Krystle Chow
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Not many companies can boast of being directly responsible for the creation of more than 1,500 new businesses monthly in the past year, as well as boosting their own sales nearly five-fold over the last three years.

Shopify's Tobias Lutke. (File photo)

But as the purveyor of an electronic storefront platform – used both by behemoths such as General Electric and Pixar, and what co-founder and CEO Tobias Lütke calls the “Fortune Five Million, as opposed to the Fortune 500” – those are exactly the kinds of statistics to which Shopify can lay claim.

In fact, the idea of helping new online ventures get off the ground is what’s driving much of the frantic activity at Shopify, which was last year’s fastest-growing company. The firm recently launched the second edition of its build-a-business contest, inviting budding entrepreneurs to dream up something to sell and get the most revenue within two months, for the chance to win more than $500,000 in prizes.

Last year, the contest was only open to the United States, but this year it’s expanded its reach to Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.

“The most interesting thing we found out is there’s tremendous pent-up interest to try and build your own online business. And for many, there’s nothing truly in the way – they just need a kick in the butt,” says Mr. Lütke. “(The contest) gives people no chance to say no to that.”

Sure, there’s a little bit of self-interest involved in launching the competition – Mr. Lütke says the attention will help Shopify spread its wings to new international markets – but the goal is to create an environment where the maximum number of people are opening online stores, and succeeding.

As Shopify itself got its start when the founders decided to set up a snowboard shop online and developed the technology to support it, Mr. Lütke is well aware of the challenges for that climate of success. And given the firm’s philosophy of being your own best customer to understand the business better, its focus on fostering independent entrepreneurs fits.

It’s evident it’s working – Shopify is moving to new digs for the second time in a year to accommodate its doubled workforce. Notably, the growth has created logistical problems for the company’s popular video game tournaments, since there are now too many people who want to participate.

“It’s a great challenge to have … we want to show everyone a great time and grow our opportunities at the same time.”


Year founded: 2006

Local head count: 48

Product/service: Online storefront platform

Revenue growth: 385%


Organizations: General Electric, Pixar, Fortune 500

Geographic location: United States, Canada, Australia United Kingdom

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