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By: Jessica Beauplat

With less than 24 hours to our next talk, we’re grateful to be counting on our partners. Things wouldn’t be the same without their unwavering support each month. We thought it would be a good idea to introduce them. Shopify recently celebrated their Montreal’s office first year anniversary and hence are the first to be chosen for the first installment of this series.

Here, we discussed their work, vision, involvement with CreativeMornings/Montréal and this month’s theme: Heritage.

(Cliquez ici pour lire la version française de cet article)

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Could you tell me a little bit about Shopify and why it is such a cool environment to work in?

Shopify is a commerce platform that allows anyone to easily sell online via an online store, in-store with a point-of-sale system or anywhere in between with a payment processing mobile app. Shopify is the fastest growing commerce platform in the world and our employees get to play a part in helping the over 100,000 businesses using the platform to succeed. Shopify employees’ work in a very fast-paced and collaborative environment.

As we’re constantly growing we are always on the lookout for new talent to add to our team. In Montreal we’re looking primarily for designers and developers. When I started working at Shopify, there were 43 employees. We’re almost 500 now and we’ve done a really good job at maintaining that startup culture. In Montreal we grew in the past year to 18 employees. We’re looking to double that this year.

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What are your core values?

Be an owner. We value autonomy. I’ve had employees come to me and ask, “how can I grow or how can I make a difference”? I always reply, it’s up to you, there’s no limit really. There is very little red tape.

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Would you be able to name some of the main practices that your team exercise online that is also carried out offline?

One thing we’re consistent with both online and offline is simplicity. We put thought into the user experience and how it’s going to affect the customer. We want them to have a simple, friendly, and seamless experience.

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You treat your employees with flexible hours, catered lunch every single day, there’s even a slide in the lunchroom, a nap room, seemingly everything to offer your employees the best environment possible. Why is it so important to you?

A lot of our perks are there to help lighten the load. For instance we offer childcare bonus for every child under the age of 5. It is simply a matter of reducing the amount of stress that could be put on an employee. We also want to reduce the number of things they have to think about like making lunch in the morning. It’s a sign of appreciation since they invest their time and resources, Shopify wants to give back and invest in them. But the most valuable perk is to be surrounded by passionate and knowledgeable people. We have a high caliber team and to be immersed in that environment is the biggest takeaway.

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What is the advantage they appreciate the most?

I would say the conference budget. We encourage skills development by allowing employees to attend a conference of their choice every year. Whether someone would like to expand their knowledge, learn or improve a skill, we support learning opportunities. Not only that, but if you’re invited to speak at a conference, Shopify values that you’re taking time off and might be getting out of your comfort zone so we often pay for that as well.

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From what I get there’s also a lot of emphasis on playtime and fun. What’s the most fun you had since you started working there? Do you have one moment that pops into your mind?

Well, we have more of a “work hard, play hard” philosophy. When it comes to moments…let me think. There are a lot, I mean we’ve had awesome Christmas parties and volleyball games. The last trip to Tremblant though was probably the most fun. We all went away for the weekend and even though we went there as a group we were free to be independent and choose our own set of activities, be it spa or ski.

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You’ve recently celebrated the first year anniversary of the Montreal office, who says anniversary says party and since you guys like to have fun we want to know what did you do to celebrate?

We played sumo soccer! So we were wearing those big sumo suits and bumping into each other while playing soccer. It was fun. We also hosted a party at our new office with our partners, customers, family, friends, and people from the Montreal tech community.

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The theme of CreativeMornings for the month of July is Heritage. I’ve been thinking about it in relation to the work that Shopify is doing, mainly designing apps, website and commerce solution that is beautiful and easy to use. 

Could you tell me how design thinking, technology and the web, altogether, can build a heritage that will last even though it might look to some as ever changing and evolving?

We’re quite passionate about our designs; one thing we’ve been able to keep is the simple and clean look. We want to keep providing businesses with the resources they need to succeed, to empower anyone anywhere to sell products and services. That is the legacy we’re building upon. We are growing as a company and we are passionate about finding new talented individuals who are willing to take on new challenges. Things are going really well, and it’s only going to get better and better.

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Can you tell me about your involvement with CreativeMornings/Montréal?

Shopify has enjoyed sponsoring CreativeMornings because we value the community they’ve built, the people who organize and attend and the learning opportunities they provide. We’d like to see CreativeMornings/Montréal continue to bring interesting and engaged people together each month for a new learning opportunity. Our goal is to meet as many of these people at CreativeMornings, and beyond!

Where can people find out more information about Shopify?

shopify.com
shopify.com/careers

Farine Five Roses sign, Montreal. Image: Christopher Policarpio.

by Rebecca West

In the lead up to our HERITAGE talk next week with Viviana de Loera, we’re looking into creative Montreal projects that celebrate our cultural heritage. The Montreal Signs Project was a perfect fit, celebrating Montreal’s colourful history of hand-made signs.

The Montreal Signs Project is an ongoing research project dedicated to the exploration of signage in the city of Montréal, through memories, archives, and rescued or donated signs. It was conceived by Matt Soar - Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Concordia University, in collaboration with Nancy Marrelli - Archivist Emerita, Concordia University Archives. The idea for the project came about during the 2007 Logo Cities conference that Matt organized, featuring an exhibit of works focusing on signage and lettering, alongside examples of old and new signs from around the city. Once the conference was over, Matt realized that these beautiful old signs could be be given a new life in Concordia’s recently built Communications & Journalism building, rather than being stuffed away in storage or lost altogether.

We spoke with Matt about his passion for signage, how the Montreal Signs Project is evolving, and the cultural significance of public lettering more broadly.

Is there a favourite sign that marked your childhood?

Growing up in the Midlands in the UK, I always had an interest in graphic design and advertising. There was a particular Perrier commercial that I remember, by the illustrator Gray Joliffe with the tagline “Once you discover Perrier, nothing else will do” (check out a fuzzy version of the animated ad here at 0:57). I really liked the billboard version, and wrote the ad agency asking if I could have a copy. To my surprise, the agency agreed and showed up at the door one day with a massive “48-sheet” billboard poster, that came in 12 parts - each one big enough to cover my bedroom wall. I’ve kept them ever since. My high school stairwells were also decorated with old enamel London Underground signs. When we started the Montreal Signs Project I got in touch trying to find out what happened to them. Unfortunately they seem to have disappeared, which is not so surprising when you consider the market value of some of these objects. They’re often just as likely to end up on eBay as they are in the trash.

The old Warshaw store on St-Laurent blvd. circa 1999 - now a Pharmaprix. Image: Alex Margineanu from “Warshaw on the Main”

The Warshaw sign’s new home at Concordia. Image: Montreal Signs Project.

You have lived in several cities and countries over the years… London, Vancouver, rural Massachusetts and now Montreal, what would you say is a distinguishing feature of Montreal’s signage, either historically or today?

Public signage can be really jarring, there’s just so much of it. So the first thing I noticed in Montreal is how much of it there is, moving here from a rural setting. I’m not a huge proponent of billboards everywhere, the Logo Cities conference actually aimed in part, to take a critical look at the politics of signs and public space. But discovering Montreal’s signage was also a portal for me, as a new Canadian, to discover and learn about the city’s culture, and what it values - it’s like a fingerprint of the city. You can tell from Montreal’s signs that it was a city of enterprise and diversity, a city of many immigrants. The famous Warshaw grocery sign for example, has an interesting story.

Helen Levy, daughter of the founders Leah and Louis Florkevitz, immigrants from Poland, recounted the story to Canadian Jewish News. In 1935, recently after opening, “… a painter came by and offered to paint a sign on the glass front for $5. He asked what the name was. When my father said Florkevitz, he said how do you spell that? My father said, ‘I can’t read or write, I don’t know. We just came over from ‘Varshaw’ [using the Polish pronunciation], so put that.’” Helen pointed out that wasn’t the correct spelling, but her parents kept it that way because they couldn’t afford to have it changed.  When you look into it, every sign has a unique story, that’s part of the fascination.

 

Bens De Luxe Delicatessen & Restaurant, circa 2007. Image: Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose - Art Deco Montreal

Bens Restaurant sign being picked up from the demolition site and pieced it together temporarily for cataloging by the Montreal Signs Project. Image: Montreal Signs Project.

The Montreal Signs Project is still relatively young, how has it evolved since its launch in 2010?

Well, although it’s a fun project, I feel that we’re 20-30 years too late, so much of Montreal’s iconic hand-made and neon signs have already disappeared. That being said, there is value in displaying these beautiful signs for faculty students and visitors at Concordia. Nancy (Marrelli) was key in deciding that this wasn’t going to be a preservation project, it’s more about giving the signs a final resting place. Although we could expand geographically, we’ve decided that the collection will be limited to Montreal, there is a coherence to the collection that we want to maintain.

Do you see the project evolving in the digital sphere, getting the public involved more broadly?

We are always happy to get tips from the public on signs that may be coming down, or that are in storage. But I don’t really see this evolving into a Tumblr or mobile app, there is so much of that already. There is something nice about the impressive physicality of seeing these massive objects in person. Rather than blending into the city-scape, in the Communications and Journalism building at Concordia, visitors can appreciate the craftsmanship that has gone into each letter. It’s a skill that’s being lost with more generic mass-produced signage these days. There’s Dave Arnold, a.k.a. Mr. Sign who still does beautiful hand-painted signs in Montreal, but it’s most often for a niche high-end market, not your average Mom and Pop shop. Dave is an avid supporter of the Montreal Signs Project, and was actually the one who tipped us off about our recently acquired Sheinart’s sign. [Dave also gave a Creative Mornings talk in Ottawa last year about monetizing his passion for art - check it out!]

 

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Old Navarino sign from the cafe on Parc Avenue.  Image: Montreal Signs Project.

Do you see the preservation of heritage signs as primarily the responsibility of government, businesses, academia or citizens?

Usually when an old sign is coming down, it’s because a business has folded or changed hands. So there is no financial incentive for new owners to keep it. Although in some cases, when a sign’s significance outweighs its original commercial purpose, such as in the case of the iconic Farine Five Roses sign in Montreal, the public does get involved. That sign has been on the top of a waterfront building since 1948. There was a public outcry when the sign was turned off by new owners in 2006 - so they turned it back on within a month. Then more recently, when the brand was acquired by Smucker Foods, there was some uncertainty as to the sign’s fate, and then this past winter it was quietly restored, one letter at a time. It seems it’s here to stay, for another generation at least. So the decision as to whether a sign is preserved or lost is really made on a case by case basis, it often comes down to the people directly involved.    

 

Old Dumoulin Bicycles sign from the shop on Jean-Talon East. Image: Montreal Signs Project.

Are there any upcoming Montreal Signs projects that you’re excited about?

We’ll be installing signs from La Belle Province Meat Co., librairie Guérin, Navarino and Sheinart’s in the coming weeks, it will be great to see these out of storage and displayed for the Concordia community to enjoy.

If you know of any unique Montreal signs wasting away in storage or soon to be taken down, have an interesting sign story to share, or would like to support the Montreal Signs project, they are always happy to hear from you. Private tours of the sign collection can also be arranged, you can always get in touch with them here.

 

La liberté, c’est un tas de choses. Et quand on a 90 minutes pour essayer de le faire “vivre” à 300 personnes, c’est beaucoup de sueur, un peu de glam and glitter, et une vingtaine de personnes qui se tuent à y mettre un peu d’authenticité. Gratuit. Tôt. Café ou pas. “Come as you are”, chantait l’autre. Merci, Sabrina Dumais. Reviens un autre coup, tu vas voir.

http://jelefaispourmoi.com/freedom-is/

Freedom can be a lot of different things. Perhaps we could write nothing for lack of a definition. Or give examples. Freedom in style, freedom in language, freedom of speech, freedom of press. Go, travel. Or don’t. An event like Creative Mornings/ Montreal does not pretend to be anything but an opportunity to rally creatives in the morning. To be “inspired”, in 20-minute increments. It’s really hard. And at some point, not totally under our control. Some of us make things, others write, others consult and speak and dance and sing. From Childhood, to Sex, to Rebel, to Freedom-as-a-topic, we’ve covered a lot of stuff this year already. People come, people go. We hope to see you again, Sabrina.

http://jelefaispourmoi.com/freedom-is/

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