One Year at Shopify.

Joel Bronkowski
8 min readAug 11, 2017

It’s now officially been a year since I joined Shopify. Time flies.

(read my original post on leaving for the competition or this post on my on-boarding experience at Shopify).

It feels like I’ve been here for both 5 weeks and 5 years simultaneously. We move at such a pace that the memories of another job and life seem distant even though I only started on this eComm career path about five years ago; perhaps eComm years are kind of like dog years :). Given all that’s transpired I’d like to take a few minutes to reflect on what I’ve learned and observed.

Balancing Friendships and WorkShips

I never thought I’d be the guy who left for a competitor. It was hard on me and it was hard on my former colleagues, especially coming from a tight knit team with friendships deeply intermingled with my work life. I underestimated the way these friendships would change as much as I underestimated how different it would feel re-entering the WordPress community. Two months into my time at Shopify I spoke at WordCamp Netherlands where I was welcomed with open arms, but so much of what bonded me to many people in that space had changed. What I’ve learned is that while work relationships yield amazing friendships, so much of the foundation for those relationships is based on your job, the company and things that occur in that space. Knowing this I haven’t changed my MO. I’ve formed a ton of wonderful friendships at Shopify but I think I’ve learned that I need to strike a better balance with these WorkShips and other relationships in my life.

Shopify Vision & Culture

One thing that surprised me a ton when I first started and attended several Shopify events was the subject matter presented and discussed. Whether it’s Shopify merchants, employees or partners their is so much more discussion about how to grow your business and far less about how a site should be built or function. Much of this shift obviously has to do with open-source software vs SaaS, but coming from a person who has always worked on the business development, partnerships and marketing side of things it was so refreshing to move beyond discussions of how things should be built to more of the good stuff…the good stuff being how to grow your business. Given the amount of data we have as a platform we are constantly making our merchants more successful and thinking about what the future of commerce looks like and building amazing tools that are squarely focused on making our merchants and partners more successful. If I were to make a list of the innovation I’ve seen at Shopify in the past year it would require more than a full post in itself.

“Take the path that leads to more entrepreneurs” and “Reduce the learning curve for entrepreneurs” (Tobi Lutke at Unite 2017) . These are not the kind of goals you would expect from a software company to announce at their annual big event. It sometimes feels a bit of BS for tech companies to talk about changing the world but when I look at what we are doing I genuinely believe in our cause. And honestly, this vision is pervasive at Shopify - in all departments. We want to make it easier than ever for partners to succeed in building Shopify sites. We want to take the complexities out of commerce for small businesses everywhere. We will take the path that leads to more entrepreneurs and reduce the barriers for merchants and partners alike.

Pioneering International

One of the things that attracted me most to this role is the opportunity to represent and grow Shopify internationally. A year in and it’s exciting to see how far we’ve come. Knowing exactly where to focus our energy and efforts is not easy and as a team we’ve had to regularly reassess and test our assumptions. It’s an incredibly fun space to work in; working for a large, fast moving company but being able to operate like a start-up at the same time. There’s a ton of excitement and intrigue around what lays ahead for Shopify internationally, and the entire team I’m leading is incredibly thrilled to be a part of that. (speaking of which we are hiring in APAC and LATAM)

Mexico City to Auckland

My crazy team is made up of diversity of culture, styles, knowledge and time zones (just to throw an extra spanner in the works). Leading this group is one of the hardest and most amazing things I’ve ever done (look out for more blog posts from us on this). Diversity is just that, it’s hard but it’s incredibly beautiful when it works. We recognize that the way we are operating is not normal and wouldn’t have been possible even a few years back. But here we are - a group of people from all around the world pulling together learnings and ideas to help partners and merchants succeed all around the world. It might require a few early mornings and late nights (and a few lost brain cells) but it’s been an incredible journey working with these amazing people. When you have a team of people fully bought in to a vision it’s an unshakable force. This past week we had a chance to get together for a full weekend for the first time and it was full of moments I wished I could bottle. I have no doubt this group of people will do amazing things.

A Growing Community

Along the lines of creating more entrepreneurs it’s been my greatest joy to see our partners build communities of entrepreneurs around the globe. Initially my focus was Europe (based out of London) but this February I was lucky to move to a role where I look after a crazy bunch of partner managers across the globe. We’ve been on a mission to work closely with our top partners to bring together merchants and partners across the world. The events have varied in terms of quality, content and turn-out.

But the main thing that excites me about these events is creating a space for our merchants and partners to meet and learn from each other. The commonality of their togetherness is their quest to grow as entrepreneurs. Imagine a room full of people selling things online and for the most part doing what they love and making a living out of it - can you find me a more vibrant group of people? For the most part our merchants and partners have either left their jobs or are trying to build something in order to one day leave their job to do what they love. To be a part of that, to bring these types of people together, has been the highest honor for our team.

From top to bottom: Singapore, Istanbul, Ghent, Copenhagen, Sao Paulo, Bangalore

What we do as business people, sales people, developers is all about the intersection with people and the way we treat them. Stripping away some of the technical nature of what we do, let’s think about what it means for companies to build their business as a Shopify agency. And let’s think about what it means when we, as Shopify, validate these companies to be an extension of us, especially at events where we invite all of our customers and partners to enter into one space. We are fully aligned. The partner has built their business based on trust in our ability to deliver on what we’ve promised. We as a company are fully reliant on the partner to look after clients using our service. Every interaction from both sides is about trust and belief in… what? What do we actually care about? It’s about building something that helps people fulfill their goals in business and in life.

The joys of learning

When I think about what I’ve learned at Shopify the things that stand out are mostly related to understanding the product and partner landscape. We work with some amazing freelancers and agencies that are putting out some amazing work. It’s been such a joy to become an extension of these companies and to see how often smaller agencies are delivering incredible work for companies of all sizes. This is not normal. Traditionally big brands would hire massive agencies to deliver projects, especially when it came to eCommerce. Shopify and Shopify Plus are turning this on it’s head. The reality is emerging brands and startups don’t need to spend 100K on an eCommerce project or wait 6 months for it to be built. It’s been incredible to be privy to this sea change and we’ve only just begun.

Thriving on Change

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life and career, it is that most of my growth comes through challenging times - times of change and times of conflict. There’s nothing better for a relationship than a confrontation of truths. Moving from a small company to a big company is a big change. Moving from a remote company to leading a remote team in a non-remote company is also a big change.

All that said, I like the insane speed Shopify moves at and in spite of the challenges that can come with being remote, I think the opportunity to lead a team that spans 18 hours of time zones is quite a privilege. We are the anomaly paving the path for a new way of operating.

In a year that’s otherwise been full of international political turmoil and shocking world events, I’ve been increasingly proud to work for a proudly Canadian company. In fact, I no longer go out of my way to point out that I’m not Canadian :). I love what Canada stands for, and couldn’t be prouder of what Shopify stands for.