Ottawa’s Jackpine combines healthier founder with healthier business

100 pounds lighter, Liam Mooney finds a new business model to support a better lifestyle

Liam Mooney
Liam Mooney

The realization that something needed to change came when Liam Mooney bent down to tie his shoes. The founder of Jackpine Dynamic Branding, an Ottawa creative studio, was finding that despite being in charge of a growing business, the everyday aspects of life and running that company were getting harder.

“Not being able to tie my shoelaces without sweating. Having sore feet everywhere I walk. Feeling like I wasn’t able to contribute the absolute best to my clients because I was feeling completely lethargic, or had no energy on a given day,” he says of his life, roughly a year ago.

“It’s been really hard. You spend so much time convincing yourself that you have to sacrifice all these things for your business to succeed. Then you kind of, at some point, are left looking in the mirror and thinking, ‘Wow, I could die.’”

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Liam Mooney

Mooney made a decision: Not only would he cut down on fast food and take up a regular five-kilometre run, but he’d rearrange his entire business model to put his health first. Since that day he’s lost 100 pounds, and says he’s felt happier in and out of the workplace.

The other side effect, Mooney says, is that business has never been better.

Finding the right fit

Mooney says he’s transformed his business into a more nimble operation by reducing his primary team, expenses and space.

Jackpine used to work out of a small office in Chinatown, where the firm blended in well with the culture of nearby clients such as the Bar Robo cafe. Operations have since moved into an extra bedroom in Mooney’s apartment, converted into an at-home office.

The first benefit is obvious: The cost of rent is thousands of dollars cheaper every month. Mooney also has less to worry about in terms of office upkeep, though he admits domestic life is a bit more cluttered.

But bringing the business home has had an immediate impact on his lifestyle. He used to spend 16 hours a day in the Chinatown office, grinding himself down and snacking on sugary foods to bring himself back up.

Now, with fewer bills to pay and a renewed sense of control over his business, Mooney finds less guilt with taking a break, working out or cooking a proper meal when he needs it.

“At a certain point you have to ask yourself, why am I doing this?”

“At a certain point you have to ask yourself, why am I doing this? I can design a business in any way that I like. I’m in control of that. I don’t have to set it up this way.”

The other change has been largely organizational. The old Jackpine used more of an integrated model: one office space, a core team and a singular approach to clients. Today, it’s a more flexible model that calls in freelancers and subject experts as needed to build custom teams for projects.

Mooney says this approach has been ideal for the creative types he works with, who are no longer “chained to a desk for eight hours a day.” It also encourages him to go to clients more often, a part of the job he always enjoyed.

“I like being there. It’s a better setup for them most of the time and it leads to business development. I get to understand a company better,” he says. “For us, it means right now we get to focus entirely on our clients.”

‘I’m doing work’

Mooney acknowledges this model may not be for everyone, but for businesses that have fairly autonomous workers, it’s at least something to consider.

“I think it’s really a matter of personal preference. It’s a matter of industry, it’s a matter of who you work with,” he says.

But it’s not really about the particular model that Jackpine employs. Mooney says it’s about entrepreneurs realizing that they don’t have to sacrifice themselves for the good of the business.

“When you look at health and life and creativity, you need to invest in yourself.”

This past summer, Mooney was on a run by the Rideau Canal when he stopped to catch his breath and noticed something written on a fellow runner’s T-shirt. “I’m doing work,” it read.

It was a workout shirt emblazoned with the Nike brand, but for the owner of a branding company, there couldn’t have been a clearer message.

“It confirmed why I’m doing this. There are so many times you say, ‘I can’t do this, I don’t have the time, I need to be at work, I need to have this meeting, I need to stay late, I can’t do this for myself,’” Mooney says.

“Honestly, our business … has never been better and my personal health has never been better. I think it’s something every entrepreneur needs to think about.”

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