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Shopify’s ‘Benevolent Spider’

Anna Mollenkopf (MPD2 ‘17) weaves a web connecting the ecommerce company's R&D teams to help create and launch products.

If you were an animal what would you be? 

That type of abstract question can make some people cringe, but not Anna Mollenkopf (MPD2 ‘17). As a senior product operations lead at Shopify, she has a detailed answer based on her work at the ecommerce platform.  

Anna Mollenkopf “I like to think of myself as a benevolent spider, spinning threads between teams and functions across Shopify and helping them make better decisions,” Mollenkopf said. “My role enables R&D teams with the data, tools, and systems to design and release the right product at the right time.”  

To do that, she leans on the lessons she learned during her time in Northwestern Engineering's Master of Product Design and Development Management (MPD2) program. 

“MPD2 granted me a shift in mindset,” she said. “I learned new ways to understand the world and the complicated, interconnected nature of how humans interact with each other and their environments.”  

MPD2 prepared Mollenkopf to work with cross-functional teams and understand how each part of a company functions together to take a product to market. Her recollections of the program are specific and vivid. 

She's quick to say her most meaningful class in the program was Understanding Through Design, a course taught by Segal Design Institute executive director and MMM program co-director Greg Holderfield. 

“So much of the work I do now is focused on understanding complex and ambiguous problems through qualitative and quantitative signals," Mollenkopf said, "and that class changed my ability to do this with speed and at scale." 

As for the most important lessons she learned, Mollenkopf said there were three: 

Her specificity and fondness for the program are a reflection of how life-changing MPD2 was for her, she said, and she uses her experiences to be more effective at Shopify, where she's worked since March. Mollenkopf serves somewhat as a conduit, easing the flow of information up, down and all around the organization.  

“I enjoy translating ideas up to executive teams and down to individual contributors so that everyone understands the ‘why’ of their work,” she said. “I’m ‘t-shaped,’ and my depth is in communications.” 

She describes the start to her Shopify career as a rollercoaster – but she’s one of those riders who wants to sit in the front car and have her arms up in the air while screaming with wide-eyed excitement at every dip, twist, and turn.  

“Shopify’s mission is to make commerce better for everyone, which aligns with my passion for helping small businesses and entrepreneurs,” she said. “Thrive on change’ is one of our cultural values, which makes for a challenging and exhilarating environment.” 

If she happens to get stuck on a project or needs help innovating a solution, she doesn’t have to go far to find someone with a similar mindset. Her husband, Tyler Mollenkopf (MPD2 '17) went through MPD2 with her, and he also works at Shopify as a senior product manager. 

“It’s been so much fun to have the shared vocabulary as we progress in our careers," she said. "We still nerd out about all of the great design thinking frameworks that we learned in the program.” 

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