2 min read

Shopify Burns the Boats

Absolute power to wage total war

Buried beneath an avalanche of corporate-speak, Shopify announced Tobi Lütke, the firm's Snowboarder-turned-founder, will have total power to pursue fortune and future:

Under the terms of the proposal, Shopify will authorize and issue a new class of share, the Founder share ... will represent 40% of the total voting power attached to all of the Company’s outstanding shares, effectively setting and preserving Mr. Lütke’s voting power at that level following implementation of the proposal.

Big Market, Big Bet

It may not be as loony as Meta Facebook handing over the Kingdom to a young Zuckerberg, but consolidating power in a single authority seems pretty high-risk. With a market cap of nearly $76 billion, Shopify is already a monster business.

Burn the Boats

With massive upside opportunity, but also significant downside risk, why would Shopify bet both future and fortune on Tobi Lütke? The obvious answer is doubling down on the firm's founder-visionary.

However, if you tilt your head ever so slightly, you may catch another, more subtle signal. Shopify is putting the world on notice.

By giving their founder-CEO unchecked power, Shopify has burned the boats; there is no going back for them. The Canadian insurgent will dethrone Amazon as the go-to destination for all-things online commerce, or it will destroy itself trying. Absolute victory or total defeat.

I respect the bravado. The only question is whether placing unchecked power in the hands of one person — founder or not — will help David defeat Goliath. Will Shopify be the next founder-led success — like Stripe and Snapchat — or the next horror story of vanity and greed (ala Theranos and WeWork)? It is too early to tell, but Shopify just upped the ante.

Lifetime appointments get noticed, so while Bezos may be newly single, space-faring, and svelte, you best believe he — whatever his title — can identify a threat to his life's work. A response may be both overwhelming and subtle.

Because history's greatest storytellers — Socrates to Shakespeare — have a through-line: the saga of observing protracted competition over divergent visions, incompatible futures, and different worlds.