Tech sector must replace ‘cynicism with optimism,’ Shopify CEO tells Ottawa audience
If you’re applying for a coveted job at Ottawa tech darling Shopify Inc., the CEO says he doesn’t care what degree you have.
He wants to see that you’re passionate about solving problems.
“We are not here because of all the stuff we know. We are all here because of how we react when we don’t know what to do,” said Tobi Lütke, describing Shopify’s workforce to businesspeople gathered at an Ottawa Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday.
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According to Lütke, that attitude is what’s powering Shopify’s success. The Ottawa company’s had a big year, with 175,000 businesses now using its software platform. Since going public on the New York and Toronto stock exchanges in May 2015, Shopify has also announced partnerships with Amazon and Twitter.
“You really want a company that’s full of people from all these different backgrounds and then allow them to be creative as possible, come together and come up with great ideas,” said Lütke.
“It’s this concept of ‘just fill up a building of smart people’. It sounds so basic, but honestly it might just be the secret behind Shopify’s success,” he added. “We just do that, and get out of the way.”
‘We’ve just started’
It’s a work culture Lütke hopes will help him build Shopify to last into the next century.
“We’ve just started, I think,” he said. “Over the next 80 years, I can picture hundreds of products to come. And the internet is going to be nothing like it is right now.”
Lütke told the audience that he sees all sorts of technological changes on the horizon, from virtual reality to cryptocurrencies to drones, and he wants to be with Shopify as it deals with new challenges and helps re-invent ways of doing things.
The way he puts it, Shopify’s aim is to make commerce better, by creating a software platform that makes it easy for people to sell their goods and services online. He and his partners created the software because nothing like it existed when they started out as just a skateboard business.
“I’m just going to work on trying to get millions of people to experience this moment of their first sale,” said Lütke.
Replacing ‘cynicism with optimism’
Fostering such entrepreneurship would be an answer to the cynicism and opportunism Lütke said he sees now, where companies are being built only with an eye to be flipped or features are added to apps or games only to get people to spend more money.
Lütke, who grew up in Germany but followed his future wife to Ottawa, said he dreams of retiring from the same company where he wrote the first line of code.
He told the audience about being a teenager in Germany in the 1990s, and remembering the magic of the internet in the early days of its mass uptake — when ideas were for sharing, instantly.
“Replacing that cynicism with that optimism of the 1990s is what we want to do,” said Lütke. “Hundreds of millions of people should put themselves out there and say, ‘I’m going to do something.'”