One Reason Why Shopify Kicks Ass: Our CEO is Also a Coder

I just noticed this tweet from our HR queen, Brittany:

brittany tweet

and here’s the photo she linked to, featuring Tobi, our CEO, being a 1337 H4X0R (and an agile one, too!):

pair programming with tobi

As much as I’d like to do pair programming with Tobi, I’m afraid I’d be completely outclassed by him. What with all the great coders in this office, I’m certain that I’m the dumbest guy in the room (which is nowhere as bad as it sounds).

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.


Scenes from Shopify Pub Night #1

Shopify pub night 0

Last night, we held the first Shopify Pub Night in Byward Market, the first of a number of social get-togethers that we’re planning to have this summer here in Ottawa. Due to some last-minute changes in room reservations, we were moved from the main room of the Heart and Crown to the front room of Peter Devine’s, one of the other pubs in the mega-pub-plex collectively known as the Irish Village. Luckily, between my regular missions scouting the pubs for lost souls as well as people figuring what was up and finding us, everyone managed to find a party and what a party it was!

Shopify pub night 1

All told, we had about 30 people attend throughout the night, with a good 25 people at peak. We were an interesting bunch: a good number of Shopifolks plus a couple who were Shopifolks’ significant others and family members, plus local developers from the indie/startup, government and Microsoft MVP worlds. I spent a fair bit of time making sure that I was “working the room” properly, bouncing from table to table, talking to as many people as I could. I was pleased to see some familiar faces from my life as a Microsoftie, hang out with my coworkers and make new friends with some local developers and designers. I was also more than happy to introduce these people from these different spheres to each other.

Shopify pub night 2

We even had some out-of-town guests join us. My friends Cory Fowler and Colin Bowern, whom I met during my stint as a Developer Evangelist for Microsoft, came here from Toronto to do consulting work for the next couple of weeks. They win the “Phileas Fogg” award for greatest distance travelled to attend Shopify Pub Night.

Shopify pub night 4

We talked about all sorts of things, some of which were:

  • Bacon and its near-magical properties
  • Shoe shopping opportunities in Vegas
  • Life in the corporate world versus life in the startup world
  • ByWard Market, the-town-formerly-known-as-Hull and how both have changed over the years
  • Conferences we’re thinking of attending
  • The accordion and what it’s like to bring it through airport security and onto a plane
  • Sausages and how they can revolutionize your career
  • Visual Basic, C#, F#, Ruby, Python, PHP, JavaScript and CoffeeScript

Shopify pub night 3

I’m pretty pleased with the way the evening turned out. We ended up pretty much owning the front room of the pub, people mixed, mingled and seemed to be having a good time, and hopefully some of you go to know us a little better and we got to know you a little better. I’d like to extend my most sincere thanks to everyone who joined us — these events are nothing without you.

I believe that software should be a social thing; after all, while software runs on machines, it runs for people. You can’t create stuff for people in isolation. That’s why we held Shopify Pub Night and why we’re going to be holding more of these events throughout the summer and beyond: because great things happen when you bring people together. Watch this space for announcements of upcoming Shopify events — we’d love to have you there!

This article also appears in the Shopify Blog.


Shopify Pub Night Tonight! (Tuesday, June 14th)

If you’re going to be in Ottawa’s ByWard Market tonight, come on down to the Heart and Crown for the first Shopify Pub Night of the summer! We’re holding this get-together to enjoy what’s passing for summer this year, to get to know you and get you to know us, and to do a little community building. Whether you’re a techie, creative, business, social media or government type, it doesn’t matter – we’d like to see you there!

We’ll be there from 6:00 p.m. until 10-ish – keep an eye on @AccordionGuy or @Shopify on Twitter as the night goes on. We’ll be easy to spot – look for the guy with the accordion.

This article also appears in the Shopify Blog.


State Machines: Know Them! Love Them!

bonsack machine

Over at the Shopify Technology Blog, Willem van Bergen reminds you that if you develop web apps, there’s a good chance that you’ll want to make use of a state machine. As Willem points out in the article, they’re useful design patterns, help prevent undefined behaviour and map quite well to a key part of the business side of your operation: they’re business processes!

If you’ve forgotten what state machines are (or more formally, finite state machines or FSMs), break out your old Comp Sci textbook, or if you sold it for beer money, take a look at SPLat Controls’ Finite State Machine tutorial. If you build your web apps with Rails, take advantage of the state_machine gem and Willem and Jesse Storimer’s state_machine-audit_trail gem.


Ecommerce Tips from Shopify

cash register

Over at the Shopify Company Blog, we’ve got some articles with tips on how to get the most out of your online store, taken straight from our most successful customers:

  1. The first article’s advice:
    • Provide extra personalized service.
    • Captivate your customers.
    • Take pride in every piece.
    • Don’t compete with Amazon.
    • Engage customers through social media.
  2. The second article’s advice:
    • A picture tells a thousand words.
    • Simple is best.
    • Be obsessive.
    • Timing is everything.

BarCamp Toronto, Anyone?

It’s Time for a Toronto BarCamp!

barcamp toronto anyone

Creative Commons photo by Paul Bica.

While we hold the record for DemoCamps (tonight’s will be our 29th), it’s been a while since we’ve had a BarCamp in Toronto, and there’s a great opportunity available. Jonathan Kay of Grasshopper, one of the companies behind the BarCamp Tour (of which Shopify, the company for whom I work, is a member), would like to see a BarCamp in Toronto and so would I.

If someone in Toronto can organize a BarCamp sometime between now and the end of November, the BarCamp Tour will sponsor it, and you’ll get my able assistance to boot!

What’s BarCamp?


BarCamp is an unconference: a gathering that turns the notion of “conference” upside-down by having the attendees drive it instead of the organizers. The organizers are still needed to get a venue, handle the logistics and help the event run smoothly, but when it comes to stuff like topics and speakers, it’s the people attending the conference who are in charge. “There are no spectators,” the BarCamp philosophy goes, “there are only participants.”

While BarCamps vary from city to city, BarCamps are typically built around a schedule grid, which cross-references time slots and rooms. If you have an idea for a session (typically 40 or 50 minutes), you find an open time slot with an available room and put it in the grid. The schedule grid is usually a low-tech affair (one of the great maxims of tech is to do the simplest thing that works) using paper, Post-It Notes, tape and marker pens; I’ve included some examples below:

barcamp grid 1

barcamp grid 2

barcamp grid 3

At smaller BarCamps, you can simply come up with an idea for a session and claim a room and time slot on the grid. At the larger ones, you may have to first get a minimum number of votes for your session before you can put it on the grid. Either way, the end result is a conference where the agenda has been set by the attendees.

Things are a little different from the standard conference even if you don’t come up with a session or present it. Sessions are meant to be more like dialogues; while the person at the front of the room is acting as a facilitator and often speaks at the beginning to kick things off, the audience is expected to participate more than they would at an ordinary conference. Once again: there are no spectators, only participants.

I’ve seen sessions of all sorts at many BarCamps. Yes, there are the usual sessions on software and technology, but I’ve also seen people talking about bicycling, liveable cities, cooking and baking, making your own beer and wine, making music and art, reforming government, education and health care, philosophy, improv theatre and more. If you’ve got a topic you’re passionate about, it’s fair game for a BarCamp session!

What’s the BarCamp Tour?

barcamp tour

Just as BarCamp turns conferences upside down, the BarCamp Tour turns conference (or more accurately, unconference) sponsorship upside down. We don’t just simple throw money and swag with logos at a gathering like most sponsors would. We also follow the “no spectators, only participants” rule. We assist the BarCamp organizers in putting together their events, actively and enthusiastically join in sessions, we help organize the before- or after-party and do what we can to help make each BarCamp we sponsor a success. In return, we get exposure and a chance to meet up face-to-face with people who might want to use our software and services.

The BarCamp Tour is made up of five startups:

  • Batchbook – the social CRM for small businesses and entrepreneurs
  • Grasshopper – the virtual phone system designed for entrepreneurs
  • MailChimp – the easy do-it-yourself tool for email newsletters and campaigns
  • Wufoo – the easiest, fastest way to build forms for your websites
  • and the company for whom I work, Shopify – helping you build awesome online stores

BarCamp Toronto

democamp 28

Creative Commons photo by Andrew Louis.

In a mere handful of years, Toronto’s tech scene has gone from moribund to legendary. All credit has to go to the people, who six years and 29 DemoCamps later, are still attending events by the hundreds, organizing their own meetups, pub nights and hackathons, and getting the word out. We work hard, we play hard, and we unconference hard.

“We need a BarCamp in Canada,” my teammates on the BarCamp Tour told me. “Since you’re the Canadian in the group, and you’re from Toronto, can you see about getting a BarCamp in Toronto together?”

And that’s where you come in.

I’m in Ottawa for the summer, immersing myself in my new company, Shopify. I will return to Toronto in the fall, where I will continue working for Shopify remotely. I’m looking for someone to run BarCamp Toronto, and I will assist you, both as a member of the Toronto tech scene and as the representative of the BarCamp Tour (and yes, that means sponsorship money).

Are you this person? Let me know. Drop me a line and we’ll talk.

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.


DemoCamp Toronto 29 Tomorrow! (June 9, 2011)

democamp toronto

The Quick ‘N’ Dirty Details

  • When? Thursday, June 9, 2011, from 6:30 to 9:00 Eastern
  • Where? Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University, 55 Dundas Street West, Toronto
  • Keynote? Howard Lindzon, cofounder and CEO of StockTwits
  • Can you still register? Yes! Register here and pay the “late bloomer” price of $20


DemoCamp is my friend and former coworker David Crow’s creation and it’s pretty simple: it’s show and tell for the high-tech community. The original concept was to stand in front of your peers and present your current project – without slides. The only thing you were allowed to project on the big screen was your project in action. Since then, it’s grown to include Ignite presentations as well as keynotes from notable speakers.

DemoCamp is a community-building activity. It’s a chance for techies, creatives and businesspeople working in high tech, social media and related fields to get together, see what everyone’s up to, learn and make connections. Many presenters and attendees have benefited in all sorts of ways from going to DemoCamp: they’ve landed job offers, scored VC funding, found new employees, made new friends and discovered things they would’ve otherwise missed. If you haven’t been to DemoCamp yet, you should register and find out what it’s all about!

Howard Lindzon

howard lindzon

Howard Lindzon [ @howardlindzon | blog | LinkedIn ] is co-founder and CEO of StockTwits – a social network for traders and investors to share real-time ideas and information. StockTwits was recently named “one of the top 10 most innovative companies in web” by FastCompany and one of the “50 best websites” by Time magazine.

Howard appeared at Startup Empire in Toronto in 2008. He is a charismatic, engaging and funny guy – I [David Crow, but hey, me too!] would love to have him on my board. But more importantly, he has a unique vision for for starting and successfully managing innovative companies, he is the Managing Partner of Social Leverage, a holding company that invests in early stage web businesses. He continues to manage a hedge fund he started in 1998.

He has more than twenty years experience in the financial community acting in both an entrepreneurial and investing capacity. With a knack for starting and successfully managing innovative companies, he’s the Managing Partner of Social Leverage, a holding company that invests in early stage web businesses.

Howard also created Wallstrip, and more than 400 original web video shows, which was purchased by CBS Corp. in 2007. He is an active angel with many success angel investments including:, (purchased by Ebay in 2005 for $415 million), (purchased by Comcast in June 2008), and Lifelock (lead investors include Bessemer Venture Partners and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers). His new media and internet business investments also include:,, Buddy Media, Ticketfly, Assistly, and Tweetdeck.

Howard received an MBA at Arizona State University and an MIM from The American Graduate School of International Management.

Want to catch this DemoCamp? Register here!

Want to Demo?

DemoCamp is always looking for people to demo their current project. If you think you’ve got something worthy, you should apply to demo!

This article also appears in The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century.