Ep. 15 Headshot of Dax Dasilva, CEO and Founder of Lightspeed

Decoding the Changemaker Mentality: Dax Dasilva on Igniting Change


25 min

Ep. 15 Headshot of Dax Dasilva, CEO and Founder of Lightspeed

25 min

Great leaders inspire change, and according to Dax Dasilva, changemakers can emerge from everywhere. In this episode, Dax brings us along his changemaker journey, from leading one of the fastest growing e-commerce companies, to founding a non-profit cultural space, to writing his first book, "Age of Union," a guide for creating change. Prepare to be inspired.

Read transcript

“Anybody can be a changemaker. It's really remarkable when you see the power of the individual and the impact that an individual can make on the planet and in their community.”

Quick takes on...

The Changemaker Mentality

“I think we can be 8 billion changemakers on this planet. If we were 8 billion changemakers instead of 8 billion individuals thinking as individuals, we’d be on a different planet.”

Acting with Intention

“Those daily acts that you can do with intention, they get you on the path of being the changemaker. And you work up to things that impact more and more people. But it's a mindset. It's a mindset of doing something with an intention that's beyond your own personal benefit.”

Embracing Diversity

“It's good business to make sure that we have a diverse board, that we have a diverse workforce because it reflects our customers. Our customers are everybody, and we believe that commerce belongs to everybody.”

Meet your guest, Dax Dasilva


Spotlight on Dax Dasilva

Dax Dasilva is the founder and CEO of Lightspeed POS, one of Canada's fastest growing tech companies. Dax has led Lightspeed through a successful IPO on the Toronto Stock Exchange in 2019, and the next year oversaw the company's listing on the New York Stock Exchange in the United States. A former programmer, Dax cultivates a wide variety of interests outside of work. In 2015, he founded Never Apart, a non-profit cultural space that features the work of emerging artists. He is also the author of "Age of Union," a book that serves as a guide for "igniting today’s changemaker.

Listen to the next episode

Ep. 16 Amy Chang on leaning into the unknown and decoding fear

Decoding Fear: Amy Chang on Leaning into the Unknown


29 min

Leaving Google to start her own company was the scariest thing Amy Chang has ever done. But sometimes, doing what scares you is the best way to grow. Hear Amy’s remarkable journey as she left "safe" jobs at McKinsey and Google to found Accompany and lead a successful acquisition by Cisco. You'll also learn her tips for leaning into fear to achieve your greatest ambitions.

Episode transcript

[0:00] [music] Dax Dasilva:…

[0:00] [music]

Dax Dasilva: [0:06] Anybody can be a change maker. It's really remarkable when you see the power of the individual, the impact that an individual can make on the planet, in their community. You can be a change maker that uplifts you, uplifts people around you, and build a better society, a better community.

[0:21] [music]

Dan Saks: [0:23] That's Dax Dasilva, founder and CEO of Lightspeed, a commerce company approaching a $10 billion market cap. Dax is an absolute legend, having led Lightspeed through two successful IPOs on the Toronto Stock Exchange and the New York Stock Exchange.

[0:41] Along with Shopify, Dax has redefined what success looks like for Canadian tech companies. Dax also leads with purpose and intent. He was named Innovator of the Year by the Globe and Mail. He is the founder of Never Apart, a non profit art space, and is the author of "Age of Union," a book that serves as a guide for igniting today's changemaker.

[1:06] In this episode, Dax shares his wisdom on what it takes to be a changemaker and the small acts of union that individuals can take to help build a better society, a better community, and be better stewards of our planet. This is Daniel Saks, Co CEO of AppDirect, and it's time to decode the changemaker mentality.

[1:35] Welcome to "Decoding Digital," a podcast for innovators looking to thrive in the digital economy. I'm your host, Daniel Saks, and I'll sit down with other founders, CEOs, and changemakers to decode the trends that are transforming the way we work. Let's decode.

[1:57] Dax, so amazing to reconnect as always. Obviously, you've been doing incredible things, and it's been amazing to watch you from afar, seeing the impact that Lightspeed's had this year and the success on the public markets. Also, the impact of your book is truly inspiring. Great to have you on the show.

Dax: [2:14] Thanks for having me. Excited to be here, Dan.

Dan: [2:16] Certainly. This year was a tipping point for the commerce industry and for Lightspeed, but can you tell our viewers a little bit about what Lightspeed does and how it's helping businesses in the digital economy?

Dax: [2:28] Lightspeed is focused on building cloud platforms that help small, medium sized businesses run their operations, do transactions with their customers, and ultimately, grow.

[2:39] We focus on the complex segment of retail, hospitality, and golf. Those businesses that have deeper operations, and therefore we go much deeper in terms of the tooling that we offer them. We're like an operating system for these businesses. There's about more than 100,000 businesses around the world that are on our platforms.

Dan: [2:58] That's incredible. This year, obviously, you've had a ton of success on the public markets and doing a lot of acquisitions. What does it feel like to be leading such an inspirational and highly publicized company?

Dax: [3:09] It's interesting because we went public in Toronto last year. That's been, I think, a great graduation for Lightspeed in terms of going to the next level in how we operate. Going public in New York, dual listing in the New York Stock Exchange in the midst of the pandemic was interesting moment for the company.

[3:29] Obviously, we're helping businesses really pivot. We are offering helps businesses bridge between physical and digital. Our tools are used very heavily to manage the operations of a physical restaurant or a physical store, but we've given them full set of omni channel tools to be able to pivot to digital channels.

[3:48] What we thought was going to unfold over the course of three to five years has happened rapidly over the course of months. That was a message that was well received as we went public in New York. This is really a moment to double down on making sure that these businesses move off legacy and on to systems like Lightspeed.

Dan: [4:05] What's an example of a business that you're helping? Can you tell me about what they're doing with you?

Dax: [4:09] Yeah. There's a business that's in retail and had been very focused on selling in store. Now, they're selling on e commerce. They're doing things like curbside pickup. They're using channels.

[4:19] They're using our loyalty channel to market and build relationships with customers so that they're top of mind so that customers are caring about their favorite local stores as opposed to potentially ordering off Amazon.

[4:30] If they're hospitality business or a golf business, they're transitioning to new models of working with our customers. It could be an OrderAhead app that lets customers order digitally and pick up from the store. It could be delivery. It could be even offering different merchandise from the restaurant on our eCom for Restaurant that we just released.

[4:49] We are blending together a lot of the capabilities. We built eCom for our retail customers, but now it's just as important for our restaurant customers. It's providing lots of room for businesses to adapt and get creative in the way that they mix and match and blend our tools to create unique business models for themselves.

[5:06] They're differentiated and exciting for the modern consumer and a consumer that's transitioning in this period also in terms of their habits, that's ultra important. We've seen the resilience of businesses when given the current circumstances, businesses have gotten creative, and we've seen some amazing transformations.

Dan: [5:25] In your book, Age of Union, you start by telling a personal and authentic story about yourself and how you got to where you were. I found it super inspiring and helpful. Do you want to give just a brief summary to the viewers?

Dax: [5:36] Yeah. Age of Union, its subtitle is Igniting the Changemaker. That summarizes what the books about, it's a guidebook for changemakers. That could be an entrepreneur, like you and me, it could also be somebody that's starting a project for social good. I started a cultural center called Never Apart. Wrote a manifesto for that.

[5:54] Age of Union is a book version of that Manifesto. Anybody can be a changemaker. It's remarkable when you see the power of the individual, the impact that an individual can make on the planet, in their community. This is the age of the selfie. There's two ways you can go with all this individual power. It can be turned inwards, or it can be turned outwards.

[6:14] There's that power of the individual that can be captured for the greater good. You can be a changemaker that uplifts you, uplifts people around you, and builds a better society, a better community. Hopefully, we work towards better stewardship of the planet. That's really what the book's about.

[6:29] There's four pillars that are in this toolkit for changemaker. Those pillars are things that I feel should be thought about together and not in boxes. Those are leadership, culture, spirituality, and nature. For me personally, those are the four things that are pillars for me.

[6:45] I felt like that was something that I should share with people so that I can talk about those in a cohesive and comprehensive way, as opposed to having a discussion about leadership or the environment that's separated from something like spirituality or culture when those are all the elements that need to come together in order for us to think about what we want for tomorrow.

Dan: [7:07] Tell us about your journey and where you grew up and how you came to starting Lightspeed and then ultimately writing Age of Union.

Dax: [7:16] Born in Vancouver. My parents are immigrants from Africa, but I was born in Vancouver. I made the move to Montreal in my mid 20s. I loved the culture, and energy, and the city.

[7:27] I've done software programming on the Mac since I was 13, but in university, I did study religion and art. You see that in later projects in my life like Never Apart, the cultural center, like Age of Union. You see the influence of those studies.

[7:41] I was, for the most part, a designer/software designer and with a real love for visual design. That's what the first versions of Lightspeed were. I started Lightspeed in 2005, and I built the original software after doing many consulting projects and lots of custom software projects for different companies, some of which were retail.

[8:02] Realized that there was nothing on the Mac that could run a complex business and more and more businesses were asking me to build those custom solutions. This is around the time when Apple was having its major renaissance and major comeback. There was a real gap in the market for real business tools.

[8:18] Lightspeed took off from the very beginning. The first seven years, we bootstrapped the company, no outside investment, and we built to about 50 people, about 10 million in revenue, just on our own sales and from the initial two years of coding till 4:00 in the morning, and crafting the experience at the software from a visual and UX perspective.

[8:39] It sold itself, and we had resellers all over the world selling it. It became a part of our bigger family. That was the early days of the company, and looked fondly back on those days, then along came the VCs and supercharged the company. That was a great period too.

[8:53] The next seven years was backing of Excel partners, and iNovia, and [inaudible] , and then this season cut back a lot of Silicon Valley money and Canadian investors. That's where we went into the cloud, and we still serving the same customers, still serving that complex SMB customer, but now doing that in the cloud because we knew that physical and digital were going to meet.

[9:15] They were going to collide, and businesses that couldn't combine the two were going to be competitive. That's what the investors helped us evolved into, and then this last phase, since 2019, is now our public company phase. It's been an amazing journey. We celebrated 15 years in March just as the pandemic was setting.

[9:35] This year, especially with the pandemic, shows the importance of what we can do for these businesses and shows that it is an important mission. It does allow these businesses to thrive through any circumstance.

Dan: [9:49] Well, congrats on the growth. It's been truly impressive. You talked about the collision of physical and digital and how it's become even more pronounced in the pandemic. How do people who are living in the physical world or the on premise world make that transition? What are some of the biggest hurdles that they go through?

Dax: [10:06] What we've learned is you could offer digital tools and what businesses will do with them is up to their own creativity. How they implement delivery. How they implement contactless experiences. How they leverage analytics. How they do pop up environments or leverage physical.

[10:23] What we've learned is we can put out tools, but we'll always be surprised by the ways that businesses run with it. That's the excitement and vitality of local business and small businesses. They add the flavor, and color, and excitement to our communities. The mission of the company is to make sure that those businesses are on a level playing field technology wise. That's ultra important to us.

Dan: [10:46] When you talk about the changemaker, we talk a lot about the digital hero. One of the things that we recognized is that every transformation stemmed down to someone who had the courage, the tenacity, the vision to make meaningful change in the world.

[11:00] When I read Age of Union, I discovered more about your concept to the changemaker. I see that living true. What I liked about your pillars is that what we've found is that when it came down to an individual, it wasn't necessarily about where they studied, or where they came from, or what role they're in, or what level in the organization.

[11:19] The people who made the most change are ones that were driven by passion and had a sense of characteristics and had a sense of themselves. Would love to get your perspective on how do you assess these people who have the potential to be ignited and to become these changemakers, and what advice do you give to them?

Dax: [11:38] You earlier asked a question about my trajectory into how I got to Never Apart and Age of Union. Complete that story and answer the question, after 10 years of Lightspeed, I felt burnt out. [laughs] It was this crazy ride, and we had just moved into our new offices at Garbige, which is a 120 year old historical building that was abandoned. That gave me a bit of a boost.

[11:58] I also had the old office. The old office was the last piece of real estate that we were able to buy just before we took investors. It was a warehouse that was converted by a film producer into this beautiful space. Was half his home, half his production company, with an outdoor pool. I decided, "You know what? We're going to do a cultural center with this space."

[12:16] That became Never Apart. At first, we were not sure if this was going to be an LGBTQ youth center or what it was going to be. What we ended up doing, the initial team, is realizing that art and culture are things that can unite people across lots of different spheres.

[12:30] You can have social dialogue that's powered by art and culture. We started doing exhibitions, and talks, and so on. Now, five years later, it's this real force for good.

[12:39] What I realized in that project is a lot of the conversations that I was having with these emerging artists and people that were on the leading edge of social dialogue, and cultural change, and to all the things that social justice, there's a lot of similarities between those folks and the entrepreneurs that I was mentoring that were doing start ups.

[12:57] Also, the entrepreneurs that were opening retail and hospitality businesses that were serving at Lightspeed. I'm like, "There's a changemaker strand across all of these people that are making an impact for their community, making an impact for something that's bigger."

[13:13] Yes, they're building something that's their own foundation and their own project, or their own art, but a lot of them had this desire to contribute, and to give back, and to grow something that was going to benefit their neighborhood, or benefit the planet, or benefit a marginalized people.

[13:27] That's when I realized that my projects weren't so different, that Lightspeed and Never Apart shared the fact that we are behind those...We try to uplift and celebrate those changemakers and give them tools where we can. That was the connection for me. I think that anybody can be a changemaker. It's a mindset.

[13:47] One of the main points of the book is that there is no act too small. I have, at the end of the book, 40 acts of union. There's 40 things that you can do for the greater good, but you don't rank them. They're modeled after the Jewish idea of the mitzvah. There's 613 mitzvahs in Judaism and none of them are ranked. They're not ranked big, or small, or more worthy, or less worthy.

[14:10] Those daily acts that you can do with intention, that gets you on the path of being the changemaker, and you work up to things that impact more and more people. It's a mindset. It's a mindset of doing something with an intention that's beyond your own personal benefit.

[14:25] Sometimes, it is to benefit you so that you can nourish your own soul, and then therefore, be better for other people. Then, you start to do acts that start to benefit your city, your community, and then ultimately, others everywhere if you can.

Dan: [14:38] What are some examples of your 40 mitzvahs that you're discussing?

Dax: [14:43] It could be as simple as something like preparing a meal for your loved ones. Cooking at home. It could be as something as far ranging as supporting conservation projects. Doing things for yourself like prayer and meditation. Can be things like lending your support to community groups. There are things that you can do that lead you in that path.

[15:01] A lot of these actions are their own reward. You eat a vegan meal. Maybe you're not fully vegan, but you did something with intention. You decided to do something, because you thought about it. That's the issue that a lot of us, and I myself, have realized is we do a lot of stuff on autopilot.

[15:18] COVID has been an interesting time to realize that when you take yourself out of your regular routine, you realize how many things you did on autopilot. If we stop doing so many things without thought and we start putting thought into the things we do, maybe we'd do different things. Maybe we'd be more intentional.

[15:35] When things are more intentional, then that means that they are more meaningful and that they have more purpose. In an era where it's easy to get lost, or feel lost, you can have meaning and purpose all day long by having actions that are fueled with intention.

[15:51] That's the idea is that when you start to do acts of union or you start to do these intentional actions, they fill you with a day of purpose. It could be everything as small as choosing what you eat, or how the packaging that you use throughout your day, or how you transport yourself around town.

[16:07] Or, it could be the things that you share on social media, or the things that you read, and the activities that you plan for the people around you. It's a different mindset, as I said, but it's a journey. I can't prescribe anybody's journey to them. It's your own discovery. That's what's fun about being a changemaker. You're never going to find two changemakers that have the same path.

Dan: [16:26] It strikes me that you're a very authentic person and that manifests in everything that you've done. It's incredible to see the interplay of Never Apart, Age of Union, Lightspeed, and the meaning behind all those areas.

[16:38] Speaking to intention, if you went back 15 years and said, did you have this vision written down on a map, or did it happen more organically to get you to where you are now?

Dax: [16:50] No, there was no master plan. One thing that I like to tell people that are younger or just starting their career is that there are seasons and there are things that will build on each other. I feel like there's many young people in their 20s that want to make very deep impact right off the bat, and that's a good thing.

[17:04] That's something that you should keep thinking about and think about what your impact ultimately will be. That doesn't mean that the job that you're in right now, or the things that you're working on to build your foundations so that later, you can give back in meaningful ways and you'll have all the experience, that those steps aren't important.

[17:21] Not to be so hard on yourself as you take those steps and take those decades to build yourself. I would not have been able to open Never Apart, the cultural center with its mission, without 10 years of Lightspeed under my belt. I wouldn't be able to write Age of Union without 15 years of Lightspeed and 5 years of Never Apart under my belt.

[17:39] Were a lot of the ideas and the intentions of Age of Union present from the very beginning? I would say yes, but I wasn't ready to put it into a book form or open that center until I had certain experiences of being a leader, or starting organizations, or doing different roles within the company.

[17:57] You got to trust in the journey. You got to trust in that discovery. Don't be so focused on the end goal. Don't be so fixed on what you think that should be.

Dan: [18:07] Where do you see that journey taking you in the next 10, 15 years?

Dax: [18:10] Every year feels like Lightspeed just getting started. [laughs] That's always exciting. I think Never Apart is ready to start having centers open around the world. Age of Union, that will evolve into a conservation project where we will start to work with conservation changemakers around the world.

[18:28] There's a natural evolution there. With everything in the toolkit now, I think that that's a project that's ready for me to dive into while I can do all these other things. There's a lot of work to do ahead, but it's all stuff that's part of the path and very exciting to me.

Dan: [18:44] That's amazing. We're here decoding the idea of a changemaker, and clearly, your story has brought to the forefront what a changemaker could do.

[18:52] For a lot of the viewers that, let's say, are within a large organization and they're trying to make change, they're trying to do something new, they're trying to bridge the digital divide, and they're faced with resistance, what advice would you give them?

Dax: [19:05] People come from very different perspectives and they have different pools of information than you do. You might have an amazing idea that's going to make a real impact for the company, but you may not know everything about the organization that somebody else does.

[19:18] I think bringing people into your vision, making it invitational, and then inviting people to be a part of developing it, sharing ownership of it, is the greatest way to get things going. When everybody feels like it's their project and everybody feels like it's their impact, that's one way to make sure that you've got a buy in and that everybody's excited about what's possible.

Dan: [19:40] You spoke to the importance of diversity of ideas, diversity of thought, but I know at Lightspeed and in the organizations you talk about you have a unique culture around embracing diversity inclusion. Can you speak a little bit more about that?

Dax: [19:52] Yeah. The original team at Lightspeed in the early, early days were all members of the LGBTQ community, including myself. We always had this ethos that no matter who you were and no matter where you came from, that everybody should have a fair shot at Lightspeed.

[20:06] That everybody's voice was valuable, and that everybody should have a chance to do the best work of their life. From that ethos, we've invited so many different kinds of people into the company. It's been amazing.

[20:17] We recently just did, as now our public company is formalizing our diversity and inclusion, ethos that we feel is in the company. We did a little bit of a survey.

[20:27] 9 out of 10 Lightspeed employees feel that they're comfortable talking about their culture, background with their employees. 83 percent of employees feel like they can be their authentic selves in the workplace. It sounds like that. 60 percent of the company is LGBTQs. There's a lot of great numbers around minorities.

[20:43] We still have a lot of work to do, but I think we're proof that investing in diversity and inclusion can have great benefits to the company. As we acquire different companies we've just acquired our 11 we're bringing a lot of diversity of thought, the diversity of backgrounds, diversity of talent, and getting the most out of that, and making sure that those perspectives are heard.

[21:03] Everybody can contribute to something that's bigger that is the ultimate goal. Ultimately, with more people at the table, more perspectives to the table, you come up with richer solutions for the customer. That's part of why this is so important to us.

[21:19] It's important to us from a people perspective, from a social justice perspective. It's good business. It's good business to make sure that we have a diverse board, that we have a diverse workforce because it reflects our customers. Our customers are everybody. We believe that commerce belongs to everybody. It's very consistent with what we want to see in the world.

Dan: [21:40] Are changemakers born, or are they trained over time?

Dax: [21:44] I think that changemakers can emerge from everywhere. We can be a billion changemakers on this planet. If we were eight billion changemakers on this planet, instead of eight billion individuals thinking as individuals, we'd be on a different planet.

[21:59] Everybody has that potential. It's an opportunity for awakening more and more people. I think that when people adopt the mindset and there's joy that's associated with the meaningfulness and the purpose that it gives you, it encourages other people to get on board.

[22:13] There's a lot of people that think that the environmental problems, the social problems are too big, not to not care about. People care about it but to do anything about, "Can I really impact it? Does it really matter what I do?" That's the biggest challenge that we have, is that people feel a bit resigned. That's very natural because of the scale of what we face on so many fronts.

[22:35] When you look at what individuals can do, when they want to bring change to the table, it's remarkable. That is where I find a great amount of optimism and a great amount of hope.

Dan: [22:47] How can people learn about Never Apart or Age of Union?

Dax: [22:51] Neverapart.com. Right now, we're doing all virtual exhibitions. Once it's open, I invite you to the center in Montreal. Hopefully, there'll be more centers around the world soon. Then, Age of Union, ageofunion.com, you can download the free book or listen to the free audiobook. Those are free to look at and check out, so I invite everybody to do so. We're also on Instagram and Facebook.

Dan: [23:10] Amazing, Dax. Thanks so much for joining us really appreciate the time.

[23:13] [music]

Dax: [23:13] Thank you so much.

Dan: [23:17] On the next episode of Decoding Digital.

Amy Chang: [23:20] I think if you're not scared at all, either you're fooling yourself or there might be something pathologically wrong with you because if you're going from complete security to complete insecurity, all humans will experience moments of fear of the unknown.

[23:35] That's very natural and normal. How you push through that fear and how you make it useful to you, that's the part that we all are training on and trying to be better at.

Dan: [23:48] Board Member of Procter and Gamble and founder of an AI business intelligence platform, Amy Chang.

[23:59] Thanks for listening to Decoding Digital. Make sure you never miss an episode by subscribing to the show in your favorite podcast player. To learn more, visit decodingdigital.com. Until next time.

[24:11] [music]

Transcription by CastingWords