The year was 2006...
What kind of name is Famous Folks?
That’s the first question we’re usually asked.
We’ve been around since 2006, way before hashtags. The business was initially set up to build the online brands of people with public profiles. Athletes, actors, and/or politicians: You know, Famous Folks.
The next question we get asked is how we got to where we are today: an agency pushing into the retail and Real Estate sectors through branding and digital.
THE SHORT ANSWER?
There is no short answer. The most surprising thing about the Famous Folks story is how unsurprising it is. It’s hard work. It’s fate. It’s relentless pursuit. It’s a bunch of factors converging in unison.
Jay Dingwall and Ryan Joseph were both born in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia; Jay in the late 70’s and Ryan in the early 80’s. For those who don’t know, Cape Breton is a small, passionate community, steeped in tradition. They grew up in the same extended circle, but it wasn’t until later in life that they became friends, allies and business partners.
The Social Cognitive Theory states that “personal, behavioural, and environmental factors influence one another in a bidirectional, reciprocal fashion.” Layman’s terms: you are a product of your environment. If you were born and raised in Cape Breton, you’re engrained with a set of characteristics that allows you to thrive in the business world.
After receiving his degree at Saint Mary’s University, Jay moved to Florida in pursuit of his MBA. It was either a career in law or business. Jay chose the latter. The idea for Famous Folks came to him there. When he returned to Canada, he started looking for agency experience; a foot in the door to learn the ins and outs of the industry. No one would hire him. An MBA made him overqualified. His answer? “Whatever, I’ll start my own agency, bruh.”
I’ll start my own agency then, bruh
At that same time, Ryan Joseph was hustling. He had manufactured a position with the Nova Scotia School Board that hadn’t existed the year before. He was creative directing, re-designing websites and art directing all at the same time. You name it. If it was in the creative spectrum, he was doing it. He’d made himself indispensable.
Jay reached out to Ryan for creative help. Ryan – the same kid he used to play hockey against who could skate and punch like the dickens and who had a reputation for being a great leader. What Jay got in return was way more than a company logo. He got a partner in crime. An ally. Someone who wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. If Jay is Gretzky then Ryan is Messier. Or maybe it’s the other way around. In the end, one wouldn’t exist without the other anyway.
Now that the two had bonded, it was time to get to work. Getting in the door is the hardest thing in business. The boys needed to drum up work. Fast.
Ryan remained at the school board during the day and worked on Famous Folks at night. On lunch breaks he’d race to client meetings, change into a suit in the parking lot, whip through a thirty-minute presentation, then race back to the school board all while trying not to raise any suspicions.
In Toronto, Jay kept his nose to the grindstone and pounded the pavement. He embodied the ethos associated with starting a new business. He stretched a very small sum of money as far as it could go. Then he stretched it some more.
The struggle was real. Fortunately the boys were naïve. If they had’ve known how hard it is to start a business, you probably wouldn’t be reading this.
THAT WAS OUR COMPANY.
BASECAMP & SKYPE
How do you make the jump from the minors to the majors? You need one opportunity, one person who really believes in you. In FF’s case, that all-important believer was Rob Toulany.
Rob had invested heavily in a rebrand for his company, Pizza Town. The results were, well, let’s just say there was room for improvement. Rob knew it, but couldn’t afford to undue what had been done. Ryan and Jay knew they could do better than the other company. Without a contract or guarantee of any kind, Famous Folks rebranded Pizza Town. Rob was presented the new work at a Starbucks. A couple of weeks later Pizza Town signed on as Famous Folks’ first major client. Welcome to the pros.
The last few years have been a blur. They’ve been years of hard work, growth, evolution, friendships, hardships, adaption and progress. As you read earlier, we’re new and improved. What a cliché. In today’s ever changing, fast paced, 25 hour a day world, you better be new and improved every hour, minute and second of every day. Our roster is brimming with expertise; it’s a roster to be proud of. Our ultimate goals are closer now than ever before.
The team at Famous Folks has become as much a part of the story as Ryan and Jay. Here, employees are encouraged to write their own stories – ones that maybe someday will be found on pages like this on their own websites. Famous Folks has evolved from Messier and Gretzky to the whole ’87 Oilers roster. Google it. From 83-88, the Oilers won 4 Stanley Cups. They were a heck of a team.
If you want the uncensored version of this story from Ryan and Jay, drop by our office at 548 King Street West to say hi.