Tobi Lütke transformed the Canadian upstart into an e-commerce giant by being the anti-Bezos. How long can the formula keep working?
Last February e-commerce company Shopify Inc. replaced the “Ottawa, Canada” dateline that began its press releases and earnings reports with a strange new one: “Internet, Everywhere.” The geographical shift came at the insistence of Shopify’s founder and chief executive officer, Tobi Lütke, who tends to view such matters through the prism of cold, hard logic. In May 2020, only a few months into the pandemic, he’d made the early, seemingly rash decision to terminate the leases on Shopify’s offices in Ottawa and six other cities, declaring that his entire 7,000-person workforce would remain virtual—forever. Shopify, he concluded, was now omnipresent, located with its employees and customers in the digital ether. His senior execs were perplexed at the strange phrasing, but they knew better than to argue.
The dateline thing may be a bit pompous and a little too cute, but after an almost two-year run that’s turned the quiet enterprise-tech company into a global e-commerce power, Lütke has earned some creative license. Since he started Shopify 15 years ago, the company has sold software that allows about 2 million merchants worldwide to run websites—free from the complicated embrace of Shopify’s chief rival, Amazon.com Inc. For $30 to $2,000 a month, Shopify offers sellers more than a dozen services to run an online store, from the actual e-commerce website to inventory management to payment processing.