Jim Murphy is one of Highline Beta’s investors, with a fantastic track record at building and selling technology companies. We’re profiling Jim today to talk about the importance of community, persevering through challenges, working on the right problems and investing in companies to grow the ecosystem — and the economy. Jim is a former Engineering Director at Shopify, Founder of Boltmade (acquired by Shopify in 2016) and Founder and CEO of Elora Brewing Company, made in beautiful Elora, Ontario.
In the beginning, there was the financial crisis.
I had a series of my own companies, lived and worked in the US from 1995 to 2008, just weeks before the financial crisis, when — with three kids under three — my wife and I made a decision to return to Waterloo to be closer to our family. At that time, it really felt like I was going backwards. But when I showed up in Waterloo in 2008, there was a real palpable sense of a growing, vibrant community. In the US, all sorts of tech communities were highly developed, and things felt a lot more transactional. In Waterloo, I could see that people were still trying to build the fundamental community fabric.
I got such a warm welcome in the community here that in just three months, I felt like I knew everybody. It was refreshing. I really liked that and so I dug in quite a bit, helped out some early companies in Waterloo, like PostRank, which later sold to Google. I thought the strength of the Waterloo ecosystem was that there’s a lot of engineering horsepower there, and so I decided to put together a little company called Boltmade, to help companies build on that advantage through quick iterations, becoming fearless champions of high product quality and technical execution. Shopify approached us shortly after, and there was an obvious fit, culturally, technologically, and organizationally. That led to a set of conversations that happened in 2016, when Shopify acquired the team and brought it in-house.
There’s no one right way to build companies.
Going through the Shopify experience was obviously a tremendous learning and an economically fortuitous outcome for me and the team. Over the past year, I finally set up a family office. I’ve been making investments all through my career, but I’ve never fashioned myself an angel investor. I will invest when I can’t avoid it. I’m not a gambler with two chips on every square at the roulette table type of person. I’m a builder and so I relate really well to other builders. It’s also truly, a selfishly fun way to get involved and support founders, who carry that full responsibility of a company on their shoulders.
“I am able to get deep and understand the problems, especially when it comes to product strategy, go to market, recruiting and hiring — and also provide emotional stability when things inevitably get challenging.”–Jim Murphy
Ultimately, I think there’s no one right way to start out and build companies. I think we need all the flavours and varieties of approaches. What Highline Beta does is really complimentary to a lot of other ways to start companies. It’s refreshing to see. Here’s the problem: There’s a lot of energy, talent, and even initial funding trapped in a lot of startups that aren’t really chasing any particular, meaningful problem, aren’t really well connected to any particular market, and so can’t anticipate any level of market pull. I think there’s a huge opportunity to connect that fantastic talent, energy and initial funding with market problems that actually already exist. So if we could bridge that gap and mitigate all those early risks, bringing the need of the industry and the market closer to where the entrepreneurs can attach to those problems — that’s an exciting and fertile territory. The obvious place to get started is to focus on customers. Highline Beta has a strong customer discovery mechanism that is much better developed than what a lot of startups have. I’m not sure the world really needs yet another note-taking app, but often that’s all young founders know, because they were all students just six months ago. But if they could just meet a dynamic set of executives or people in a large company with a particular need, which you could pattern-match — there’s huge, huge potential there.
“I’ve spent the last 25 years building software for software’s sake, and I think the tech industry is doing great. Software is eating the world. What we need now is to take a lot of that same energy, enthusiasm, toolsets and skills, and levels of investment and apply that to other areas of the economy.”–Jim Murphy
About Jim Murphy
Jim Murphy is an entrepreneur with a 25 year track record of building great teams, products and outcomes. Jim is well known as a technology leader who places people ahead of technology and understands that great products emerge from great teams, if they are lucky.
In 2016, Jim sold respected software design firm, Boltmade to Shopify forming the heart of Shopify’s product development organization in Waterloo, Ontario. Jim left Shopify in 2019 to define the next phase of his career.
Jim lives with his wife and three teenagers in beautiful Elora, Ontario.
Innovation Insights Newsletter
Sign-up below for our Innovation Insights newsletter to get the latest news on our startups, programs and the ecosystem.