U of O grad Harley Finkelstein is stepping into a new role as COO of Shopify. Photo: Courtesy of Harley Finkelstein
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Canadian tech giant Shopify has a new Chief Operating Officer (COO)—and it’s a University of Ottawa grad.

Harley Finkelstein graduated from the MBA-JD program at the U of O, entered the Dragon’s Den as a judge on the CBC’s Next Gen Den, and on Jan. 13, 2016, he moved into a new role as COO.

The Telfer School of Management ‘09 graduate made the transition after holding the role of Chief Platform Officer since 2010.

“The (COO) title reflects the work that I was already doing, as opposed to the title dictating the work I do,” he said. Finkelstein believes that employees and their organizations should adopt this mindset as standard, in addition to the entrepreneurial mindset—a perspective on business that Finkelstein credits for his success, and one he said is fundamentally resourceful. 

“It’s a 1 + 1 = 3 mentality,” said Finkelstein. “If I’m running a business and you’re running a business that would be a 1 + 1 = 2, and if the two of us get together, we actually have the opportunity to create this force multiplier, where the 1 + 1 actually equals 3, and I think that’s really unique.”

This entrepreneurial mindset of Canada’s tech industry is something Finkelstein called “democratizing, disruptive,”  and completely different from what past generations have had. “Creativity, and passion, and hustle are way more important than having money,” said Finkelstein.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, it doesn’t matter if you have a famous last name, it doesn’t matter if your mom and dad are rich, what matters is what you are doing,” he said of modern-day entrepreneur success stories. “That makes for a better society.”

In addition to an improved society, the entrepreneurial mindset driving Finkelstein’s success story also results in a stronger economy, said Stephen Daze, professor and entrepreneur-in-residence at the Telfer School of Management.

“It’s the entrepreneurs that are creating the bulk of new jobs in North America,” said Daze. “The more entrepreneurs we’re helping create, and the more we’re helping them to grow their business, the more people are being employed.”

It’s not surprising that Finkelstein has brought the startup mindset to his work at Shopify, as the U of O, Finkelstein’s alma mater, works across all faculties to foster entrepreneurial skills. According to Daze, there are many ongoing incubator projects that the university is involved in, including the Makerspace, the Telfer Traction Business Challenge, the Entrepreneurship Hub, and Startup Garage.

“Innovation skills can be applied anywhere, not just simply to a startup venture, but to any company, non-profit, government organization, anywhere,” said Daze.

Finkelstein is a strong advocate for using all resources on campus to foster the startup mindset, and used his experience at the U of O primarily to attain the skills needed for success as an entrepreneur—not just to achieve straight As.

Finkelstein says he took a different approach towards university.  “Your professors are these brilliant minds who can act as a board of directors for you informally, your classmates… can act as beta testers for your product.”

“Some of the most iconic, most incredible companies have come out of some student’s idea they had while they were in school… you can actually do incredible things with the community and the people around you.”