Shopify movin’ on up
E-commerce giant returns to Elgin Street with move into state-of-the-art, 102,000-square-foot space
E-commerce juggernaut heads back to the street where it all began, but fancy new digs are a far cry from its original home
Ottawa-based Shopify has come nearly full circle after moving into its new headquarters at Performance Court on 150 Elgin St. earlier this month.
The e-commerce juggernaut started back in 2004 in a coffee shop farther south on Elgin Street, where CEO Tobias Lütke started designing a product to help launch an online snowboard store.
Since then, the ever-expanding firm has moved to Rideau Street and later to a couple of locations on York Street before now returning to the same street where it all started.
But make no mistake – this office space, all 102,000 square feet of it, is a far cry from a table at Bridgehead.
Shopify’s director of internal operations, Greg Scorsone, said the company’s latest move took a lot of planning.
“Unlike a regular construction thing where you do all the planning, you get the plans and you hand them to the contractor, we were still thinking about it and designing it as they were putting up walls, and that’s because we were using local companies that were allowing us to be that flexible,” he said. “Otherwise, there is no way we would have done this on time. This was literally a threeyear project we did in eight months.”
That flexibility left workers grumbling from time to time, Mr. Scorsone said, remembering one instance when a wall of outlets had to be moved shortly after they were installed. But he said everyone understood that had to happen occasionally to get the job done as fast as possible.
Shopify turned some heads by going with a younger firm, Linebox Studio, to handle the interior design and the architecture, and Lake Partnership to do the construction.
Linebox’s principal partner Andrew Reeves said his firm offered the efficiency of having the interior design and architecture done by the same firm. That was key to a project with such a compressed timeline.
Mr. Reeves also had the advantage of being familiar to Shopify’s leaders. He designed Mr. Lütke’s home about three years ago and had previously met chief platform officer Harley Finkelstein and co-founder Daniel Weinand.
Mr. Reeves said there were a lot of naysayers, and maybe not completely without reason. The company’s previous largest job was 5,000 square feet. “It was a bit of a leap,” he said. Mr. Reeves said Morguard wasn’t too crazy about having a relatively new firm come in and rip up the concrete in January – five months before the entire building officially opened.
“Morguard I don’t think will like us until the opening day party,” he said, adding he fully understands the landlord’s original trepidation.
Aside from the schedule, Mr. Reeves said the lack of a freight elevator and proper loading capacity was a huge challenge.
“Everything you see has been craned inside these windows,” he said, including more than 30,000 kilograms of steel.
While the space is scheduled to be completely finished in December, Mr. Scorsone said the staff wanted to move in now and they got their wish.
The goal of the design is to make Shopify’s 370 employees as comfortable and happy as possible in the workplace, and so far, it seems that mission has been accomplished.
“We moved in on Tuesday and I think I heard the word awesome about a thousand times,” said Mr. Scorsone. “People were just walking around, looking and deliberately getting lost. It was a lot of fun.”
Mr. Scorsone gave OBJ a tour recently, beginning on the eighth floor, the public floor, where the reception area is adorned with what looks like shipping containers – fitting for an e-commerce company that helps people ship their products to consumers.
Each of the six floors has a specific theme and are all connected by an internal
“We moved in on Tuesday and I think I heard the word awesome about a thousand times. People were just walking around, looking and deliberately getting lost. It was a lot of fun.”
– GREG SCORSONE, SHOPIFY’S DIRECTOR OF INTERNAL OPERATIONS
staircase, so staff never have to take external elevators or stairs once inside the office. Builders had to remove 82,000 kilograms of concrete to install the staircase, a job that took only four weeks with crews working overnight so as not to disturb neighbours in the building.
The sixth floor, dubbed Urban Street, features a coffee house, massage room, yoga studio and a ping-pong table. There are gangster, transportation, Canadian, retreat, and back alley themes on the other floors.
The ninth floor, with a Canadian theme, has a log cabin, a bear forest with beanbags in the form of grizzlies, a wall with meeting rooms shaped like maritime houses, an office that resembles a snowboard shop and plenty of hardwood throughout.
As wide open as the space is, every floor has secluded rooms for meetings or an opportunity to just work in a different space.
The meeting rooms aren’t the typical office and chair rooms either, with some offering tiered, cushioned seating, others no seating at all, and some set up classroomstyle.
Mr. Scorsone said the designers took the things they liked from their former offices and worked on the things they didn’t like.
“Sound does not travel in this space. It was one of the huge problems in our old space … it was really noisy all the time so we spent a lot of time thinking about the design,” he said.
That design includes four sheets of drywall, with a piece of insulation between, in every wall.
In fact, by the time construction is complete, the company will have used 2,000 sheets of drywall and 260,000 drywall screws. All the lights in the space act as baffles to absorb sound.
Still, Mr. Scorsone said it gets pretty noisy in the cafeteria. The kitchen won’t be finished until December, so the three chefs on staff are getting a bit of a breather. For now, lunches are brought in from various downtown restaurants.
There are no corner offices for the likes of Mr. Lütke and Mr. Finkelstein. All the outer areas are reserved for work pods so staff get as much light as possible.
The 10th and 11th floors are still under construction, and while Mr. Scorsone did say there will be hammocks on one floor, he didn’t disclose much else, saying they wanted to keep it a surprise for employees.
There is still much work to be done, which is obvious when looking at Mr. Scorsone’s office.
“Everything that got labelled storage ended up in my office. That’s my computer, this is my office,” he said, pointing to a couch in a common area outside his actual office. “It is very comfortable. It’s my favourite piece of furniture in the entire space.”
Clockwise from left, each of Shopify’s six floors at its new 150 Elgin St. headquarters has a theme, such as the “Canadian” level that features beanbag chairs in the form of grizzly bears; employee amenities include a coffee house; unique fixtures and furniture abound.
Much of Shopify’s 102,000 square feet of space is wide open, with large windows casting plenty of light on shared work tables.