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Mikey Richardson is Co-founder of Jacknife, a Toronto-based creative powerhouse focused on helping organizations build value through brand and design. He is a seasoned entrepreneur with an educational background in art and a passion for creativity and graphic design. Mikey’s entrepreneurial journey began by co-founding a company in 1996 that eventually merged to form Jacknife. Under his leadership, the agency has worked with notable clients like Nike and has undertaken various projects from branding to workspace design.

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

  • [3:37] Mikey Richardson talks about his transition from an art school graduate to a brand agency co-founder
  • [5:55] The first big account that marked a significant milestone for Mikey’s company
  • [8:55] The importance of choosing the right battle when it comes to pitching for new business
  • [18:05] Mickey shares the evolution of services offered by Jacknife
  • [19:34] Insights into the thinking behind Jacknife’s strategic, design, and content creation process
  • [24:39] How a strong understanding of the client’s core can redefine their branding needs
  • [31:32] The complexities and learning opportunities following an agency acquisition
  • [42:55] How Jacknife landed Nike as a client and brought their Canadian headquarters to life

In this episode…

In the competitive world of branding and design, finding your niche and standing out can seem daunting. But what if the secret to success is found not in what you present outwardly, but in the roots and core of your brand? Could an honest reflection on your company’s identity yield the transformation you’ve been seeking?

Certified graphic designer Mikey Richardson talks about harnessing the true potential of brands through creative design. He shares the intriguing journey from starting a company fresh from art school to merging his passions into the renowned agency, Jacknife. Mikey delves into the pivotal moments that define Jacknife, including crucial client acquisitions and critical business decisions while maintaining a creative spirit at its core. His approach to branding is not about flashy presentations, but grounded in genuinely understanding and representing a brand’s story and values.

In this episode of the Inspired Insider Podcast, Dr. Jeremy Weisz interviews Mikey Richardson, Co-founder of Jacknife, about the transformative power of brand creativity. Mikey talks about his transition from an art school graduate to a brand agency owner, the evolution of services offered by Jacknife, and insights into the thinking behind Jacknife’s strategic, design, and content creation process.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Special Mention(s):

Related episode(s):

Quotable Moments:

  • “It’s less about this as the style of work that I do and more about solving problems using a methodology.” 
  • “We didn’t know what we didn’t know; but we knew that we loved what we were doing.” 
  • “It was about the work, and it turns out that we weren’t really projecting what the brand was at the core.”
  • “Sometimes the problem articulated isn’t really the problem.”
  • “Who not how, right. Who can teach us? Who can we lean on?”

Action Steps:

  1. Engage in creative collaboration to tackle business challenges: Collaborating with others can lead to innovative solutions and is effective because diverse perspectives often yield richer outcomes.
  2. Regularly reassess and understand your client’s core needs: This ensures that provided services are genuinely solving the real problems rather than just surface issues.
  3. Embrace the unknown and be willing to adjust your business path: Flexibility can create opportunities for growth and adaptation in a changing market.
  4. Utilize storytelling as a tool to connect with consumers: Compelling narratives can create emotional connections and distinguish a brand in a crowded marketplace.
  5. Learn from other businesses’ structures and systems: Observing and integrating successful practices from other organizations can streamline operations and enhance professionalism.

Sponsor for this episode

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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 where I talk with inspirational entrepreneurs and leaders today is no different. I have Mikey Richardson of He’s got a business partner, Michael. So I’m calling him Mikey today and you go by Mikey anyways. So yes, I’m loving it. Before I formally introduce you, Mikey, I always like to point out other episodes, so some other episodes to check out of the podcast. Mikey has been doing this thing for a long time. Since the 90s I believe. I had Kevin Hourigan, who is founder of Spinutech, who also started his agency in 1995. And he talked about the kind of evolving landscape and business in agency space in digital space was really interesting interview and this one will be much the same. Very interesting.

Another one was interesting Mikey since as part of the top agency series, Adi Klevit I interviewed, she specializes in SOPs, so she is like an easy button for a company create SOPs. So she goes in and helps companies document procedures, the sexy stuff that actually makes businesses work from streamlining Client Onboarding, or staff onboarding, or just any operational procedures in general. So that was an interesting episode, because we geeked out on our favorite productivity tools and systems and processes and check those out. And more on This episode is brought to you by Rise25. At Rise25 we help businesses give to and connect to their dream relationships. And how do we do that? We actually do that by helping you run your podcast, we’re an easy button for a company to launch and run a podcast and we do the accountability, the strategy and the full execution.

So Mikey, we call ourselves the magic elves that run in the background to make it look easy for the hosts in the company so they can create amazing relationships and amazing content and actually run their business. For me, the number one thing in my life is relationships. I’m always looking at ways to give to my best relationships, and I found no better way over the past decade to profile the people in companies I most admire and share with the world what they’re working on. So if you thought about podcasting, you definitely should. If you have questions, go to to learn more.

I’m excited to introduce Mikey Richardson, he’s co-founder of Toronto-based Jacknife agency, they can be found at And they’re a brand agency that aims to help organizations build value through the power of creativity. He’s an art school grad who has mentioned he started a company in 1996. So Kevin has you beat by one year, but not a competition here. And that business later became Jackknife in a merger and he just really tossed himself into this world of entrepreneurship. I’m wondering, from art school, what did you actually think you were going to do? And we’ll get into that, but they’ve worked with companies like Nike, Jackson, Triggs wine, Toronto’s FC, the professional soccer team there and many, many more. So Mikey, thanks for joining me.

Mikey Richardson 3:27 

Thanks for having me, Jeremy. Excited to be here. Yeah thank you.

Jeremy Weisz 3:29 

So what did you think and we’ll talk about Jacknife. But what did you think you were going to do when you went to art school?

Mikey Richardson 3:37 

Honestly, I got into art school because, even in high school, I was really interested in creativity, making art, drawing, painting, those sorts of things. Had an instructor give me some guidance around potentially could become an illustrator, like a way to apply that into a career might be illustrating books or magazines. So I applied to art school got in there. And the whole plan was, I was gonna do paintings, drawings and paintings for either children’s books or magazines. One of my dreams is to work with Rolling Stone or Reagan, back in the 90s, big music magazines.

And I always imagined this life of sort of the solitary painter, we’re living and working in a loft studio, making paintings and faxing my ideas to clients. And then very quickly, just, through the art school experience, you get exposed to all these different types of things you can do different types of people, different ways of thinking. I was introduced to graphic design, I was aware I’d seen lots of graphic design. I was into skateboard culture and reading magazines and those sorts of things, but I never really thought about it. So I started meeting students who were studying graphic design, and I saw how they worked.

It was less about this as the style of work that I do on is more about solving problems using a methodology a process to take on a brief solve a challenge work with other people, oftentimes, and I started to really get into this idea of collaborating and working with different types of people. Around the same time, computers were becoming a thing in our industry, moving away from manual processes, and that was creating these opportunities and ways to create new things. And towards the end of my art school experience, I just started thinking, maybe there’s something else, maybe there’s a way I could collaborate with other people. And then we had this bizarre opportunity arise where, through a friend of a friend, we’re presented with his possibility of creating a music video for a band here in Canada, that was signed to Universal.

Jeremy Weisz 5:52 

Was this the first big account?

Mikey Richardson 5:55 

Well, it was sort of, we were still students, and the music label gave us this opportunity to do a stop motion animated music video. Of course, we didn’t know how to do that. So it required getting together a bunch of different types of art school students and creative thinkers, figuring out how to do it, being creative writing a script, making models and sets and it just became this whole experience where I fell in love with working with and collaborating with other people.

So, as we’re ending art school, and then started thinking with my now, business partner, Mike, like, maybe we can keep doing this, he was a graphic design student. And we thought, maybe we can start a company or a collective or some kind of a, we didn’t even know, like, we just really didn’t know what we didn’t know. But we knew that we love working with other creative people, and maybe this could become a thing.

Jeremy Weisz 6:52 

We’ll get to the first big account. What was the band? Do you remember the band name?

Mikey Richardson 6:58 

The band was called the Gandharvas? Yeah. So they had a few hits here. I think they may have got some radio play on some sort of college radio south of the border. Yeah, it was a great experience, sort of 90s rock grinds.

Jeremy Weisz 7:14 

Whenever I think of music in Canada, I think of Nardwuar, you know Nardwuar?

Mikey Richardson 7:21 

For sure.

Jeremy Weisz 7:23 

Amazing if someone hasn’t checked out his stuff, here’s Nardwuar. He was some of the most, have you watched his interviews before?

Mikey Richardson 7:31 

Oh, yeah. Amazing to see him all the time. For sure. Yeah.

Jeremy Weisz 7:34 

Amazing stuff. People should check it out. Here’s his website here. But he’s interviewed some of the top, top, top musicians of all time, right?

Mikey Richardson 7:45 

Yeah. Coming up was the same time we are literally two blocks from MuchMusic where they used to shoot.

Jeremy Weisz 7:52 

Did you ever meet him?

Mikey Richardson 7:54 

No, I’ve never met him.

Jeremy Weisz 7:56 

Super interesting. Anyways, talk about the first big account. What got you launched into this agency world?

Mikey Richardson 8:05 

Sure, sure. So we came out of school. We met with a couple of other business grads who are recently out of school, we started a small company started peddling our student portfolios, basically combining the work of Mike and myself and trying to get meetings to show a big portfolio case to people and try and land work. And we already done this music video. So we had a bit of an entryway to the music industry and started doing some small record label work and promotional things, album cover packages, that sort of stuff. And then I guess, word got around that we had a young shop, and we’re doing some interesting creative stuff. And we threw a few art parties. And we would try to gain as much momentum.

Jeremy Weisz 8:54 

What did an art party look like? What were you doing?

Mikey Richardson 8:56 

So, we would create our own artwork, so large-scale paintings, projected works, we’re really interested in experimenting with new ways of creating artwork. We bring in other artists, whether it be photographers, painters, whatever, rent out a big warehouse space, get a DJ, throw a big party, promote it within the sort of creative community in Toronto. So we do that fairly often, and started getting a bit of notoriety for that. And so word got around…

Jeremy Weisz 9:26 

That’s a smart thing to do.

Mikey Richardson 9:29 

Yeah, we’re sort of old-school self-promotion, right? Like, the way we looked at is like a band, right? We’ll start playing at bars. We’ll do our own gigs. We’ll put up posters and try to get a following right. So word got around and white TV, which is a big children’s channel, sort of like Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network in Canada. They were looking for a new advertising agency. So they approached us to come and pitch. We had literally never competitively pitched for an account. We weren’t even sure what that entailed. So we went in for a briefing, and it turned out it was a creative shootout, they call it, here’s a brief go away for a thing as a couple of weeks and come back with your best work. Right?

Jeremy Weisz 10:18 

How does that work? Is that like a paid thing? Or are you just pitching for the work?

Mikey Richardson 10:25 

In those days, it was just competitive. So it wasn’t paid. I think most of the pitches now or there’s some kind of a compensation, if you’re going to be doing that speculative work, we started…

Jeremy Weisz 10:37 

That’s a lot of work, you go back a couple of weeks, you’re pouring your heart into it. And then you’re also giving a company very good ideas as well.

Mikey Richardson 10:45 

100%, and it was very common in the late 90s. It’s become more of a faux pa now for sure. And you know, we typically don’t participate in those sorts of things. We try to keep it more credentials-based, right when you’re pitching. But back then it was a creative shootout, like who’s got the best idea? And we’re gonna pick right. So we went in, and they had this new strategic positioning and a tagline, which was keep it weird. And we thought, well, no problem, right? Like, we definitely have that part dialed.

Jeremy Weisz 11:13 

We’re gonna dominate this.

Mikey Richardson 11:14 

We’re gonna dominate this. So like you said, we went back and we just resource the heck out of it. Like, we were a small company, maybe five or six people at that point, and we just put everyone on it like, let’s do the best we can. So we had to create a transit ad wide open, how do you interpret keep it weird, targeting an audience of children, right tweens. So we went away, came back after a couple of weeks. We went to their building to pitch, we’ve never done a formal pitch, like I said, we were too unaware to even be nervous, I would say we just didn’t really know. Right?

So we always say it was we get in there, we’re sitting in this waiting room and feeling fine. And then the doors open, and our competitors come out having just pitched and it’s like, people in business suits and proper portfolio cases. And at that point, you’d bring your own digital projector. And we’re like, oh, no, like, we have our stuff glued to a piece of foam core, literally in a garbage bag.

Jeremy Weisz 12:02 

Like the old-school science fair projects.

Mikey Richardson 12:21 

Yeah. 100%. And like, we’re dressed like high school or college art students, right with our garbage bag of ideas. And we go in, I don’t think I’d ever use the word credentials in that context. So we just go in and take our workout. Here’s what we did: started talking about the work. Why does it look this way? We found out that it turns out, we misinterpreted the brief, we did the wrong format, we’re supposed to do one format, we did the other. So, textbook, absolutely the wrong way to pitch. So we laughed, and we ended up winning the count.

I found out later, became close friends with the clients, the creative director there. And they said that, I guess the room was probably split. Who are these guys? They really don’t have experience. But the other more creative-minded folks were like, no, they really get it, they get the brief, they get the audience, they can deliver on creativity, and they gave us a shot. So this was a huge thing for us, right? It gave us the ability to really professionalize what we were doing and start building our company and build a portfolio. And certainly, having a retainer client, as an ad agency was a huge milestone for us.

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