Today we announced that Shopify has achieved a huge milestone: Our clients have surpassed $10M in total sales from all of our Shopify stores. This is a massive achievement, not just for the team at Jaded Pixel but also for our customers: we wouldn’t have a market if you didn’t have products to sell. And selling you are: From t-shirts to beauty products, from shoes to organizers, and funky art, Shopify stores are selling almost anything a purchaser could ever want to buy. You’re in dozens of countries around the world, using currencies from Dollars to Pounds to ¥en, and breaking new ground in ecommerce software every single day. Congratulations to everyone, and onwards and upwards to the next $10M!
In honour of this achievement, I sat down with Tobias Lütke, co-founder of Jaded Pixel along with Scott Lake, to take us back over the origins of Shopify as well as some of the challenges and surprises that Shopify has come up with over its brief but brilliant history.
Q: Tell me about the origins of Shopify and how it got from an idea to $10 Million.
A: We didn’t set out with Shopify as you see it today in mind. We were originally building Snowdevil. We were a couple of guys who wanted to sell cool designer snowboards, not create an ecommerce application for thousands of customers. We had looked at lots of ecommerce packages, but nothing was good enough for what we wanted to do. I was kind of off programming at the time and wasn’t crazy about the idea of building something from scratch, but we had requirements that just weren’t there in existing programs. We wanted it to look cool. We wanted it to be easy to use. And if the idea took off we wanted to be able to change the store with the seasons, and we didn’t want to be tied to a product that couldn’t handle it. So I jumped back in to programming and started to build something we could use to jumpstart that business. And we ended up with something completely unexpected. We sold snowboards all that winter, but when spring came and business slowed down we realized that the shop, not the snowboards, was the real opportunity. Only when we built Snowdevil did we realize it was the basis of something good enough to allow thousands of people to run their own shops.
Q: What about it made you realize you had something really good on your hands?
A: We realized we’d already done a lot of the hard work. In going through the process of building an online store, there were so many pieces of the process that were cumbersome and seemed unnecessary. For example, Snowdevil needed some basic PCI stuff tested, but we hadn’t built it yet – but we couldn’t build it until we had other parts built that relied on the original part. Everything was needed in a certain order and it was frustrating. We knew other people would be going through this process too and thought, why not turn this into a product and make it easy for everyone else to do this?
Q: How long did the product take to build?
A: It took about 2 or 3 months to write Snowdevil, but it took about a year and a half to take Snowdevil and turn it in to Shopify. Originally I was coding in coffee shops, then after about a year we got office space which we’ve now outgrown.
Q: Why did you decide to build Shopify in Ruby on Rails?
A: On the day Rails was released a friend of mine linked to it, so I checked it out. I had started to build Snowdevil in PHP, but as soon as I found rails I knew it was the technology to bet the company on. It’s not something that techies usually decide in a day, but we did. At that time, Rails was as close to the proverbial silver bullet as anything else in technology I’ve ever seen.
Q: What’s been the biggest surprise that’s come out of working on Shopify?
A: The thing that surprises me the most is how crafty and technical our customers are, especially those on the forums. I am used to out-geeking everyone around me, and I’m constantly surprised by what people can do with Shopify. When you program a lot, you end up with x-ray vision for code – you see something and know how it was done. Once in a while, though, you can’t tell, and you look at the code and find some new innovative way to do something, and every time that happens it’s a great surprise.
From a less geeky perspective, I’m also always pleasantly surprised by the quality of the Shopify stores out there. One of my favourite surprises is to find a cool store highlighted on Digg or somewhere and not realize it is a Shopify store until I actually look it up.
- Tobi Lütke, interviewed by Shannon McKarney