Mo Bofill joins One Twenty Three West, thanks to a timely Instagram message

Like a lot of people, Mooren (Mo) Bofill had been doing some soul-searching during the pandemic, and then she got an Instagram message from an old industry friend.

It was Scot Keith, founder and CEO of Vancouver agency One Twenty Three West. The pair had worked together for a spell at Zulu Alpha Kilo more than a decade ago, and Keith, who hoped that he’d work with her again, would check in with her from time to time.

Bofill had been at John St. for five years and things were going well, but she had started to wonder about what new challenge she could take on. Those feelings grew stronger with the pandemic: “I did a lot of self-reflection and really looked into what kind of future life I wanted for myself,” she said.

And then came that message from Keith: “He just sent me a note on Instagram and said ‘We need to talk.’ And I was like, ‘Oh that’s weird, I was actually considering making a move.’ And he said, ‘We need to talk now.'”

On Monday, Bofill officially started as senior partner, part-owner and creative director, design at the seven-year old agency. She becomes the agency’s sixth equity holding partner, following the four founders: Keith, Jeff Harrison, Bryan Collins and Rob Sweetman, along with Jonathan Longworth, who became a partner about two years ago. The agency has grown to just under 40 staff, about 14 of them creatives.

About 30% of One Twenty Three West’s business is based in Ontario, and the agency partners had been considering making a Toronto hire for some time, but never found the right fit, says Keith.

Like most agencies, One Twenty Three West was prepared for some stormy sailing in March. But as the first shock waves of the pandemic passed, they realized they were relatively unscathed. In fact clients started to need new kinds of help and started new projects to reposition their brands, says Keith.

He decided to reach out to Bofill again in June, less because he wanted to establish a Toronto presence, and more that he wanted to bring Bofill aboard and she just happened to be in Toronto. “She’s not only very, very talented, but is also the nicest person ever and just a really good fit, so we wanted to make that happen, and she would be a full partner and owner,” he says.

There will be a physical office in Toronto (when physical offices become a thing again) and likely new hires as business grows, but Keith stresses that the intent is to work seamlessly across the agency, no matter where people work. There will not be a One Twenty Three East, he says, just One Twenty Three West staff who live in Toronto.

Aside from Bofill’s personal connection to Keith—”He was one of those people I truly admired, not only as a colleague and a peer, but as a mentor,” she says—she was drawn to One Twenty Three West because it gave her a chance to try something new and have a real ownership stake.

“I am very much wired as an entrepreneur,” she said. “I like building things, growing them, breaking it down and starting again… I came to a point where I needed to do something for myself, I needed to go somewhere which makes me the most uncomfortable—uncomfortable in a good way.”

She had also been thinking a lot about how she wanted to see the industry itself change, and what she knew of the One Twenty Three West culture reflected the kinds of change she hoped for.

For too long, she said, the industry has been shaped by the driving forces of competition and division rather than inclusion and support. “How can we now, as an industry, have a more collective conscience? And I think the five partners embody that, and for me, that is what I was so attracted to,” she says. “There’s a heavy emphasis on people’s lives and the things that make them happy.”

Bofill also becomes the second design partner along with Harrison, which is, well, by design. “We feel like we have two of the best designers in the country,” said Keith. “We see design as being a massive growth area not only for current clients but potentially for future ones, too.”

David Brown