AGENT Q&A with John Riordan, Shopify, Director of Support, IrelandLast Updated: November 1, 2019
“Spend deliberate time away from your tech devices, to nurture the ability to think.” John Riordan, Shopify Director of Support, Ireland, tells AGENT how he keeps his business brain sharp, and looks back on his career in customer support and marketing to date.
In the early 1990s, John Riordan left an economically stagnant Ireland and flew to the US with not much more than a Green Card and a lot of hope.
“Avoid the scourge of leaning away from and ignoring those who disagree with you. Lean in and learn.”
Today, after working in senior roles in marketing at US Airways and Virgin Atlantic, and latterly for customer support organisations, he is e-commerce platform Shopify’s Director of Support, Ireland.
For John Riordan, and his deep passion for the Work-At-Home model, there could be no better fit than a role with an organisation that is a thought-leader in remote working.
Shopify reviews hail the platform as the leading e-commerce choice for small and medium-sized businesses worldwide, whether your business is based in-store, or operated from the trunk of your car.
John Riordan is part of a vibrant support network, backing up 600,000 merchants in 175 countries around the world.
John Riordan freed up some time in his schedule to talk to AGENT about Shopify and the career pathway towards his current position. He speaks about his business inspirations and challenges, and the importance of striking a work-life balance, especially when working from home.
He also generously shares sone of the wisdom he has garnered from experiences on his career journey to date.
“Avoid the scourge of leaning away from and ignoring those who disagree with you,” John Riordan advises, reflecting on his life in business. “Lean in and learn.”
1. Briefly tell us about Shopify’s business and business goals.
At Shopify, entrepreneurship is at the heart of everything we do. We are the leading commerce platform designed for small and medium-sized businesses worldwide. Whether you sell online, on social media, in store, or out of the trunk of your car, Shopify has you covered.
The first Shopify store was our own, and it’s been our mission to make commerce better for everyone ever since. Our scalability and multi-channel capabilities are enablers for business success. Because when our merchants succeed, we succeed.
We employ over 3,000 people worldwide, including more than 250 entirely remote Irish employees that I am lucky enough to lead. Working from home allows our support team to have improved work-life harmony, eliminate commuting and allow them to work with people from around the world. We scale our teams by ensuring employees work hours within their own time zone, what we call “following the sun”.
With 600,000 merchants in 175 countries around the world, building remote support teams ensure we are giving our merchants the best experience. We, at Shopify, are proud to be a remote-work thought-leader.
2. What is your background and why did you decide to go into this career?
My undergraduate degree was in Marketing and I completed a Masters in Banking and Finance so I guess it still takes a lot of explaining as to how I ended up in Customer Service. I was lucky enough to work my way up to VP Sales & Marketing for Virgin Atlantic in my early 30s.
Working in marketing for such an iconic brand, I found myself surrounded by a lot of “shiny toys” and cool projects but I was drawn to the people-management side of Contact Centres and Customer Support, and have spent the last 17 years working with Customer Support organisations, with a deep passion for the Work-At-Home model.
3. Who are your business icons and inspirations?
The unlikely and very different duo of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Steve Jobs for his complete devotion to excellence and his unrelenting will and drive, and Bill Gates for his bravery and foresight to leave it all behind and devote his real life’s work to helping others less fortunate.
For local variety, I am a big fan of an Irish economist, David McWilliams, who writes about really weighty economics topics in a very clear, concise and comprehensible format. I love writers who can explain macro issues in a conversational and informed style.
4. What has been your biggest challenge in your career, and how did you surmount it?
Getting a start in a new country. I left an economically stagnant Ireland in 1992 and emigrated to the US with a Green Card, two bags of clothes and a lot of hope. I lived with my uncle and his family in Baltimore, MD and set about networking from the moment I landed.
Keep in mind, this was pre-internet so networking was a lot harder, but way more satisfying and long-lasting. I went to lots of events, made a lot of phone calls, and met a lot of people, many of whom I am still friendly with. Within six months I had landed my dream job of Marketing Analyst at US Airways in Arlington, VA.
5. What gives you the most satisfaction in business?
I get the most satisfaction working with young, talented people in the early years of their career, and watching them blossom.
6. Work-Life balance: is it possible? How do you achieve it?
I prefer the term “Work-Life Harmony” but that is probably a cop-out. I work from home, so I don’t have the “luxury” of the commute that creates a natural separation between work and home life. To create my own boundaries, I do not take work elsewhere in the house; I treat my home office truly as my workplace.
However, like many others, I struggle with the all-pervasiveness of the ‘always-on’ and ‘notification’ generation. To get past this, I turn off all notifications, including my phone ringer. This helps me use my phone when I need it, rather than when it needs me.
7. What is the first thing you do every day?
I spent a long time being the type who checked work emails first thing upon waking up. Fortunately, I saw the light (or should I say the darkness) and I have managed to wean myself off that over the last two years. My morning routine is up at 0545, cup of black coffee, exercise – either gym or running – and try not to access work-related stuff on my phone until I am having my breakfast.
8. What screen saver picture is currently on your phone?
A family photo of my wife and I with our two teenagers, taken in Dingle, Co Kerry, three years ago, with the magnificent Skelligs (used in the last two Star Wars movies) in the background.
9. What is the most important app on your mobile phone, and why?
From a work perspective it would have to be Slack. I can be fully functional for hours on my mobile just using Slack. From a personal perspective the app of choice is an Irish sports website called “the42” where I get my sporting fix numerous times a day.
10. What is the last thing you Googled?
‘World U20 Athletics Finland Live Feed’ – I love to watch Track & Field and there is nothing better than watching the next series of running sensations – the next Usain Bolt, the next Sonia O’Sullivan or whoever. There are a few Irish athletes on the cusp of a major breakthrough so I want to make sure I get access to the live feed if possible.
As far as I can work out, pretty much everything I wish to see will be available via some YouTube channel. Last summer, I took my son to the World Championships in London, and this year we are going to the European Championships in Berlin in August.
11. What item do you never leave the house without, and why?
My iPhone – it is the Swiss Army knife of this decade. What can it not do? With an Apple Watch and Apple Pay, I can leave my phone behind in some circumstances. However, I see no prospect that the Watch will replace the Phone. For that to happen, Apple would need to provide reading glasses for all the over-40s.
12. What advice would you give to your younger self starting out in business?
- When you come across someone who impresses you, tell them and ask them to help you. It does not have to be a more senior person (although it is usually).
- Avoid the scourge of leaning away from and ignoring those who disagree with you. Lean in and learn.
- Be acutely interested in people who are very different from you – background, academic qualifications, interests.
- Develop the habit of spending 10 minutes at the start and finish of each day to write and review daily goals. Not having a plan or a routine leads to inbound correspondence taking an unnatural precedence.
- Spend deliberate time away from your devices to nurture the ability to think.