Bringing people and brands together is the goal of Thunder Bay’s Westfort Productions.

Bryan and Matt Popwich - Westfort ProductionsThe company offers high-end, story-driven video production and digital marketing services, and has been doing so since its 2014 founding by Bryan and Matt Popowich. 

Bryan Popowich told the CEDC a bit more about Westfort Productions, and being an entrepreneur in Thunder Bay, for Small Business Week.

  • What started you on the entrepreneurial journey (who/what inspired you?)
    • I had been working for the previous 10 years in Ottawa at an animation studio called Mercury Filmworks. My wife Brandee was originally from Thunder Bay as well and we had two small children at the time. We had been talking about moving back to Thunder Bay for a while wanting to raise our children closer to our families. Brandee was able to find a great job in Thunder Bay right away.  I knew there wouldn't be any jobs in animation there and I might need to be a bit more creative when figuring out where and how my gained experience would translate to employment in Thunder Bay. At the time, my nephew Matt had been creating some great video content for a small roster of clients. From Ottawa, I started helping him out with some ideas on budgeting and how to start gaining more work. We then began having more serious talks about the possibility of working together, and how my experience in television and his incredible creative and technical abilities might make for a good partnership. I had been used to working with some of Canada's top artists in my past job, so the idea of staying in the creative field working with someone as talented as Matt was really exciting and something I knew I wanted to pursue.
  • Where did you turn for assistance/mentoring?
    • At the outset, we were pretty much winging it. We didn't know what we didn't know, for the most part. Looking back that might have been a good thing. If someone would have given us a checklist of everything we would need to do to run a business properly it might have seemed too daunting. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss, I guess. But once we started to dig in and figure things out, we did begin to seek out some guidance from professionals in finance, accounting, insurance, legal as well as other entrepreneurs for sure.
  • What were some of the biggest life lessons you’ve learned along the way?
    • The biggest lesson I've learned is, if you are going into a partnership, you need to trust and believe in that person implicitly. I consider myself extremely lucky that my business partner is super-talented, but also has an incredible work ethic and integrity. Working with Matt never really feels like work.
  • Why Thunder Bay?
    • It’s home, is the simple answer. But also in our initial talks about trying to make a go as video producers, we identified what we thought was a hole that we could fill in Northwestern Ontario. At the time in 2014, digital marketing, especially via social media platforms, was just starting to pick up in Thunder Bay. And while there were very capable videographers around, none of them seemed to fully commit to creating video full time. There were photographers that also shot video, videographers that focused on weddings, indie filmmakers, some event video being shot, and then what you would see produced by the local TV station. It seemed that no one was fully focused on creating video content specifically for marketing/advertising campaigns for businesses and organizations. This is why we thought Thunder Bay would be a good fit for Westfort Productions. Also if we went anywhere else we'd have to change the name and that just wouldn't work.
  • What advice would you give to someone who’s just started - or thinking of starting - their entrepreneurial journey?
    • Be sure that what you are offering is better and/or unique when compared to the existing competition. Starting a business is hard enough. If you don't have the advantage of offering a higher-quality product or service than the established businesses, the already-uphill battle becomes instantly that much steeper.
  • What was something that was unexpected in this journey?
    • The support we receive from the community is always really surprising. We are routinely told how much our content is enjoyed and that people are looking out for what we will produce next. It makes us want to continually push the bar higher with each project. This job has also created some really great opportunities to work outside of Thunder Bay. At the outset, I'm not sure that is something we expected. We have been really fortunate to work in various cities across Canada. New York, Chicago, and Phoenix in the US, and we've ventured outside of North America to Jamaica, Mexico, and Costa Rica.
  • What was the greatest moment in this journey (your biggest ‘a-ha’)?
    • One thing that comes to mind is a meeting that Matt and I were having going over a creative pitch for a client. He simply said people always want to laugh OR they want to learn. We realized that our best projects had always had a strong and definitive lean one way or the other. It became the launch point for every project concept going forward. Is our audience laughing? Are they learning? Can they do both? It has really helped us streamline our concept development. On a more physical end, it would be deciding to purchase a building and create our own space for Westfort Productions. At the time it was definitely a gamble and a lot of work throughout the process of financing the purchase to eventually have it look and feel the way we had envisioned it.  Having a spot in the heart of Westfort is incredible and looking back we can draw a pretty clear path from opening up our shop to our business really starting to gain momentum.
  • What is your business’ short pitch?
    • It usually starts with "Hear us out ...." and if it goes well it ends with us walking away thinking "I can't believe they went for it." In between, we hope to convey how video is the best, most creative way to get your message out to your audience and that we are going to have a ton of laughs working on it with you.

For more information about Westfort Productions, visit westfortproductions.com.

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