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C2 Montréal

Anyone can be an entrepreneur, even a 13-year-old wannabe DJ

Fifty years ago, if you wanted to set up a business, you'd need a lot of investment to get it off the ground -- and a great deal of ad spend. Technology has opened doors for many who previously wouldn't have had the opportunity to realise their visions ...

Finkelstein...“It’s probably the most exciting time ever to be an entrepreneur”
Finkelstein...“It’s probably the most exciting time ever to be an entrepreneur”

One such entrepreneur is Harley Finkelstein. Having founded his first company at the age of 17, he's now chief operating officer at Shopify — an app that offers an e-commerce, point-of-sale platform for retailers of all sizes.

Not quite the lifestyle he dreamed of as a 13-year-old boy. "I wanted to be a DJ, and no one would hire a talentless 13-year-old who looked like an eight-year-old," said Harley, speaking at the C2 conference in Montréal.

"I feel very fortunate. I think about this idea of life’s work. I’ve been doing my life’s work since a kid," said the COO.

Harley talked about how entrepreneurship has changed over time, and it’s no longer about money or the college and university graduates. Any individual can be an entrepreneur. "If you wanted to be an entrepreneur you needed to go to college," he said. "It wasn’t a very sexy profession, but over the last couple of years something has changed."

We are seeing more start-ups dominate the marketplace — coming out of nowhere and with very little money behind them. The likes of Shopify and Etsy allow everyday people to create, sell and operate like a business. They are both key examples of how the everyday Joe can become an entrepreneur.

"About 200 years ago the main ingredient for building a company was capital," he said. "You needed money. And what happened was technology got really good, really fast. About 10 years ago the technology got so good, that for the first time in the history of business and commerce, small businesses were able to afford the tools that large businesses had.

"It’s probably the most exciting time ever to be an entrepreneur," Harley said.

Television personality and journalist, Amber MacArthur, interviews Harley Finkelstein at C2
Television personality and journalist, Amber MacArthur, interviews Harley Finkelstein.

On building a culture for employees to thrive in, Harley said they keep employees at Shopify for a long time so they can invest in them. He explained the importance of building an environment that’s going to fuel the company and maintain culture: "Culture is what the people do when no one's looking. When you leave your staff to their own devices – that’s culture," he said.

Consumer expectations are always changing. We live in a hyper-connected world and if it’s not a personal, relevant experience, then it’s a forgotten one – lost among the noise. This is especially true for the retail industry which has seen one of the biggest changes over recent times. Retailers can sell to consumers globally through online, and this has shaken up an industry that relied on in-shop experiences and not the multi-channel experiences of today.

"What’s happening is business is becoming geographically agnostic," said Harley. "I bet you a bunch of the stores across the world don’t know where we’re located. We’re serving a global audience."

Finkelstein shuns the idea that we will eventually move to a world without physical shops, where all shopping is done online. It’s all part of the multi-channel experience.

"Retailers who want to be successful need to understand that retail is retail – no matter what channel it’s on."

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