Today’s Notable Young Entrepreneurs are Cameron Healy and James Blackburn, who founded West of Contra to produce unique events ranging from post-TIFF soirees to large-scale charity galas…
Elevator Pitch: Describe your job in a nutshell.
JB: We produce and market a wide variety of events. Our bread and butter are unique special events, such as the post-film events at TIFF time and our large-scale St. Paddy’s Day bash. We also do everything from executing various events for corporate clients to putting together nights on the town for the young professional crowd in Toronto.
Why did you start working at your company? What was the inspiration for this career route?
CH: After working in events for several years during university, I joined James’ former events company after I graduated. He and I had a great working relationship and we had a vision for a new business in this sector, and that’s how West of Contra was born. We both really enjoyed the idea of bringing a creative and customer-focused approach to Toronto events and creating memorable experiences for people.
What is one sign that you’ve seen over the years to suggest that your work/life balance is off?
JB: It’s always been a pet peeve of mine when people are bad at getting back to me when I reach out to them, so if I’m not getting back to people’s texts and calls it definitely means business is swallowing me up more than I like.
CH: If I find myself not making enough time for physical activity then I immediately try to adjust my time management more efficiently.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
JB: As far as events go we would like to have established 10-15 event brands that are widely considered must-attends on the annual social calendar. Recently we have been moving into producing concerts and we would like to be producing 3-5 of such shows or festivals in five years. We also hope to raise at least $500,000 annually through our charitable events by this time.
What is one major challenge that you’ve had to overcome in your career? How did you overcome it?
JB: I was practicing corporate law but it wasn’t a fit for my personality. When I left to pursue an entrepreneurial path, it was difficult for a while to be fully comfortable with abandoning such a safe and steady career track, particularly since it took a lot to get there.
CH: Staying motivated and accountable when it’s your own business. I think setting goals and speaking to others with experience helps to overcome these things.
What does success look like to you? Does Money = Happiness?
JB: Success means you’re not left wondering what if or wanting more than you have. You can have plenty of happiness without a lot of money, but at the same time money affords a certain level of freedom and leverage to take chances in your life.
What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
CH: Our first major special event produced by the West of Contra brand, which was a TIFF event series. We felt that there were more eyes on us and questions as to whether the new company could deliver as well as the former. In the end we felt it was the best production we’d been involved in up to that point.
Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
JB: Enjoy life as much as you can right now and don’t think the present is just some insignificant preamble to the future.
CH: Make time for the little things.
Where is your favourite place to wine/dine in your city and why?
JB: Patria. Great tapas-style Spanish food and a unique vibe/atmosphere.
CH: Khao San Road. Best Thai food in the city.
When you’re not working how do you love to spend your “Me” time?
JB: Drinks on a rooftop with a great view of the city having laughs with one or a few of my favourite people.
CH: Riding my bike or beating any takers in NHL – the only video game I know how to play.
Where is your favourite place to travel? Why?
JB: Southern Turkey has been my favourite trip to date. Beautiful beaches, great restaurants and bars, and still off the radar enough that it hasn’t been overrun by too many tourists.
CH: To date would be Nairobi, Kenya. We built a school with Free the Children and then climbed Mount Kenya and summited at sunrise.
If you had to choose a theme song, what would it be?
JB: Virgo Clowns by Van Morrison
CH: Kokomo by The Beach Boys.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you be doing?
JB: Continually trying to start other businesses that I thought I could enjoy and be successful at until eventually one or two worked.
CH: Travelling to gain perspective, and outside of that my answer would be the same as James.
Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
JB: SickKids is a cause that’s especially close to both of us. We have both had family and friends whose lives have been saved by this incredible institution. We are proud to be working with SickKids Foundation to produce the All-Star Gala in Support of SickKids, which will take place in June 2015.
What to you is notable?
JB: Loyalty to the people who’ve helped make you who you are.
CH: Giving others the benefit of the doubt.
Blackberry, iPhone, Android, or Other?
JB: Easily iPhone.