Five years with Shopify
A lot can happen in 60 months.
As I sit here and write this, I look around the office at 130 people I didn’t know just 60 months ago. It’s a lot to take in. Some of the people, since starting at Bold, have got their first apartment, got married, had kids, purchased houses, and so much more. I often wonder, through spouses and families, just how many lives are affected by this company. When I pull up to the office and see a parking lot full of cars, I wonder where all these people would be if Bold didn’t exist. Not to mention the near 50,000 stores that rely on our apps and services daily to run their business. It’s truly a humbling feeling.
Five years ago, April 18th, 2012 was the day we submitted our first app to Shopify, Product Upsell. It was a day that would set in motion what would eventually become what we are today. What the press has called the fastest growing tech company in Manitoba. It’s crazy.
We had the idea for the app only a couple months prior to submitting it. We worked feverishly for two months, often into the early hours of the morning. We had meetings at coffee shops, basements, and online chats all day getting everything ready to submit it to Shopify.
The time finally came, we were ready to submit our baby to the wild! We clicked submit and about a day later we got the following email back from Blair at Shopify, the one who reviewed the app for publication.
Apparently, we had completely forgotten to upload the instructions and within the first hour of it being live had a negative review. We were devastated. We scrambled frantically to fix the problem, and in the meantime we were all hands on deck monitoring support for questions.
Thankfully within a day we were able to get it fixed and reached out to the store that left the review, and they turned it into a positive one!
This negative review turned out to be one of the most important things that define our company. We decided at that point we wanted to always give the absolute best possible customer support we could. We would put merchants first and make our mission to make them successful as successful as possible.
"Build the best company to attract the best people who build the best products and provide the best support and services SO THAT we can empower entrepreneurs to achieve success."
To this day, five years later, it's still our core value and something we feel has been vital in getting us to where we are today.
As a fun little aside, here’s what the Shopify app store looked like the day we launched our apps. Times sure have changed!
After we got things figured out with our instructions page, and our support, things started to roll! The installs were coming in, and after a few weeks, we were already thinking what would be our next app.
The value of relationships
Over the next few months, we started forming relationships with various people at Shopify. They genuinely cared about our success, and they were amazing to work with.
In the early stages of building an app and seeing a bit of success you often think, “Great, I built a successful app, now let’s put it on every ecommerce platform out there!” That was certainly what we were thinking too and had planned to do, until one fateful trip to visit Shopify in Ottawa in January 2013.
We flew out to spend a few days at Shopify, with essentially nothing on the agenda. We were going to meet people we had been dealing with over the phone and by email, and that was about it. What happened over those next few days, specifically the relationships that were built and the extreme sense that Shopify really cared about us succeeding, set the course we’ve been on for the last 5 years.
Shopify has played a very notable part in our success and deserve a big mention in this post. Not only the general opportunity of the platform they built, that is amazing for developers like us to work with, but the support along the way, through all our various connections and people we work with every day. You guys all know who you are!!
Yep that's us in the very limited edition Shappify shirts. It was a very clever name, but for anyone that had to listen to someone say it over the phone with a southern drawl, it was undecipherable from "Shopify". Later in 2013 we switched it to Bold, and it's worked out great!
Heads down building
In the next 12 months we put our head down and kept building. We launched half a dozen more apps in the first year, working out of basements, interviewing people at Starbucks, and in April 2013 we were in our first office!
This was a great place for us to get started. It allowed us to grow to 18 people just 8 months later. At which point this little 1,500 square foot garage was maxed out, and we had to move again!
In December 2013, we found another building across street with 3,000 Sq/f available that could hold roughly 36 people. We thought we couldn't possibly outgrow that, so we convinced our landlord to let us out of our lease a year early, and he graciously did.
Thinking this would be the biggest place we'd ever need, we spent all the money we had renovating it to be amazing! And amazing it was! The only problem was, the renovations were done in April 2013 and in the 4 months it took to do the renovations we had hired 10 more people, putting us at 28. With the capacity being around 36, we scrambled and called our old landlord back asking if we could re-lease the old building.
Fast Forward a bit.
In the next couple years to follow, we ended up maxing out our new building, our old building, and an additional 2,000 Sq/f beside it. In February 2016 we moved into a beautiful new 26,000 Sq/f space in the city.
When we moved in we were all a little worried. It was a beautiful building, but it was big. Much bigger than we needed, and a very expensive lease. It was roughly 15X more expensive than our current lease. When we moved in last February we were 62 people, and the building could hold roughly 200. Today, just over 12 months later we are 134 and it’s starting to feel tight already. We’ll be looking at expanding again soon, stay tuned!!
It’s been an absolutely crazy 5 years. We’ve all had to learn, grow, and go outside our comfort zones and be stretched in so many ways. When we started the company we had an idea for a great product. We knew how to make that product, and we executed well on building it. We kept building products and we saw a lot of initial success. Very soon though we realized we had to start thinking about building a great company as much as, or even more, than great products.
From a great product, to a great company
A great product can get a company started, and anyone can get lucky once. Luck certainly played a big part in our early success. Beyond that though, to create sustained growth and keep a company successful beyond infancy, you need to build a great company, not just great products. We’ve seen companies fail time and time again, not for lack of a good product, but for lack of a good company culture.
As owners we’ve done a lot to make the company as amazing as we can, but at the end of the day it’s the people that make a company what it is. Behind every single company, from the biggest companies in the world, to the smallest, it’s just people.
Every single person at Bold has played an important part in building the company to what it is today. About year ago we started to notice a characteristic in our staff that we felt really embodied what we valued, what got us to where we are, and what we thought would get us to where we want to go.
The characteristic we narrowed it down to was being a BUILDER.
Through all stages of our company’s growth, the mindset of being a “builder” is something we put a lot of value on. It was because of this that we came up with what we call our Builders Code. It’s our core set of beliefs and values that guide every decision we make, who we hire, how we interact with customers, our co-workers, and everything about how we operate in general.
We call it our Builders Code. I encourage you to give it a read, it’s been crucial in getting us to where we are today.
Looking back: What got us here?
When I reflect back on our first 5 years it seems like the blink of an eye. It was definitely a whirlwind, but when we sit and talk about it as a group there are definitely some things we believe were key in getting us to today.
Putting customers first.
At the time we launched our first app, I was also a store owner on Shopify. I had installed many apps on my store, and the response I would get when emailing the developers of the apps for questions varied drastically. With some I would get no response at all, some gave very short answers, almost making me feel bad for asking, and on the rare occasion, I would get a polite, thoughtful, and thorough reply.
We decided we wanted to make giving amazing support to anyone that installed our apps a top priority. It’s general knowledge that in the early stages of a company you hire developers to help build your product. Our first two hires were for support staff and it was a decision we have never regretted.
It’s important to note that we don’t view “support” as a department. The experience our customers have when dealing with us is a responsibility of every department in the company. The way our apps are built and designed is part of that experience. The branding and copy used in the apps and help text, is part of the experience. The marketing and advertising used is part of that experience. We strongly believe that every department in our company is critical in creating an amazing customer experience. If one piece falls short, we all fail.
Focus on what builds company value, not just what makes money.
We have a fun little saying we use often. “We could mow people’s grass for money, but we don’t”. What we mean by this is we could take our staff and mow grass all day, charge a good rate and make money. We don’t do this however, because it doesn’t increase the value of the company. That is our measuring stick we hold all decisions up to.
We’ve had hundreds of amazing opportunities come our way, saying no to them is never easy. We have had to stay laser focused on our goal, on what our core competencies are, and on where we want to be in 10 years. Often companies are more successful by what they say no to, than what they say yes to. Or as I heard Tobi, the CEO of Shopify once say, “Most companies don’t die of starvation, they die of indigestion”.
Deciding what kind of company you want to be.
There was a point early on in our company when we were around 8 employees that every time we hired someone it was painful. We saw it as an expense and something that would reduce the profit. We waited as long as we could, and when we absolutely had to, we hired. It was painful.
One day the four of us sat at a table and concluded that we needed to decide what type of company we wanted to be. Did we want to be a small, lean and very profitable company, or did we want to be a high growth company and grow as big as possible? Both are fine decisions; the thing that’s important is deciding early, as it frames all your decisions.
We decided we wanted to be a high growth “gazelle” company, and from that point on we no longer struggled every month with making the decision to hire. We had a firm vision of who we were, where we wanted to go, and it has helped immensely in decision making!
Culture is key, but what is “culture”?
When most people think about our culture at Bold, they think of things like our beer on tap, our amazing catered lunches, our flexible work hours, our gym in the office, basketball court, arcades, ping pong and foosball tables, relaxed environment, and the overall fun we have at the office. All this is amazing, and everyone loves it. This is not truly what good culture is though.
One of the common problems companies have is mistaking good perks for good culture.
Over the years we’ve learned that good company culture is when you’re at a place where you feel valued, where you have room to grow, opportunity to learn, that you are contributing and making a difference, and that you are a valuable part of what is pushing the company forward.
We’re still striving on improving this every day, but we feel the effort we have made in this area has been an integral part in allowing the people at Bold to do their best, most creative work.
Looking Forward: What will get us to our 10 year anniversary?
We have very lofty goals at Bold, there’s no doubting that. Getting where we want to be in the next 5 years will take a focused unified effort from everyone in the company, pushing in the same direction, having each others back, putting customers first, embracing change, striving to be better every day, and constantly thinking (in every department and role) how we each can 10x our results. We recently gave out employee stock options, essentially making everyone an owner. Everyone’s goals in the company are now aligned, and although we’ve seen a lot of success in the first five years, we really truly feel as though we are only getting started.
Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great”, makes a comparison between getting a business going and pushing a flywheel. When you start pushing a flywheel, it’s hard. It’s a slow, painful, tedious grind that takes just about everything you can muster to get it to go around just one time. After you get it around once, the second time is slightly easier than the first. The third easier than the second, and so one. After many revolutions, you start gaining speed, and eventually the wheel can almost seem as though it turns itself.
We feel as though we are on only about the 2nd, maybe the 3rd rotation. We’re past that initial hard grind of actually getting the business going, but we still have to grind and there’s more opportunity ahead of us today than there ever has been in the history of our company!
Amazon has a saying they post all over their offices, “It’s only day one”. This is exactly how we feel! There’s so much we want to do, and we’re just getting started!
As our friends at Shopify say - These are the good old days!