Shopify

Two Truths and a Take, Season 2 Episode 14

Hello everyone! I have some big personal and professional news: I'm joining Shopify.

In my mind, Shopify is the most interesting company in the world right now. If you took everything I've ever written about scarcity and abundance, about technology, friction, complexity, and antifragility, and expressed it in a business, you'd get Shopify. They're an accelerant of the future of commerce, and a lifeline for this present crisis.

This is their moment. 

Beyond Survival

My grandfather, Léon Danco, loved small businesses and the entrepreneurs who ran them. He dedicated his career to meeting entrepreneurs, learning about what they made, how they did it, who their customers were, and what delighted them. While the mainstream business community obsessed over mega-scale conglomerate firms and corporate efficiency, he appreciated how much our world is built by small family businesses and their employees, doing what they loved to do, really well. 

He especially cared about helping entrepreneurs navigate a major transition in the life of their business: passing it off to the next generation of leaders. This is a scary moment. Your life’s work is at risk; you have to embrace the future while preserving what made your business unique and special. In a scary moment like this, goal number one is to make it through alive. Goal two is to make it through stronger than ever. His most read book is called Beyond Survival. 

Today, small business merchants everywhere have similar stakes in front of them. Hundreds of thousands of small businesses are fighting to survive another week; tens of millions of people are out of work, and must find a way to recast their life’s work into something they can sell. This is an inflection point: the past is over; the future is beginning. It's the same challenge: don’t just survive; go beyond survival. Come out of this stronger than ever. 

Every merchant has to rise to this challenge all at once. It's about more than surviving. There's zero doubt in my mind who would be my number one draft pick I'd want on my side: Shopify, obviously. It's not even close. 

New Defaults

Concealed in this crisis, there's some great news. This moment may be harrowing for small business entrepreneurs and merchants, but in this crisis there is decades-scale opportunity. COVID just closed the book on the 20th century, and on every “default setting” for small businesses. Defaults matter: they set our expectations, put us on a trajectory, and establish path dependence for everything that comes after. 

If the default is It takes your full-time effort to start a business, then only people who can afford to leave their jobs can start businesses. 

If the default is You don't know what's going to happen, then you'll stick with what's established, rather than what's unique about you. 

If the default is The world is full of friction; then running your business means fighting friction every day, not doing what you love.

If the default is Growing businesses means more complexity, then embracing your success becomes a mess of tradeoffs. 

We don't need those defaults anymore. It's the 21st century; we can do better. Shopify is a coordinated effort, and a bet: we can build a platform and a launch pad for entrepreneurs with a vastly better set of defaults. If we can do that, merchants will go do incredible things with the opportunity. So far, it's working. 

Shopify Money

So what am I going to be doing at Shopify? In the short term, whatever it takes. We're in battle mode right now; that means whatever it takes to get merchants through this crisis and out the other side in even better shape than they were before. And to be honest, that could change week by week as the situation on the ground evolves. 

That being said, I can give you a preview of a few things I'm excited to be working on. 

I'm joining the Shopify Money team, led by my friend Kaz Nejatian, which is building a new foundation for how we fund small businesses and their growth. This team is executing at a rate that defies belief right now. With merchants everywhere facing a cash crunch, the Shopify Money team has been rolling out a lending product at a rate of one country per week (last week was Canada, the week prior was the UK) which in tech might seem pretty good, but in lending that's like ludicrous mode. 

Oh, and by the way, it's the fastest, most founder-friendly financing you can get anywhere. Shopify knows everything about your business, so funding it should be ridiculously simple. If you're built on Shopify from day zero, you should never worry about financing your business, ever. (If you’ve read my newsletter, I think you see the opportunity here. When I was at Social Capital, we spent a lot of time thinking about "Capital as a Service", and how to build a future where growth and success pre-paid for themselves. Well, guess what?)

Another project I'll be working on might surprise you, and I'm looking forward to telling you more about it soon enough - Shopify's membership in Libra. Libra is going to catch a lot of people by surprise. It has a lot of armchair critics in tech, both in Silicon Valley and in cryptospace; and you know what, that's exactly how I like it. Libra has a big mission to fulfill, and Shopify is a critical piece of that mission. I'm tremendously excited to help make that happen. 

It's Time to Build

So: what does that mean for the newsletter, and the book, and my dumb tweets, and everything else?

First things first: the newsletter will absolutely continue. It's important for me to keep sending this out; although I may have to dial back the schedule a bit. I enjoy the weekly cadence, though, so I'll see what ends up working. We've had a fantastic run of issues over the past year, and I have every intention of keeping up that trend. 

Second: Scarcity in the Software Century, the book I've been working on. Everyone I've spoken to at Shopify is excited about this book and its direction. We'd like to publish this book as a part of the Shopify world at some point; it'll make a great fit. The book has a home. However, for the time being, there are more important things to do than write books. It's time to build. The book will be there to pick back up when normal life resumes. If you were a supporting subscriber of the book project, keep an eye out for another email about this. 

Third: my tweets. I'm afraid they will continue. Please be warned that as I start spending more time with Kaz, they may get even worse. 

I've tremendously enjoyed this past year of writing, thinking, and taking time to really develop my thesis set for where the world is moving, and what we ought to do. It's been a real privilege to get to do that, and I'm glad I did. But that year is over. It's build time now. And it's a no-brainer decision for where I want to go do that. 

It's really an added bonus for me that Shopify happens to be a Canadian company in my own back yard. I really care a lot about the Canadian startup and tech scene, which has a lot of great ingredients but has been missing some of the big successes that an ecosystem needs - the last time we had a win this big was RIM. Canada is a great place to build a company like Shopify: it's understated, it's out of the spotlight, and it gets things right a lot of the time. 

My first day is tomorrow. Drop me a note on Twitter to wish me luck! 


In other reading material this week:

Here’s that post everyone was talking about this week, which as advertised, was quite good and I enjoyed a lot:

When Tailwinds Vanish | John Luttig

I liked this post because it consisted of a lot of pretty sensible observations that have almost all been made before - you find yourself nodding along, thinking, well yeah, that’s happening, that’s going to happen. But the sum total of it all is pretty clarifying, I think. The big question now is to what extent new tailwinds - accelerating eCommerce, better payment and financial infrastructure, the growing “Metaverse” that’s emerging before us during the pandemic - will supersede the old ones.

Another good piece I enjoyed this week was Byrne Hobart’s newsletter on Airlines:

How airlines explain the economy | Byrne Hobart, The Diff

His stuff is really high-quality, and I finally subscribed to the paid version of his newsletter after really not having any excuse to not do it for so long. You should too.

Here’s an interesting story from the music business:

You have a TikTok Hit! Now quick - change the title | Elias Leight, Rolling Stone

This makes total sense! So it’s really hard to know which of your songs might go viral by surprise, and now we have an added challenge, which is that with TikTok, it’s not even songs that are going viral - it’s ten-second segments of songs. Artists are adapting to this new world by exploiting a degree of freedom that nobody realized was there - your song title. Make those lyrics in that 10 second clip the title of the song!

And finally, this week’s Comics Section, the tweet that made me laugh the hardest:

Have a great week,

Alex