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Howard Chang is the Founder and CEO of The Turn Lab, an innovative marketing agency. He is also the CEO of Just Boardrooms, a marketplace for business meeting space rentals. With over two decades of experience in the industry and three successful startup exits under his belt, Howard has a wealth of knowledge in entrepreneurship, technology, and creative marketing. He is passionate about redefining traditional models to create more evidence-based and results-focused services. As a cancer survivor, Howard has also been inspired to make significant life and business decisions that align with his values.

tune in

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • [03:34] Howard Chang discusses The Turn Lab’s research-driven approach to solving business problems
  • [05:18] How The Turn Lab’s services evolved from their original concept to meet client needs
  • [07:20] How value pricing and option pricing changed the conversation
  • [10:32] Howard shares The Turn Lab’s client acquisition process
  • [13:20] The Turn Lab’s niche and the importance of aligning with values in business partnerships
  • [18:47] Why Howard moved away from the traditional award-focused agency model
  • [25:14] How to effectively incubate startups within an existing business
  • [29:16] The inception and vision of Just Boardrooms
  • [35:12] How Just Boardrooms fills the gap in professional meeting spaces
  • [43:28] Howard shares his personal cancer journey and how it influenced his business philosophy

In this episode…

Have you ever considered what it takes to innovate in a traditional industry? What if the key to success lies not in selling more but understanding better? Is it possible to transform personal challenges into professional triumphs?

Howard Chang, who faced cancer and turned it into a catalyst to revolutionize his professional life, shares his journey of redefining the marketing agency with The Turn Lab. He discusses the importance of evidence-based practice, the role of technology in marketing, and the innovative pricing strategies that set his agencies apart. He also shares the story behind Just Boardrooms, a platform that provides professional spaces for meetings and networking, which saw exponential growth despite initial hurdles.

In this episode of the Inspired Insider Podcast, Dr. Jeremy Weisz interviews Howard Chang, Founder and CEO of The Turn Lab, about crafting a new vision for marketing agencies and innovative business spaces. Howard talks about The Turn Lab’s unique, research-driven approach to solving business problems, its client acquisition process, the inception and vision of Just Boardrooms, and how his cancer survival influenced his business philosophy.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Related episode(s):

Quotable Moments:

  • “Business leaders are looking for companies that are interested in falling in love with their problem, not trying to sell them solutions.”
  • “A lot of marketing dollars are wasted. So, we wanted to create better evidence-based decisions around the whole brand building and marketing process.”
  • “Success isn’t actually about what you get; it’s about what you give.”
  • “Cancer was kind of a gift, in a way; it catalyzed decisions in terms of learning about myself, family, and business.”
  • “We’re not here to sell you something; we’re here to fall in love with your problem.”

Action Steps:

  1. Implement a value-pricing model for your services: This creates clarity for clients and shifts the conversation from cost to the value provided, ensuring equitable exchanges that reflect the true worth of the work done.
  2. Invest in continual learning and research to underpin business strategies with evidence: Staying informed with the latest insights and data ensures that business decisions are grounded in reality, enhancing effectiveness and client satisfaction.
  3. Seek alignment of values with clients and employees: Ensuring that everyone involved shares a similar ethos can create a powerful synergy, leading to better collaboration and satisfying outcomes for all parties involved.
  4. Actively engage in networking and community-building initiatives: Establishing strong relationships and creating opportunities for personal interaction can lead to unexpected opportunities and partnerships, just as it did with Just Boardrooms.

Sponsor for this episode

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We’ll distribute each episode across more than 11 unique channels, including iTunes, Spotify, and Google Podcasts. We’ll also create copy for each episode and promote your show across social media.

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The relationships you form through podcasting run deep. Jeremy and John became business partners through podcasting. They have even gone on family vacations and attended weddings of guests who have been on the podcast.

Podcast production has a lot of moving parts and is a big commitment on our end; we only want to work with people who are committed to their business and to cultivating amazing relationships.

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:01 

You are listening to Inspired Insider with your host, Dr Jeremy Weisz.

Jeremy Weisz 0:22 

Dr Jeremy Weisz here, founder of inspiredinsider com, where I talk with inspirational entrepreneurs and leaders today, is no different. I have Howard Chang of and And Howard, before I formally introduce you, I always like to point out other episodes people should check out of the podcast, since this is part of the top agency series, because Howard has a very successful agency that he ended up selling, and then started another one that reinvented with The Turn Lab I had Jason Swank on that was a really good episode, actually, two episodes.

One he talked about building his agency to eight figures and selling it, and then what he’s been doing is helping buy up agencies in his kind of reinvention, and he has an agency mastermind as well. That was a great one, just about the agency, landscape, business valuations. Another good one was Adi Klevit. Adi Klevit is an interesting model Howard, where she is an easy button for a company create SOPs, that was her niche. So if someone wants to smooth out their hiring, their operations, their any staff onboarding, Client Onboarding, they call her, and she helps with that. So that we geeked out on our favorite productivity tools and much more on that one. So that was a good one. And this episode is brought to you by Rise25. At Rise25 we help businesses give to and connect to their dream relationships and partnerships. And how do we do that? We do that by helping you run your podcast, or an easy button for a company to launch and run a podcast.

We do the accountability, the strategy and the full execution. So Howard, we call ourselves, kind of the magic elves that run in the background and make it look easy for the host and the company so they can create amazing content, create amazing relationships and run their business? Most importantly, you know, for me, the number one thing in my life is relationships, and I’m always looking at ways to give to my best relationships. I found no better way, over the past decade, to profile the people and companies I most admire and share with the world what they’re working on. And so if you’ve thought about podcasting, you should if you have questions, you can go to, learn more, or email us at [email protected], we’re happy to answer any question you throw our way.

I’m excited to introduce Howard Chang he’s founder and CEO of The Turn Lab. You can find me and CEO of as well. He has over 20 years as a successful CEO. He’s founded and exited three startups. The Turn Lab, he set out to reinvent agencies, which we’ll talk about, and he had a successful agency, which I mentioned, for over 20 years before he sold it. And Just Boardrooms actually was incubated out of The Turn Lab, and it’s an innovative marketplace. It’s like an Airbnb, except for business space, which is really cool, and there’s a lot of that inventory out there. So if you have a question, you can check it out, and if you have inventory for your space, you can go to but his venture span from retail to sports to film and more. And most impressively, he’s a cancer survivor. So Howard, thanks for joining me.

Howard Chang 3:32 

Thanks for having me on.

Jeremy Weisz 3:34 

Start off and tell us about The Turn Lab.

Howard Chang 3:39 

Yeah, thanks. The Turn Lab is our attempt, our experiment, to reinvent the agency, or marketing agency model. I ran a successful integrated agency for 25 years. We had 60 odd employees, and it was great, except what I realized is that business leaders were looking for something else. They were looking for companies that were really interested in falling in love with their problem, not trying to sell them solutions or campaigns or media. And so The Turn Lab was an attempt to really build a consultancy led marketing technology lab or company.

And so we started with only 12 people, and it was definitely a learning experience, but we heavily invested in research capability. We have strategists and we have analysts on team. We have a fully built out technology, a team that’s in house, based in Toronto, not offshore, and we build enterprise digital solutions. So it’s really about taking a business challenge and really putting all the resources behind it to produce the best outcomes possible. So a much more holistic approach than a traditional marketing agency. And we’re five years in, and we’re still learning as we go.

Jeremy Weisz 4:54 

Talk about the services. So when you first started The Turn Lab, obviously sometimes we start. Something and it always morphs into something else based on feedback. And it’s one of the things actually you do with Turn Lab, is you get feedback and you help people iterate and change for the better. What was the original idea behind The Turn Lab And then how has it evolved with the feedback you got as you took on clients?

Howard Chang 5:18 

Well, I think the original concept was try to bridge the gap between the growing role of consultancies for businesses that were very invested in helping solve business problems but didn’t really have a great understanding of a lot of the audience pieces that kind of go with the business problem, and bridge that with some of the great capabilities of many agencies and marketing companies that were fantastic execution. They could build a great campaign, they could build a great brand. But how do we connect the business challenge with some of these executions?

Was what we were trying to solve. So when we built it, we started small, we started hiring some strategists and analysts. We started subscribing to research platforms like Environics and others to try to give us that evidence based approach. And then what we learned along the way was how important technology played in this. So we always had a bit of a technology practice in my old agency, but we really built out kind of an enterprise capability on this side, because we understood that digital transformation is something most people didn’t actually understand. So how do we actually build a strategy and execute.

There’s a contiguous line in terms of what a business offers and their entire customer experience. And so what we had to learn is we had to be strong in all the aspects. We couldn’t just be good at research. We had to be really good at research. We had to really be good at planning. We had to be really good at branding and marketing and media and technology and digital commerce. So now we’re 60 people, so we had to build out the team and the business, obviously was there to support it. Our experiment seems to be working. We’ve been approached by a couple of big network agencies to look at buying us, which we’re not ready to do at this point, because we’re still building out this model. I think what we’ve heard from other industry leaders is we really want to do what you do, but we just don’t quite have the nerve, the resources and the will to really commit to what you’re doing yet. So we’re watching you. We’re watching you to see whether this model works. And I think we are a bit of an experiment for the industry right now.

Jeremy Weisz 7:20 

What is the main difference between this agency and the first one you started? It seems to me that it’s really a research first. And you could correct me, but when you went to hire, maybe in your first agency, you were hiring more expertise on technical things. And this one, it seems like the main difference is you hired strategists, analysts, researchers and the tech to help with that, which would have been much different when you look back at your first agency.

Howard Chang 7:53 

As you know, Jeremy, marketing is this kind of art and science, right? And a lot of times we’re just throwing stuff up against the wall to see if it sticks. And so a lot of marketing dollars are wasted. A lot of leaders know that, in fact, most agencies even know that a lot of the stuff we do isn’t measurable. It’s hard to really, connect it to the bottom line. So what we really wanted to do was to create better evidence based decisions around the whole brand building, marketing and business building process. So the reason why we invested in researches is because there are lots of strategists working in the advertising business, by the way. But I had a very interesting conversation recently with one of the largest database providers to the consultancy world, and they said, of all their clients, only six are ad agencies. The rest are all consultancies.

So ad agencies believe in strategy. What they don’t really do is they don’t really invest and believe in real research. So for example, at The Turn Lab we built and we host a 10,000 member consumer panel that takes effort and money and resources to do that, but now we have this incredible resource that we can go to directly. We pay six figures annually in subscription fees to research platforms that our team can access. We have a commitment to make sure that every strategy we present and every execution we undertake is evidence based. So that, I think, is the big difference. So in the past, of course, we are strategists. We know the business, we know culture, we know art, we know blah, blah, blah, but a lot of it was kind of seat of the pants experience stuff, as opposed to No, we actually have some data to prove it. We’ve actually done the research.

So that’s the big gap. And then the connection to digital is really interesting, because digital is so data driven, right? So sure, you can build websites as an agency, but if you don’t actually have an entire digital infrastructure within your organization, where you have programmers that cannot just build websites but understand the importance of data and how that transacts, around digital commerce, around social commerce, then you’re kind of working half blind. And so we had to learn that stuff along the way. We had to make those investments along the way. Okay, and we’re still learning, to be honest with you.

Jeremy Weisz 10:03 

When we look back, and I know again, when you started this, you already had successful businesses. I’m wondering, for The Turn Lab, the first client and then the first engagement, and what that engagement was, because you have a hypothesis going in, and you have to now, okay, it’s a little bit different. We have to price it a certain way. What would that first engagement look like with the first client?

Howard Chang 10:32 

Yeah. So the first client we landed at The Turn Lab is a company called the Metro Toronto Convention Center. So they’re one of the biggest convention centers in North America. And that’s a good first client. It’s not a bad first client. And they attract companies from like events all around the world. So they host ComicCon and huge, huge events. So when they put out the sort of this RFP, we actually called them up and said, This is who we are, and we actually don’t do RFPs, but what we can do is we can help you understand your problem better. So I offered them a two hour strategy hack, which is a two hour, very fast paced workshop than myself and some of our strategic leaders, which at the time was two other people, because we were only 12 when we started, and we actually went and did a workshop with them to really deeply understand what was the challenge that they were facing.

And so by doing that, they got a chance at the sense of who we are, how we work and how we approach these things. And they said, we’ve never had an agency approach us this way, we’re gonna bring you on board as a finalist agency, without even submitting an RP. So we didn’t submit an RP officially. We kind of submitted just a letter of intent. We did this workshop, and then we actually ended up landing the business. And what I found very interesting in this is that clients are also stuck a little bit in what they know, right? So they were used to dealing with traditional agencies, so we kept shifting them towards research, we kept shifting them towards analysis. And finally, when we began doing the executions, I remember their head of marketing saying to us, you know what, It’s taken us about three months of working with you, but I actually truly understand the value you bring now, I didn’t quite get it before. And we made a massive difference to their business. We helped them, you know, navigate the whole COVID piece. We helped them navigate the post-COVID.

We rebuilt their website into an enterprise model, which dramatically increased their business into their sales office. So this was again around our approach of we’re not here to sell you something, we’re here to fall in love with your problem. And I think that approach is something that all consultants and agencies could really lean in and learn from, is that quite often we get caught up in shilling our solutions, right? Like, oh, I’ll sell you some media, I’ll build you a campaign. I’ll rebrand you without really, actually falling in love with the client’s problem. And by doing that, we end up getting insights that we may never have gotten before, that can actually help the business.

Jeremy Weisz 13:16 

Before, the kind of when you became a finalist of that RFP without doing an RFP, was there a monetary exchange in that initial conversation with doing any initial research before getting to that or were they just kind of waiting for that final RFP stage to actually have that business relationship?

Howard Chang 13:40 

One thing that we won’t do is we won’t do spec work on requests. So if an RFP includes a spec work, we definitely won’t do it. But what we will do is prepare properly for a client meeting, like anybody should, and do our own research and go, hey, you think your problem is this, our research is actually showing your problem might be this that can often get a business leader going, okay, well, take a 30 minute call for sure on that hypothesis, but often it leads to bigger conversations. So what we do is we invest in things like a strategy hack. It’s not for everybody. In fact, on our website, you can actually apply for one of our strategy hacks, but you have to be qualified. It has to be a problem that we think is interesting to solve.

You have to be a business that we are aligned with in terms of our value. So I think there’s a little bit of that, but I think that initial investment of time and energy is incredibly valuable. I was talking to one of the people at the ICA, the Institute of Canadian Agencies. And he was saying that, you know, the average pitch costs most agencies tens of thousands of dollars in time to build a pitch. Well, I think that time is much better invested into really, actually better understanding your client’s problem and maybe helping them reframe the problem differently. And I think that. That is what gets us in the door more often than not.

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