In a series of short profiles, Capital Current introduces some of the people working hard to improve life in Ottawa.

Who is he?

Tobias “Tobi” Lütke is the CEO and co-founder of Shopify, a billion-dollar e-commerce multinational company started in Ottawa that provides online storefronts for small businesses.

What’s his background?

In 2003, Lütke emigrated to Canada from Germany shortly after completing an apprenticeship in computer programming. On Canadian soil, he developed an online snowboard shop called Snowdevil, with his friend and business partner Scott Lake. Lütke found the existing software packages for online stores to be so lacklustre, he decided “to do something about it just to spite them,” he later said in an interview with Benjamin Yoskovitz. He relaunched Snowdevil powered by his own software. Seeing the scale and potential of what his package could offer, Lütke pivoted his company into the software industry starting Shopify in Ottawa in June 2006.

What is he known for in Ottawa?

Aside from starting a company that has employed thousands of skilled people, Lütke is directly involved with organizations advocating for literacy in technology; an advisory board providing recommendations on policy related to the future of technology and has partnered with post-secondary institutions to offer students experience in the field. In 2018, Lütke received the Meritorious Service Cross in the civil division from the Governor General — an award for performing an exceptional deed or activity that brings honour to Canada.

More recently, Lütke relocated Shopify’s headquarters to Toronto, where he now lives with his wife and three children.

In June, Lütke, made headlines by turning down a request from the CRA to share six years of records from 121,000 Canadian stores using the platform. He called it “low-key overreach” in a statement published on X (formerly Twitter).

What do people say about him?

Asked by the Globe and Mail what role Lütke played in the company, Scott Lake, Shopify’s co-founder, said, “He is the brain trust. Tobi is Shopify.” After doing an interview with Lütke, tech investor and blogger Sriram Krishnan said: “Tobi is one of the most thoughtful and first principles-oriented founders I’ve met.”

What is a lesser known fact about Lütke?

For Lütke, snowboarding is the gift that keeps on giving. Besides the sport being responsible for his pursuit of e-commerce, Lütke met his wife on a snowboarding trip to Whistler in 2003 (and emigrated shortly after).