Meet Cam Healy and James Blackburn, founders of West of Contra, a Toronto-based event marketing and production company. Always interested in entertaining, the duo took their passion and turned it into a successful business. Here is their story.
1. Tell us a bit about the education/career background.
CH: I grew up in King City and attended Western University. While at Western my hockey career came to an end and I was looking for something to fill that void. Given that I was a pretty social person a friend suggested I work with him producing parties and working with some different bars in London. That’s really where it all began.
JB: My background was in law; I practiced corporate law at a large Bay Street firm but it wasn’t really a fit for my personality. I left to pursue an entrepreneurial path and while trying to get a tech start-up off the ground I was presented with the opportunity to co-produce an event. What started as something that I thought was a one or two time thing became something I found I loved so I eventually went all in and started an events company.
2. What inspired you to build West of Contra into the company that it is today?
CH: Many years ago when I was still unsure of what I wanted to do for a living a buddy told me to write down three things that made me happiest in life. He told me to find a job/career that stem from one of them and that’s what I did. I loved being around friends and family as much as possible, so by producing and marketing my own events I’ve been able to do just that. Their feedback over the years has helped shape who we are as a company today and that is the desire to provide clients and event attendees with a superior experience first and foremost.
JB: We looked at the landscape of what companies are doing for events here in Toronto and saw an opportunity to really establish and try and be leaders in a distinct market, that being both social and business focused events primarily for the city’s young professionals. We feel we’ve made great strides in achieving this goal but we have a large appetite for continually growing.
3. What was your biggest challenge you faced when you were starting out?
CH: Holding myself accountable and managing others on a daily basis.
JB: Constantly keeping new, fresh and creative. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to continually develop event concepts that are uniquely new to Toronto.
4. What is your favourite part of working at West of Contra?
CH: Being around friends and family!
JB: Creating experiences that someone might tell us was the highlight of their year
5. What is one app you and your team cannot live without?
CH: Google Sheets
6. Do you have any advice for future entrepreneurs looking to make their mark?
CH: Surround yourself with like-minded people and be kind to everyone along the way.
JB: Don’t be afraid to take a chance and fail if it means ultimately finding a life that makes you more happy. Most successful entrepreneurs have several false starts before eventually finding the one that hits and the stuff learned through those failures is what sets you up for success the next time around.
7. Where do you see West of Contra in 10 years?
CH: I don’t normally like to look more than 5 years ahead but I see us being heavily involved in Toronto’s charitable community and being a nationwide leader in special events of any size.
JB: Owners of a diverse array of some of the country’s most highly regarded event brands as well as a strong portfolio of hospitality venues.
8. Finally…current go-to restaurant in the city?