In this conversation we sit down with Scott Nihill, the co-founder of Embreate – an interdisciplinary agency focused on creating and producing original, interactive, story-based experiences that is resident at StartWell.
*More info: https://embreate.com/Podcast Transcript
Qasim Virjee 0:20
All right back once again for this time, the 15th episode of the struggle Podcast. I’m Qasim Virjee, the CEO, and founder of start well, and this time around, I’m in the studio on King Street West in Toronto with Scott from Embrey. Eight. There was another, another person in the studio a second ago. But unfortunately, Alison, your partner? All right, yeah, two partners in the company had a cold. So she’ll be joining us for another session of the podcast. Unfortunately, it’s just Scott and myself. So that might make it more boring. I don’t know. We’ll see. We’re talking about their company embryo and a couple other things to do with Toronto’s animation. Illustration kind of creative scene, we’ll see where this conversation takes us. And with that, I welcome you to the studio. Thank you very much good to be here. Or do you want to just introduce to our listeners introduce who you are, and then we’ll jump into the company a little bit? Sure.
Scott Nihill 1:15
Yep. My name is Scott. I run a company called Ember eight been working in the I guess, the industry, sort of gaming, interactive animation, music, video, that sort of thing for about 15 years.
Qasim Virjee 1:29
15 years. So this goes back to like, when, you know, the media Wild West a little bit the days of flash? Yeah, Macro media.
Scott Nihill 1:36
Yeah, I can remember a time when the first studio that I worked at was a place called Big casters. It’s not around anymore. But that was at a time when the you know, maybe down Richmond street, there was a handful of companies doing websites, right. Not doing fancy flash websites at the time. Oh, yeah. But the, you know, this whole kind of maker scene, and the startup scene, which just didn’t exist whatsoever at that point.
Qasim Virjee 2:04
Yeah, absolutely. Better force. No, I remember. I mean, I remember the early days of kind of the media scene, it was all intermingled. Right? interactive design was this thing people were thinking about for digital interfaces with fresh kind of eyes. And it was conversational from Yeah, all elements from web to animation to it’s interesting to content creation in linear kind of narrative format, as well. And those, yeah, it was a very creative time in Toronto. I think we’re also the city felt like it was coming out of whatever it had been always but this kind of like sleepy Anglo malaise. For me anyway, when I moved here in 2005, from New York, so I felt like I was coming into this kind of like, too large to be as provincial as it felt city. And I knew interesting things were going to start to that was one of my motivators for
Scott Nihill 2:54
coming here. So that’s where you were from was New York, or That’s
Qasim Virjee 2:57
right. I was recently from like, I spent a year in New York before coming here. And then before that, all over the place. So I guess, Montreal, for university and before that, I was in Nairobi, Kenya for like six years, and doing my own levels, a levels like school, and originally before that as an Albertan. Okay, so yeah, I don’t know if I’ve ever said it on the mic. But yeah, I was born in Edmonton.
Scott Nihill 3:22
Alright, you’re coming out? Yeah, I remember a couple years ago, I went to New York for a few months and came back and was amazed at how much of a sort of a cottage town Toronto felt like compared to the size of, you know, in the experience of a city like New York, but living here, it feels like there’s a lot happening, and there’s a lot going on, but it is it is still a city that where I think there’s a lot of room to grow.
Qasim Virjee 3:50
Right. What’s funny, though, is the the densification of the urban core in the last decade has been, you know, ridiculous, right? In terms of like condo vacation of downtown. And if I’ve never seen any stats, but I’m sure they’re available to actually look at new projects and last 10 years, like development projects and say, Okay, well how many more people compared to 10 years ago are living just in the core itself. Of course, it’s good and bad to do it that phenomenon, but I think get the debt as the population because more densified downtown Torontonians or wherever they’re becoming newly crowned Toronto Torontonians from whether it’s the suburbs or other cities or, or elsewhere in the core, I think are creating for the first time where there is this feeling that I have that kind of a new Toronto is being created. Some of that is popularized, you know, with like, music, Drake, routers, etc. Like granted kind of mass media stuff. But on the on the ground. In terms of like cafe culture, like do you remember back when we were talking about this, like beginnings of the media world? There weren’t really any independent coffee houses, or there were very few. Yep, you know, and Darkhorse was like good
Scott Nihill 5:00
Even I can remember before sir, that was around the time that Starbucks first came in. Yeah. as well. There wasn’t really, there wasn’t any kind of coffee culture whatsoever. Yeah. You know, and then now it’s a completely different kind of world, I guess. Yeah,
Qasim Virjee 5:15
it is. And so what I guess, how has the evolution of from the way you see it, from those early days were like, kind of like, quote, unquote, like digital media meant so many things. And it was really about what you do with the medium. I think we all felt like that at the time of people playing with media. And then, you know, these silos seem to have created themselves in terms of maybe how agencies organize themselves or find people to do work, or what is asked by clients, I don’t know, how have you seen? I guess, the emergence of these channels, service channels, if at all within industry, and I know emirate is kind of crosses a few of those lines. So maybe it’s good to, at this point, just tell us a little bit about what you guys do and why you might be a little bit more interdisciplinary than others.
Scott Nihill 6:02
Sure. Yeah. Um, yeah, it’s it, you know, thinking back to, you know, just talking about the history sort of aspect of it. I think when I graduated school was around the time of the first the.com crash, okay. And that’s when all the early you know, web startup companies also crashed along with that. And so I finished school. And there was, there was no jobs at that point, at least in that sector that I was interested in.
Qasim Virjee 6:36
And where where’d you go to school? Went to OCAD. Okay, and when did you graduate? So that’s the Ontario College of Art and Design.
Scott Nihill 6:41
That’s right. Yeah. And, and so that was 2003 or so that was around that time, and I think the crash happened in like, 2001, two, something like that. Yeah. It was
Qasim Virjee 6:51
really like 98 2002. Three, was that weird? Boom, bust period. That’s right. Yeah. Like, yeah, it’s funny. It was around, at least in New York, from my recollection of the just after that, but like, Yeah, after kind of the Twin Towers fell, it was around that time that the markets seem to crash and like, yeah, the bubble burst for startups be in Canada? I think it trickled on for a couple years. But in 2003, for for sure.
Scott Nihill 7:17
Yeah. Yeah. So I remember graduating at that point, I didn’t have a lot of awareness of what was around at the time, I was in a sort of school bubble, right. I remember leaving, and there was no more jobs. But I had this interest in getting into interactive media. But at the time there, there wasn’t a you know, there wasn’t a public consciousness. You know, even from the university perspective, they were teaching and promoting people getting into website design, or getting into gaming, or that sort of thing. There just wasn’t a feeling like that was a realistic opportunity in terms of or even, there’s just, there was just no awareness, really of it as a thing. Still very, very niche. But I knew that that was something I was very interested in getting into just a curiosity. But absolutely no way, no, no feeling of how I would do that. Right. So just sort of stumbled into early jobs. And with this feeling in the back of my head that I want to do stuff that was within the interactive gaming space, but no idea how that would materialize.
Qasim Virjee 8:22
And then how did you start working in that stuff? And career wise? How did that for yourself, pick up? How did that evolve your, your perspective on I guess, the commercialization of digital media, and how things are sold, and how things you know, how you could quote unquote, work? In this space? Yeah. So
Scott Nihill 8:42
at the time, there weren’t really jobs, you know, there weren’t mobile app developer jobs, or there weren’t, you know, getting a job for a gaming company doing unity development or anything like that. Maybe as some as a creative who was interested interested in interactive media, maybe you might go to a place like Trump city at the time and, you know, maybe work on their website, or maybe work for an ad company and help build branded websites, that kind of thing. But I wasn’t very interested in in either of those. So I started off more in the independent art space. So worked for my first job was with a was with a art distribution company, which is very niche. It’s very, like, you know, I don’t I don’t think most people would be probably maybe not aware that something like that would exist. But it’s art videos, very experimental kind of stuff. And this company was there to sort of distribute art videos around the world to galleries and that type of thing. So even within the art world, it’s pretty niche. Right, you know. And so I had an opportunity early on in my career to do a collaboration between that company and and this company big casters that that had sort of fallen with the crash and was kind of in a point where they lost most of their employees. And they’re starting to make that transition into doing their own original IP games. Okay, taking, I guess maybe that opportunity in the, in the crash to focus on something new. But this is also the time when people weren’t really working on their own IP games, at least in the in the Toronto court a little bit, but not not, there wasn’t much of a market for it at the time. And so we did a special project where the artists would explore and experiment with the web. And so it was video artists trying out this, this new kind of, you know, interactive flash medium. Yeah. And so that was my first opportunity to actually kind of bridge the gap between doing art and doing something within the sort of interactive space.
Qasim Virjee 10:51
Scott Nihill 11:33
yeah, I remember at the time that that the way that people monetized anything, like any kind of creative development was, was ring tones. That was, that was the only way you could make money selling ring tones on phones.
Qasim Virjee 11:46
Oh, yeah. Oh, my God. ringtones are vague. I had some ringtones on my Nokia in 95. I remember, I could turn any tune into an a ringtone. I could edit a WAV file and upload it to my phone. Yeah. Yeah, that’s all gone with the wind. You know, I don’t even know how to select a ringtone on my iPhone. Like, I know how to choose from the list, but I don’t know. Can you even on an iPhone? Add your own custom ringtone? You must be
Scott Nihill 12:11
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah, you can. I’m pretty happy usually with the defaults. But
Qasim Virjee 12:18
that’s one of those things. You know, like, I think there’s just for me, I’m kind of suffering. I sound like an old fogy. But I’m suffering from decision fatigue when it comes to non necessary decisions. Like, you know, maybe it’s a CEO thing. But like, I deal with enough important decisions for my company that when it comes to like configuring a phone for personalized, you know, ring tones, whatever, optionality that I have for notifications and stuff, I just don’t have the bandwidth for that, you know, I’m like, I don’t care. As long as I can use it to do what I need to do. And I sound like, I sound like a pop. It’s true. I sound like an old man. But it’s so it is, well, I’m,
Scott Nihill 12:55
I’m the same way I not on social media, okay, I don’t really use a mobile phone. If I could just have a flip phone and use it only for call hauling, and maybe the odd tax. That’s what I would do. But I try not to take my phone with me when I go out. So and yeah, it might be might be an old man thing. might be just a fatigue thing.
Qasim Virjee 13:19
But also, okay, so now I’m going to lay this out there, right. And it’s something that is not necessarily politically correct. But you know, this whole idea of, actually, I’ve been ruminating on this a lot and a different kind of spin. But the idea of, I think, in the last decade, last two decades, particularly definitely in North America, there’s been this assumption amongst popular culture, that new equals better, always, and, and that advancement is, has a symbiotic relationship with growth. And that these things are what are baked into society and their societal values that people have to ascribe to. And it’s funny because I was talking to, you know, any of our companies or founders and talking in when we’re doing mentorship sessions, and really analyzing motivations for growth and what growth means for companies and why they need to feel this kind of constant need to satisfy larger revenues, when maybe profitability might not even be there in the company, you know, like, let’s address profitability later. I think it’s relating, or right now, I feel like it relates to this idea of, you know, kind of information overload and, and our questions about how we adopt certain technologies and why. And it’s interesting talking about that, especially, you know, from a content creator standpoint, because it’s one thing to talk about consumer devices and phones, but another thing to then talk about, oh, I spent $3,000 on Final Cut Pro and then you know, six months later, it was redundant. And all those DVDs that came in the box didn’t matter, you know, and I had to learn a whole new software or like how? Yeah, I’ve been for months, or years using Ableton Live to record even simple conversations like this. Not using it for performances anymore because I don’t have time to go on on the road. And I just use the tool that I kind of am most familiar with in the moment, but it’s not the best tool for the job. Like, when I think back, I stopped making music, the last song that I ever like, program created and released on DJs. It was DJ Spooky out of New York’s album, who I forgot even what the album was called, but it was back in like 2003 or four, that was the last time I created a song because that was when I parked my PC laptop that had what was it even called like acid, and SoundForge were my tools for sequencing and WAV file manipulation. Sony bought that company, the software became a bit crappy. And I moved to Mac. And then I just stopped making music because I was like, I can’t use those tools they used to took me like 10 years to learn able to, and now I use it to record podcasts, you know, right? So yeah, I don’t know, the content creation standpoint, I think that it’s a big question, you know, like, do the how do the tools affect the output of creativity. And at the same time, when you’re running a company, that is a creative agency, how to tools and, you know, affect the nature of your output, your voice in whatever medium you use, and how even your staff how you choose new hires, and how they work and whether the company needs to ascribe to a toolset or a voice? I guess this is all open questions. Yeah, you?
Scott Nihill 16:45
Yeah, I, I know that right now we’re using Unity for a lot of a lot of development, a lot of client projects. And, you know, so there’s, for us as a company, you know, probably 50% of our time is spent on client work. And the other 50% of the time is, or at least we try to carve out that time to develop our own original IP properties. And oftentimes in collaboration with other people, or the, you know, the contractors that we ended up working with, I mean, the original IP is probably the thing that got us started, but the client work is the thing that allows us to sustain, you know, our activity, of course, and, but so far, you know, when we’re working on a client based project, you know, using Unity is very convenient, there’s a lot of developers that are working with in it, and there’s a lot of tools that make it relatively easy to, you know, to, to publish that work to various platforms. Okay. So, you know, we’re not, you know, with Unity is, is, you know, that, but that ease in terms of, of unity is also the thing that when you’re creating your own original IP means that the market has been to a certain degree flooded with games that have been developed by people on mass, because of that relative ease. And so I think that when it comes to creating our own IP projects, then we may be, we could publish something to the Android store, or or to the iOS store, but where it also has is thinking, well, if we’re, if we want to, you know, build an audience around this stuff, were extremely competitive. So are, you know, where are the opportunities, and oftentimes, the opportunities are in technologies, new technologies, or old technologies that aren’t being or techniques or distribution channels that aren’t being widely utilized? So, so that’s a that’s just kind of my, I guess, response back to
Qasim Virjee 18:51
but in the Okay, so, so embrace as a company. Let’s break it down a little bit. We’ll come back to gaming in a second. But what’s the gamut of, I guess, commercial services that Embraer offers? What do you guys do?
Scott Nihill 19:04
Yeah, so the we, a lot of the projects that we are working on, are are coming from projects that we’ve done in the past. And then either the client that we did a project for one’s sort of a similar thing, or someone else has seen that. So you know, so we end up kind of surfing that wave of a certain type of project to worry
Qasim Virjee 19:29
too much about inbound and outbound and sales and marketing and yeah, that
Scott Nihill 19:33
we don’t do a lot of self promotion and that sort of thing. But so basically, the the kind of like client service way we’ve been writing is doing a lot of public installations. So for museums, branded content, experiential marketing, so things like interactive nature scenes at at a museum or a donor interactive donor wall. that has like an immersive, immersive landscape scene featuring the Florida Marsh sort of thing for donor wall in Florida, that kind of thing, very kind of nice niche kind of product. So we’ve done a lot of that kind of interactive installation type work. And then otherwise, a lot of the work that we do combines in some percentage animation, and then some type of game or interactive experience. So it’s an that could be an animated music video, it could be a game that features heavily animation as part of the as part of the experience. Yep. And on the service base side, it’s it’s often some type of branded based experience. Okay.
Qasim Virjee 20:52
So it goes a lot deeper than get like gaming, all these different kinds of things are just part of the repertoire to create experiences, it seems like the for the client and the experiences is the key offering that Embry it offers is like, let’s create unique ways for people to use this media to interact.
Scott Nihill 21:09
Yeah, yeah. And I find that, um, you know, for us, we, a client will approach us and we’ll say, here’s the thing that we’re trying to the problem that we have the thing that we’re trying to solve. And, you know, for example, the project that that we launched this week was for BMO Women’s Day campaign, okay. And so in that particular case, they, you know, they said they wanted, they had some statistics on sort of the state of women in the professional world. And, and so, and we want to communicate that somewhere. So obviously, an interactive installation in a museum or that type of or the lobby of their of their, of the BMO building probably doesn’t make as much sense, this is something they want to get out to the wider world, right. So the web is, you know, a good place for us to do that something that can tap into their existing social networks that they can point back to. So the, in that case, what we sort of decided on was some kind of interactive quiz, something that’s that treats the data in a much more fun, and kind of innovative way, something that’s going to take very boring data and make it seem playful and fun, allow people to actually interact with it and sort of see the consequences of the choices that they’re making. That type of thing. So it’s that just maybe gives one example of where we feel that one of our the value, arc sort of expertise is having, as having a, you know, having connections with creators from a fairly broad spectrum of mediums and specialties and being able to sort of cater and build an experience very, very focused for any sort of particular client’s needs.
Qasim Virjee 22:55
Right? It’s interesting, because you’re a small agency, right? In terms of six about six people. Right. So what are the commonalities between the six of you, would you say, and does that extrapolate into the identity of the agency?
Scott Nihill 23:11
Yeah, I mean, probably, because I think that the, we’ve been around for four to five years. And so it’s a fairly short period of time. And so the people that are within the organization have, have sort of are there because they’re fulfilling a sort of, you know, particular, I guess, sort of, you know, role. But I think the thing that that sort of, for the people that work out of the office in particular, it would be kind of a jack of all trades. Yeah, sort of, so people that can take on video editing, animation, illustration, coding, graphic design, and, you know, obviously, it’s some people are better at one particular thing than others. And also people that can work within the web environment can work within Unity and flip between those and not lose their minds. And who actually like you say that so commonly, yeah. And it’s yeah, the actual experience of it is never quite as calm, but it’s a you had anyone
Qasim Virjee 24:10
lose their mind so far. Only myself. Okay. Yeah, that was long. But that was one of those guys. Right? Yeah. Yeah. That’s No, I think it sounds like it’s extremely important to have that agility on your team, and have people be able to work together really deeply. Right? Because typically, like, what are the timelines on projects that you work with?
Scott Nihill 24:32
Unfortunately, usually, in practice, it’s about a month, right? So
Qasim Virjee 24:35
people are like, we need something really awesome. The best thing ever, as soon as you can do it.
Scott Nihill 24:41
Yeah, that’s that’s usually the but yeah, but I mean, the, between about a month and about three months seems to be about the sort of the common
Qasim Virjee 24:49
How do you plan for the year ahead? If you’re working on that kind of a turnaround?
Scott Nihill 24:55
Yeah, the I think the planning is because we have no idea What’s what’s ahead of us, because for the most part projects come up within, you know, you know, we hear about it about a week before we actually end up closing on the project. And then there’s a month of like, intense sort of development, maybe a little bit of a break, and then we just sort of repeat. And so there’s very in terms of planning, we have no idea what the year is going to look like, we just presume there’s going to be maybe a, you know, maybe a little better than the previous year in terms of the consistency of work. So the, the planning that we do is usually just centered around. Is, is probably more on just on just refining our strategy. Or in terms of like, just if, when we have a time to take a break, it’s the thing, you know, it’s just really pret like practical, boring things like, you know, do we have a good system for storing our files? Right? So like, just very important stuff? Yeah, very basic, kind of like, yeah, the things no one wants to do. But making sure that in the rush, we don’t lose sight of things.
Qasim Virjee 26:09
Well, you also mentioned this twofold nature of your company that’s, you know, 50, approx 50%, client work 50% Paid for by client work, kind of passion projects, or whatever it is. Let’s talk about that a little bit to say, what else are you guys working on? And also, what’s the scope of that work?
Scott Nihill 26:28
Yeah, so the and they are kind of complementary to one another. So we’re working on a game called Whittle. And that’s something that we’re doing in partnership with CAMH. And a number of other health organizations. And it’s, its focus is bringing together comedians, to tell their stories and experiences with depression, and then taking those stories and turning those into animated shorts, that will then be tied into some sort of game based experience. So the final thing is, it’s a combination of a web series, that then points to a mobile game. And that mobile game is made up of real life stories of comedians experiencing depression. So it could be things like, you know, you know, a person, one of the, one of the stories, this is in sort of pre production, so it’s a little still rough around the edges, we’ve got a prototype, but it’s, you know, it’s like this is still, we’re still trying to figure some of these things out. But, you know, for example, one of the comedian’s said that he just, you know, he just, he, all he had to do was just do his laundry. That was it, you know, so that’s a challenge in the game, and his that’s fantastic. But but as a player, you just have to, you have to just will him to get off the couch. But for somebody who’s experiencing depression, that process of just getting themselves off the couch is extremely difficult, and maybe even impossible for that day. Right. And so the the public awareness part of it comes into, you know, turning the challenges within the game are the facilitate life to do something like chopping vegetables, it’s very easy within the game. But where the where the game becomes ramped, the difficulty ramps up is based on those is based on the symptoms of depression, the negative self talk, the lack of energy, that kind of thing. And so that’s, that’s just one I guess, that’s one of the the internal projects we’re working on working on a portable escape room. So it’s a nested lockbox anymore. So yeah, so it’s a it’s it’s the codename right now is Roy’s cube only because we’re always the game designer. Okay, did it. And so the the first puzzle that we’re working on is one based around sort of a crypto currency, crypto technology. theme, and the basic idea is that you’re presented with this box, and it’s got a lock on it. And there’s a three digit combination. Excuse me, and, and all the clues to unlock that first box are found on the illustrations of that box. So you’re presented with this kind of like, you know, challenge through the illustrations, find figure out what that combination is, you open up the box inside of that as another box with a lock on it, and the process repeats. So we’ve got the prototype of working on has four boxes, one nested in front of the other. This is a physical game. This is a physical sort of board game style thing, and it has a web based component to it, which is where the Hinson some of the stories is provided. But that’s, uh, yeah, just another example of the of the sort of, you know, through the side projects that we’re doing,
Qasim Virjee 29:33
and for those, I mean, do you design those with some commercial intent? Or are they typically just done as, let’s do this amazing thing to help humanity and get it out there?
Scott Nihill 29:43
Oh, yeah. There’s always I mean, it may be not maybe a combination of the two because we recognize that I mean, it’s, you know, for example, with the widow, the depression awareness game. We’re not I mean, our primary motivating factor is not is not to make a million dollars off this game. Right are motivating factors to make the game. But we also recognize that that the people that we would bring in the partners that we’d bring in the project, maybe interested in it in you know recouping some of the costs, that kind of thing. So that that might be where the, the motivating the financial motivating factor might come in with Roy’s cube Yes, it’s, it’s something that, you know, we’ll we’re, we’re excited to be working on the project, and it’s just fun to create this thing and to actually figure out the, the game design and, and the implementation sort of challenges, but, but it for it to exist beyond this first prototype, we would have to be able to build a market for it. Or it would just remain a prototype forever, I guess. Yeah.
Qasim Virjee 30:47
Right. Oh, it’s very interesting, as it’s, I know, it’s tough to do that to commit a certain amount of your time, you know, to doing these sorts of projects, but I’m sure everyone on the team kind of feels more fulfilled in their, in the whole 360 of their work because of, and it seems like you have a really good team from what we’ve seen in the building, you know, everyone enjoys kind of working together and doing what they do. Yeah,
Scott Nihill 31:13
I, you know, I think that maybe from the top down, so to say that, uh, you know, I really enjoy what I do, and, and, you know, it’s in so I guess, maybe the, maybe as a, you know, we try to find people that are, you know, have sort of the same attitude that are very interested and have ideas for projects that they want to get off the ground and are motivated by that, and, you know, see that, you know, you know, want to be successful in terms of doing client work, and so that we can do those projects, right. So I think it’s probably one thing that kind of unifies everyone on the team.
Qasim Virjee 31:56
Oh, absolutely. What does and what does growth look like for you guys? For the next while? Are you hiring anyone for projects or otherwise? In general?
Scott Nihill 32:03
Yeah, we are. We are hiring. So you know, the way that the two sort of streams sort of tie into each other is that we, we spend a lot of our time, instead of doing business development, we spend a lot of our time trying to partner with people that we want to collaborate with on creative based projects. So, you know, we’re working with, you know, for example, like people working with film and television, someone with a very successful web series. And so for us, instead of doing business development, what we tend to do is try to find fun, find projects that we can collaborate with on people who’ve also maybe found success in what they’re doing, find a way that we can contribute to what they’re doing, right? To make their project better, whether it’s helping them apply for funding, helping them boost 3d animation, whatever that is. And it’s through that process process that we often end up crewing up. So we’ll end up before the project is the the projects launched, we’ll have a new game project, a new web series that we’re working on, that we’re partnering with somebody else, and then we’ll try to find people that are interested in coming on board and sort of the pre development phase. And then if that project on its own is successful, then we all you know, work on that project. And we, you know, the illustrators that came on the graphic designers that came on, will, will work on that. But also at the same time, as new client based project come in, come in, we’ll usually pull from that pool of people working with us and collaborating with us on sort of, you know, original IP, rather than fulfill the client base work. So, you know, we’re always we’re always recruiting, but we don’t, you know, we, we find we have the most success through network through network. And, and, you know, by, I always, like, for me, as a company owner, I, I respond and resonate to people that have a strong drive to create their own original things. Because, you know, because it’s something I can relate to, right, and I can wrap my head around, versus having some having a conversation around, you know, I saw this graphic posting for graphic designer, right off the bat, that conversation is one where they may even have their own projects that they’re working on, but they don’t want to talk about because they feel like weird, it would it would seem like weird to talk about your own projects in an in an interview.
Qasim Virjee 34:26
But then it’s it’s countercultural to the culture of your organization. Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. That whole experience of this being work versus passion, you know, you kind of like want that the melt at work people come they can work on what they love together. And and everyone is happier, right? Um, so any I know it’s been we haven’t really even dug into like the the experiences that you’ve had along the journey that like founding this company, you know, in the last decade plus but looking back on you know, It’s an interesting perspective you might have being someone who’s been involved with digital media for so long. What would you? Do you have any recommendations for people just starting out in digital media, who may have had some of the questions you had over a decade ago, now faced with so many different kinds of, you know, avenues that they can approach for creating things, and trying to do it as a job? Yeah,
Scott Nihill 35:27
I guess I can talk about my own sort of personal experience. But I but I imagined that I, you know, I think the climate is very different right now. Where, but, uh, but you know, and this goes back to the, you know, the sort of our philosophy around, you know, you know, working on our own creative projects, and then and how that sort of ties into the, you know, doing service based work. I think that that methodology that we have now really took shape early on in my career, where, you know, when, early on in my career where I, you know, I had no savings. And so I needed to work, you know, as often as I as often as I could, right. So, you know, I think that throughout my career, the one thing that I think that I’ve done probably consistently is just not got too wrapped up in what it is that I’m doing, and, and trying to avoid getting too wrapped up in the kind of ego of what I’m doing. Yeah, you know, so within my career, I’ve, you know, I’ve, you know, early on, I had some great opportunities where I was like running a, you know, a digital agency, pretty much right out of school. And, you know, that was great, but then, you know, that company went away. And then was, you know, working in a restaurant, you know, working as a line cook working, I’ve done they’re moving garbage collection, you know, and then, you know, because because I was also very interested in creating my own original projects. I read, you know, I think one of the challenges that it means that if I’m going to prioritize that, it means that there’s going to be long bouts where maybe I don’t have as much money coming in from like, a stable paycheck. Sure. But, you know, I’ve, I think I’ve tried to find. Yeah, so that’s been probably one thing that’s been kind of consistently played on my career, I think that that would only apply to people that are really interested in, you know, creating their own original IP, and sort of accepting the sort of those, it being
Qasim Virjee 37:52
able to create is the kind of goal, right? Yeah, I think it’s interesting, like any kind of commercial creative context is one which is fraught with potential despair, right? Where like, if you’re, if you were just kind of working, let’s say, wherever you work from Mega agency X, and you’re pumping out awesome content, and 90% of that awesome content gets put on the shelf, because the client only wants to buy it at the 10%. That’s a rehash of what you’ve been doing, or the agency’s been doing for 10 years. That lack of fulfillment in your work is something you take home with you every day, and who wants that, fundamentally, if you are a creator, you know, and you want your creations to be something that live and breathe and people interact with and you can communicate through. It’s something that requires I think, it sounds like it definitely requires a commitment to maintain that ownership and that experience in your career otherwise, you know, being a creator is less fulfilling. Is that true?
Scott Nihill 38:57
Yeah, I would, uh, yeah, I would say so. And, you know, I think that the, you know, for myself, I’ve I have myself and also watched people that I’ve worked with, get kind of caught up in what they were doing in the past and not able to see changes in the market, you know, that might lead to maybe the company not bringing in as much revenue and not being able to, you know, maybe just say, you know, what, let’s, let’s fold the let’s fold the company, let’s go work for somebody else for a few years, you know, had a successful company. Now, I don’t know, I’m working for someone else. And I, you know, oftentimes company owners aren’t very useful when working for someone else, because they don’t have a lot of those like very hard skills that another person is looking for. So that can be a very, you know, challenging experience, but it’s the reality of, of, I think most people working as as entrepreneurs, but you know, I think the the that’s just Something I just started keeping in the back of my mind is just always, always trying to remain a just keeping perspective and, and on where things are, where things are at. And always being open to basically doing anything to sort of keep going on what my sort of core interests are.
Qasim Virjee 40:21
Excellent. I think I’d like to do this as kind of like we’ll do a follow up session at some point, bringing the whole team together if you’re into it. Absolutely. And get everyone round tabling on this, because I think there’s a lot to be, you know, analyze and learn from to do with the experience of being creative company, and particularly, you know, here in at this campus where we got this good mix of different focuses amongst our teams, but you know, predominance of tech, for the point of driving new innovations in tech, not necessarily for focusing on the client experience of what that tech allows people to do. So I think it’d be interesting to maybe what we could do is pair some of you guys with a few people that are like software engineers looking at kind of creative process. And,
Scott Nihill 41:10
yeah, well, and that’s the other reality of it is even within this one building, there’s I mean, I mean, how many companies work work out of here?
Qasim Virjee 41:20
Yeah, I was just looking at this. We have, I think, I would say over 100 120, and where some of those are solopreneurs. Some of them are remote workers that work large agencies, just one two people. Yeah.
Scott Nihill 41:31
And the thing that’s in talking with, you know, because we, you guys have these social things, and talking with people, I haven’t found another company that does something really that much like what we do, yeah, there’s 100. And but it’s not
Qasim Virjee 41:43
for game developers that I could think of that I know. And even I don’t even know, if you guys have talked to those guys.
Scott Nihill 41:48
I’ve or at least I’ve seen like kind of what you pass by their office, and you see what they’re working on, or you pass by their desk. And, but it’s not to say that we’re unique, but I think it’s the reality is, is that there’s, you know, there’s so many different ways that people are, are living and even thriving within by doing, you know, some type of work within technology, art, you know, that kind of thing. It’s pretty amazing.
Qasim Virjee 42:14
It is amazing, especially as the old schoolers looking back on the last decade and a half. Everything’s changed in Toronto in terms of this new economy being able to be to provide people career opportunities, and a multitude of them. Yeah, you know, well, going
Scott Nihill 42:28
back to the just what we were talking about at the beginning is, you know, finishing school and there being, you know, there really just wasn’t, you know, there weren’t many, you know, there’s probably a handful of companies that were doing games that were doing some type of what we would what we would like, looking around the office, you know, the, the building here, like, you know, there’s probably, there’s probably 10 times what was it just in this one building what might have been in all of all of Toronto in terms of people actually making a living, not very people doing it, or not people doing it? Because there’s lots of people have been hacking things. And, you know, and you know, had passion for doing cool stuff with the web and art. Yeah. But people making an actual proper living off of it and thriving, that was probably very few and far between at that time. And that’s, what 15 years or so not long. And hopefully, I mean, do you have a sense that is do you think that trajectory is going to
Qasim Virjee 43:27
ever increase? Well, I think this is the the the expectation of even in the, you know, political status quo in this country is that we’re moving into a knowledge economy that should be the predominant employer. It despite being a resource intensive or resource, a net resource kind of producer a country, one that or exporter, particularly our manufacturing sectors disappeared in the last 20 years. And any kind of relationships that I’ve seen that we have with, let’s say, the states right now, that’s been the primary, maybe supplier, top level supplier of jobs through the automotive industry and things, even those are disappearing. So I think I think the expectation definitely in Canada is that more people every year will be engaged commercially in creative and knowledge based industries. But But what’s very interesting for us at start well, is to analyze how that happens in relationship to entrepreneurialism and new ventures. And I think it’s less about large agencies, you know, WPP, or whatever the the names of the big brands are anymore if they’re still around is, I think it’s more about kind of like, how do people become specialized in something and be able to successfully and sustainably commercial commercialize that that’s expertise and just even looking back on my own kind of decade and a half that I spent, you know, prior to startup stuff, but Running my agency, which was called Design guru, we were specialized. Going back to 2005. When I founded it and moved here to Toronto, we’re highly specialized in consulting on and creating places online for communities to develop and people to have multilateral conversations. So that’s kind of like pre Facebook era, looking at tools for positive, emotive interaction online. You know, and again, similar to you guys, like for a long time that that agency became very kind of many famous around the world, and we relied on inbound entirely. And the brand that Toronto had, that people saw who hired us from all over the world, in all those early years of this stuff was very positive, I think it’s still there. And I think Toronto and Canada have a good vibe globally for being a highly educated population that’s very adept at knowing what is new and what is coming. So I think that there’s a huge potential for that kind of political expectation of our economy to be satisfied. But again, start Will’s perspective is that that, hopefully, will mean more people are encouraged to create opportunities for themselves and the people around them. And I would like to see in the next 10 years, you know, the amount of new ventures being founded and successfully growing, exponentially increase, I think we are already seeing that. And the reliance on the trip, you know, conventional success story, which again, goes back to this growth topic, or the need for growth. I’d like to see more founders being less interested in mergers, acquisitions, and IPOs. And I’d like that to fade away, because fundamentally, these ideas of job satisfaction and creating something for the team that shares it, fade away when their ambitions are purely profit driven.
Scott Nihill 47:01
I’ve worked for a number of companies that received investment, and I don’t think one of them received an investment and grew into a better, more thriving company afterwards. Right. And I think there’s at least five that wow, that that I’ve worked with. Yeah. So I tend to I tend to agree, I think that, you know, I think that that’s just my own experience. But there there’s so many complications that I’ve observed that come when the when the when the this new sort of capital comes in, that isn’t too different kind of capital that was coming in before because the other capital was probably coming in because of, you know, revenue trickling in, or that kind of thing. And then all of a sudden, it just, she just completely changes the everyone’s perception of the company. What’s really interesting
Qasim Virjee 47:52
that we’ve been coaching a few companies that are members here on is when you take a mindset that melts the two perspectives, but relies on sustainability saying, okay, you’ve created something amazing, you’ve done that without outside capital, and the expectations of capital, you know, you don’t want to guesstimate on in terms of your growth trajectory, to be able to focus on what feels natural for your growth, you’ve got something good going, growth is not a bad thing. But imagine if that money came with no strings, and take a step further and say, Well, how much money do you need to accomplish? What and what’s your growth trajectory, aligned with that, that doesn’t need to be market driven out of a competitive mindset? Because that’s the other thing that I feel venture capital can screw people up on? Is this competitive mindset, right? From the day that someone starts pitching a concept to a VC, it’s pitched within the context of, we can do this better than anyone else. We have a market opportunity window. They don’t know our IP. And I think we’re in a post competitive world, I believe. So where there’s greater opportunity than ever before, for any entrepreneurial or early stage venture, to say, we have a direct relationship with our customers, we know them and we can expand that relationship to be able to yield more profit for us. And that reality is a very different thing than saying, the time’s right, let’s go for this. Because as we see in the public markets, too, right? At a certain level of growth, there’s just no sustainability. And we’ve seen it and I love it. We’re gonna have many more podcasts on this topic. I think now that Bitcoin has kind of shit all over itself. You can actually talk about the failure of maybe the early failure let’s call it cryptocurrencies. I think I believe in decentralization and crypto and stuff but but I think this, you know, great hyped perception of grow until you go public and then just it lives it on its own is is a fallacy because capital is not the only input in a organization. Anyway, so scaling it back to, to this stuff. There’s lots of stuff to talk about in terms of creative fulfillment in any type of organization. And yeah, my expectation is that I think you can do a lot in Canada. And again, just one lesson from what I learned in my creative agency days is, I think the Canadians have a good, you’re already starting off on a good foot globally to go out and look for clients and customers abroad. I think this is something we’re well adept at in Canada being so isolated, geographically, yet having such great diversity in our culture and in our communities. So yeah, I think that anyone listening to this, who is Canadian who’s thinking about whether they should pursue an entrepreneurial venture, I think the time’s right. If it’s based in creative technology, the potential for realizing what you want to do is greater than ever. And the international market is always warm to Canada, and especially as America’s brand is falling apart. It kind of helps.
Scott Nihill 51:10
Yeah. Sounds good.
Qasim Virjee 51:12
Yeah, man. So we’ll follow up with your whole team, we’ll do some more sessions like this. And stay tuned. Absolutely. For anyone who wants to learn more about your work and create as a company, where should they go? And where do they click? What do they see?
Scott Nihill 51:25
Yeah, you can go to our website, it’s a embry.com. So it’s a em br, EA t.com. Just like create with M at the beginning?
Qasim Virjee 51:40
Because it’s embryonic. It’s about new stage, or what’s I didn’t even ask you about the brand. Oh, yeah.
Scott Nihill 51:45
Well, we we actually created when we first started the company, what we were most interested in was, was in kind of getting new ideas off the ground. And that’s always been my favorite spot. I’m sort of a I like the beginning stages of projects more than the end stage. So we were and I think we are sort of shifting into that into that more core focused, doing less service base work more working with other original creators to work with them, partner with them to get new ideas off the ground. So we’re actually doing a rebrand. So our focus is shifting away from the service base work and we’re spinning off another company, that’s going to be more of just a dedicated service based company. So it’ll be the court very corporate looking front front end and Embroid is going to be shifting more to the maker boost kind of embryonic kind of side of our activity.
Qasim Virjee 52:37
Nice. Very exciting. Very, very exciting. Okay, well, it was a pleasure having you on the same here. Yeah, great two or three chatting, or chats guns. Yeah, sounds good.