26 June 2018

Shopify Unite: What Is It, And Why We Flew Halfway Around The World To Go.

I made a realisation on the first day of the Shopify Unite Conference – that I’ve made a terrible mistake...Jet lag and I were going to be battling this one out longer than I expected. Travelling halfway around the world from Australia to Toronto(Canada) probably required a more considered sleeping plan than I had formulated. Yet, In spite of the jet lag:

  • I still had a good time,

  • I made some great connections,

  • I was able to use the opportunity to promote Lamb, and

  • I found the Unite conference content valuable and worth the 20-hour flight and week of time.

What is Shopify Unite?

Unite is the annual global developer and partner conference for Shopify. It brings together digital agencies, app creators, Shopify staff and some merchants together for 3 days to educate and inspire. The event is a series of workshops split into two streams ‘building’ and ‘scaling’.

  • ‘Building’ focused on user experience and technical capabilities of Shopify, and

  • ‘Scaling’ covered more of the business opportunities and practices for companies that work within the Shopify ecosystem.

Why we decided to go to Shopify Unite in 2018

Lamb Agency has traditionally not attended conferences, especially not international ones. We usually have the opportunity to find out about new technologies as part of the day-to-day work we do for clients. For us, it ultimately came down to the fact that Shopify has been an increasing part of our revenue stream for the last 12 months which led us to decide internally that we should take Shopify more seriously.

Before Shopify...

Historically I have personally worked for organisations that have used Magento (a competing open-source e-commerce platform), with mixed... results. The power of Magento to be able to do pretty much whatever you wanted was countered with a back-handed slap of the cost of that freedom. That freedom also is something that commonly requires developer involvement – nothing was ever simple in Magento. It got to the point at my previous agency that we blacklisted Magento as a platform because we simply couldn’t make it viable with good client outcomes. We were on the lookout for an eCommerce solution that made sense for us, and for clients, and that solution was Shopify.

The types of people you can meet at Shopify Unite

Conferences will always have their fair share of workshops and information sessions that carry all the standard information you want to know about. Shopify did a good job of recording the different sessions so that we could view them at a later time. The great thing I found about Unite was the space made available to network with other attendees. I loved the centralised positioning of the chill-out area. It was fantastic for facilitating the connection that I think is most valuable when attending conferences. The event organisers provided this handy little lanyard that you could touch against another participant’s lanyard to exchange contact details. This was super neat technology. We used this opportunity to connect with a range of people

  • Agency owners: I met agency owners from South Africa, New Zealand, Chile, Austria and of course locals from Canada and America. These were probably the most interesting valuable and mutually beneficial conversations I had.

  • Shopify staff: There was a tonne of Shopify staff at the event that we could speak to. I personally think I could have done a better job at engaging them. Practically, we probably gained more from getting to know our local representative better, who was present at the event. Talia(our local rep) was a lifesaver with a battery pack when I failed to properly charge my event one day.

  • Notable Shopify peeps: Every time I log into the partner's platform, I'm usually greeted by a guy wearing a camouflage suit jacket. This is actually Kurt Elster. He’s a bit of a Shopify celebrity. He runs a popular Shopify podcast – Unofficial Shopify Podcast. I found the story behind the “camo” jacket quite interesting (he didn’t mean to make it his trademark). I also bumped into the Shopify CEO and got a good photo with our Lamb.

  • App companies: This was a great pitching opportunity for app providers. For most websites that we produce, there would be up to half a dozen additional paid plugins that we would install. We found a couple of providers that solved a few pain points like NextopiaSmile.io, and Klaviyo. Day to day we have no particular allegiance to any apps, so getting to know the people behind the apps was great.

What we did at Shopify Unite

While the conference wasn’t our target market for client acquisition, we used the opportunity to build an awareness of the Lamb Agency brand. We have an interest in having a voice in the Shopify ecosystem, so our plan was that for every Shopify-sanctioned session or event, I would carry a Lamb statue with me. Between dealing with my increasingly tired arm and being constantly worried about breaking the lamb (dropped at waist height, it will shatter) – it was a good experience. It was a good conversation starter and exposed me to a range of people I may otherwise not have approached. I took our Lamb to:

  • A 5km morning run

  • After party drinks

  • Information sessions

  • Networking breaks

What we gained from Shopify Unite

  • We connected with a range of agencies around the world whom we will continue to share our approach and learning with.

  • Our developer now has insight into capabilities launched at the event and other functionalities that we hadn’t looked into too deeply, providing us with a richer broader understanding of the platform.

  • It was good to hear the opinions and expertise of other agencies.

  • It exposed us to complementary products and service providers we would not normally have been exposed to. We will be investigating new Shopify applications following this.

What was missing from Shopify Unite

As an agency owner, it probably was a disappointment that there wasn't a little more on the topic of business development and engaging the market with Shopify. There was a panel discussion that was meant to have business development as a dual focus, but the discussion didn't actually have anyone whom you could speak to about the topic. I would have volunteered to speak from my perspective and experience, purely just to set up a conversation that may have led to a follow-up conversation during the event. 

Bottom line

I never got used to the time zones for my time in Canada. I ended up sleeping for two phases of 3-4 hours, overnight and later in the afternoon. Next time I’ll plan things out and I’ll make sure I have a smarter consideration of jet lag to reduce the interruption to my schedule. In spite of the rough ride this caused, attending Shopify Unite was definitely worth going. The information I gathered, and the connections I made were great. But ultimately it was being away from the agency, looking at what others were doing, and thinking about the bigger picture that was a BIG shot in the arm as motivation to lift our Shopify game.

Want to know more? If you would like to talk to us about this article, get in touch at greg@lamb.com.au or check us out at http://www.lamb.com.au

About Lamb Agency

Lamb Agency is a Shopify expert, we are a Shopify development expert. We work with local and national brands including Dissh Boutiques, Oz Trail, Rhythm Livin and many others. We have extensive experience in the construction and optimisation of online stores. We have also created bespoke eCommerce solutions for other companies like Virgin Australia, National Storage, and Lite n Easy.

Greg is the Managing Director of Lamb Agency, a digital agency focused on creating industry-leading websites.

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