Leigh Himel, co-CEO of Gravity Partners and No. 4 on the 2016 W100 ranking of Canada’s Top Female Entrepreneurs, explains how she turned a risk into serious growth.
I founded Gravity Partners with my business partner Jordan Herald about five years ago.
“We felt there was a huge gap in the Canadian marketplace for companies that truly understood digital, and digital transformation, in Canada. Both of us had worked globally and internationally doing social and digital, a space I’ve been in since the early days—I was the first employee of a company called Telepersonals, which then became Lavalife.
“We started Gravity with the idea that we were going to be a marketing strategy and creative agency for the new network consumer. We want to be able to help companies and support them in this time of transition and change, and do it in a way that hasn’t been done before. At some point you can do it for other people who aren’t doing it right, or you can put your money where your mouth is and say ‘you know what? I’m going to try to do it differently.’ We knew it was working really early on. We’ve been profitable since day one.
“In 2014, we had a client pull back their budgets quite significantly. We knew it was coming. Any big agency I’d ever worked for laid people off when that happened. But we take our business very personally; our staff aren’t there just because they’re going to get the biggest paycheque or the biggest office, but because we’re actually working with them to make sure their careers are growing in the right direction for them. So we made the decision not to lay anyone off. My business partner and I took substantial cuts in our bonuses and said, ‘Let’s look for some new business. That’s the way we’re going to solve the problem.’
“Soon after that, we won two significant pitches. Frankly, if we’d laid people off, we would have been in serious trouble. Because we made sure we actually had the right people to do the work, when we won the pitches we were able to ramp up on the business right away. It was kind of the best of both worlds.
“I feel like entrepreneurship is about consistent risk. I’ve always been the kind of person that gets really bored doing things the way everyone else is doing them. If you watch the market, understand the underlying trends and act on them, that, to me, is not taking a risk.
“It’s the people who stand still who are taking the risks, because they’re all going to be out of business.”