It's secured millions of dollars in venture capital financing and tripled its physical footprint by expanding in the ByWard Market. Sales at Shopify's client stores are increasing and the company's own workforce more than doubled last year to 80 employees.
But the new year brings a fresh set of challenges to Shopify, which is emerging as an anchor company in the city's burgeoning app development sector. It must answer to more outside investors and continue outmanoeuvring its competitors, all while preserving its unique corporate culture.
"People warned me of the terrible time between 30 and 60 employees, when everything has to change," says founder Tobi Lütke. "I'm happy with how things turned out."
It used to be easy to have everyone around the same lunch table, Mr. Lütke recalls. Such informal meetings become less workable at larger companies so, naturally, Shopify developed a networking solution.
Dubbed Unicorn, the Twitter-inspired internal social media platform allows employees to discuss business ideas and new projects, or even to thank others for bringing cookies to the company's lunch room that morning.
"It replaces a lot of the (incidental encounters) that you used to have on your lunch break," says Mr. Lütke.
Shopify, Ottawa's fastest-growing private company for the past two years, has historically stayed ahead of competitors through the straightforward interface of its platform.
Online stores can be set up in minutes by people with no programming experience. Powered by a programming language known as Ruby on Rails, Shopify's developers can quickly create a basic template that is easy to customize.
Ruby on Rails was new and thus rarely used for e-commerce when Shopify first launched in 2006. However, the efficiency of its "scaffolding" made it easy to build digital stores and greatly assisted the young startup's growth.
Today, Shopify boasts more than 15,000 online retailers in operation. In 2010, its users did $124 million in business. Shopify anticipates it beat that mark in 2011, given that merchants generated $95 million in business in just the first six months of last year.
It hopes to help its customers boost their sales by rolling out mobile offerings, an arena where its competitors have yet to enter and Shopify's investors hope to dominate.
"Over the next few years, mobile-initiated or consummated transactions will be a huge part of what we do, not only from a store administration standpoint, but also making sure that items display the right way," says Amish Jani, founder of FirstMark Capital, which participated in Shopify's two venture capital rounds.
"Search and discovery needs to happen in a more targeted manner. So yes, we see mobile to be a big area of activity."
Another field where investors see Shopify maintaining a commanding lead is in its use of analytics, the metrics used to track visitors to websites. Justin Lafayette, managing director of Georgian Partners and an investor since October, says Shopify is well-versed in using data mining and "predictive analytics" to determine where visitors tend to go.
While Shopify may have opened an office in Toronto last year, both investors say there is no pressure on the company to relocate its operations.
"They should expand where they are and keep that culture rich. They moved into a new space and they can accommodate their growth and foster a great team," says Mr. Lafayette.
Despite acquisition offers coming his way and the allure of bigger cities with larger developer communities, Mr. Lütke says he is committed to growing Shopify in Ottawa. For starters, employees have built their own culture in the ByWard Market, where workers tend to move after working at the firm for a few months.
He also has an ambitious vision of where he wants to take the company in the coming years.
"We all agree we are trying to build one of Canada's greatest success stories together. What does that mean? You've got to be a company that does more than a billion dollars at some point.
"As lofty as it sounds, we are building towards that goal."
Some of Shopify's top online customers:
- Amnesty International
- Angry Birds
- Beastie Boys
- David Blaine
- Epic Meal Time
- Evisu Jeans
- Foo Fighters
- General Electric
- Tesla Motors
- Tori Amos
Some of Shopify's top Ottawa customers:
- Jalam Teas
- Mafia Jewellery
- The Modern Shop
- Sam Bat
- Triple Bogey Apparel