Shopify’s Toronto office was initially the result of a stubborn but coveted marketing phenomenon.
“The company was looking to grow a formal marketing department four years ago and Craig Miller (current chief marketing officer) was based here in Toronto,” says Satish Kanwar, Director of Product at the enterprise-geared online commerce platform and point-of-sale developer. “He decided that while he wanted to join Shopify he didn’t want to relocate to Ottawa.”
So the company, which was founded in Ottawa in 2006, opened a second office in Toronto, building the team around Craig. Over the next few years, Shopify’s second office grew to about ten people focused on marketing and growth. At the time, the company’s product development was still happening in Ottawa but in 2013, Jet Cooper, a user experience and design startup co-founded by Satish in 2009, caught the eye of the growing Shopify.
The company acquired it, absorbing Satish’s team of 25 designers and developers into Craig’s team.
“In the last two years the Toronto team grew to 130 or so,” says Satish. Looking back, the acquisition makes a lot of sense for Shopify; after all, a growing company needs to make strategic moves to top up its talent pool. But within the context of the overall startup ecosystem in Toronto, Shopify’s timing was impeccable.
When Satish started Jet Cooper, using the word “technology” with respect to Toronto would more likely bring to mind the multinational companies with local offices in Toronto drawing from the marketing and sales talent.
“While that brought us exposure to folks like Microsoft, Facebook and Google, it didn’t really give Toronto a destiny or growth opportunity for itself,” he says. “What we’ve seen in the last five years especially is just a large number of homegrown companies that have established and built their roots here and given an opportunity for the city to develop a multidisciplinary talent pool.”
The result, he explains, is design and technical talent shifting from traditional agencies and service businesses towards the exciting technology and product development sector. The gravity of the swelling cluster has also managed to tug the tech talent from other places towards Toronto.
“I believe this stems what is a strong sense of community and collaboration as a whole,” says Satish. “Something that makes Toronto truly unique is that willingness to share and communicate with people very openly inside the industry looking at the global pie as something we can all co-create and achieve together.”
That translates into vast potential for Shopify.
“It means we can be a much larger company and last a lot longer with Canadian presence but work on a global basis,” he says. “Having the diversity and richness of the talent pool that we now have in Toronto can take us much further than in the past where there might have been a greater need to branch out into the United States quicker.”
But ultimately, it’s about synergy, about collaborating, sharing resources and working together, says Satish.
“More good is good-er, exponential interests and growth and investment in ideas,” he says. “And while it’s super important to get out of the city and get inspiration and make contacts and partnerships, there’s no reason the next ten billion dollar businesses in North America can’t be built here.”