Today’s Notable Young Entrepreneurs are Forge Media + Design Founders Gregory Neely, Laurence Roberts and Stüssy Tschudin, whose company specializes in experiential branding and design with a roster of talented employees ranging from app developers to artists and corporate communications professionals…
Elevator Pitch: Describe your business in a nutshell.
Forge Media + Design is a multidisciplinary design firm that specializes in experiential branding and design, with a focus on creating outstanding experiences that help our clients connect with their audience, achieve results, and create impact. Our range of services include mobile app development, website design and development, including maintenance and management, media installations and digital content, including touch screens, kiosks and art installations, signage and wayfinding, including environmental graphics and exhibits, and a full range of corporate communications, including branding and print.
Why did you start your business, what was the inspiration?
Our vision was to build a truly multi-disciplinary design firm that was made up of a team with a wide range of highly specialized skill-sets that go far beyond graphic design, in the model of something like an IDEO (however much smaller). Beyond great graphic design talent, we have architects, industrial designers, planners & strategists, technology experts, UX/UI designers, software engineers, programmers & developers and motion graphics experts.
Creating unforgettable, impactful brand experiences is about fully engaging audiences with an integrated mix of design, communication, and technology in both digital and physical environments. We wanted to be a design firm that not only has a reputation for outstanding creative excellence, but also is on the leading edge of technology and has the ability to fully execute our strategies and solutions at a very high level of technical capability and competence.
Our inspiration derives from the statement “Ideas Made Real,” which captures the focus and drive of the firm from day one.
What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
Gregory: In my role leading business development, I love nurturing relationships with existing clients and building relationships with them. This is also one of the most challenging and at the same time one of the rewarding aspects that is the lifeblood of our business. The other “best part” is seeing a concept and vision at the end of a project that was just on paper become fully manifested and capture everything that we were seeking to achieve at the beginning of the project.
Stüssy: Seeing and helping the company grow is what gets me up in the morning. This growth happens with individuals, whom I can inspire and help to grow creatively, but also getting new clients and exciting projects. Keeping clients happy with our work, so there is repeat business from them, is one of the greatest things any business can achieve. On a more personal note, I got into this business for my love of designing and creating and I love to get my hands dirty and take on some of the design challenges myself.
At a size of 25 employees, the most challenging part would be to ensure the finances add up so everybody can keep their job. When we were a small company, this was relatively easy, but nowadays it’s quite a beast to feed and the overhead is always there, no matter the workload. Also, when you go to design school, they don’t teach you much about employee management and it was quite a learning curve to deal with HR issues along the way. We tried to create a work environment where everybody is engaged and loves to come to work, but we’ve realized over the years that there needs to be some ground rules to keep the company running properly.
Laurence: The creative challenge has always been what has driven me. Whatever task or project is at hand, there is always a challenge to come to grips with and surmount. You can do that in a mundane way or you can tackle it head on with a creative spirit, no matter what the scope of the project may be. Conceiving an idea and pushing that to fruition to solve a problem is what takes an ordinary day and makes it great.
For me, the most challenging part is staying motivated between projects. To combat this, I try to push myself to learn new techniques, work with my team on research & development, or deal with internal organization to help us work more efficiently when the next project comes along.
Where do you see your business going in five years?
Gregory: We want to see Forge significantly expand its reputation and projects internationally. We have never seen ourselves solely as a Canadian design firm, but a design firm that happens to be headquartered in Canada. We look for opportunities to serve our clients and do great work no matter where that happens to be.
Stüssy: Recently we’ve held a leadership retreat with our senior staff and principals. There, for the first time, we’ve set a more clear direction for the future of the company. Before, we were taking on any project and client we could and we were growing our staff organically to meet the needs of any work that came our way. The strategy to go forward is to keep the team in a 25-30 range and be more selective of which projects we take on. We want to be internationally recognized for outstanding and innovative work in the various design disciplines we work in.
What does success look like to you?
Gregory: Our business has been built on establishing great relationships with our clients. Success is serving those clients, having them see a direct impact and benefit from our work, and having them see us as a long-term trusted partner that they can always rely on.
Stüssy: Repeat business and staff retention. If clients keep coming back to us for all their creative needs, this confirms to me that we are doing our job well. And if our employees stay with us for the long haul, I see this as a reflection of us treating them well and fair, and us providing them with a home to unfold their professional careers.
Laurence: A happy client or audience is the best measure of success, in my books. But also, I have to feel satisfied that we’ve done all that we can to make the best product possible.
What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
Gregory: A key milestone for Forge was just recently when we were personally asked by a principal of one of the top 10 architecture firms in the world to work with them on one of their marquee projects. That moment entirely represents who we want to be, the reputation we want to have, and the kind of relationships we are seeking to build.
Stüssy: As a single milestone, it would have to be going to Cupertino to work with Apple at their headquarters and securing the business for many years to come. The true milestone though is to have become the digital agency of record for Apple Canada and help them with all their digital marketing needs.
Laurence: The final installation at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has been the most memorable moment for me. This project was a challenge that pushed the company on every level, past our comfort zone, past our current understanding, and we had to come together as a team to rise to the challenge, culminating in a solid piece of work that still impresses to this day.
Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
Gregory: Follow your passions and don’t be afraid to go after the opportunities you want. It doesn’t matter who you are today. Decide who you want to be, be that person in your mind now, take action, and the universe will catch up and make it a reality.
Stüssy: Dream big. In the beginning, I was very sceptic when our accountant told us about our potential to grow as a company and financially. Fortunately, Greg believed we can do anything and go anywhere and this “go big or go home” attitude has brought us to where we are today.
Laurence: Drive hard towards your goals and foster your creative spirit. Draw inspiration from all aspects of life, not just the parts that initially interest you. Stay hungry. Stay open. Stay curious.
Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
Forge has implemented a coffee donation jar where members of the team vote on a charity to donate their coffee money too. So far, donations have been made to Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation and the Hospital for Sick Kids. We also give to the Starlight Foundation and are currently setting up a website where you can purchase used CDs and all proceeds go to charity.
What is Notable to you?
Stüssy: I find it notable that companies, like Google, try to create a work environment that is enjoyable, creative, fun, and relaxed while staying productive. Giving employees a certain amount of trust, and receiving loyalty and respect in return, is one of the most rewarding (and long-term most profitable) experiences a business (and their employees) can get.
Blackberry, iPhone, Android, or Other?
All: iPhone all the way!
How do you keep active, energetic, and vibrant?
Gregory: Outside the office my passion is yacht racing. I have a beautiful 32-foot modern racer/cruiser that I race and sail extensively. Through the middle of summer I am out at least twice a week and most weekends at various regattas and events. Yacht racing for me a chance to get my head completely out of the business for a time. While you are on a racecourse, there is nothing that exists in the world but the boat, the water, the wind, the waves, the crew, the course, and the competitors. At those moments my mind is totally focused and there is nothing else. It’s actually a lot like meditation.
Stüssy: I’ve learned over the years that it is important to keep a life outside of work. Although Forge is my passion, I need to do things that don’t relate to work or my friends at work. I love to travel and explore new countries and continents. This gives me energy and inspiration. On a more regular basis, I am passionate about multi sports and have picked up duathlon racing about five years ago. When I’m out running and cycling, it gives me time to clear my mind, while staying physically active. And most importantly, I have my wife and friends as a support network to help me when things get tough and keep me grounded when things are going well.
Laurence: I stay physically active by working out twice a week. It’s a relatively new addition to my life, but I’ve found it both distressing and invigorating. I also try to do some kind of creative project on a weekly basis – this could be painting, drawing, learning new software, or any other endeavour that opens up the creative channels and gets the brain churning.