Modern Craft: 155 Water Street, Vancouver

Why we waited a year and a half to invest in our own office

This Tuesday, we moved into our very own office for the first time. While it’s fairly modest—especially by super-fancy agency standards—it feels great to finally have a place of our own. A true milestone in a founder’s journey.

Our team is pretty stoked as well. On moving day, everyone contributed — desks were built, TV’s were mounted, dishes were washed, floors were swept, BB-8’s were acquired.

And at the end of moving day, we raised a glass and toasted with the world’s best whiskey.

A people business, first

For my fellow founders and I, it is especially gratifying because we very consciously waited this long—18 months or so—to invest in our own office. In the agency business, most of the cost goes to labour and related expenses. So, the lower you keep that cost, the more margin you have to work with. It’s a simple business model, really—hire at one level, charge out at a higher one.

Some agencies keep their costs low by hiring inexperienced, fresh faces out of school. Others run the entire shop with temporary contractors. Or don’t offer benefits. All of these suggestions were proposed by other agency founders I interviewed early on. But in the end, we decided to invest most in where it mattered — people.

I know it sounds obvious, almost trite, but I believe that people are the key to any business. Period. And that statements rings especially true for a young services firm like us. We must rely solely on good people doing good work to build our business. We don’t have a well-known brand to lean on for support.

And while our own space is a truly proud achievement, the team we’ve built is a prouder one. This time last year, we had just hired our first employee. Since that time, we’ve added 5 more. These colleagues are not only experienced, smart, and savvy. They all match my recipe for an ideal employee—they give a shit and they get shit done.

Ultimately, we chose great people over a great office. I have no doubt that that was the right choice.

But it wasn’t always easy.

A year of couch-surfing

In the past year, we’ve spent time at 4 different locations. Some were nicer than others. Some were immaculately decorated, others were completely empty except for makeshift desks and broken chairs. Each of our landlords were generous with their couches and we always felt welcome. But it never completely felt like home.

All of this couch-surfing never stopped our team from doing their job and keeping their focus outward, on our clients’ businesses. We’re here today because our team has always stayed laser-focused on the various meaty, strategic challenges that define our practice. Here’s a sampling of what our crew have been up to:

  • Working with a national tourism organization to re-imagine their marketing ecosystem across people, partners, processes and more.
  • Helping a regional transportation authority rethink digital and align investments in projects, technologies and people in a more customer-centric way.
  • Helping a 60-year-old category leader in the outdoor adventure space evolve their brand.
  • Creating and launching a new digital line of business for a B2B client and training that business to operationalize the service offering.

All of this despite being asked a bit too often to pick up their computers, grab a handful of sticky boards and post-it notes, and carry on with the deep dives, debates and late-nights inside a different set of walls.

It wasn’t always glamorous, but I’d like to think that all that moving around helped bring us together. And now, we finally have a place of our own to call home.