How Shopify empowers entrepreneurs through technology

At VOICES 2022, BoF’s annual event where global changemakers gather to inspire innovation and reimagine the future of the fashion industry, BoF’s Rahul Malik spoke with Shopify President Harley Finkelstein about the collective opportunity in entrepreneurship.

The “Shopify Effect,” a term coined by the company, embodies the idea of ​​using commerce as a force for good. Within this framework, Shopify prioritizes leveraging its technology and network of nearly 2 million merchants worldwide—representing around 10 percent of the total global e-commerce market share—to empower entrepreneurs using its platform and promote informed consumption across its user base .

In 2022, a series of roundtable events that took place in Milan and Paris saw business leaders from companies such as Valentino, Prada, Bulgari, Jacquemus, Coperni and Isabel Marant connect under the Chatham House Rule to share insights and learning with each other, as well as the opportunities and challenges they look in the market. Conversations focused on strategic imperatives needed to navigate the uncertain socio-economic environment, including price increases and evolving consumer sentiment.

“When you give the right people the right tools at the right time, incredible things happen,” said Shopify President Harley Finkelstein. “If you add up all the individual, independent Shopify sellers, they would be the second largest retailer in America.”

Here, BoF shares actionable insights from the Q&A session about how, regardless of size, fashion companies can leverage their influence to drive conscious consumption and establish meaningful communities in a time of increased market volatility.

The role of entrepreneurship in economic growth

HF: Entrepreneurship enables us to do amazing things, it gives us leverage and scale, and it’s the best tool for solving a problem. Last year, 5.4 million business registrations were registered in the US – the highest in 20 years.

New entrepreneurs get their first sale on Shopify every minute – that’s the whole purpose, the whole mission of the company. Our technology and code base drove $7.5 billion in business on Black Friday and Cyber ​​Monday, but the real story of that $7.5 billion is how technology enabled people to actualize themselves, to commercialize a hobby , to sell something meaningful to them to the rest of the world.

Technology that drives social development

HF: By 2021, Shopify supported 5 million jobs. These are jobs in local communities for manufacturing, retail and technology.

For many of our salespeople, entrepreneurship wasn’t done out of passion – it was entrepreneurship out of necessity. In 2012, Ben Francis created Gymshark out of his student room. It is now a categorical leader competing with companies such as Nike. Heather Hasson and Trina Spear founded Figs after a coffee shop conversation about why frontline healthcare workers can’t have great, pretty and comfortable scrubs. They are now a publicly traded company that completely changed the hospital scrub industry.

The cost of failure is the lowest it has ever been […] people can try things – if they work they can scale, and if they don’t they can try something else.

We’ve never seen businesses scale like this before – the technology makes it possible, but it’s the entrepreneur who drives it. Shopify is the story of 2 million entrepreneurs.

Activation and risk reduction

HF: The cost of failure is the lowest it has ever been for entrepreneurship. 20 years ago, to start a business, you had to take out a loan, mortgage your whole life. Now people can try things – if they work they can scale, and if they don’t they can try something else.

To quantify it, the creator economy is a $100 billion per year economy, with a participation rate of 4 percent—meaning 96 percent of creators are not participating in it. Shopify Collabs is one way we leverage technology to connect incredible content creators with incredible brands. Today, every brand is trying to get a content creator, and every content creator wants their own creator brand. So we created this AI-powered matchmaking service that connects big content creators, in certain verticals with big brand verticals, and ultimately both sides are able to monetize and grow, and that leads to really big success.

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