Last month, Jean-Michel Lemieux, CTO of Shopify, and the company’s chief talent officer, Brittany Forsyth, have both announced they are stepping down. Legal director Joe Frasca is also set to leave the e-commerce giant, with the three ending their tenure next month. In their next chapters, all of them seem eager to advise, invest, or even launch startups, joining a growing number of former Shopify executives and employees to do the same.
For a company the size of Shopify – the 15-year, 7,000-person, Ottawa-based company with a market capitalization of $ 130 billion – this is no surprise. Yet, due to the vast wealth that Shopify has helped create, its former employees seem to impact the Canadian entrepreneurial ecosystem like no business before it.
Is there anyone who needs a helping hand, a pep talk, career advice? How can I help?
– Jean-Michel Lemieux (@jmwind) May 13, 2021
Take Craig Miller, formerly Shopify’s chief product officer, who left the company in October. He had already invested in several venture capital funds focused on cleantech and Canada while working full time; now he invests both his money and his time in individual businesses which he says “have a real chance of having a great social impact”.
Some of these include tools that allow people to run their own businesses, including Housecall Pro, and startups looking to reverse climate change, like carbon capture startup Planetary Hydrogen.
Miller says his time is more convincing for the founders, which include former Shopify colleagues. “It’s important to raise money, but there are already more than enough people willing to invest money in it,” he says, so most of its value comes from talking to the teams at how to develop their startups, given that there are “so few people who know how to generate huge growth in a business, have seen a business [grow] from $ 100 million to $ 100 billion more, [and] who know how to adapt a product to millions of users. “
There aren’t many people on the planet who have experienced this kind of hyper-growth, he notes, but this is especially true in Canada, “where there are hardly any role models. “.
Miller is a product of his environment, he suggests, offering that Shopify actively educates its employees, albeit informally.
“One of the things I liked the most was our openness,” Miller says. “All the employees knew the roadmap, could consult the code, access the data. . . we even shared our board presentation with the whole company. This allows people interested in how to build an amazing business to take notes. “
Apparently a lot of people no longer had their pens. Among those who left Shopify to start their own businesses is Michael Perry, who left Shopify last year to create an app called Maple that helps organize busy families; Helen Tran, who left Shopify in 2017 to start Jupiter, which makes software for beauty and personal care brands; Andrew Peek, who started Delphia investment advice; and Effie Anolik, whose startup, Afterword, helps bereaved plan memorial services both online and offline.
Another founder and proud alum of Shopify is former Director of Product Marketing Arati Sharma, who calls Shopify a “special place” that has taught a lot of people how to grow a business and do it in a very Shopify-specific way.
Because Shopify is the first company of its size in Canada, it did not have a “fixed mindset” about “how businesses our size should be run” and it was not “beholden to playbooks. from the past, ”she says. leaving a lot to do for employees.
Sharma admits there are practical limits to what the experience might teach her about starting her own business, Ghlee, a Toronto-based ghee-based skincare brand that she launched in 2019. “Even though I’ve had the opportunity to build from scratch inside Shopify, occupying the founder’s seat is a whole new ball game,” she says.
Yet, as with Miller, Sharma credits Shopify with many lessons, including “how culture and commerce intersect so deeply.”
She also observes that “if you join [Shopify] as a former founder or you catch the entrepreneurship bug while working there, it’s remarkable how many employees are running their own businesses. “
Some actually run them to keep working at Shopify. Atlee Clark, for example, founded a children’s clothing company called Pika Layers, while remaining a full-time director of the company.
Others have started investment firms since they left. Among these: Former VP of Product Adam McNamara now heads Ramen Ventures, an impact angel fund, along with fellow former Shopify colleague Joshua Tessier.
Most notably, Sharma is an active angel investor herself, having even co-founded a collective of 10 investors earlier this year called Backbone Angels to “optimize speed and act quickly on a few deals that come our way.”
All members of Backbone Angels are women. All are former Shopify employees, including outgoing talent director Brittany Forsyth. All are focused on increasing the number of women and non-binary investors on the capping tables with the belief that this will change the way boards look to the future and the way businesses are built.
Thanks in part to Shopify – whose share price and earnings have risen throughout the pandemic – there is apparently no shortage of funding opportunities.
Although Sharma started investing earlier with her husband, she says out of the more than 30 startups she’s funded in total, nine of those deals have been completed this year.