Brian Lee

CEO/Co-Founder of Label 428

Brian Lee is the CEO and Co-Founder of Label 428, a food creative and social media agency based in Toronto. Recently named a Canadian leader in Social Media and Content Marketing by Clutch, Label 428 brings their clients’ social media presence to life through channel management and content production. The agency specializes in producing content for restaurant franchises and consumer packaged goods (CPGs). Brian and his team pride themselves on making an impact for clients on brand awareness and sales.

Where did the idea for Label 428 come from?

It started in my last year of university. I was completing a degree in human biology, which I had no intention in using for my career, but I always had the desire to make money with my friends. When I met with my then business partner/photographer, I started visiting restaurants in Kensington Market offering a wide variety of services like website development, guerilla marketing campaigns, and menu design. The plan was to learn what was needed to get any job done. Fake it til you make it, I guess.

This led to substantial success for one restaurant via social media, particularly Instagram. That was when we decided to turn it into a full-blown company, which became the bedrock for Label 428.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Waking up early is how I make my work days productive. Over the years, I found that this has really helped me be more disciplined and also allow me to make the most of my day.

5:00am-9:30am – On a typical day, I wake up around 5:00am and get into the office between 6-7am. My morning commute consists of listening to podcasts, especially the Joe Rogan podcast (my favourite!). The first thing I do is prioritize my daily tasks by the hour on Trello and answer any outstanding emails.

9:30am – onward – Once my team starts arriving, I typically have a quick briefing with the group to gauge their schedules and workloads. A significant portion of my day is then dedicated to sales, as I am involved in outreach and following up with prospective clients. The rest of my day is usually filled with client meetings, strategy sessions and addressing pressing matters.

5:30pm – I like unwinding by day around 5:30 and head to the gym for a workout and steam before heading home.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I am a strong believer of executing ideas when they’re fresh and I’m excited about them. When I first have an idea, I share it with my team and get their thoughts on it as soon as I can. If it’s viable, I go right into execution. The world of social media is fast-paced, and things become outdated quickly, so it’s important to bring your ideas to life as soon as possible.

What’s one trend that excites you?

A trend that excites me is the increased production of amateur video content covering the food and restaurant industry. I love how regular, everyday people are able to produce their own content and share it on channels like Youtube. For example, in the past, you would’ve had to wait for a show on the Food Network or the Travel Channel to learn about cuisines in other countries, but now, with people using smartphones and portable tech, we’ve seen an explosion of really entertaining and tasty content.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

The one habit that makes me productive as an entrepreneur is getting up early and planning the day. Google Calendar and Trello are two tools I use religiously as it helps maintain order in my life. I make it a point to update it frequently to ensure I’m on top of things monthly, weekly, and daily. I typically use the weekend to map out the upcoming week plan my day down by the hour every morning.

What advice would you give your younger self?

The advice that I would give to my younger self is to focus on being a better leader from the get-go. I’m a very passionate individual and at times, it can come off as too intense or harsh when people don’t see things my way. It’s important to constantly self-reflect and be honest about what your strengths and weaknesses are and then incorporate the findings into your management style.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I don’t really believe in a day to day work-life balance, especially if you’re an entrepreneur running your own business. I’m a firm believer that everyone gets what they put in – so you’ll need to sacrifice a lot of “down time” to become successful.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I make sure to put systems in place that forces you and the team to work on broader goals throughout the year that may fall by the wayside yet are still important to the company and/or it’s culture. For example, I want to make sure the team is staying sharp creatively, so I hold a monthly all hands on deck Creative Session that blocks out a day of client work to just work on fun or out of the box ideas for our ourselves. Our clients come first and foremost in our agency, so it’s easy to forget about working on creative for our agency when client work is right there in front of you all the time.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

I would say the best strategy is to not have one set in stone, especially in the early stages. You need to be adaptable to play this game.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

The biggest failure I’ve experienced as an entrepreneur came as a result of taking on a client that I wasn’t in love with. The client’s management style and culture didn’t align with those of our agency. I agreed to take them because of the money. It really took a toll on our team as it demotivated us and it made us produce content that we weren’t proud of. After about a year, they understandably they let us go.

When the contract was terminated, it put things into perspective for me and made me realize the importance of only working with clients or brands that you genuinely like. For young agencies, your clients are your one of your best marketing assets because they can help get your name out there and provide the credibility you need. We overcame this by putting in a system where the team sits together and puts the prospective client under light and evaluates their fit for us and our future before making a proposal.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Here’s an idea – a monthly haircut subscription company for men. You’d pay a company on a monthly basis and it schedules and books haircuts for you from a wide selection of hair salons and it’d ensure a cheaper price and maybe even VIP service.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The best $100 dollars I recently spent was spent on setting up my next business and then enjoying the rest of the day at the driving range when I was done.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

Trello! It’s an amazing program that’s helped me organize my life. Our whole team uses Trello, it makes it easy to see everybody’s workload and to track deadlines.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The one book that I would recommend would be “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. Dale does a great job in providing insight on how to speak with people and interact in the world of business. The biggest takeaway after completing the book was the power of truly listening to someone in a conversation rather than focusing on what to say next.

What is your favorite quote?

“Do or do not, there is no try.” – Yoda