Evolving your Career with Shopify’s Michael Cleyn


While googling Shopify, I stumbled across Michael Cleyn. In 2012, Michael decided he wanted to be a part of this company that was clearly up and coming, or as industry people put it “truly disruptive.” Because of this, he wanted to stand out when he applied. Instead of a standard cover letter, like we all have buried on our desktops, he did something different. He created this video; his “cover video” to showcase why he was the exact person that they were looking for.

Michael was hired on as a recruiter in their Ottawa office, then moved to Toronto to be the first recruiter there, and has since moved into Growth Marketing. I found this so interesting, not only how he got Shopify to notice him, but how he evolved his career from one division of the company to another. So after I digitally stalked him and found his contact information – I am in recruiting after all – I asked him for an interview. He kindly obliged. Our interview is below:

michael cleyn

When researching Shopify, I came across “your cover video,” what inspired you to create this?

I had known a few people who worked there from university and after researching, I could see the vast differences between Shopify and the other places I was looking at. In fact, I actually made these videos for other, more established companies, but they wouldn’t accept them. They wanted a word doc resume.

I wanted to work for Shopify and I told myself that I had to work here so I decided I would make a unique video just for Shopify. I needed to put something forward that was different and memorable to catch their attention. Because of the video, I ended up getting a call back for an interview the next day

What was it about Shopify that made you want to go above and beyond in your application?

It was the growth. I first found the company when they were about 20 people – a real start-up. Then I went to Spain for a year and when I came back they were 100 people. It was a big light-bulb moment for me: what were they doing? I knew if they could do that in one year, this company is going somewhere.

When you were recruiting for Shopify, what made candidates stand out for you?

I look for the candidates interested in solving the problems and challenges that we work with every day. The people that are curious and excited about finding solutions for problems are the people we want. We want people who are consumed by their craft and we want them to be entrepreneurial minded, running their own side hustles.

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Big Question: did Shopify live up to your expectations?

Absolutely. I’m still here because I’m learning an incredible amount. It has 100% lived up to my expectations and more; I am just so impressed by the amount of growth, year-over-year, in employee size and business growth. We also attract really smart people and often think “wow, this person works for us.”

What is it about Shopify that attracts really smart people?

It was more challenging when we were smaller, but we set the bar high with local talent we hired and built a strong base of talent, from there it’s easy to continue to increase the calibre over time.

You evolved your role at Shopify from Recruiting Manager to Growth Marketing. How did you do this?

I had the opportunity to hire the first 20-30 people on the marketing team. I became curious and interested as to what they did every day. I started to experiment with side projects and developing my marketing skills. Eventually they gave me the opportunity to start working with the marketing team while also continuing my recruiting responsibilities and after a while, I made the switch.

The main thing that comes down to it is that I took the initiative to learn about marketing on the side. They weren’t just going to give it to me. I made my own opportunity. That’s one of the things Shopify is great for, there are so many doors you can open, but you need to take the initiative.

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Growth Marketing is a relatively new role in the industry. Can you describe it?

Basically, Growth Marketing is customer acquisition and funnel optimization. Find new ways to grow our customer base and then find clever ways to optimize conversion.

For the layman, how would you say this?

I try to get more people, more entrepreneurs, to start businesses on Shopify and I do this through online marketing. I find them on the Internet and push them towards our website properties and optimize the websites so that they become customers via the clicks in the onboarding process. Also, I look for ways to reduce friction on the website by giving them the help and the education they need to become customers.

How does one evolve their career from one discipline to another within their company?

I think it comes down to a few things. Number one is initiative, that’s the biggest piece. The other two pieces are relationship building and patience.

I speak with a lot of people who want to make the move and want to make it next week. They need to be more patient because they’re making a career change. They need to build relationships with the people on the team they’re interested in joining. Not only with the managers on the teams, but the employees on the front ground of those teams.

Be patient, build skillsets and give it another shot while building those relationships and it will happen. It’s a trifecta.

shopify toronto office 3

Is it important for a company to foster this type of environment of growth and keeping strong employees?

Really strong talent is such a hard thing to come by, so it’s extremely important for companies to foster this type of environment. Companies should give their employees the flexibility to try different roles in the organization. This doesn’t mean they have to set up programs or processes for this to happen, instead be open to someone wanting to try something different for a couple hours a day. If they can make this happen people will eventually find what they love and they will retain good talent.

In general, companies need to start treating their employees like adults. For example, if a parent has a sick child and needs to stay home for the day, knowing that they will be treated like an adult by the company, as their work will be completed, is the type of work life balance that can add a lot of satisfaction to employees.

Top 10 things that come to mind when you think about life at Shopify?

  1. Care
  2. Learning
  3. Authenticity
  4. Insane talent
  5. Growth
  6. Culture
  7. Personal development
  8. Opportunity
  9. Ownership
  10. Getting shit done

Any last words?

I think many people struggle with building relationships, being patient and taking the initiative to make the right career change.

People need to stop thinking “if I don’t get this now I won’t be happy and there will never be anything else for me,” because when you get shut down and are facing adversity, that’s when you build your personality.