Shopify movin’ on up

E-com­merce gi­ant re­turns to El­gin Street with move into state-of-the-art, 102,000-square-foot space

Ottawa Business Journal - - Front Page - BY TOM PECHLOFF

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.”


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.

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