A successful entrepreneur and business leader in her mid-20s, Natasha Aquin is a force to be reckoned with. Natasha founded Unbound Productions, a thriving virtually based creative studio, while she was on her way to India to find greater meaning and fulfillment in life. Two years and several agencies of record contracts later, Unbound is one of Toronto’s hottest creative agencies.
On October 24, Natasha will participate in a panel discussion in Toronto on productivity in the era of remote work. Ahead of that panel, I sat down with Natasha to get her story, her thoughts on the small business industry, and the role technology has in Unbound’s success.
Your journey to Unbound Productions is fascinating. When did you realize this is what you were supposed to be doing and how did you determine the roadmap to building it?
In November 2017, I was a Senior Producer in Toronto at a global digital agency. From the outside looking in, my life was “great”, but something didn’t feel right to me. I decided to purchase a one-way ticket to India to gain more fulfillment and meaning in my life. I wasn’t satisfied. Something was missing and I was drawn to coming to India to figure it out.
On this journey, I aspired to separate myself from the comforts, standards, and expectations we have in North America and focus inwards on myself with the basics. At home, I was tired of the routine. The daily commute. The cold Canadian winters. Working all week just to look forward to the weekend or a booked vacation on a beach.
The majority of my time on the weekends would be spent socializing and drinking wine because my weekdays were so stressful. It was a hamster wheel and I knew I couldn’t see myself doing this in 5, 10 or even 15 years’ time. I felt robotic. Numb. Unhealthy. I was living but I wasn’t alive.
That’s a lesson for all of us on priorities. What happened next?
Starting Unbound Productions was more so a consequence of my change in perspective. To be honest, starting my company was never my plan.
The day before I left for India, I received a call from a mutual contact who needed a creative team to develop three cannabis brands in time for Canada’s legislation changes. Not giving it much thought I suggested that I lead the project from India, leveraging a few creative freelancers I had previously worked with. The client team agreed and a contract was signed. Hours before I boarded that plane I had my corporation papers for Unbound drafted and my business accounts opened at a Toronto bank.
That project turned into Unbound becoming the company’s agency of record (AOR), which spearheaded our credibility in the marketing industry. And from that one client, our roster expanded to include an additional eight Canadian and U.S. based companies in less than a year.
Our roadmap was simple. What’s currently in front of us? What value can we provide? What type of work do we want to spend time creating that we will be forever proud of?
What do you think is the biggest challenge we’re facing in the Canadian small business industry?
Adoption of new technologies and ensuring relevancy to a specific small business is important. We, business owners, need technologies and platforms that can be customized to our needs. This is what it will take for small businesses to invest and use technology wisely.
What do you think are common misconceptions of small businesses in Canada? How can we combat these and communicate more effectively?
That we are unable to execute at the caliber or speed that big business can because of resources. Workflows, flexible resources, and technologies levels the playing field. We can streamline and automate while customizing where needed. Also, the assumption that small businesses are short-term thinkers – therefore hindering our ability to scale – when in reality we have to possess strong, strategic management foresight.
Flexibility and the ability to work from anywhere is core to your company values. What changes do you think we must take to prepare for the future of remote work and global collaboration?
Creating and developing the infrastructure for more accessible and reliable internet. You wouldn’t believe how much of the world has slow, or nonexistent, internet. If you don’t have access to high-speed internet, you can’t run a virtually-based business. The cloud is also a virtual business’ best friend. Being able to work on the same documents and server as a team member on the other side of the world is incredible!
What do you attribute to your success? You’re in your mid 20’s and you own and manage a successful creative agency – what is your secret sauce?
For me, it comes down to having women entrepreneur role models to learn from growing up – my mother and grandmother.
I also have very specific goals and beliefs that I use to guide my decisions: Do what makes you happy. Work smart, not hard. Your time is your most valuable asset. Make mental and physical health and wellness your priority.
Last, what tools do you use to help scale and effectively run your business? How has this technology been pivotal for your company?
Free and low-cost technologies like Google Drive, Webex and Gmail are my go-to. The beauty of these platforms for a small business is that they are affordable and work well. Low hard costs equal to higher margins.
My thanks to Natasha for taking the time for this interview. To register for the October 24th panel on Productivity in the Remote Era, go to bit.ly/CiscoOct24