My guest today is celebrated entrepreneur and Shopify co-founder and CEO Tobi Lütke. We discuss the differences between founders and professional managers, how he’s scaled with Shopify, the constant fight against bureaucracy, how he thinks about innovation in a large company, and how he manages to keep his head when everyone else is losing theirs.
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A coder at heart who emigrated from Germany to Canada two decades ago, Lütke co-founded the e-commerce giant Shopify in Ottawa in 2006. The Globe and Mail named Lütke “CEO of the Year” in November 2014, and in May 2021 the company reported that it had more than 1.7 million businesses in approximately 175 countries using its platform. Lütke previously appeared on Episode 41 of The Knowledge Project.
Here are a few highlights from our conversation:
The best thing founders can do is subtraction. It’s much, much, much easier to add things than it is to remove things. Adding things is a lot more expensive than removing things. However, it requires some measure of bravery and risk-taking. If you say no to a thing, you say no to one thing. If you say yes to a thing, you actually say no to every other thing you could have done during this period of time.
I just don’t see value in doing the same thing as everyone else does.
Technology is for enablement, people are the point of it all, and people are awesome, and people are creative, and people need to be augmented with technology, and I think that’s an obligation of the technology industry to cause this, to help instead of replacing our people. What we should replace are toil and drudgery.
It’s almost every important decision that just doesn’t have automatic ends up being a little bit of a, do we do what’s right or do we do what’s easy? Most of the only real decisions that people get hung up on outside of heavy seeing no path forward.
00:00 – Intro
01:04 – How to lead through troubles
03:05 – Maintaining focus through chaos
09:33 – CEO vs. founders
18:28 – Taking risks
24:50 – On hiring vs. promoting talent
31:13 – How to fight bureaucracy in a company
40:36 – How Tobi thinks about compensation
46:03 – What businesses can learn from programming
01:01:42 – Why Tobi loves technology
01:04:37 – On leveraging technology
01:08:17 – Does tech make us more productive?
01:13:50 – On accurate vs. useful ideas
01:16:30 – On identity and status
01:22:56 – How to stay calm through the chaos
01:27:33 – How Tobi thinks about second and third-order effects of decisions
01:38:22 – Rapid grants
01:41:07 – “Future-forecasting” decisions in a company
01:47:36 – Tobi’s thoughts on conformity
01:54:06 – Tobi’s thoughts on the Infinite Game
02:06:46 – How Tobi fixed his sleep
02:18:03 – What Tobi used to spend time on that’s now wasteful
02:25:45 – What technology Tobi is most excited about