. He spent time speaking with mentors and learning anything they were willing to teach him. He read as much as he could about this new path he found himself on.
It was a long, hard road to travel – and it was one that wasn’t always easy. When Shopify first launched, it was a company with just two employees. Over the next six years, it only grew to 20. During this time Lutke and his co-founders were finding their own path.
In the beginning of Shopify, for example, Lutke was tasked primarily with overseeing the product itself. Scott Lake, on the other hand, acted as the CEO. Lake would then decide to leave the company altogether in 2008 – forcing Lutke to quickly learn how to run a business.
During that time, Lutke had to stretch himself in ways that he never thought he would be confronted with. But he did, and his company – and the world of eCommerce – have come out all the better for it.
Learning has always been an important part of Lutke’s life, and it continues to be to this day. He has said that four times a year, he takes one week off of work to focus on “deep learning.” He spends time alone where he reads books, codes, and tries to expand his horizons in any way that he can. This in particular is a trait that a lot of successful business people share. They’re never willing to say that they “know enough” or have “done enough” to become as successful as they can be. They’re always moving the proverbial goalposts farther and farther into the distance, and it seems to benefit them tremendously as a result.
In the end, there is certainly a lot to learn from the success story of Shopify. If necessity is the mother of invention, the Shopify platform is certainly proof positive of that. But even as your ascension begins, you need to continue to evolve as the business around you does the same. Never stop learning. Never stop working to better yourself. Don’t focus so much on where you start but embrace where you end up and all that you’ve learned along the way. You will stumble, and you will fall, but if you stay on course, it seems that life can surprise you in the best possible way.