Don Williams and Tak Yukawa: Today’s Notable Young Entrepreneurs

Today’s Notable Young Entrepreneurs are Don Williams and Tak Yukawa, who started working together right out of Emily Carr University of Art + Design, one month after they graduated in 2002. After building a strong foundation, they incorporated Free Agency Creative in 2006…

Elevator Pitch: Describe your business in a nutshell.
Don: We’re a design and branding firm that translates business objectives into creative strategies for our lifestyle-focused clients. We produce fully integrated brand experiences through interactive design, advertising and print applications. This diversity comes from our roots as a design collective that collaborates with many professionals across many disciplines.

Why did you start your business, what was the inspiration?
Don: Tak and I enjoyed working on projects together and shared the same idealized vision of the design process. Coming out of school at Emily Carr, we were given the chance to work on the new website for Arc’teryx, a design-forward company based in BC. We were inexperienced, but we pushed past our comfort zones and managed to inspire people to believe in us.

Tak: During that time we found that our philosophies aligned on many fronts, from creative design to work ethic, so we started the business right out of school. We had fallen in love with the creative process and cross-disciplinary collaboration, and starting FAC was our way of keeping those things alive. 

What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis?
Tak: Working with our team to develop creative and imaginative projects to fulfill our clients’ initiatives. Figuring out the best ways to keep the creative bar high, working with a like-minded group of young talented people, and addressing the challenges of making it all run as a business is extremely rewarding for us.

Don: We’re problem solvers. Whether we’re working with our team or potential clients, helping people see the opportunity to solve problems with the art of design is exciting. It’s often about learning to look at problems from a different perspective. What looks like a negative from one point of view can be a positive from another.

The most challenging part?
Don: Learning how to get the most of our talented team by letting go. It’s exciting to grow a business but it can be difficult to know when to take control and when to let your team run with it. 

Tak: For me, it’s finding enough time in a workday to accommodate all the ambition. Another big one is keeping the office expenses and finances in check. This means finding the best ways of tracking, reviewing and improving our internal systems and not compromising the quality of work. 


Where do you see your business going in five years?
Don: We will be taking on a larger client base, particularly big lifestyle brands, increasing our profit margins and team size. Internally, we’ll streamline systems within the office and fully build out the working parts that will continue to optimize our efficiency as a unified company. 

What does success look like to you?
Don: Being able to provide for my family and give my kids the best childhood possible. It’s important for me to create a place where staff are fulfilled and can grow in their careers, while also staying involved in the work and the creative strategies that make my job exciting. And, of course, creating stable growth with profit as the bottom line.

Tak: Also, maintaining and building upon our role as strategic and creative partners for our clients. Our success is measured by how well we achieve a happy balance between career and everyday life, whether our staff feels challenged or overwhelmed, and the satisfaction of our clients.

What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
Tak: We just celebrated our 10-year anniversary a few months back. It seems like so long, yet we feel as though we’ve just gotten started. The most memorable moments were the ones where both staff and clients invited us into their lives and areas of expertise. I’ve learned so much about how to manage my life and business in this way.

Don: Also, working through the economic downturn of 2009. That was a tough time but it positively shaped who we are today as people and as a company.

Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
Don: Decide what you love to do and just go for it. If you love the pure act of design, then go and do it… for someone else. If you love the act of building something, and you love people, and you care about how money works, then find yourself someone who challenges you and shares your passion and start a business together.

Tak: Exactly. Have fun and enjoy the rewards of running your own business, but never take your eye off your future, your financial bottom line and your personal happiness. Never take your friends and family members for granted. They’ll be there for you through those inevitable tough times. Find the time to step back and examine your current lifestyle. Never be too proud to evaluate counterproductive systems and take steps to fix them.


Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
Don: We would love to get more engaged in our neighbourhood, the DTES. We give occasionally to charity groups.

Tak: We’re industry partners with Emily Carr University in Vancouver. Don and I both teach 4th year students during the year, and our corporate relationship involves working with Emily Carr to constantly improve how a design student transitions into the working world. This is extremely important to us as we are graduates of the school and truly believe that the industry is not benefiting as much as it could from young talented designers. 

What is Notable to you?
Tak:  Being able to give back to the design industry through our partnership with Emily Carr University. Fostering students and watching them become talented designers is truly notable to me.

Don: The ability to strike a good work/life balance. Family is extremely important to me. While my business is a huge priority, so is spending time with my kids and experiencing life through traveling, cooking and just being together.

Blackberry, iPhone, Android, or Other?
Don: iPhone.

Tak: I like the iPhone. But one day before I die, I’m going to get my hands on a Galaxy Android.

How do you keep active, energetic, and vibrant? 
Tak: I make time to run every day before work. I also try to maximize all of my weekend family time, doing my best to not work at all during the weekends… although I can’t help thinking about company matters on Sundays. I try to have as much fun in the office with the staff, valuing each and every member as a friend. Friday beers, good coffee, a little Nintendo Wii are great ways to build a positive team spirit. 

Don: On top of that, my kids keep me pretty active and we love the West Coast. I also love baseball and play with the Vancouver Athletics in the Lower Mainland Baseball Association. On the whole, I also believe strongly in mental activity; asking questions, challenging yourself, and staying aware of what’s going on around you is key to staying sharp and well-rounded.