Strategy at a “Start-Up” : Alison Fleming @ Shopify
Shopify is one of the great Canadian start-up success stories. Publicly traded on the NYSE and TSX, Shopify gives small and medium-sized businesses enterprise-level e-commerce tools to businesses of any size. The APG chatted with Brand Strategy Lead Alison Fleming to understand the role of a Strategist @ Shopify.
So Alison, what is your role at Shopify?
I lead the brand strategy team.
How did you find yourself here?
After a particularly Agencey-ey agency day, I met a friend for a drink (or five). She had recently started at Shopify and was singing the praises of the work environment and the product. I applied to a role that kind of, sort of sounded like a planner type and started having conversations.
How does your role at Shopify compare to your role as a planner in an agency?
I’ve become a more full-stack planner (I’ve also learned developer terms). Our team is small and nimble, and everyone brings strategic thinking to any and all aspects of the business.
How did your work style change coming from an agency background to Shopify? Did it change?
Hug your account people close. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.
Why did you choose Shopify?
I wanted to build something.
How did you feel about switching from agency to go ‘client’ side? What thoughts did you have?
I feel like I have the best of both worlds, the ability to deeply impact a brand and a business, but still with scooters and ping pong. I was naively worried that I’d get bored only working on one client full time. I don’t know if I remember what “bored” feels like anymore.
Did the fact that Shopify was a ‘start up’ environment influence your decision to work there? If so, how?
Shopify likes to think of ourselves as the “world’s biggest start-up” (given that we’re publicly traded and all…). I was attracted to the energy and the pace. We still move like we’re hungry for Series A and that has 10xed me as a planner.
What challenges do you see working in a startup environment as it pertains to planning or strategy as a skill or discipline?
Everything is fresh tracks. Whereas in agency the concept of “brand” is sacrosanct, the team is building out that subject matter expertise.
I also have to unlearn a lot of jargon. Real humans say “disrupt” even less frequently than you think.
How do you think coming from an agency or planning background adds value to the work you do at Shopify?
Building subject matter expertise quickly has been essential to creating impact; our product is complex and nuanced. Learning everything you need to know about the mayonnaise category in two hours in agency has been helpful in quick building context and trust across multiple elements of the business across multiple offices.
Where do you see yourself going from here? How do you see your career as a strategist advancing?
I have no idea where this crazy washing machine we’re surfing on will spit me out, but I’m excited to find out.
What advice do you have for planners aspiring to make the leap into the startup environment?
As we say, “fall in love with the problem”. Absolutely, enthusiastically fall in love with every problem presented to you. It’s that passion that will make start-ups fall in love with you.
And get in touch with us, we’re always looking for people to fall in love with our problems.
Thanks so much Alison. See you again in a few weeks at the APG event @ Shopify: Building the Start-Up Brand.