“Don’t worry about failure; you only have to be right once.”
Drew Houston, Dropbox Co-Founder and CEO
You hear a lot of people speaking in absolutes, stating that failure is not an option. While it may not be an option, it’s certainly a reality and no company or entrepreneur should attack life with the mythos that they’ll never fail. Failure is how we learn—it shapes our perspective and breeds determination.
In speaking with Space Age Co-Founder, Emery Bishop, it’s clear his journey is one of failure, of triumphs, and of lessons learned. He doesn’t shy away from a challenge and, like many of us, he wants more than just money out of this short mortal life—he wants vision fulfilment, and he works hard striving for that ‘different’ spark of energy.
THIS IS HIS STORY . . .
Emery was born in Germany on an air force base where his father served in the Canadian air force. While his toddler years were spent on German soil, Canada has always been his home and his family moved back there when Emery was 3-years old. He and his sister were base brats, moving from one city to another, living for different periods of time in New Brunswick, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, before ultimately settling in Ontario where Emery attended high school.
Developing a vested interest in art, design, and movies, young Emery had a naturally creative edge that seemed to be leading him down a career path as an animator. He attended Ottawa Ridgemont High School before transferring to Canterbury—an art-centric high school—for his senior year. At 17, Emery lost his father and relocated to Toronto where he opted to attend an adult high school to focus on his art portfolio and learn from dedicated art instructors to help shape his artistic expression.
It was two years into an animation program at Sheraton College that the entrepreneurial spirit in Emery began to stir for the first time. Two friends who graduated a year ahead of him were starting their own business and Emery didn’t want to wait until graduation to join them, so he dropped out of the three-year program. To be clear, this is not a ‘he saw a clear vision and knew this was the right path’ kind of story—at least not yet. The pressure of school was heavy, it was a long commute, he was trying to balance a job, stressful personal relationships, and more. Dropping school and starting a business, at the time at least, seemed a lot less stressful.
HIGH ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRITS
The company he started with friends, Mark and Jeff, was called Templar 3 and specialized in web design. This was at a time when flash sites were all the rage, and while the trio were creative, none of them had any business experience or savvy. Templar 3 stood on the cusp of Y2K—something that many thought would either end or revolutionize the world. In order to properly prepare, Emery & Co hired people they didn’t need and, when Y2K failed to make any difference in the grand scheme of things, they didn’t know how to lay them off.
A lack of money led to difficulties in the work place and the morale of the company steadily sank until a year later Emery left the company and the three went their own separate ways starting their own respective companies.
Emery was then attracted to a small company (you may have heard of them) called Sony. Working in sales and marketing at the Sony Canadian branch, he was attracted to the innovative nature of the company, but quickly discovered that the really creative aspects of Sony were undertaken elsewhere.
Something he could sink his teeth into though was the innovative elevation of Sony’s retail experience, occupying new spaces, introducing the Sony Store, and creating an esthetically pleasing environment and vibe for shoppers.
Helping build and market these new store experiences, plus some enterprise marketing for products like the highly popular Sony Vaio laptop had Emery working for the company for five years, during which time he found himself in a serious relationship.
That’s when the entrepreneurial spirit snuck back into his life and he realized how unsettling the concept of ‘stability’ was for him. He really wanted to be in business for himself and the idea of settling down in a long-term relationship scared him in a way he didn’t expect. So much so that when two friends invited him to backpack across Europe, he quit his job, broke up with his girlfriend, joked that he was “throwing his life away,” and headed overseas.
STARTING FROM SCRATCH
After a couple of months, he returned to Toronto and started from scratch, launching Knight Bishop & Queen—a design and marketing company.
The online bank, Tangerine, had an innovation hub on Young Street in Toronto above their bank, so Emery worked out of that location as a consultant, completing logo designs, consulting, selling stuff on Ebay, and occasionally building gaming computers while he built his new agency along with two friends.
His past failure at Templar 3 and his experience with Sony had taught him the importance of marketing. While it was all well and good to have a gorgeous website, it was useless if no one saw it. A well-crafted design had to be accompanied by an equally well-crafted marketing plan.
Knight Bishop & Queen was built around both design and marketing with each of the three owners taking on different roles attuned to their individual skillsets.
Emery recalls the five years as the company grew as being a fun atmosphere and a great learning experience. It all started to end when Emery transitioned into becoming a tech founder for another company. The company’s product was an app called ‘Whatswhat’. It was an investor backed start-up geared toward an experiential version of Yelp that showed the top 1% of everything in each city—the coolest five things to do for example—offering an exclusivity factor that could be customized, matching people with specific interests, and monetized through a perks program. The company raised almost 2.5 million dollars for the project.
For 3 years, Emery helped build the project, travelling to New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, managing a large team, and fighting with the co-founder. Unfortunately, the pair of them had different values. While they both believed in the idea and concept around the product, the growing divide between them caused constant friction. Adding to Emery’s stress was the Knight Bishop & Queen agency that he had left in the hands of his then girlfriend. Thinking absorbing the company into the new tech start-up was the smartest idea, it ended up causing a rift of growing resentment between the pair and, as a consequence, they broke up. In short, Emery was stressed.
After he was hospitalized for health issues related to overwork and stress, the company crashed and burned. Early investors tied the company up in such a way that it prevented new investors coming on board and, after a last-minute scramble to save the company, it folded.
FAILING TOWARD SELF-REALIZATION
Emery had lost his business partner, his company, his health, and his girlfriend. The one thing he decided to hold onto was the shared workspace the start-up had operated out of. While Emery planned his next move, the owner of the workspace asked him if he’d be interested in building more co-working spaces. Seeing the opportunity, Emery accepted and they bootstrapped Workhaus, added a 3rd partner, got a second desirable location in the Bay and Queen area in the financial district of downtown Toronto and launched the company.
Having no account history, their own real estate broker didn’t have much faith in them so Emery took the initiative and approached Dream, the 3rd largest property owners in Canada at the time, and pitched them on the future of co-working spaces. They liked the initial idea and Emery’s revenue share system and they consequently filled the first space before the first month’s rent was even due.
MISSING ONE PIECE
Over the next 3 years, it grew from one location in Toronto to eight across Canada and from eight thousand square feet to over two-hundred thousand square feet. Once again, Emery found himself at the center of a thriving company. Financially it was very strong, there was opportunity for growth, but Emery felt the culture piece was missing. It was a party-centric company, to an unhealthy degree, and still recovering from his past health issues, Emery started to disconnect from the company quite by accident. He gave up the party life, stopped drinking, and thusly alienated himself from his business partners.
Entrepreneurship, is for freedom, money, or the mission (innovation) – It was quickly becoming apparent that while the first two pillars were always achievable, Emery constantly found himself in a space where the mission wasn’t being fulfilled, and unfortunately the other two pillars simply didn’t provide enough fulfillment. He wanted to do something that would truly mean something—that would leave a legacy.
It was at this point Emery realized more succinctly that, while everything was going well, he just wasn’t happy. While the company was financially viable, he wanted to work on something that really made a difference so he started working on special projects that would do just that—building an experience instead of just a space. Deciding he wanted to get out, Emery sat down with his partners and worked out a deal allowing him to sell his shares back to the company.
THE GENESIS OF SPACE AGE
At this point, Emery concluded he needed to get away, recharge, and figure himself out. What came next was an extended 6-month trip to Argentina. It was there that Emery came up with the concept for Space Age—a company that would redefine what a marketing company can be, a strategic hub that empowers innovation in all forms. See the history of Space Age for more information <LINK TO BLOG ARTICLE: TBD>
With Space Age, Emery took the lessons he learned from past failure as much as past success. In doing so he successfully laid the foundation for a perpetual company that would continue to be sustainable, by working with innovative concepts and start-ups to keep empowering projects that carry meaning, a sense of creative endeavour, and the goal of giving back to the world by being something more.
This is the legacy Emery has built toward his whole life, and we invite you to join us on this journey. Be sure to follow the Space Age story on social media as we explore and pursue our passions across the digital landscape of tomorrow.
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Very interesting story, I can imagine myself as a next-generation hero by reading this now