John Riordan is Director of Support for Shopify, where he leads numerous customer support teams around the world. All of John’s teams work from home, a business model he has been an evangelist for over the last 18 years in the US, UK, and Ireland. John spent much of his career in the US - working for Apple, Virgin Atlantic Airways, Arise Virtual Solutions, and US Airways. Now he is based back in Ireland in Co. Cork working for Shopify and being an advocate for remote working.
- Leaving Ireland for ‘the Land of Opportunity’ United States
- Cutting his teeth with US Airways to managing their frequent flyer program
- Following the American Dream and realising it was a big mistake
- Working for Virgin Atlantic from "1999 to right, right through 9/11 which was a cataclysmic event for the airline industry".
- Eureka moment at a Boston Red Sox game when somebody mentioned remote working.
- The impact of Covid-19 on the Airline industry - where to put all the aircraft?
- Helping shape Apple's first foray into remote work
- Death of the desktop
- Working from home in a pandemic with the entire family
- Staying connected when working remotely
- Growth of Shopify as an employer in Ireland
- Remote working is offering rural communities to build
- Grow Remote - an initiative that John is passionate about
Episode 30 Milk Bottle Shopify Podcast with John Riordan
John: [00:00:00] With somebody at Boston Red Sox game where we got talking about. You know the challenges and the customer experience based on this person mentioned to me that they'd heard about a company in Florida that was doing remote work and pass it off laughingly like 'yeah can you imagine how stupid that is? Nobody would work at home.'
[00:00:24]Intro: Welcome to the Milk Bottle Shopify Ecommerce Podcast brought to you by Milk Bottle Labs, Ireland's top rated Shopify experts, Milk Bottle Labs, build, upgrade, migrate and market Shopify and Shopify Plus stores all over the world. Milk Bottle will migrate you onto Shopify with zero interruption guaranteed, or optimize your Shopify store and maximize store sales. This podcast is kindly supported by our favourite Shopify app and the only app we install in every store. Rewind.io is the leading backup solution for your Shopify store. We'll talk more about Rewind later now over to your host, founder of Milk Bottle Labs Keith Matthews.
[00:01:10] Keith: [00:01:10] Hi folks. Welcome back. My guest today is John Riordan a Cork man from the South of Ireland, and John is the Director of Support for Shopify, which responsibility for hundreds of Shopify support girders located all around the world in Lithuania, Ireland, Sweden, Canada, Japan, and the Philippines.
[00:01:27] John has a wonderful background. Which involves working for Virgin Atlantic Airways and the Apple Incorporation. He's traveled extensively, but most of all, John is extremely passionate about working from home, where he actually moved as support staff from Virgin Atlantic airways to be combing completely 100% works from home.
[00:01:47] He's a proud dad. He's also a proud Cork man, and we cover such a range of topics here. It was definitely one of the most interesting conversations I've had on the podcast. So here he goes. John Riordan, how are you?
[00:02:00] John: [00:02:00] I'm very well Keith. Very well. Thank you.
[00:02:03] Keith: [00:02:03] John, thanks for joining us. You are based in the South of Ireland in County cork where in the South of Ireland are you?
[00:02:09] John: [00:02:09] I'm actually just outside Cork City core called Douglas. I grew up in Blackrock, which is literally to suburb next door. So kind of back home, I suppose, for want of a better description.
[00:02:22] Keith: [00:02:22] Is there a large cruise ship port or was there at one point in Douglas, Co Cork?
[00:02:26] John: [00:02:26] No, but Blackrock. Anybody who would know the Blackrock area, it's where Páirc Uí Chaoimh is and the Marina walk. There is a lot of example of rowing clubs on that stretch and all the ships that came into Cork Harbour, but would have come right up through Blackrock and pass Blackrock castle and into the port of Cork.
[00:02:44] So it would have a very strong maritime history. Even though they're now port of X Cork is moving out to further out port and the, the city centre piece will cease to be essentially a trading element of the city in the near future.
[00:02:59] Keith: [00:02:59] I should know the answer to this, John, but is it East cork or West Cork?
[00:03:03] John: [00:03:03] Well, that's a very funny question to ask somebody from cork, because East cork to somebody from cork is kind of anywhere East of Middleton from Middleton, sort of towards the Youghal area, gorgeous area. And then West cork is kind of West of Bandon, and then the rest, then there's North cork, which is kind of touching on Limerick, and then the rest we just call Cork.
[00:03:27] There's no middle.
[00:03:28] Keith: [00:03:28] So you're a neutral,
[00:03:32] John: [00:03:32] It's just Cork thank you. Said with a chip on both shoulders.
[00:03:38] Keith: [00:03:38] Yeah, I knew I was. When you ask most Cork people that they kind of touches a nerve, it's like East and West of the States, isn't it? Or North or South Dublin yeah.
[00:03:50] We had a way to meet up down there a couple of years ago and actually it was a great success. I love going down there. It was a great train service. Would you believe? As I'm sure you know, from Dublin to Cork and anytime we go down there to meet clients, we managed to get more work done on the train than we do on the in the office, but of course that has all changed with the current situation. We'll get to that in a few minutes.
[00:04:07] John, the last time we met, I think it was maybe over two years ago, or it could have been three, and it was a dinner in the West of Ireland in Limerick, and I remember specifically talking to you because you had just started with Shopify.
[00:04:21] When was that?
[00:04:22] John: [00:04:22] You're almost right. It was actually two weeks before I joined Shopify. I attended the same... there was a Shopify internal summit. Like I said, two weeks before I joined. I think it was something around the 12th 13th 14th of May of 2017. So I went and attended as an observer. And you were actually on the panel, if I recall correctly, you were on one of our expert panels and we ended up having dinner together with the wider group.
[00:04:51] Yeah. So that was a very interesting experience for me too, to see what the company was like two weeks before I joined.
[00:04:56] Keith: [00:04:56] It was a great event and a good opportunities for kind of an insight. I walked away from that evening, John on, you know, the next day. I remember talking to Peter about you. I had a really, really interesting conversation with you, and I remember you explaining your history and your career prior to Shopify, and I was fascinated by, you had mentioned a number of brands over a pint that night. One of them was Virgin Atlantic, another one was US Airways, and another was Apple. So just give us an insight into your career, which is wonderfully varied, as brought you around the world as well.
[00:05:28] John: [00:05:28] There's a couple of really interesting kind of aspects to it and kind of tying it into where we are right now.
[00:05:33] Each of them, each of my kind of career changes has had some correlation to some significant economic events at the time. So I came out of college in the late eighties. Ireland was a really tough place to get work. I remember coming out after my master's degree. I think I was one of about. I came out in a class where about 25% of people were unemployed six months after the master's program.
[00:05:58] It's kind of numbers you wouldn't even hear, wouldn't contemplate right now. So it was a much tougher time. And then there was one of these visa programs in the U S so it was early, kind of, I think it was 1992 the second of the major visa programs, and I applied for a visa because I just thought Ireland was a bit of a basket case at the time, which actually really was not a great, not the greatest place to be, was very kind of like a, almost a rusty backwater with economic philosophies that we're in the dark ages. And in fact, if you go back and have a look from a historical perspective, the first uptick and the first roar of the Celtic tiger are basically the kind of the turning points. The inflection point was actually November, 1992. i happened to leave in October, 1992 so maybe when the company or the country offloaded me, it actually was probably a good thing for the economy, but I headed off to the U S.
[00:06:48] And it was a fabulous opportunity for me because it took the Irish education system and married to that to the level of opportunity in America. And it was just amazing. I couldn't, it was like I was like a kid in a candy store. There was so many opportunities in the U S and I was lucky enough within, within a very short period of time to get a job with US Airways.
[00:07:11] And I had no. I suppose I had no major inkling or hankering to get into the travel business, but once you get into it, it just gets into your blood incredibly quickly. So I had fantastic six, six or seven years at us airways, and I ended up making some progress through the marketing organisation there and ended up running the frequent flyer program.
[00:07:33] And it was probably, I think it was about a 45 million person, frequent flyer broken was one of the probably fifth or sixth biggest frequency program in the U S at the time. So that was an incredible way to cut my teeth, to go from essentially being unemployed in Ireland and six years later, running one of the bigger loyalty programs in the U S. It was a sharp, sharp change.
[00:07:57] And then the.com bubble happened around the late 1990s I got approached by a company that was selling cars on the internet. It was the first of the I suppose, crazy aspect of the.com boom company called Autobytel and I left US Airways to set up frequency program for a car buying service. And yeah, I did actually say that a frequency program for a car buying service, which in hindsight was probably the dumbest career move I ever made because there is almost no frequency in car-buying.
[00:08:30] It's a once every two, three, four years at best for most people.
[00:08:34] Keith: [00:08:34] What was the, in principle, how was the program? Was it envisaged or how was it planned?
[00:08:40] John: [00:08:40] Keith, I still ask myself that question.
[00:08:44] All I know is that I took my wife of one year and we uprooted, and we moved to just South of LA to Orange County, and we moved there with this following this dream.
[00:08:56] I'll be very honest with you. If there was, they were throwing a ton of stock options and they threw a ton of money at me and I thought this was just, this was what one did you follow the American dream. I was there for four weeks and I got a phone call in that four weeks. I literally was looking at the portfolio and what I was trying to accomplish, what I was trying to do.
[00:09:16] And I realized, Oh dear Lord, what have I done? And but four weeks later, I got a phone call from Virgin Atlantic who I had been talking to on and off for a couple of years, and Virgin Atlantic. I had gone right up the aisle with Virgin Atlantic about a year beforehand for a role, and then the person who was going to leave didn't leave.
[00:09:37] And then I got a phone call four weeks into my trip to California from Virgin Atlantic to say that that role was now available again. Would I be willing to take it? No interview like it was being offered to me straight up. So I actually left after four weeks, which was another very tough decision to make.
[00:09:56] Keith: [00:09:56] Yeah. Again, so you had to, did you have to move with your wife again?
[00:09:59] John: [00:09:59] Yeah, I mean, but it raised a very interesting point. It's kind of stuck with me for, for the rest of my careers, from an ethical perspective, when a company has invested time, effort, and energy into you, to to bring you on board from an ethical perspective, are you doing the right thing if you just bail out that quickly?
[00:10:16] So I spent a good few days really. Tossing the idea and the thoughts over and back as to what I would do with it. And there were a couple of things, which I'm not going to necessarily get into, but you know, they had paid me a sign on fee that weighed heavily in my mind as to how to deal with that. So I made a decision that I'm kind of happy enough with and proud of still regarding that as to how I handle that.
[00:10:39] In essence, we had not unpacked our boxes from our trips from the East coast of the U S to the West. And we just basically put the boxes back in the truck and move back East. And I ended up with Virgin Atlantic from 1999 to right, right through 9/11 which was a cataclysmic event for the airline industry.
[00:10:58] And then I got involved with left the marketing arena, and I ended up running the customer service function Virgin. And I had a fortuitous meeting with somebody at a Boston Red Sox game where we got talking about. You know, the challenges in the customer experience space. And this person mentioned to me that they'd heard about a company in Florida that was doing remote work and they pass it off laughingly like, 'you know, can you imagine how stupid that is? Nobody would work at home'. How would this work? It would never work.
[00:11:35] And all this crazy stuff. And I remember actually agreeing with the person. I remember it. I remember the woman's name and her, no, a company she worked for, and I, I nodded in agreement. Yeah, that's that that's a crazy idea. And I was driving back from Boston back to Connecticut where I lived that night, and I had a moment of thought, hang on a second there's something to this. So the next day or two I was, I started looking stuff up online and I went to approach, the company that she had mentioned, and I got them to come in and talk to me. And I spent about a month or two trying to find where the catch was. And I eventually said to the sales guy, just do me a favour before I sign up, tell me what the catch is.
[00:12:16] And 18 years later, I'm still waiting for the catch as to what I did wrong. So I was quite smitten by the whole remote exercise. And over the course of the next year, we moved a hundred percent of the Virgin Atlantic customer experience team to remote. And I've never looked back since.
[00:12:38] Keith: [00:12:38] So John, you've got serious amount of, of, of knowledge and depth of the airline industry in light of what's going on now, I'm assuming your eyes and ears are pointed in that direction as well, because I mean, is the crisis at the moment the largest that the airline industry would have would have had ever, or is that an exaggeration?
[00:12:58] John: [00:12:58] Oh, just to give it, to put it in perspective, point when on the 13th of September 20 or 2001 the executives of almost every airline in the U S made this credible decision. At the time, it was deemed incredible to to ground 20% of the fleet and lay off 20% of the staff. What's happening now is that airlines are grounding 95% of their fleet, and they're furloughing temporarily laying off 80 to 90% of their staff, so it's four X the severity of what it was. Four X.
[00:13:35] It's absolutely incredible. I mean, one of the biggest challenges that airlines are facing is where to put the aircraft and as one way in the one of the aviation geek websites that I'm involved as one of the one way, there's copious space to park there, the airplanes, it's called runways because they're not being used.
[00:13:54] Keith: [00:13:54] Yeah. I saw a screenshot last night of British Airways. I'm assuming that it was Heathrow, and I can only imagine. The value of the fleet that is, is parked up and you know, can you imagine the cost of having to go back into those airplanes and then recommission them? I'm assuming they'll all have to be reserviced as well.
[00:14:14] It's phenomenal. I don't even know how anybody could even measure it. Obviously people within the aircraft industry would know.
[00:14:19] John: [00:14:19] But Keith, like again, there's no other aspects that you're entirely correct recommission to to basically decommission an aircraft and then recondition an aircraft is a significant engineering feat and it and cost.
[00:14:30] There's another aspect of it as well is that to keep a flight crew current and trained and current, in other words, the license to fly, you must have a certain number of rotations or flights. Once a fleet is grounded or a lot of the variety of aircraft are grounded, you are going to have some people who are going to lose their status, their ability to fly because they have not been able to get on board and actually fly an aircraft.
[00:14:55] So. Airlines are going to have to retrain people in all of the various and all of their various classifications, so you can't just ground a fleet and then flick a switch and have everybody up and running again. It just doesn't happen that way.
[00:15:10] Keith: [00:15:10] You were saying that experienced pilots will actually have to go through rigorous restraining.
[00:15:15] John: [00:15:15] If their licenses and current and like the, I don't know the regulations at all. But to maintain, to maintain your status as being, to be able to fly, you have to be doing it. You have to be flying on a relatively regular basis. And a lot of people, the airlines are going to have a challenge to keep enough people current so that when they want to just ramp up an airline again, it's a, it's a huge, it's a huge challenge.
[00:15:39] I still have a lot of friends in the airline business. This is, like I said, this is multiple times more challenging than post 9/11 post 9/11 the only issue that faced the traveling consumer was, am I afraid that someone's going to put a bomb on the plane? Now. Everybody looks, everybody is likely to look at every other passenger onboard an airplane and go, Hm, there is this person going to be too close to me.
[00:16:09] Are they sick? Are they what? You're going to look at everybody as a potential problem or an issue. Just be very vulnerable and very personal. On this one, I fly quite a bit, obviously working Canadian company and I love flying. My appetite towards future business travel has significantly diminished. I. I'm not relishing the first, I suppose mandatory trip for me to travel to Canada for, for a meeting.
[00:16:38] It will come.
[00:16:40] Keith: [00:16:40] It's interesting that you say that because obviously. You know, if you're a large organisation, commercial real estate, you know, on the, I suppose the demand for it is clearly going to go down after this because of, you know, the reason we're going to talk later is obviously to talk about the working from home.
[00:16:55] The other large industry that will be hit is corporations will clearly. Take employee safety into account and reduce the budgets for international travel. Now, I'm assuming that the airlines are already trying to work that out. There's a major hit there, you know, that will naturally occur, which would then would I be right in saying then that air travel could never, like even taking a recession into it, air travel could never really return ever to the highs of the current times, because specifically that the corporate travel would reduce, is that right?
[00:17:28] John: [00:17:28] Yeah. I, I'll make a wild, wild statement here. I don't know if we will see a return to the flying levels that we have now within the next 10 years. And I think the likelihood that we will within the next 10 years get back to, you know, 29 euros one way to Spain type flight, like that's so far out in the horizon. I just can't contemplate it right now.
[00:17:57] Let's look at another aspect of this as well is hotel room nights. I don't know the exact number, but I saw an article in the newspaper in the last month or two regarding the number of room nights in Dublin that are taken every day. This was Pre Covid that was taken over, taken every day by company, multinational companies in the Dublin area, and that was fueling the incredible growth in hotels.
[00:18:25] As of February, I think there were 44 hotels under development in the Dublin area. That requires a lot of people to travel. It requires basically a lot of companies wanting their people to travel out to the point you just raised a lot of companies, a lot of employees being willing to travel. I think those two markets have had stools kicked from underneath them and you're going to find a lot of people. I think a lot of companies who are relying on that aspect of business, the general business travel. They're going to have some serious questions that need to be asked as to what will the return to normal be.
[00:19:01] Now there's another aspect of that, which is people who have money in their pockets who can make a big and bold bet. We'll probably do incredibly well and every crisis, spawns people who are opportunistic or cash rich, who are able to spot an opportunity and make the right play. But I think you know for the instrumentalists out there, I think it's going to be a real challenge for people who are going to look for small incremental changes.
[00:19:26] It's going to be really tough because this is not a small incremental change. This is a cataclysmic life changing event that none of us will ever experience in our lives. Again.
[00:19:36] Keith: [00:19:36] Yeah, good point. And for some reason, I don't know why, but I kind of have a weak spot for the airline in Australia was find myself, you know, reading about the manufacturers on the airlines.
[00:19:45] That's one thing I never thought of actually with the actual price of flying, there has to be a demand and supply effects for the price to be more than likely pushed up. But who knows what will happen. But thanks for sharing your experience on that. I personally, it's a, it's an industry which I'm absolutely fascinated with.
[00:20:01] Now, John, you returned to Ireland around, I think it was 2006 2007 and Apple have a very large base in the South of Ireland. How did you end up working for Apple?
[00:20:13] John: [00:20:13] So around 2006 after we had done the whole outsourcing of the Virgin we had call centre and brought in a remote element to it, Apple came knocking on the door of, but came knocking on the door looking for somebody to help them structure a remote workforce and ended up on my doorstep.
[00:20:35] So I got a call and I was asked to, if I was interested in taking a, essentially a contract gig with Apple. So I ended up working for a year with Apple, and it was the year leading up to the launch of the iPhone. So it was from about April, 2006 to July, 2007 approximately. And in that time, time period, Apple had yet to announce the iPhone was coming, but obviously the company knew what was coming. And they needed to build an enormous repository of contact centre talent and availability and the ability to ramp up quickly. So they viewed the remote spaces as the way to do it because it didn't have the bricks and mortar element to it.
[00:21:22] So they knocked on the door of the company that we were using at Virgin Atlantic and that company said, Oh, you should talk to this guy. He just on it for Virgin Atlantic cause we would have been kind of the marquee brand. So Apple came to me, asked me to come on board, so I ended up helping shape Apple's first foray into remote work.
[00:21:40] In fact, the very first phone call that Apple ever took across any of their platforms be an Apple care or the Apple online store. The first ever remote call was 22nd of May, 2006 I believe. It was the very first phone call.
[00:21:59] Keith: [00:21:59] That sounds very late in the greater scheme of things?
[00:22:03] John: [00:22:03] It was actually quite late. And do you think of it with Disney? He was doing it in 99 1999 Apple was 2006 But it was a full year before the iPhone came.
[00:22:18] And the iPhone was the game changer.
[00:22:20] Keith: [00:22:20] Would you believe? I was working in telecoms at the time. I was working for O2 and they were the first network to get the iPhone, and one of my claim to fame is the fact that I was one of the first 25 people in Ireland to have an iPhone. So I don't expect any rewards for that. But it was the 2G version that was the kind of end of life version that they were trying to get rid of in the States.
[00:22:40] And I kid you not the other 24 people that had been in the office, we all have to walk around the office with a plug and charger in our back pocket because the battery was that bad.
[00:22:51] It was just interesting? It was a, everywhere you went with that phone, everybody would say, can you give me a look at it? Just can you give me a look at it?
[00:22:59] An interesting experience in terms of Apple, in terms of Cork John, have they have, they have a big presence now, was it, you know, was it a great experience or is Apple is very much rooted in Cork or is that just an impression? I have.
[00:23:11] John: [00:23:11] So I did a year with Apple on a contract basis, and then I managed the Apple business for a vendor of Apples for a couple of years.
[00:23:19] And then Apple was looking to bring a senior leader into the Cork operation to run the contact centre operation for Europe. And that was in 2010 so they approached me and I'd been living in the States at this stage, nearly 20 years. So again. My, my long suffering wife who I dragged across the U S from East to West, was now being asked to move from, we were living on the beach in Florida, and I was asking her to move to Ireland and February, 2010 so fortunately she said yes, but we moved back in 2010 for me to take this up the role of directors, a contact centre, operations for the Apple online store, which was a great, great opportunities, wonderful experience. At the time, I think Apple had about, in the time that I was there in the seven years I was there, we were as low as probably 400 people and about as high as maybe probably Crested about 2000 people at one stage, and that includes all of our vendor operations. And we had vendor operations in Belfast, Berlin, Barcelona, Athens.
[00:24:21] Keith: [00:24:21] And all of the, in terms of the work from home conversation on, assuming that all of the staff were in a, in a call centre.
[00:24:30] John: [00:24:30] All of Apple staff was in a call centre. Yeah, there were, there were some people in the US that were working from home. It wasn't until about 2014 I think, or 20 around the roundabout 2014 that Apple first, to the best of my knowledge, dip their toe in the water, maybe 2013 with some small number of teams working from home with an home program, and even to this day, it would still be a smaller element of the greater scheme of things.
[00:24:56] I don't know the numbers. I've gone three years, but I'm guessing there's about 6,000 people in the operation in Ireland, and there's probably about 11-12 -1300 would be working remote, so it's, it's 20% at most of their staff.
[00:25:13] Keith: [00:25:13] John, you were there for seven years. That's a decent chunk of a, of a, of a varied career.
[00:25:18] Do you miss the Apple way? Was there anything there that you in particular that did well or
[00:25:23] John: [00:25:23] The one thing that I, that I missed that Apple is that when you work for a company with such a really incredible culture, like Apple is, it's almost like you cross the moat and the drawbridge gets pulled up. And you're a completely and utterly wrapped up in the culture.
[00:25:43] So in the time that I was there, I could count, I wouldn't say on one hand, but the number of times that I was dealing with people from outside of Apple so few and far between that you lose. I just give you an example. The very first time that I'd ever heard of Slack. Never even heard the name Slack was it was after I joined Shopify and when I was, the night that I met you, somebody said to me, Oh, I'll ping you on Slack. I'm like, what are they talking? What is a ping? And what Slack and I was working for would ostensibly at the time of being there, you know more than most powerful technology companies in the world, but I did not, I had never heard of Slack.
[00:26:31] The whole concept of Slack. I was like, what is this? Somebody had to sit down and explain it to me.
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[00:27:39] I'd say, John, you've got used to it by now.
[00:27:42] John: [00:27:42] Oh yeah.
[00:27:45] Keith: [00:27:45] so really, I suppose what you're saying is, you know, on the inside they run their business a certain way and then that was, that was it.
[00:27:53] They have their own ways of doing things and it was, well, I suppose they, it's been written about in the past at the Apple way.
[00:27:58] John: [00:27:58] True. One of the things that's the current situation causes challenges and changes for all of us. I'm just going to give you one sort of story regarding how and the Apple wouldn't be alone on this one. But 20 years ago, if you were running a contact centre, the type of person who was the frontline, your frontline customer service person would be sitting at a desk, a row of desks, a bank of desks, and they would be sitting with a desktop computer probably with a box of under the desk on a monitor on the desk. Right. And it was your classic desktop because desktops, you'll remember at time. Laptops were expensive. Desktops were the cheap, cheap.
[00:28:43] Keith: [00:28:43] I remember. Yep.
[00:28:45] John: [00:28:45] Now, over the course of time, the difference in price between laptop and desktop became narrower, but there still was a difference. But very few contact centres. Changed the way in which they provisioned their staff. So most staff in most contact centres around the world have maintained having a desktop rather than laptop, then Covid 19 happened around the world and suddenly country after country, city after city, people were told they needed to take the equipment and go home. Now, for those people who were able to pick up a laptop and go, it becomes a very easy exercise. For those people who had to unbundle a desktop and a monitor on whatever, carry. Put that under their arm and bring it home. First of all, there's a physical challenge to that. There's a security issue too, because you're not used to the, you're not used to having all the IP protocols, all that kind of stuff. There is a ton of issues that were raised and it's, it's because industry has not made it made that morphing from to being a portable and movable workforce.
[00:29:55] It was an immovable workforce that was assumed to always be in one location. So I think the nature of business has changed so radically in the course of the last two months. When we go back to whatever the new normal is, I would venture to say that most companies, no matter whether they're frontline customer support or every other aspect, I think the day of a desktop may well be behind us long way behind us.
[00:30:21] Keith: [00:30:21] That's a very valid point John. It's amazing. Sometimes, you know, I've worked in an office where everybody had a desktop on a laptop, on the laptop, used to be the secondary device. In the old days of telecoms but just to go back to, you were talking there about the Apple and the release of the iPhone in those days when I worked in Oh two Oh two was basically the first mobile centric company that I ever worked for, and we all had a Blackberry. Most of us had a personal Blackberry, and we had a personal Blackberry and we had a business Blackberry and we had a laptop.
[00:30:52] So are you saying then, or is it correct to say then that really what covert 19 has resulted in is an uplift in the acquisition on the sales of laptops and possibly the death of the desktop.
[00:31:06] John: [00:31:06] Yeah, I think, you know, you go back to. It was a, Steve Jobs was the one who said in probably 2011 2012 even, or even sooner, that we're in a post PC world, right? And we're in a mobile world, but like the greatest, the best manifestation of a proper mobile office is the laptop. Like most of us can do quite a lot of what we need to do on a mobile phone rather than a laptop. But the laptop is still the best, let's call it portable office that we have. A desktop isn't because it's just by nature it's not a portable device, and I think what this is going to change, it's going to change. It's going to be a significant mindset change for companies who routinely have not purchased the higher end laptops for lower end employees.
[00:31:52] That will change because the benefits are now so enormous and the risks of not doing it also so enormous that yeah, we're going to have to be proved. I'm going to have to be smart and we're going to have to give all staff the ability to be able to be very flexible to not do that. It will be massively detrimental to a business.
[00:32:16] Keith: [00:32:16] Yeah, I interviewed Shauna Moran recently, and I know, you know Shauna well, she's formerly Shopify employee and one of the things that she mentioned was that it's all very well giving people the tools, which is what you're referring to, but sending a staff member home to work and giving them a laptop and just giving them Slack and a couple of other tools is necessarily isn't the answer either.
[00:32:36] So you've raised a very interesting point. There's a shift in terms of hardware. And there's also a shift in terms of psychology and in terms of the tools and so forth that they would be using. You know, if we segue then into, into Shopify, into your current role, in your experience, Shopify have a remote team in Ireland.
[00:32:54] Okay so even though you guys were very, very experienced in the remote area. Have you still had some, some learnings, quick learnings in the last six weeks that frankly shocked you or were you guys already well tooled up for the current crisis.
[00:33:12] John: [00:33:12] We were very well tooled up. I mean, we had this wonderful, we, we were incredibly fortunate.
[00:33:17] And this is where we gotta be very sensitive as well. We are in an industry e-commerce and providing an eCommerce platform. That's actually still a highly desirous product and there are people who are using our platform to advance their businesses and pivot their businesses. So we're one of those few, we're one of the fortunate industries that has still has significant demand.
[00:33:43] And we're also in a situation where our workplace hasn't changed cause we were all working from home. So we have to realise the double lottery ticket that we got. And we do recognize that. But there's also some quirky and interesting things, and I don't want to belittle the severity of it, but for those of us who have set up home offices and are used to working in our home offices, the influx of other humans into our space, in our own houses is a challenge.
[00:34:14] I'm now dealing with my wife using zoom with her choir, my, my daughter using zoom to an economics class and my son doing a computer science exam in college on zoom all at the same time while I'm having a conference call on zoom or Google Hangouts. So, you know, we're all competing for that. There's more people in the house.
[00:34:35] We all, we have issues like that is one aspect. Another aspect of it as an organisation, Shopify would have about 40% prior to this, about 40% of the company were resolutely remote and 60% of the company around the world where office based. You suddenly had the 60% of folks coming into the remote world and suddenly they were experiencing things that we had seen and watched and experienced ourselves over the previous couple of years.
[00:35:03] So to watch other people seeing it for the first time and experiencing it for the first time was actually a cathartic experience. It was wonderful. It's like watching tourists, being enamoured by wonderful sights. It really was because they were discovering things and you're actually getting joy watching them discover things like, Oh my God, you can really do that on a zoom call.
[00:35:25] Oh my God. You can really, really keep connection? You can have drinks together on zoom, right? All of the things that were so second nature to us, and I think for those people who've been remote for a period of time, it's a, it's a real thumbs up to go 'yeah. You know what? It's all good. It's all good.'
[00:35:46] There's an enormous onus that's something you and I've talked about in the past as well. For those of us who relatively well-experienced in the remote world, does it tremendous society to share those learnings with everybody else because. Well, you know, from us, from the Irish society perspective, the more and more that we make people comfortable with remote work, the better off the economy is going to be.
[00:36:12] And we were fortunate enough to be approached by some government departments asking for their help because they know that our platform can help. But they also know that our experience in remote work is also very helpful. So we've worked with obviously, confidentially we've worked with, with a number of entities within the whole government structure to provide information on how to be successful in remote.
[00:36:37] Keith: [00:36:37] It's funny you say that, John, because I was just about to say there weren't you lucky. That's the 60% that weren't working from home, had the supports and were able to ping the 40% you know, to get directions and very quickly. I mean, I, I'm very surprised at how quickly people adapted to it.
[00:36:57] You guys have then taken it to another level. In terms of advising other people external to Shopify, which is, I think it's admirable. I mean, we're both sharing learnings, you know, online as much as we possibly can. I've been sharing the tools that we use. For example, time trackers, Slack, Basecamp we use for a project management tool. In terms of your role in Shopify and in terms of Shopify in Ireland. You know, can you just give the listeners an example? Just give them an indication of the scale of the operation in Ireland and what that operation does for Shopify on the overall platform worldwide?
[00:37:31]John: [00:37:31] Sure. I'll just go one quick step back into the, into history. So Shopify planted a flag in Ireland in the summer of 2015 started off with 50 people, 50 frontline customer support folks.
[00:37:43] And it was basically five teams of of 10 with a leader in each team and one or two people on the, let's call it tier two escalated support folks. And that was the starting point. And over the course of the, I suppose the next five years, we have exploded in size and we are vastly more than than the 50 people that we started with I won't be able to share the number with you, but it's multiples of that.
[00:38:11] Keith: [00:38:11] I'm assuming it's hundreds.
[00:38:14] John: [00:38:14] Yes. Significant hundreds. By the time, by the time you and I met in 2017 we were at 150 so draw the line between the two and you'll recognize that we're, we're well more than double that from, from a couple of years ago. Well, more than that.
[00:38:28] Keith: [00:38:28] John, I said this a few times to various people that aren't even on this podcast. There is one thing that amazes me about Shopify. Isn't it just wonderful that this eCommerce platform, as good as it is, can employe people in the West of Ireland working in their houses and working in their apartments.
[00:38:45] Like I found it wonderful before this current crisis. I mean, it's just. Like they started in the West of Ireland. You know, every time I go onto support and I ask a guru to where they're from, the chances are, they could be anywhere, well, anywhere now because they're all, the staff are all over the country.
[00:39:01] But I used to love when someone would tell me, Oh, and then Bundoran I'm in Galway, I'm in, I'm in East Cork, you know, just phenomenal. But anyway, continue to give us an idea of the structure
[00:39:11] John: [00:39:11] That's a great point as almost exclusively in the greater Connacht area. Basically from Donegal to Clare was, was where we were. We tended to be, because we required at the very start for people to be close to Galway.
[00:39:26] So in other words, if there was a challenge or an issue from a technology perspective, we wanted people to have an area that we are to essentially be close to each other. But it ended up being so successful that we ripped off the bandaid and said, okay, it doesn't matter anywhere now. So we suddenly went from being in seven counties and art and being in 26 counties. And where this is enormously important from a, from a a regional development perspective, is that, you know, we have probably 50% of the population in the country between the greater Dublin and greater Cork area. And in Shopify, we have about 10% of our employees in the greater Cork, greater Dublin area. We are completely counter cyclical, and that's because of the fact that you could, you've isolated, we essentially grew up on the West coast, so still 50% of our staff would be in that Donegal to Clare corridor, let's call it there. The Northern half is the wild Atlantic way.
[00:40:24] 50% of our, at least 50% of our people are there. So we are that. We do lean very much towards rural, and what that does to every community is incredible. So like one extra person in Kinvara could be the difference between the post office thing, open the bank branch, staying open, an extra teacher in the school.
[00:40:46] It could be the difference between the local GAA team, be able to feel the team and the intermediate championship or not. These small things make a difference. And you know the ones that become twos that become fours, and then suddenly you have these communities building up and you have these remote communities of remote workers.
[00:41:05] I'm heavily involved in an organisation called Grow Remote as well, and what Grow Remote has done incredibly incredible job at stitching together all of those disparate groups of people who thought they were kind of probably on their own and these small towns, but suddenly discovered that, hang on, I'm not the only remote in the village.
[00:41:25] There's tons more people like that and stitching those communities together, I think has emboldened people to realise this is actually a massive opportunity. Societally and governmentally there's an enormous opportunity for us and we have an opportunity now because the world has been turned upside down.
[00:41:44] How are we going to respond to this? You know, you've got hundreds of thousands of people. Okay. Let me go back to the census for example, the 2016 census indicated that there are just under a hundred thousand people commuting every day to Dublin from Kildare, Meath and Wicklow. Right? A hundred thousand people a day.
[00:42:05] What's the likelihood at the end of this, that number will be the same? I think a lot of people are going to go, hold on a second. I don't have to endure this any longer. I've proven that I've proven that I can do my job, and we can argue whether it's going to be 5% or 50% right? It could be anywhere along that continuum, but I think we all agree it's going to be a significant chunk of people who will have proven to their employers.
[00:42:29] They don't need to do that long commute anymore. So what's that going to do? It's going to shift the axis away from the cities and it's going to embolden us more and more and more to allow people to work remote with potentially the ability to dip into an office on a consistent basis, but not be routinely based in an office.
[00:42:49] That is the incredible change. That's it in the medium term for all of us.
[00:42:55] Keith: [00:42:55] You're absolutely on the money there. I live in Dublin. I'm originally from Kildare, so I was one of those individuals, you know, as you mentioned during the, during the commute and Dublin and you straight away on a Friday, you noticed that the traffic is less because obviously employers are, there's a lot of people that do one day a week or you know, or two days a week and that's always going to rise. \
[00:43:16] But just at one point, my brother made a point to me yesterday about expenditure that a lot of people, because they're unfortunately in lockdown at the moment aren't spending as much money and what I think is going to happen is exactly what you just said.
[00:43:30] I have no idea of what the numbers are going to be, or 20% of people are going to be working from home after this or 30 or 40 it obviously depends on the vertical that they're working in. Depends on the industry. Wouldn't it be just fantastic? If 20 or 30% of people did start working from home, and instead of driving to the cities in Ireland or driving to the cities and Canada or drive into whatever city that you're in in the UK or America, and instead of buying a sandwich in the city, wouldn't it be fantastic if people bought their coffee and bought their sandwich in the local town. I mean, this actually has the potential to completely rejuvenate rural Ireland. And rural UK potentially, and other parts of the States that are the rest of the world where local economies have just been soaked dry as a result of the, you know, the migration towards cities.
[00:44:18] Now, just on that, is there anybody, are you guys in Grow Remote, are you guys measuring that impact or is it even possible to measure? Is there a, a number for the value of 10 or 20 remote workers in a local economy, or does that even exist yet?
[00:44:35] John: [00:44:35] There are a variety of different metrics. I'll give you a few of them, but there's no one golden metric here, but there's a few things. We'll talk first of all, in terms of cost, right? There's a ton of studies out there that talk about the cost of, actually, let's call it housing and employee in an office, and the typical savings to accompany, to move somebody out of an office space and to have them working from home. And this is, there's been a number of studies done around the world.
[00:45:03] You'll see it runs the gamut from about $15,000 to about 20 to $23,000 so let's take the midpoint there. Let's call it $18,000 a year in savings. That is quite significant, to put it mildly. There's also the issue of the time saving. For people doing the commute. The average commute in Ireland is 27 minutes from the last census, I think was 27 minutes.
[00:45:32] Now it grew quite a bit. That was from 24 to 27 I'm directionally correct. Can't remember the exact numbers, but it was the rate of growth that concerned me. Right. Not the actual, the, the ordinal number and the reason why the ordinal numbers is not that worrying is that the generally accepted figure for an acceptable commute around the world is 42 minutes.
[00:45:54] If your commute is more than 42 minutes, that's the tipping point where you make significant decisions regarding housing and other stuff like that. So we're still well under that threshold, so it's still tolerable. But I think as a society, if we continue to allow that to creep up towards the 42 and creep up towards that tipping point, it's like, to be honest, it's like, it's like taking a rowing boat out at the top of the Niagara Falls and saying, gosh, I'm not going to go out over the edge.
[00:46:23] Not sure. It'll be fine. And we have to be very careful about that and very deliberate. And I think this is the moment for us to sit and think and go, hang on. What's the deliberate thing to do? So from a government's perspective, the more and more we encourage companies and give them proper incentives and proper encouragement to have less people in the cities, what's actually going to happen?
[00:46:43] It's going to be a twofold thing. It's going to see a significant increase in the population. Not just bedroom communities, but physically living in areas around the cities. And actually to your point, spending money in those communities, not just commuting out and back every day, the same time. It's going to free up a ton of space in our cities.
[00:47:07] And one of the things that was challenging for the IDA and a variety of other people. Over the course of the last couple of years where the, all these companies still looking to come into Ireland who still wanted move into the cities and have the space in the cities, but there wasn't enough space so we could technically and, and it's possible we could shift some of that focus out of the cities, free up some space, and potentially supercharged the economy that opportunity exists for us and we must, we must make brave decisions if we're going to embrace it.
[00:47:38] Keith: [00:47:38] Yeah. And what you've described there can be done all over the world. It's not just an Irish issue, it's an issue, you know, obviously across the water for the UK as was as a traffic problem around the country. The same as everybody else on a similar issue with, you know, lack of housing and house prices rising.
[00:47:54] John: [00:47:54] But Keith, we've a couple of advantages here, right?
[00:47:58] We're the last English speaking country in the EU. So we're a beachhead for a lot of companies who want to have that. From a society perspective, we have proven in the last. 15 years that we are a, an attractive liberal society where people like to live. And also we're blessed with some of the most beautiful scenery around and we're deemed to be friendly people.
[00:48:23] That's the reason why. So many people have moved to Ireland to work, and it's not just the low level employees that are moving. We're seeing a significant influx. In the last numbers that I saw, I think it was in January, was that to to continue to fuel the growth that existed. Now this is all pre COvid stuff, but to fuel the growth that was, that was deemed necessary at the time we were going to have to bring in 35 to 40,000 people from outside of Ireland every year to just keep the economy going at the growth rate. So we've proven that we're a very attractive place to live. I think now is the opportunity for a very bold, some very bold governmental decisions over the course of the next five years.
[00:49:05] Keith: [00:49:05] John I agree with you 100% absolutely. John, before we finish, in terms of next year, what do you think 2021 will look like for the work from home cohort.
[00:49:17] John: [00:49:17] Oh, that's a, that's a tough question. And the reason, the reason why, that's such a tough question, you're asking me to guess what's going on to 2021 and this is my interpretation of what happened.
[00:49:27] We all went to bed on the 12th of March, 2020 and we woke up on the 13th of March, 2030 and that 10 years of growth and work from home happened overnight. And it literally did happen overnight. So I think we've skipped, we skipped such an enormous period of time that to think about things in increments of one year is almost gone.
[00:49:54] So I tell you what I think is the biggest change to be more serious and to direct to answer your question directly, I don't think we'll ever see a company that will not have a significant contingency plan about regarding remote work. One of the most disturbing statistics that I saw in the course of the last couple of weeks was that 70% of Irish businesses don't have an online presence, 70% so essentially that's 70% of businesses that were rendered.
[00:50:28] Essentially impotent, completely and utterly no power, no commercial power immediately, lights went out and they had to pivot very quickly. And that's one of the reasons why. And some very, very strong initiatives from a variety of government organisations and government departments to drive as much enterprise as possible because we must get, we must invert that.
[00:50:55] We must get 70 to 80 to 90% of Irish companies online so that they have that online presence. That to me, is the single biggest change. So if those one number to look at, it would be the, the number of Irish businesses that have an online presence.
[00:51:11] Keith: [00:51:11] Yeah again, we're both on the same page, I think. I suppose our experience in the last six weeks in Milk Bottle, we're seeing obviously the demands from the consumer rising, so there's people buying online that never would have considered buy online in the past. I mean, women by their nature, like to go into shops and browse, try on clothes. We can see that there's a massive increase in fashion purchases online, but in addition to that, then there's a demand from the businesses to go online has also risen.
[00:51:41] So I would say that, you know, in our market and in the businesses that we're talking to, there's a move towards online from business point of view has been accelerated by, I'd say, at these five years. I would say even in other markets, it's probably even more. There's businesses now considering online that never ever taught that they ever would have needed it.
[00:52:03] John: [00:52:03] But Keith, here's the way to think about it. As you, as companies come to you and look for your expert is, right? You're probably going to be recommending click and collect for companies that would not have even been able to spell click and collect a couple of years ago. () Absolutely.) It's going to be one of the most... it's going to be like having a telephone number because there will be for a period of time. Probably until we have a really strong vaccination regime where people will continue a level of physical distancing and we'll want to be able to purchase a product, but also to pick it up in the most distanced manner possible.
[00:52:46] So click and collect for potentially, even for services. There's going to be almost perverse way to say it, but there will be a click and collect element to almost every purchase online. And we would never ever have guessed that a year ago.
[00:53:01] Keith: [00:53:01] You're absolutely right. You know, you know the other, the other rise in inquiries that we're seeing, for example, is as services in terms of food.
[00:53:10] So not everybody, you know, the Just Eats and the Deliveroos, they don't cover, you know, in entire countries, they only cover at built up areas. We're seeing an influx in queries in terms of services, primarily foods. And there is. You know, the majority of chefs that run a restaurant or the majority of restaurant owners would never have thought that they would have ever needed an online presence because people just walked in and picked up.
[00:53:37] So your point on the services is absolutely, absolutely very valid. We're living in changing times, but I do believe there's an opportunity. And also to your point earlier on. We're probably lucky that we're in the right area. So it's, yeah, it's, it's changed. It's not going to go back. John, I just want to finish. Right so is there anything else that you want to, do you want to Grow Remote or is there anything else that you want to mentioned.
[00:54:00] John: [00:54:00] For me, Grow Remote is, is probably one of the most important things that I've been involved in in the last couple of years because it's the ultimate green Jersey play for Ireland.
[00:54:10] And what started off as a green Jersey play is actually a worldwide local Jersey play because every one of us is inextricably linked or tied to or has an emotional attachment to our locality, whether it's a suburb of a city or a small town or whatever. We have that level of connection. That's the most visceral thing that we have and when there's an opportunity to have more employment in areas like that, and more connection in areas like that. We all know it's a significant enhancer of the society and the culture. So you know, from a, from a legacy perspective, those of us who are, who operate a lot in the remote space view the opportunity over regarding this whole grow remote organisation as being a, as being a significant opportunity to do something that in 20, 30, 40 years time will bring the greatest level of change to our country and basically to the world, I think is a big, big change. Now, it's not to say that we're not going to be in cities absolute rubbish. We're going to have, there's going to be a combination of both, but there's this, there's a slight rebalancing and a very small rebalancing of a couple of percent moving from cities to, to remote.
[00:55:33] That's all that's needed to start to significant change happening.
[00:55:39] Keith: [00:55:39] Perfect. Okay. John, thanks very much for taking the time to talk to us today and sharing your experiences. Let's follow what's going on closely over the next few months, and I'd love to have you on again, maybe in six months time to just to look back on the changes on your experience.
[00:55:55] John: [00:55:55] Thank you very much. I'd actually love to do that and I want to thank you for all you're doing, you and your team for all you're doing in helping keep the eCommerce flag flying and flying very strongly because we're going to have to grow out of this and we're going to have to share our experience with as many people as possible.
[00:56:13] So I would encourage you guys to continue leaning in and allowing people to lean into you, to tap into your expertise also.
[00:56:21] Keith: [00:56:21] Perfect. John thank you very, very much.
[00:56:25] Outro: [00:56:25] Thanks for listening to the Milk Bottles Shopify Ecommerce Podcast. All of our episodes are available on Spotify and iTunes. We really appreciate the support of our sponsor. Rewind.io, the leading backup solution for your Shopify store. Get your first month of Rewind for free. Just to respond to any of the welcome messages or emails after you begin your seven day free trial and mention our podcast until the next time. Take care.