Subscriber Survey

Shopify’s Tobi Lütke is Canadian tech founder of the year, subscribers say

Shopify CEO Tobias Lutke participates in the company's Annual General Meeting of Shareholders in Ottawa in May 2019. The Canadian Press/Justin Tang

Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke was the Canadian tech founder of the year in 2020, The Logic’s subscribers say. 

Thirty-seven percent of respondents to a survey conducted between December 18 and 22 voted for Lütke. 

Shopify has seen massive growth during the COVID-19 pandemic, as social-distancing measures forced small businesses online. The Ottawa-based e-commerce firm became Canada’s most valuable publicly traded company in May, surpassing RBC for the top spot on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

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The Logic’s subscribers were emailed a private link to an online survey on Friday, December 18, and the survey closed Tuesday, December 22. Respondents’ identities were kept anonymous and duplicates were removed as needed. Subscribers were asked: “Who was the Canadian tech founder of the year in 2020?” Their choices were: Brendan Brothers, Jamie King and Raymond Pretty, Verafin; Stewart Butterfield, Slack; Dax Dasilva, Lightspeed; Philip Fayer, Nuvei; Carl Hansen and Véronique Lecault, AbCellera; Tobi Lutke, Shopify; Lekan Olawoye, Black Professionals in Tech Network; Patrick Spence, Sonos; Michelle Zatlyn, Cloudflare; Maayan Ziv, Access Now. They were given the option to specify another founder if not listed. They were also given three open-ended questions: “What Canadian tech company will you be watching most closely in 2021?”; “Which Canadian company do you expect to have the biggest IPO in 2021?”; “What is your top tech or business prediction for 2021?”

Shares in Shopify have more than tripled in value since the start of the pandemic. The company reported US$767.4 million in revenue in the third quarter of the year, well ahead of analysts’ estimates. The company has credited independent merchants getting their businesses online for its surge. E-commerce trends have been good for Shopify’s merchant-solutions business and its logistics service, which have grown in parallel this year. 

Lütke told staff to “delete all plans” in the spring, preparing the company to grapple with the COVID-19 crisis. The firm has at the same time continued to push into international markets, including India, where it joins the likes of Amazon, Facebook and Google in vying for a piece of the subcontinent’s exploding e-commerce market. It also recently launched a TikTok integration, as many of the world’s biggest influencers are using Shopify to sell directly to their fans. 

It has also been a big year for Lütke, personally. Shopify’s soaring share price ranks him among Canada’s wealthiest billionaires. His role as CEO has recently shifted with the departure of longtime executive Craig Miller, making Lütke more product-focused. He navigated his workforce’s transition to a “digital-by-default” model early on in the pandemic, and ran into some WFH tech issues of his own (which were resolved promptly after he tweeted about them to his more than 170,000 followers). Outside Shopify, Lütke is among the high-profile backers of a Calgary-based fintech launched by two of the co-founders of SkipTheDishes.

Last year, The Logic’s subscribers predicted that Shopify and Lütke would have the biggest influence on Canada’s innovation economy in 2020. The question analysts are asking now, and to which the firm alluded in its latest earnings report—is whether e-commerce activity will slow as COVID-19 vaccines become widely available and customers return to brick-and-mortar stores.

Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield and Verafin founders Brendan Brothers, Jamie King and Raymond Pretty tied for second place in The Logic’s survey, each receiving about 11 per cent of the vote. Butterfield sold Slack to Salesforce for US$27.7 billion, after the work-from-home surge spurred record user growth on its platform, and Nasdaq acquired Newfoundland-based anti-financial-crime software company Verafin in a multibillion-dollar deal

The Logic also asked subscribers which Canadian tech companies they’ll be watching most closely in 2021. Again, Shopify was the most frequent response, selected by 22 per cent of respondents. One subscriber wrote that they’ll be watching to see if the firm will “maintain its dominance or decline as the vaccines open economies more.”

Montreal-based Lightspeed and Vancouver-based AbCellera received the second-highest number of nominations. Many of The Logic’s subscribers were particularly interested in medtech companies, which COVID-19 put in the spotlight this year. AbCellera, an antibody developer that has been working on a possible coronavirus treatment, had an explosive public-market debut earlier this month, raising US$555.5 million and breaking Canada’s previous biotech IPO record.

Respondents also expressed interest in MindBeacon, Attabotics and Cinchy, among others. Subscribers wrote about several companies that have had their business models tested during the coronavirus pandemic as consumer behaviours shift online—including Hopper and TouchBistro, which both announced significant layoffs early on in the pandemic. Meanwhile, companies that have raised funds or seen increased demand this year—including Neo Financial, Faire, and Properly—will also remain on subscribers’ radar.

When asked which Canadian company they expect to have the biggest IPO in 2021, several subscribers mentioned Dialogue, MDA and Wealthsimple. Executives at Dialogue and MDA have both suggested their firms might go public soon, while Wealthsimple CEO Michael Katchen, whose company achieved unicorn status this year amid an at-home trading boom, has said the fintech is focusing on growth first.  

Finally, The Logic asked subscribers for their 2021 business predictions. Again, respondents emphasized the growth potential of Canada’s biotech sector. One wrote that “health tech will outperform other areas of innovation and investment.” Respondents also said they expect the cleantech and ag-tech sectors to grow, as venture capitalists “re-dip their toes” outside of software.

Several subscribers said that they expect Big Tech regulation, taxation and antitrust lawsuits to have a major effect on the technology landscape in the year to come.

Subscribers were divided over whether two key trends that emerged in 2020—remote work and soaring e-commerce sales—will extend into 2021, and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“In-person experiences like travel, live events, and the economy come roaring back to life with joy and excitement,” one subscriber predicted.

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“Everyone rushes back to the office and to travel as soon as the vaccine is here. No more wfh,” another wrote.

And a counterpoint: another subscriber said they expect employers will realize remote work is here to stay and “start getting serious about supplying adequate productivity software and hardware.”

Several said they expect tech and e-commerce to continue to grow in the year ahead, while others said they expect a Big Tech bubble to burst, “especially after seeing the Airbnb & DoorDash IPOs,” one wrote.

“Market correction will come,” another predicted.