Facing Controversy Head-on: My Experience Interviewing Tobi Lütke, CEO of Shopify

Last week, I had the opportunity to sit down for a Q&A with Tobi Lütke on-stage at Shopify Unite, Shopify’s annual partner conference. 

While I expected it to be an exciting experience, I was honestly surprised by one thing: the CEO’s level of transparency with the entire partner community.  

Here’s what happened: 

I was lucky to not only talk with Tobi and represent the Shopify Partner community on stage, but also to see the behind-the-scenes process at Shopify’s massive event. 

As a marketer, what was most interesting to me wasn’t just the product announcements and updates (though their decision to offer fulfillment is clearly huge news.) I was fascinated by the choice to do a Q&A with me and also include an AMA with questions from the partner audience. 

As I prepped for my portion of the interview, Tobi’s communications team vetted the AMA questions and pulled together a list for me to read on stage. When I got the list, I was honestly shocked to see the very first question was a bluntly-worded ask about the Mailchimp/Shopify breakup.

For those that maybe weren’t paying attention, earlier this year, the two companies ended their longstanding partnership. Shopify merchants could no longer send emails with Mailchimp, which impacted businesses around the world.

And honestly, this recent conflict was an even bigger deal to the partner community that attends Unite. In short, this was the one question that nearly everyone in the audience had on their mind. But instead of avoiding it, Tobi and his team made the bold choice to face it directly. 

Now, I’m not saying it went perfectly. While some people admired his honesty, others were clearly still unhappy with the whole situation. 

However, I’d argue that these same voices would be even more concerned and upset if Tobi hadn’t addressed the issue at all during Unite. It’s always better to get problems out in the open and discuss them, rather than try to brush them under the rug. 

Again, this list of questions was fully vetted by Tobi’s team, and they still chose to include this controversial question — even knowing the possible fallout. I think it shows an admirable level of openness and transparency with the Shopify Partner community.

As one of Shopify’s Partners, I was seriously impressed by this choice. Tobi and the Shopify team clearly respect their partner community and want to make sure we’re included in their growth going forward. 

But while the discussion was unexpected, I think the lesson of transparency is one that more CEOs everywhere should take to heart.

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