While not as famous as Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeff Bezos, Tobias Lutke is nevertheless a significant and growing figure in big tech. Lutke isn’t known best for a tech product, but for his e-commerce site, Shopify. No, not Spotify: Shopify, an innovative e-commerce platform that allows point-of-sale systems and online retailers to access a slew of helpful services. These include e-commerce payments, online marketing, drop shipping, and even tools to better customer engagement.
How did Lutke do it, and what drove him to create Shopify? Let’s take a look at the life of Tobias Lutke, beginning with his early life, career, family and what he’s up to today. From his birth in 1981 to his new print-on-demand service, many things define the life and success of billionaire Tobias Lutke.
- Full Name
- Tobias “Tobi”
- July 16, 1981
- Net Worth
- $5 billion (2022)
- “CEO of the Year,” The Globe and Mail (2014)
- #11, Forbes 40 Under 40 (2017)
- Meritorious Service Cross recipient (2018)
- Place of Birth
- Koblenz, West Germany
- Fields of Expertise
- Founder and CEO of Shopify
Who Is Tobias Lutke?
Born July 16th, 1981, Tobias “Tobi” Lutke is the founder and the CEO of the Canadian e-commerce platform Shopify. More than 15 years after its founding, Shopify has seen a particular uptick in activity. This has made Lutke a fast billionaire, more than tripling his net worth between the years of 2020 and 2021. Looking at Lutke’s early years and upbringing, it seems like it was only a matter of time before he found this kind of massive success.
Today, Lutke continues to bolster his Shopify platform while also looking forward to the future of e-commerce. In addition to Shopify, Lutke has since developed a supplemental print-on-demand service, an open source library, and a web application framework alike. Clearly, Lutke’s financial success has come second to his dedication to innovating e-commerce as we know it. He wants to change the way e-commerce is done — Any monetary gain is simply an added bonus.
Tobias Lutke’s Early Life
Tobias “Tobi” Lutke was born in Koblenz, West Germany on July 16th, 1981. His mother — a special needs teacher — and his father — an internist — gifted him a Schneider CPC when he was just six years old. (Schneider CPC was German brand name for the Amstrad Colour Personal Computer, a key competitor to the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and the Commodore 64.) Undoubtedly, this simple gift was one of the most formative events in Lutke’s entire life. The receiving of this Schneider CPC was Lutke’s first step toward the billionaire status he enjoys today.
By the time Lutke was a pre-teen, it wasn’t enough to simply use his Schneider CPC as intended. It didn’t suffice to play his computer games as instructed, either. By the age of 12, Lutke had moved on to rewriting computer game code and tweaking his computer’s hardware for fun. This is where the next-most important figure comes in: professional computer programmer and video game designer John Carmack. The man behind such popular games as Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and more, Carmack’s games and their .plan files were like a textbook in computer programming.
Lutke pored over Carmack’s .plan files throughout his early teen years. They taught him so many valuable lessons that he never could have possibly learned at his age without their help. At this point, it was clear: Lutke’s future was set. He was going to be a programmer, and he was going to change the world. In tenth grade, Lutke officially dropped out of high school. He enrolled at the Koblenzer Carl-Benz-School and entered into an apprenticeship program, hence cementing his future as a world-renowned computer programmer with a penchant for the disruptive.
The Career of Tobias Lutke
From the receiving of his Schneider CPC to the discovery of John Carmack’s .plan files to the enrollment in the Koblenzer Carl-Benz-School, it seems that Lutke’s current status as a billionaire programmer was inevitable from the time he was just six years old. This is only proven by the course of his career.
Before there was Shopify, there was Snowdevil. It was an unassuming online shop made by and for snowboarders. Tobias Lutke and his friend Scott Lake were both avid snowboarders, and as such, the two were privy to an unfortunate hard truth about shopping for snowboard gear online: There was no real place to find everything you needed. Instead, you had to hop around from online retailer to online retailer to locate your gear. Hence, the duo set out to establish Snowdevil, a one-stop snowboard shop for winter sports enthusiasts like themselves.
One problem: Lutke and Lake noticed immediately that there was no one software that really worked for them. Miva, Yahoo, OsCommerce… all the available platforms had only a few pros and twice as many cons. Subsequently, Lutke and Lake took it upon themselves to combine the best of these softwares into their own proprietary e-commerce site. This was a no-brainer for Lutke, who had seemingly been working toward the task his entire life up to that point. He’d come a long way from that Schneider CPC at age six.
Using Ruby on Rails — an MVC (model–view–controller) framework that provides several default structures for users to design their own databases, web pages, and web services — Lutke and Lake established Snowdevil in 2004. Seeing the success of what the two had built, a friend named Daniel Weinand wanted in. He helped Lutke and Lake realize that they didn’t have to stop at snowboarding. Snowdevil could go bigger, better, wider, and freer in the form of an e-commerce platform for all, not just snowboarders and winter athletes. The next phase of Lutke’s career was imminent.
With the success of their snowboard e-commerce platform, Tobias Lutke and his fellow Snowdevil founders started to realize there was more potential for the site than just winter sports. Lutke and company made the decision to switch their focus, dropping the snowboarding angle and embracing e-commerce as a whole. With this move, Shopify was officially born. Shopify utilized the same Ruby on Rails framework, taking the open source web application user for Snowdevil and opening it up under a new open-source template language they dubbed Liquid.
Lutke and co. took Shopify to the next level with the launch of an App Store and API (application programming interface) platform in 2009. This Shopify API helps developers build their own apps for their online Shopify stores. From there, e-commerce retailers can sell them on Shopify’s App Store. In 2010, they took things a step further with the release of a free app for Apple’s App Store. These important steps helped Lutke secure $7 million and $15 million in two rounds of venture capital financing in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
In 2013, Lutke made another move that only further solidified Shopify’s success. Named Shopify Payments (and later rebranded as Shop Pay), this e-payment platform lets retailers take credit card payments without needing to go through a third party platform. It also incorporates itself into a tablet-specific point-of-sale system for brick-and-mortar retailers. This excellent next step brought in another $100 million in venture capital, thus giving Shopify plenty of solid footing… not to mention a leg up on the competition. Since then, Shopify has joined with Amazon, Snapchat, Twitter, and more.
What Did Tobias Lutke Do?
Since that first brush with technology at age six, Tobias Lutke has grown from a curious kid to a successful billionaire. Below, we’ve provided a brief on the highlights from Lutke’s career thus far.
Before realizing the full potential of the e-commerce platform, Lutke and Lake saw plenty of success with the launch of their site Snowdevil. By allowing third-party sellers to come together under one user-friendly roof to buy and sell their new and used gear, Lutke and Lake created an e-commerce site that effectively disrupted the industry as it was known then. No one else had such an easy-to-use, aesthetically pleasing, fully customizable platform like they had with Snowdevil. It made the site a huge hit among snowboarders at the time, and it paved the way for even greater future success.
This success was practically engrained in the Snowdevil platform, as evidenced by the way investors and developers alike begged him to license the site’s software. While this demand was a big part of what drove Shopify to come about, it’s also a testament to the fact that Snowdevil was a success in and of itself. Shopify wasn’t made because Snowdevil failed, by any means. Rather, Snowdevil’s potential outgrew its very niche use. The demand for the software coupled with the success of the software made this next step in Lutke’s career not just inevitable, but thoroughly necessary.
The founding of Shopify marked the next logical step for Tobias Lutke, Scott Lake, and new business partner Daniel Weinand. In this respect, Snowdevil was almost akin to a trial run for a much larger-scale endeavor (though Snowdevil was obviously successful in its own right). Now, it was about more than giving snowboarders the tools they needed to sell. It was about providing the entire internet with those tools, helping e-commerce retailers of all shapes and sizes to bring their business to the online world while seamlessly integrating with their brick-and-mortar offerings.
Shopify went from bringing in around $8,000 a month in 2007 to over $5 billion in the 2022 fiscal year. Talk about a success story: Lutke, Lake, and Weinand successfully transitioned a little resale site into a major online platform that currently services nearly 2 million businesses across close to 200 countries around the world. Their integration into Amazon’s site, their partnering with Snapchat and Twitter, and their embrace from more than 1.5 million other online retailers just goes to show how vital this software truly is. Best of all, it’s all thanks to Lutke’s hard work.
Tobias Lutke: Marriage, Divorce, Children, and Personal Life
There’s more to life than just work, and Tobias Lutke has demonstrated this just as successfully as he has shown the need for user-friendly e-commerce platforms. From his net worth to his married life, from his children to his philanthropy, this is what defines Tobias Lutke outside of the Shopify offices.
Considering Shopify’s total volume of gross merchandise continues to inch closer to $100 billion annually, it’s no surprise that Tobias Lutke has an impressive net worth to his name. While it’s not anywhere near this 12-figure income, it’s nevertheless a jaw-dropping figure: $5 billion, as of 2022. This is about half of what it was in 2021 when it neared $10 billion, but the lingering effects of the pandemic have hurt just about everybody in some way or another at this point. That $5 billion is still quite significant, as it places Lutke at #552 on the Forbes World’s Billionaires List.
Some have gone as far as to estimate that Lutke’s net worth has dropped even lower in 2022, claiming that it’s much more accurate to place his net worth at $2.8 billion instead of $5 billion. This is due to the rapidly declining price of Shopify stock, of which Lutke owns 7% of. From slowing growth to the lasting impact of the pandemic on shopping in-stores, Shopify shares have taken a real hit since hitting their peak in November of 2021. (They’ve fallen from $169 a share to under $30 in the span of less than a year.) If — or, hopefully, when — Shopify stock recovers, so will Lutke’s net worth.
You already know that Shopify came from an idea revolving around snowboarding, but did you know that Tobias Lutke’s wife also has direct ties to the winter sport? That’s right: Lutke met his future wife Fiona McKean while on a snowboarding vacation in Ottawa, Canada. Still living in Germany, the pair were long distance until McKean finished college in Canada. Upon her graduation, McKean actually moved to Germany to be with Lutke. However, after almost a year of this, the pair subsequently moved to Canada in 2002 and were wed not long after.
Tobias Lutke and Fiona McKean have three children together. Their names are Fraser, Sam, and Tristan. Not much is known about them other than their names, so it’s difficult to say for certain when each child was born. They’re entitled to their privacy, and as such, it’s not worth digging any deeper. However, recalling Lutke’s supportive upbringing and the way his parents helped foster a successful future for their son, there’s no doubt Tobias and his wife Fiona are doing the same as they raise their kids today.
Like many billionaires, Tobias Lutke tries to give back a meaningful amount of what he receives each year. Based on his donation history, the matters he seems to hold nearest and dearest to his heart are the environment and children’s health. The year 2019 saw Lutke donate $1,000,001 to an initiative started by YouTubers Mark Rober and MrBeast titled “Team Trees.” He — along with numerous other YouTube viewers — banded together in unison to raise over $20 million for the tree planting organization Arbor Day Foundation.
Lutke repeated this trend in 2021 when MrBeast and Rober lauched “Team Seas”: a likeminded effort to preserve the ocean and reduce pollution. This time, Lutke upped his donation to $1,200,001. Altogether, the fundraiser earned over $32 million to remove remove 32,000,000 pounds of marine debris from the world’s oceans. In addition to these conservation efforts, Lutke and Fiona have contributed more than $25 million to Canadian children’s hospitals. While it’s only a fraction of his total net worth, his philanthropy is nonetheless impactful.
The Awards and Achievements of Tobias Lutke
- “Entrepreneur Of The Year,” Canadian Venture Capital Association (2016)
- #11, Forbes 40 Under 40 (2017)
- #552, Forbes World’s Billionaires List (2022)
Tobias Lutke Quotes
- “Amazon is trying to build an empire. Shopify is trying to arm the rebels.”
- “Computers add convenience to our everyday lives, but we are limited in what we can do with technology others have imagined. The ability for humans to teach machines entirely new things — coding — is nothing short of a superpower.”
- “Commerce is a powerful, underestimated form of expression. We use it to cast a vote with every product we buy. It’s a direct expression of democracy. This is why our mission at Shopify is to protect that form of expression and make it better for everyone, not just for those we agree with.”
- “Once you’ve made peace with the fact that you’re hardly ever going to work on anything that you’re actually good at, the only thing that you can do is get good very fast on everything you have to do.”
- “It is incredibly powerful if you solve the problem you actually have yourself. It’s really tough to develop a good product when you don’t have very close proximity to the people who actually use your product. The closest proximity you can have to those people is to be that person.”