Like, why budgets set you free
Born on Salt Spring Island and raised in Chemainus, Tobyn Sowden comes from an entrepreneurial family: his great-grandfather, grandfather and father all set up their own businesses in B.C.
Now based in Victoria, Sowden seems to have an affinity for red. His first venture, a marketing services company launched while he was completing a degree in computer science at UVic, was RedWillow Media. In 2011 he launched Redbrick, which also started as a marketing services firm but now finds and acquires operating businesses. “There are a lot of companies out there that are in the startup phase but don’t know how to get in front of the right people to then grow their audience or user base,” Sowden says. “That is our sweet spot.”
Other sweet spots include his favourite place in B.C. and where he likes to go for dinner and cocktails.
What is your favourite spot in B.C.?
I have a lot of wonderful memories of summer trips on my dad’s boat exploring the Gulf Islands. Wallace Island is really beautiful—almost the entire island is a provincial park, so it feels very secluded. One particularly special spot on the island is Princess Cove—it’s where I proposed to my wife, Katrina.
Where did you go on your last vacation?
I guess my last vacation was the time I took for paternity leave, when my wife and I welcomed our third son, Zachary. We’ve made a real effort at Redbrick to support paternity leave, so luckily I was able to completely turn off and focus on my family for a couple of weeks. And then I spent the next few weeks gradually adjusting back into work, while still being on hand to support my wife as much as she needed, and to spend some great quality time with my other two boys.
Nightingale is a great spot for dinner—it’s a beautiful space. The concept of the menu encourages smaller shared plates, so it’s great for social occasions. When we are in Vancouver (without the kids), my wife and I also like to head to the bar at the Pacific Rim to enjoy the music and cocktails.
What is your most memorable podcast, film or book?
The tried-and-true advice in How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie really impacted me from a business perspective, but my fictional indulgence is the Reacher series by Lee Child.
What is your morning routine?
I start the day with a bulletproof coffee and try to support the morning at home as much as possible. When I get to the office, I usually have a couple of hours with no meetings scheduled so I can power through emails and to-dos before connecting with my team.
I am really a nerd at heart. I love to build stuff, whether it’s a software program or a company that I am focused on growing. It all comes down to the same problem-solving process.
What is your favourite quote?
I try to live by the words of Coca-Cola’s ex-CEO Bryan Dyson on maintaining balance in life. It’s a bit long, so the gist of it is, “Imagine you are juggling five balls in the air: work, family, health, friends and spirit. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably damaged."
Best advice ever received?
Budgets set you free. It might sound boring, but it reduces anxiety to set up guiding principles.
Your worst job ever?
I have fond memories of working at a glass shop growing up. However, there was a summer that I had to split old windows, which means cutting 20-year-old double-pane glass apart with a knife and releasing what they call the trapped “dead air.” After about 50 pieces, you have to sit down because of the nauseousness that overcomes you.
If you could be an animal, what would you be and why?
I think being a bee would be fascinating. Their honeycombs are incredible structures and some of the most efficient in nature—they’ve stumped humans for years! Like an entrepreneur, they look for pollen in beautiful flowers and bring it back to the hive until exhausted, then they go looking for more pollen.