Vancouver is a creative town. That is something everyone can agree on. Besides the ever-growing population of startups, we can’t forget the plethora of creative and branding agencies. This week we look at a particularly inspiring case of two Emily Carr Alumni, Don Williams and Tak Yukawa at Free Agency Creative. Nestled in Gastown close to the Vancity Buzz office, this sleek agency has created a unique program to get design students working on real cases. They serve various major clients such as Nintendo, Park Royal Mall, and a handful of trendy restaurants.
1. Who are you? Tell us about your business/core idea and what inspired you to create it.
We are Free Agency Creative, a Strategic Branding agency in Gastown. The core of our business is focused on creating Brand Positioning platforms for our clients through the engagement of an inclusive creative process. We then implement that Brand Position into a variety of print and digital media, both philosophically and aesthetically. We were first introduced to the value of the creative process, as well as cross-disciplinary collaboration, during our time as students at Emily Carr. It has been our mission over the last 10 years to uphold these practices.
2. Speak more to the unique eco-system you have been able to create with design students and your clients.
We’ve recently had the good fortune of becoming an industry partner with Emily Carr University. Through consultation and mentorship, we’re able to help both students and their projects better transition into the industry. For example, we’re currently working with Vancouver Coastal Health to implement a student-developed project, called ‘Stay Safe’, into a number of adult care centres across the Lower Mainland.
Over the years, our teaching positions at the school have also allowed us to hire on a number of talented students. The fresh perspective and design they’ve brought to the studio environment has been a huge asset to our clients and their respective projects.
3. How has Vancouver’s rising startup community played a role in the development of Free Agency Creative?
We haven’t been direct beneficiaries, however our studio is situated in an area filled with a number of talented and exciting startups. Over the years, these startups have helped to put Gastown on the map and created a cultural relevance beneficial to all the businesses in the area.
4. What kind of challenges has your team had to face and how have you mitigated them?
The biggest challenge has been managing the growth of our team and the expenses that come with it. We’re constantly trying to find the perfect equilibrium between staff numbers, quality of work and customer experience. Making the right decision sometimes requires turning down certain opportunities, despite how attractive they seem.
5. What core problem are you specifically solving for companies?
Our core task of late has been trying to help our clients better understand who they are and what their audience is saying about them. We then help our clients translate this understanding into consistent brand language and visual execution.
6. What entrepreneur has inspired you the most for running your business and what makes them so special?
We’ve always had a deep admiration for John Fluevog and the way he has successfully maintained a consistent brand vision through the years. We’re constantly amazed how his brand finds new ways to push the boundaries of creativity, retail and marketing.
7. What Vancouver celebrity would you most be excited to have as a member of the team and why?
Fellow Emily Carr alumni – Stan Douglas. He’s been a major contributor to our city’s visual landscape and his views on culture would be hugely beneficial for our team as well as our clients. Pamela Anderson would be a very close second.
8. What’s your advice for current or future entrepreneurs?
Have fun and enjoy the rewards of having your own business, but never take your eye off your future, your financial bottom line and your personal happiness. Find the time to step back and examine your current lifestyle. Find bad and counterproductive patterns – then fix them. Never be too proud to do this.
Never take your friends and family members for granted. They’ll be there for you when things get tough (and tough times are inevitable). Having an emotional support network is essential when running your own business.
*End of interview*
Their ties with the design community is what initially caught my eye. As a co-op student, I say firsthand how important getting that real world experience really is. The fact that they actually have students working on paid client work is super interesting as usually its rare to see an employer give so much power to students who complete work for school credits. The actual work space at Free Agency Creative is well thought out and the open layout inspired me to spend a day there and hammer out branding! Very cool company blazing a trail for other startups to grow into.
You can follow Free Agency Creative on Twitter.
*Vancouver Entrepreneurs is a weekly feature on the city’s most notable entrepreneurs and startups that are making a local and even a global impact. If you think your venture deserves to be on the series, send an email to paul(at)vancitybuzz(dot)com to explain why you’re a fit*