Published On: September 23, 2022By

Neon light depicting the number five in orange

UpHouse is five! Where does the time go? That’s like 35 in dog years. Or 36 in cat years. Or a youthful 34 sheep years.

We’ve grown and learned so much since we began our journey in 2017. Then again, when you put things into perspective, you can fit a lot into five years. You could watch over 43,000 episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race! Luckily, we had our sights set on other ventures—though, we always make time for Drag Race season finale watch parties in the office. It’s all about balance, right?

Overall, it’s been a spectacular five trips around the sun, and we’re so grateful for all the experiences and incredible people we’ve encountered along the way.

The Evolution of UpHouse

Half of UpHouse’s existence has been spent amid a global pandemic. Naturally, that brought unexpected challenges, but it also helped us recalibrate and adapt, strengthening our agility and resilience, ultimately becoming better and more focused on the types of projects and clients we care about.

And while our little agency has grown bigger than we could have ever anticipated, many of our values and guiding principles have remained constant and gained more clarity over time. Our founders, Alex Varricchio and Kiirsten May, have plenty of lessons to share as they’ve helped shape the direction of UpHouse throughout its evolution.

Kiirsten May and Alex Varricchio, Owners of UpHouse

Three Important Lessons from Al and Kiir 

Remember when we first launched our agency and didn’t have any clients yet, so we got our moms to provide testiMOMials for us? Suffice to say, we’re glad we’ve gained so many clients who speak just as highly of us as Karen and Kathie do. Here are some valuable lessons we gained as we took our first baby steps as an agency and grew into an award-winning marketing hub.

Build Genuine Relationships

Clients aren’t Pokémon. We aren’t trying to collect as many as we can—we’re putting in the effort to build meaningful connections and alliances based on trust. When you have trusting relationships with your clients, and they let you into their world, there’s much more potential to take big risks with even bigger payoffs.

Instead of announcing new clients the moment we seal the deal, we wait until we’ve created outstanding work together, then celebrate the victories. We always take the time to really get to know the culture and values of our clients, so we can create work that rings true.

One of the unexpected bonuses of building these bonds has been how our clients’ values began to influence our own—especially the non-profits that focus on community outreach. Their insights and positive influence helped us to refine our direction and goals as an agency that seeks to help inspire the social consciousness of brands. For example, in working with organizations like Manitoba Possible and the Cerebral Palsy Association of Manitoba, we’ve strengthened our commitment to improving accessibility in our digital services.

Inside the UpHouse office, our focus on building authentic connections has made all the difference. We’ve made so much progress and will continue to work towards creating a space where people of diverse backgrounds feel comfortable to be themselves and come out of their shells—and when you’re working in a creative industry, that sense of freedom is valuable. There’s still more to do, but it’s a goal we’ll never stop chasing. We’re always thrilled to hear staff say they feel well taken care of, and our retention rate has been incredibly high. Some of our team members left prominent positions at big corporations to work with us, and we don’t take that for granted.

We love seeing people’s true colours and sense of humour come out. It’s important to honour what they bring to the table. — Kiirsten May

Take All Opportunities Seriously

No matter the size or scope of a project, we always approach it with the same level of motivation, thoroughness and respect. It’s a privilege to work with such diverse organizations—no matter the budget.

At the start of the pandemic, when things were uncertain and businesses worldwide were nervously monitoring their profits, it was the little guys who really came through for us. Working with non-profits and community outreach programs has always been a big priority at UpHouse, but we could never have anticipated the level of support we’d receive in return.

It goes to show that when you invest in your community and prove that you genuinely care, your community will return the favour when you need it most.

Keep Moving the Goalpost

Admittedly, we aren’t really into the whole “five-year-plan” thing. If you’re too focused on one end goal, unexpected opportunities can go unnoticed! We had an initial vision for UpHouse when we first began, but as new opportunities arose, we remained flexible and open to change.

In the early UpHouse days, we were set on funding the production of our own line of products—like Crainstorm, our online creative brainstorm platform, and Christmas Movie Bingo, the holiday drinking game that makes cheesy Hallmark movies far more enjoyable. When other exciting prospects came into view and our little agency got bigger and bigger, we seized the opportunity for projects that helped expand our skills and services.

As a result, we’ve become unexpected experts in HR marketing and helping organizations with recruitment! When you take the time to get to know your clients and their company culture, it becomes easy to sell prospective employees on it, too. Taking on this new specialization just made sense.

When we started, we planned on keeping things small-scale. Spoiler alert: that didn’t happen. Fast-forward to now—we’ve got over 20 permanent staff, a whole network of creative freelancers and collaborators, and a big, sunny office in Winnipeg’s Exchange District with a perfect view of our city. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

When you’re growing quickly, you have to trust people. Trust is everything! Don’t be too micro-manage-y. It’s a good practice for working with our clients, too. We wouldn’t have moved as quickly as we did if we were micromanagers. — Alex Varricchio

After so much growth and evolution in five years, who knows what the next five years will bring? Nothing feels impossible when we’ve got such an incredible community of marketing wizards, artistic geniuses, and admirable organizations in our corner.

Thanks for an unforgettable five years—and to all our incredible clients who took a chance on us in our early days, offering us the opportunity to do what we love: make marketing better.

It’s been a slice.