The Turn Lab, a Toronto company that bills itself as less of an ad agency and more of a business problem-solving consultancy, had a problem of its own, said founder Howard Chang.
Since closing down Top Drawer creative and relaunching The Turn Lab (which they present as theturnlab) as a “marketing technology startup” with just 12 people in the 2018, the agency / consultancy has expanded to almost 60 staff and sees opportunity to keep growing in Canada and the U.S.
But while Chang considers himself a very good entrepreneur, he knows that the skills required to go from start-up to scale up were different. “I’ve been running this company since we founded in 2018 and it has grown quickly,” he said. “But I really felt we needed a leader that had the experience and the talent to take us to the next level. And I didn’t think that person was me.”
The person he’s hired to do that is Stephanie Hurst, who has taken over as CEO. Hurst was most recently CEO of John St., and before that held a number of increasingly senior roles with one of Canada’s most successful ad agencies of the past decade. She also spent seven years with Unilever in the 2000s.
“She’s got that marketing pedigree that is so important for our model because we’re not a typical ad agency,” said Chang. “We’re really more of a full 360 marketing technology type of company.”
Since launching, The Turn Lab has built its own 10,000-strong consumer panel for survey and focus groups, and invested heavily in building its research team to identify business problems and challenges. Meanwhile, the solutions side includes a 15-person creative team, brand and media strategists, and a strong in-house technology group, with nine developers.
“We’re also an incubator, we actually incubate our own products,” said Chang, pointing to the launch—and success—of Just Boardrooms as one example.
That mixture of expertise is what drew Hurst to The Turn Lab. “A lot of agencies, a lot of companies, say that they are solving their clients’ business problems, but in my experience it’s really hard to do,” she said. “It’s hard to have tech in house, media in house, direct to consumer learning at your fingertips.
“It’s easy to do one or maybe two of those, [but] it’s really difficult to find an agency that can be nimble enough, agile enough and has the desire for innovation, and has the experts at the table, and that’s what I found in The Turn Lab.”
In the short-term, Chang will work with Hurst to provide support through the transition in an advisory and governance role. “I will be turning more of my attention towards the incubator side of the business,” he said.
Just Boardrooms is in “an exciting place” but that’s not the only thing they’re working on, he said.”With The Turn Lab, we’re constantly looking at solving big problems, social problems, environmental problems, market problems. So there may be another product coming up in the in the near future.”