Shopify and its CEO Tobi Lütke will have the biggest influence on Canada’s innovation economy this year, according to The Logic’s subscribers.
The Ottawa-based e-commerce firm and its CEO received a combined 16 per cent of the votes in a December 2019 subscriber survey, more than any other person or organization.
The results are from The Logic’s December 2019 subscriber survey. A private link was sent to subscribers by email and the survey was conducted online. All respondents were kept anonymous and duplicates were removed as needed. For this survey, subscribers were asked to type in a response to the question, “Who will have the biggest influence on Canada’s innovation economy in 2020?” Answers indicating uncertainty were excluded from the total count.
Shopify enters 2020 as arguably the biggest current success story in Canadian tech. The company’s stock nearly tripled in value last year, and its market cap stands at roughly US$52 billion. It boasts over 4,000 employees worldwide, more than 1,000 of which are in Ottawa, giving the company a visceral presence in the nation’s capital.
International expansion was a particular priority for the company in 2019, as CFO Amy Shapero said in its first-quarter earnings call. Its sales have been heavily concentrated within North America; in 2018, just 23 per cent came from outside of the U.S. and Canada, of which 11 per cent was from the U.K. and Australia.
That’s likely to remain a goal this year. On the same call, Lütke mentioned seeing “a lot of interesting things in China,” the world’s largest e-commerce market, noting that many Chinese brands were looking to go international, and Shopify’s potential in helping with those ambitions. After announcing language support for traditional and simplified Chinese in June, it began building out a team in Shenzhen, known as the country’s tech hub, as The Logic reported that October.
Lütke himself chairs the federal government’s Digital Industries Economic Strategy Table, a 15-member group meant to recommend policies to support the country’s tech sector. The table, which includes influential Canadian entrepreneurs like Wattpad CEO Allen Lau and Element AI CEO Jean-François Gagné as members, has so far advised the government to focus more on scale-ups, among other recommendations, with the goal of creating 13 new businesses with $1 billion in annual revenues by 2025.
Meanwhile, Lütke’s personal profile continues to grow. His stature is now such that his tweets about entrepreneurship generate international media coverage, as did his recent decision to take a day off work to play Starcraft. Bloomberg Businessweek included him in its year-end list of the 50 people “from finance to fashion and technology to trade … who defined 2019.” Calling him “Canada’s tech scene saviour,” the magazine placed him in the company of power players like Vanguard Group CEO Mortimer Buckley and cultural icons like Kylie Jenner and the Popeye’s fried chicken sandwich. Just two years earlier, Bloomberg had noted his rise with a much milder headline: “Coder in tweed cap is new Canada billionaire.”
The Logic’s subscribers also thought the Canadian government and its policies would have a significant influence on the country’s innovation economy, coming at a close second with 10 per cent of the votes.
“The more they do to actively support innovators in the country, the greater opportunity there will be for startups and scaleups to drive innovation,” wrote one subscriber, who cited immigration policy and funding as one such potential opportunity.
Subscribers also named individual members of government, including Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.
One respondent cited the yet-to-be-named data commissioner, a new position described in Bains’s mandate letter from the prime minister. This commissioner will oversee new regulations for large digital companies meant to protect user data while encouraging in-sector competition, a key component of the digital charter Bains released in May 2019.
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Other candidates The Logic’s subscribers nominated include Jim Balsillie, the former Research in Motion (now BlackBerry) co-CEO whose influence in the innovation economy is now often exercised through vehicles like his Centre for Digital Rights; foreign tech giants like Amazon and Google; and U.S. President Donald Trump.
Continue the conversation on The Logic Council, our subscriber-only Slack channel.