When the creators of Shopify launched their online retailing platform in 2005, they say it was more about getting their kicks than anything.
"The founders created it as a way to finance their snowboarding in the winters," said Dimitri Onistsuk, the company's vice-president of marketing. "So they decided to sell snowboards online in the summer.
"They didn't like any of the online solutions out there at the time, so they decided to create a solution of their own."
But five years on, Shopify – a platform allowing virtually anyone to concoct their own online store, and one of OBJ's Startups To Watch in 2007 – has become one of Ottawa's most successful startup stories, with 7,000 stores in 50 different countries around the world.
Celebrities such as David Blaine, the Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age, as well as high-profile not-for-profits such as Amnesty International, all use Shopify as an online storefront.
And it's tales of bootstrapped success like Shopify's, said OCRI/Exploriem Bootstrap Awards founder Bruce Firestone, that will help inspire Ottawa's companies to keep growing even in the absence of lavish venture-capital financings and the like.
“The world has become a tough, competitive place and if Ottawa-Gatineau is going to have a seat at the table, it's because we can produce tough, competitive entrepreneurs," he said Friday morning, following the annual awards ceremony at Centurion Centre in south Ottawa. "(We’ve got to) educate them, mentor them, promote them and celebrate their achievements."
The awards' focus is on self-capitalized companies, explained Mr. Firestone, and early-stage companies that rely on building real cash flow. "We've been doing work in this area since 1999 and it proves that, if you wear an old suit long enough, it will eventually come back in style. And that has happened here — the world has come to us," said Mr. Firestone.
Fittingly, Shopify was one of six finalists (along with Telepin Software, OBJ's Fastest Growing Company for 2009) in the awards ceremony's grand prize for fastest growing bootstrap startup. The winner will be selected at this year's OCRI Awards on April 8.
But there were other categories, and several golden boots handed out as the top prize in each one. Scott Annan's Network Hippo Inc. took gold in the best new micro business of the year category, while Stewart Supreme Vending took first prize in the fastest growing 20-and-under bootstrap startup category.
CrowdWave Games won in its category for best new technique for sales, pre-sales or launch clients, and Wedding Republic won for best new website of the year.
For a full list of winners and honourable mentions, please see: http://www.ocri.ca/exploriem/.