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Patrick Speijers
Patrick Speijers
CEO
Oct 24, 2013

Our Adventures at Shopify HQ and the Three Secrets to their Success!


Shopify mothershipAt ROBIN, we believe that you can’t build a sustainable business without building a personal relationship with both your customers and your business partners.

That’s why Michiel (ROBIN marketing duder) and I jumped on a plane from Amsterdam to spend some quality time with the folks at the Shopify mothership in Ottawa, Canada.

Our mission? To take our relationship with Shopify to the next level. And boy, was it a trip to remember. From attitude to energy, process to culture, we gained some serious insights into why they are the fastest growing e-commerce platform on the planet.

And that’s what I’d like to share with you in this post. But first ...

Why would Michiel and I fly 6,000 kilometres just to say ‘Hi’?

Back in May, we soft-launched our all-in-one customer service app for e-commerce in the Shopify app store. As a result, we gained more than 150 new Shopify customers, 7 five-star reviews and a ton of valuable user feedback that is helping us make our app even better - all of which, we love.

Plus, now that we’ve launched our Premium Plan and added Live Chat, which seamlessly integrates with email, we felt it was simply the right time to take our partnership with them to the next level.

And so, we kicked off our adventure!

First impressions of the Shopify mothership

I’m a Dutchman. And even though I may be a little crazy (especially about e-commerce and customer service!) us Dutchies are not known for exaggerating.

That said, Shopify is nothing less than awesome, amazing and insanely great.

And you can quote me on that!

From the moment we arrived, they blew our heads wide open. We were received with the greatest hospitality, openess, kindness and cooperation. Everyone we talked to did their utmost to make sure we got the most value out of our stay.

Plus, during our fantastic visit to the Shopify mothership, I believe we also gained an insight into the reasons for Shopify’s stunning success to date.

Here’s what we discovered ...

Culture, Customer care and Collaboration

I believe these are the three main reasons why Shopify are where they are right now. I think it’s the combination of these things that makes them special and arguably unbeatable in the e-commerce space.

Let’s take a closer look.

Culture drives success from the bottom-up!

Shopify HQ Ottawa buildingShopify is not the only e-commerce company in the world that takes care of it’s employees. And they’re not the only one who knows how to create an environment that is inspiring, fun to work in and productive too. From pinball machines and playstations, graffiti and nap rooms to free food and drinks … it’s all there.

But what makes Shopify different is that the entire building breathes an organic ‘bottom-up’ atmosphere. You can feel it. And it’s been created by the employees. Not driven ‘top-down’ by management. That’s quite unique.

Walking through the Shopify HQ, Michiel and I noticed that everyone is relaxed and focused at the same time. All the offices have different furniture, decorations and props. And every team seems to have organised the desks, chairs and equipment in such a way that works best for them.

And this is very cool: every employee gets 250 dollars a year to decorate their own office. Totally their call! Some of them spend it on a painting. Some of them chip in together to buy a leather couch - whatever they fancy!

For most people, working hours are totally flexible. As a result, everyone has such a great time being there, and most of them would rather spend more time in the office than out.

Shopify also has mechanisms that stimulate people to get the most out of each other. So when someone helps a colleague, they get a shoutout on the internal micro blogging system called ‘Unicorn’. Other employees can vote on these shoutouts. And everyone who participates can make an extra buck.

But it’s not just a gimmick. A full 1% (!) of the Shopify turnover is reserved for Unicorn rewards. That’s impressive, but there’s challenges too.

Graffiti in Shopify buildingOne of Shopify’s biggest challenges is to retain the culture they have worked so hard to build. And to do that they need keep on hiring the best people - all while facing that incredible 100% annual growth rate.

Daniel Weinand, co-founder & Chief Design Officer is tackling this by adding another string to his bow. He is now Chief Culture Officer. And they’ve hired a top-notch Head of Talent Acquisition to recruit superheroes too. Brilliant.

Lastly, the operational transparency is amazing. The place is filled with monitors that show all kinds of statistics ranging from signups count and shop sales, order count and app installs to site traffic, and much much more. You name it, it’s on the screens in the building for everyone to see.

All of this creates an atmosphere of open-ness and involvement. It’s an environment where everyone is able to speak freely and contribute to the overall goals of growth and of course; customer happiness.

Customer care is personal, flexible and full of energy

Although Shopify is a ‘Do-It-Yourself’ platform, the technology is highly advanced and has a ton of options. That means people often need help to optimise their platform. And that’s why Shopify offers 24/7 support, 365 days a year.

Shopify ‘gurus’ are the key. Shopify users can contact the Shopify gurus‘ by email, Live Chat or phone. These gurus can answer all your support or business related questions ranging from how to resize a photo to how to manage dropshipping or gain more traffic to your web store.

And the quality of customer service gets even better. Michiel and I had the pleasure to sit in with Shopify gurus for a while and listen to them help customers out.

First, they listen very closely to their customers so they can diagnose the problem. Then, depending on the problem, they either solve it directly, point you to the right resource on the website, or refer you to one of Shopify’s design, development, marketing or photography experts.

So, whatever the question, Shopify helps you out. They make sure you can ‘call a friend’ no matter what the problem is. These gurus work for 4 hours in a row, in which they handle about 30 calls. Wonderfully. And that’s a lot.

Overall, I was stunned by the level of energy, positivity and helpfulness they maintained throughout all these calls. Shopify gurus rock!

Collaboration combines functionality, integration and expert partners

Shopify’s business strategy is to focus on the core functionality of the e-commerce platform. This includes shopping cart, customizable design themes, payment systems, hosting, and much more.

For many other functionalities (marketing, sales, shipping, inventory and customer service, for example) Shopify collaborates with expert partners. That shows that Shopify know where their strengths are.

With over 450 available apps in the Shopify app store and nearly 1.000 installs daily, Shopify is leading the way in web based e-commerce solutions.

As a user, you can see this when you browse their app store. And as a developer, you experience Shopify’s leadership through the richness of their API. This creates winning business partnerships.

At ROBIN, we tapped into this by creating a sophisticated integration with Shopify. With us, web stores can easily manage all customer conversations from one single dashboard. This allows us to display a full customer profile, order info & conversation history within‘ that one dashboard. This increases the quality of customer service and saves merchants loads of time too.

Pretty soon, we’ll announce some super-cool new features to enrich the customer profile. But enough about us. Whether it’s the expert community, the app store or business development, Shopify’s model is a great example of collaboration and partnerships as a pillar of success.

So, how did ROBIN find the bell to the front door?

Patrick Speijers Blair Beckwith Michiel GaasterlandI want to close off, by explaining how we found the bell to the front door of Shopify.

Back in 2010, Willem van Bergen placed a comment on a Dutch e-commerce weblog. At the time Willem was hired by Shopify to help out with the data warehouse infrastructure. He still works at Shopify. He’s now in a management role and is proud to be employee #21 of an industry leader.

Dirkjan Vis, the owner of the weblog, then connected me to Willem, who later introduced me to Blair Beckwith, Shopify’s app store manager. Willem and Blair have been a great help in getting us on the map at Shopify.

So, when I walked in to the Shopify offices last week, wearing my ‘ROBIN loves Shopify’ T-Shirt, many people had already heard of these crazy Dutch guys who are leading the way in e-commerce customer service.

So what’s the moral of my story?

Visiting the Shopify mothership was a great adventure. And I guess the moral of my story is this:

By finding a sponsor on the inside, by building personal relationships with both your partners and your customers, you really can build a sustainable business - for everyone involved. Maybe you can even end up as the fastest growing business on the planet!

And don’t forget to share your appreciation! Wear the T-shirt - loud and proud!

Blair, Willem, Aisha, Jonathan, Katie, Brennan, Greg, Afshin, Jamie, Taylor, Tetsuro and Blake … thank you so much for a great day, and a great evening.

We’ll be back!

API, App store, Business, Collaboration, Culture, Customer care, Customer happiness, Live chat, Partnerships, Shopify, Shopping cart, Transparency

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