Product Management: Toronto vs Bay Area

In last week’s edition of Alex Danco’s newsletter, he summarized six lessons learned from six months at Shopify. One lesson that stood out to me was the impact of Shopify’s location in Canada on the product talent of the company.

The second impact is on what employees do when they’re here, especially product people. In Silicon Valley, if you are a product person, you are probably friends with lots of other product people at other companies and especially with other founders. You are going to feel pressure to live up to, and impress, your peer set. And the ultimate peer set you’re being judged against are successful founders. They are the top of the food chain.

This peer pressure is a mixed blessing. It’s good in the sense that it promotes more people to start startups. People see founders with status, and ego, and success, and want that too. But it’s bad in that it creates a lot of ego, and big egos aren’t what you want on a team that’s going to stick around for the long run. Shopify doesn’t really have that problem; not because we’re somehow more virtuous or ego-free or anything, but just because the peer set up here in Canada is different. Again, it’s a mixed blessing. We don’t have as many startups or as many wild crazy bets. But it’s great for Shopify, because not only do people stick around, they stick around as team players. That’s valuable.

Having worked on products in both the Bay Area and Toronto, one thing that stands out is the disparity in talent betweent the two cities. To be fair, any city compared to the bay area will have a talent disparity in both product and engineering talent.

In the bay area company’s are in an arms race to get the best talent. Engineers and PMs are constantly getting poached and there’s lots of FOMO on what can be the next big unicorn. As a result, product people have shorter stints and are less likely to stick around at these jobs.

Toronto doesn’t have this issue of FOMO and the product community is much smaller. Shopify has turned this disadvantage into an advantage.

November 2, 2020 · Product Management

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