Tactics and Strategies from Shopify, the Future of Retail, and More | Harley Finkelstein on The Tim Ferriss Show

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Key Takeaways

  • Harley Finkelstein sees Shopify as the world’s first retail operating system
    • “We enable anyone who wants to sell a product to do so – Harley Finkelstein
  • Law school taught Harley how to think on his feet and write better:
    • “It taught me how very quickly reply and quickly think on my feet or my toes. But it also taught me how to write really, really well. And for those things alone, I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.” – Harley Finkelstein
      • Harley found his law degree much more valuable for business than his MBA. His MBA consisted of mostly unrealistic case studies.
        • “I did not find that to be at all valuable relative to my law degree to run a company like Shopify today”
  • When Harley first joined Shopify in 2010, e-commerce was about 5% of retail
    • Last year it was around 15% 
    • Now it’s increased to about 25%
      • Even when people are allowed to go back into retail stores, expect online retail sales to stay around 25%
  • The pandemic has created two types of entrepreneurs:
    • Those who pivoted and adapted to online retail and the new world
    • Those who haven’t made any changes to their business strategy and are suffering or closing down
  • Data shows that consumer preferences are shifting to buying products from independent brands from actual entrepreneurs when possible
    • Shopify helps enable this by providing any brand to sell direct-to-consumer
  • The future of retail will be about retail everywhere:
    • Your physical location will serve as a showroom for your website and your website will serve as a showroom for your retail store 
  •  If you want to connect with a successful individual, don’t ask to pick their brain over coffee. Instead, figure out a problem they’re having and provide a solution. You need to provide value before you can ask for something from them.

Intro

  •  Harley Finkelstein (@harleyf) is an entrepreneur, lawyer, and the President of Shopify. He founded his first company at age 17 while a student at McGill. Harley is an advisor to Felicis Ventures, and he is one of the “dragons” on CBC’s Next Gen Den. In 2017, he received the Canadian Angel Investor of the Year award and Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 award, and in 2016 he was inducted into the Order of Ottawa. From 2014 to 2017 Harley was on the board of the C100, and from 2017 to 2020 he was on to the board of directors of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
  • Host: Tim Ferriss (@tferriss)

Books Mentioned

How Harley Views Shopify

  • Harley sees Shopify as the world’s first retail operating system
    • “We enable anyone who wants to sell a product to do so – Harley Finkelstein
  • Harley envisions Shopify becoming the entrepreneurship company
    • There are over one million brands that use Shopify
    • Shopify is the second-largest retailer after Amazon
    • Shopify gives people the opportunity to create their own retail store and own their traffic and customers 
  • Shopify has about 6,000 employees and a market cap of over $100 billion
    • When Tim first met Harley, Shopify only had about a dozen employees and was worth around $50 million
  • Harley is currently the COO at Shopify

Book Recommendations From Harley

Harley’s Formal Education

  • At 17, Harley started a t-shirt business to pay for tuition at McGill University
    • Harley’s mentor suggested he go to law school because he’d learn how to debate, think quickly, and read important documents carefully
      • Harley applied to only one law school and got accepted. He also did a joint-MBA.
  • Law school taught Harley how to think on his feet and write better:
    • “It taught me how very quickly reply and quickly think on my feet or my toes. But it also taught me how to write really, really well. And for those things alone, I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.” – Harley Finkelstein
      • Harley found his law degree much more valuable for business than his MBA. His MBA consisted of mostly unrealistic case studies.
        • “I did not find that to be at all valuable relative to my law degree to run a company like Shopify today”
  • You don’t need to go to law school to become a better writer. Harley recommends just reading The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

The Early Days of Shopify

  • Harley met Tobias Lütke in 2004 in Ottowa. At the time, Tobias had built his own software that allowed him to sell snowboards on his own website. When summer came, Tobias had two options: start selling skateboards or try to sell his software to other businesses. He went with the latter.
    • Harley needed a product that allowed him to sell his t-shirts on his own website so he became an early customer of Shopify
  • Harley found Shopify to be incredibly democratizing because it allowed anyone, big or small, to start their own online store
    • However, Harley didn’t join Shopify after finishing law school. Instead, he went to go work for a law firm. But he soon realized law wasn’t his passion.
      • “I didn’t like what work was becoming for me. My Sunday nights were the worst period of the week.” – Harley Finkelstein
        • About 5 months after working at the law firm, Harley called Tobias and asked if he could work for Shopify. Harley officially joined the team in 2010 and has been there ever since.

The Future of Retail

  • When Harley first joined Shopify in 2010, e-commerce was about 5% of retail
    • Last year it was around 15% 
    • Today it’s increased to about 25%
      • Even when people are allowed to go back into retail stores, expect online retail sales to stay around 25%
  • The pandemic has created two types of entrepreneurs:
    • Those who pivoted and adapted to online retail and the new world
    • Those who haven’t made any changes to their business strategy and are suffering or closing down
  • “I actually think this is one of the most exciting times for retail of the last…150 years. It is a tale of two worlds.” – Harley Finkelstein
  • Data shows that consumer preferences are shifting to buying products from independent brands from actual entrepreneurs if they can
    • Shopify helps enable this by providing any brand to sell direct-to-consumer
  • The future of retail will be about retail everywhere:
    • Your physical location will serve as a showroom for your website and your website will serve as a showroom for your retail store

Coaching At Shopify

  • Shopify hired a team of coaches so that any employee who wanted or needed guidance, could turn to a coach for help
    • Why hire coaches instead of outsourcing it?
      • By hiring coaches directly, the coaches could learn about the culture and mission of Shopify and be more effective with helping employees 
        • “By bringing them into the company, it allows them to have a much richer understanding of a type of place Shopify is and the type of development that is required and it’s been amazing” – Harley Finkelstein
  • Coaching is something that’s not universally accepted by companies but should be 
  • Today Shopify has over a dozen full-time coaches as part of its staff
    • Employees meet with a coach for an hour every two weeks to evaluate their progress
      • It’s possible to outgrow your coach. You may need to get a new coach with a different skill set every few years.

Additional Notes

  • “There’s nothing better in the world than doing things that are difficult and challenging with people that you deeply like and deeply respect” Harley Finkelstein
  • Tim sold his Shopify shares after the IPO but bought back in not too long ago:
    • “I’m as bullish as I’ve ever been” – Tim Ferriss
  • Harley is a big fan of meditation:
    • He uses Insight Timer and follows a guided meditation for 50 minutes every day
  • Harley blocks out time on his calendar for a wide range of events including family time and time with his wife
    • Tim and his girlfriend also share a calendar and schedule 
  • Executives that Harley admires:
  • If you want to connect with a successful individual, don’t ask to pick their brain over coffee. Instead, figure out a problem they’re having and provide a solution. You need to provide value before you can ask for something from them.
Tim Ferriss Show : , , , ,
Notes By Alex Wiec

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