Shopify’s Custom Built Unicorn Platform Takes Employee Engagement to a Whole New Realm!

Shel    February 1, 2016

Wow, I can’t believe this is my first blog ever!  So readers, please be gentle.

We all know that happiness has a ripple effect. When we are happy we want everyone to be happy.   According to Forbes, “There’s plenty of hard evidence that shows that happy employees lead directly to better performance and higher profits. Last year revenues increased by an average of 22.2 percent for the 2014 Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these same companies added new employees at a rate that was five times higher than the national average.”[1]

I am super excited about the topic of: Employee Engagement.   Heck, why wouldn’t I be? I am an employee after all.  What does it take to engage an employee like myself?  I pondered this question as I spun through the great wide web.  I was amazed at the lengths some companies have gone through to keep their employees connected and happy in this digital era of ours. This trend is increasingly apparent in the Hi-Tech sector.

I chose to write about Shopify because they are a passionate company with a culture that contributes to employee engagement.  They were also recognized as one of the Achievers 50 Most Engaged Workplaces™ for 2013. [2]

For those who still haven’t heard about this kickass company here is some background for you folks. From its humble beginnings in 2004 and the ingenious minds of 3 young entrepreneurs looking to sell snowboards online (Snowdevil) came the birth of Shopify. A leading cloud based solutions provider that targets companies of all sizes.  Its unique platform allows business to add value to their storefronts with a variety of tools including a third party market place. There are over 200,000 companies using Shopify based in 150 countries. Shopify has offices in Toronto, Waterloo, and is headquartered in Ottawa, Ontario.   A powerhouse in the market place Shopify Inc’s (SHOP.N) (SH.TO) shares rose as much as 69 percent in their U.S. debut, valuing the company at about $2.14 billion. [3]

At Shopify happiness is built into their very culture, they have designed and implemented every detail to ensure it flows through out the whole organization.

Check out Daniel Weinand, Co-founder and Chief Cultural Officer  (Yeah, you read that right!), giving us a peek at their Ottawa office and describing some of their many perks.

Still not convinced then please view the YouTube video Life at Shopify

Say it with me people WOW!!!!!!!

Being an E-Commerce giant, Shopify knows that it takes the right tools to get the job done.  Through my research I found what truly makes Shopify stand out from its competition, is their philosophy of empowering their people. You can see this reflected in the way they choose to use social media.

First they needed to find a tool that would help them collaborate and discuss brilliant ideas in one place so they acquired:   iDoneThis

Second, even with all these happy employees, there had to be a way to recognize them for all their hard work!  CEO and co-founder Tobias Lütke and team had a very special idea to create a twitter like feed that was designed to empower their employees to praise one another for a job well done! This unique initiative called “Unicorn” was designed like an online fantasy game full of Wizards (managers), Apprentices (Employees) and Quests (projects). Unicorn gets employees to express their appreciation and recognition of one another’s accomplishments by awarding points i.e. Unicorns to one another. This prompts others coworkers to chime in and give thumbs up.  Based on the number of unicorns received at end of the month every employee gets allocated a proportion of the company’s profits that are set aside for Unicorn bonuses.

I think Unicorn is a phenomenal tool because it provides a genuine and timely perspective of  how your employees are doing, instead of  a conventional  approach where managers decide retrospectively how one has performed.

If you’d like more information on Unicorn please checkout an excellent article called “Using Social Media to Improve Employee Communication, Collaboration, and Even Compensation“, written by Shawn Graham – Fast Company on the Unicorn system.[5]

Update flash forward 2015….

Shopify has grown exponentially! They’ve hired like crazy and they have even received some notable awards.  Crowned Employer of the Year in the 2014 Canadian Startup Awards. [6]

With this kind of rapid expansion organizations constantly need to re-tune or revamp what they currently use for communication.

In an interview done by Bonusly’s George Dickson with Brittany Forsyth (Shopify’s VP of Human Relations),  she explains how having to ramp up their staff forced Shopify to  to change the way unicorn is used now.

“Over time it become clear that Unicorn wasn’t working like we originally planned. It was a hard decision, but we ultimately realized that the original Unicorn worked great for a 100-300 person company, but it just didn’t scale with the needs of a 500+ company. We believe this is because we’ve referred to Unicorn as a peer based bonus tool, but realize now that it functions more accurately as a peer based recognition tool.”

Also, in order to keep their team cohesive through this exponential growth and expanding locations she advised.

 “We live on collaboration tools like SlackGoogle Hangout and Sococo. Without these tools we wouldn’t be able to communicate and work together like we currently do.”

These are among the many initiatives why Shopify has not only recruited but retained the very best.  To date their turnover is less than 1% compared to the average 30% annual turnover for Silicon Valley companies. [8]

Lessons for Others

What are the lessons we can take away from our friends at Shopify

  1. A engaged employee is an happy employee. One that remains loyal and exudes your culture. Engagement creates your best brand ambassador: your employees.
  2. If I can paraphrase Yoda for a moment ”When you seek to look inside for a solution, you need only to look at yourself to find one hmmmm.” By this I mean you if you have the means within your organization to foster employee engagement do it! You don’t need to acquire mainstream social media tools.
  3. The collaboration of minds has no boundaries with social media, doesn’t matter which office you are working or where you are in in the world you can always be connected and share your ideas using social media tools.
  4. Grow with the times. As you expand and evolve, so should your use of social media tools. The world of social media is always changing, you need to keep up with new technologies and finding what works for your company.

After reading about Shopify how do you think your business measures up?

Do you feel you have engaged with your employees enough, needs more tweaking, or is hiring a Chief Culture officer on your HRs list of things to do asap!

For any employees out there how has your company made you feel connected?

Signing off for now thank you for you engaging with me!

Organization: Shopify
Industry: E-Commerce
Name of Organization Contact: CEO and Co-Founder Tobias Lütke and Brittany Forsyth VP of Human Relations

Authored by: Shel

If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site, please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Program Director, Social Media for Business Performance.


[1] Morgan, Blake (4 March 2015). “” retrieved from Forbes on 28 January 2016

[2] Beale, Tatiana  (5 March 2014). “” retrieved from Achievers blog 29 January 2016

[3] Dimri, Neha (21 May 2015). “” retrieved from Reuters 29 January 2016

[4] Chen, Walter (30 May 2012). ”” retrieved from iDone This Blog 30 January 2016

[5] Shawn, Graham (2 August 2011). “” retrieved from FastCompany on 26 January 2016

[6] Thomas, Knowlton on (28 January 2015). “” on 28 January 2016

[7] Dickson, George (13 April 2013). “” retrieved from on 26 January 2016

[8] Anderson, Mark (20 November 2012). “” retrieved from ProfitGuide on

Video sources:

The Globe and Mail (29 November 2012). “” retrieved on 26 January 2016

Shriar, Jacob (27 January 2014). “” retrieved from OfficeVibe on 26 January 2016