The local product design economy

Update: I changed the verb acquiring to joining. A lot of the chatter has been about how this is not an acquisition. And I agree. It is not. As the post states at the top, TeehanLax is shutting down. It is reminiscent of the Smart Design closing (see Dan Safer’s post) and some of the reasoning behind the Adaptive Path acquisition by Capital One. It sucks. But I’m not planning on leaving Toronto, and I’m celebrating my friends like a wake and trying to understand the implications. 

TeehanLax is shutting down. This is getting a lot of coverage:

Why so much coverage? Well it is because TeehanLax was one of the best design firms around, if not the best in Canada. They designed 2 of my favourite apps: Prismatic and Medium. You could see the tension between the services side of their business and the desire/pull of being a product company.

BarCamp Toronto

I first met Jon and Geoff back in 2004. It was after the release of their PVR report comparing the user experiences of the Bell and Rogers PVRs to TiVO. They had an interesting approach, doing interesting work, just trying to build a different kind of company. That was evident when Jon agreed to host BarCamp Toronto in November 2005. It was a different approach than Sapient, ModemMedia, Scient, Viant, Razorfish or other agencies in Toronto were taking. It wasn’t a client development strategy, it wasn’t a recruiting strategy, it was an offer to participate in the conversation.

Photo by John Lam

Photo by John Lam

The shutting down of a company that I described last week as a “building big, impactful [indie] company” is interesting. Jon, Geoff, David (Jeremy, Peter, Tamera and the entire team over the years) you built a company that I respected. And I am very happy that you’ve made the best decision for you and your families. It’s your company, you get to make the decisions, so don’t listen to the naysayers.

Photo by Tom Purves

Photo by Tom Purves

Here are a couple of observations about one of my favourite design firms shutting down in Toronto.

  1. Short term: design talent availability
    There is a bunch of design and development talent that is available for other Toronto companies to hire. These people have been trained in one of the best design cultures in Canada.  They produced an environment that produced some of the best products in the world.  If anyone from the TeehanLax team needs connections to interesting companies please drop me a note and I will do my best to connect you.
  2. Short term: More people evaluating Toronto companies for acquisition
    This is the third Toronto design and development company acquired in the past 24 months. JetCooper acquired by Shopify. Xtreme Labs acquired by Pivotal. Now TeehanLax shutting down and joining Facebook. This is important. Toronto is a great place to acquire talent. Hopefully there is an equal respect for the design and development work being done here. (This excludes the amazing talent like Mike Beltzner, Mike Shaver, Scott Boms, Sam Ladner and others).
  3. Longer term: The loss of a gravity centre for design talent
    There are other places that are gravity centres. Pivotal Labs is a great place for engineers and designers to learn the power and efficiency of paired environment. Farhan and team are doing wonders to explore and implement a very powerful cultural tool. TeehanLax built a culture that produced great digital products and experiences.

    “We were happiest when the products we were creating reached our standards. We were happiest when we spent time thinking about how to create the conditions and circumstances for this to happen. We were happiest when we were working with our team members.”

    It will be interesting to see if the T+L diaspora can have an impact on the ecosystem like the Trilogy diaspora in Austin or IDEO diaspora in Palo Alto.

  4. Services firms are not destined to be huge companies
    The back of the napkin math I use to calculate a services business is approximately $200k in revenue per employee. Sold at under 5x EBITDA (given a 20-30% margin and averaged revenue of past 2 years plus forecast using error correction of previous forecast, lets say 1x revenue). There is great business, it’s just a hard business to scale nonlinearly. And when “someone slides a number across the table big enough that you just can’t say no”  a product company that is scaling like crazy is likely to be able to slide a bigger number than a services company. It feels like we’re seeing that ceiling being hit by XtremeLabs (sold to Pivotal), TeehanLax (joining Facebook), JetCooper (sold to Shopify), maybe BNotions (AK has departed for Gallop Labs).
  5. Opportunity in the product/design/user experience space
    TeehanLax was a design firm. It was a design firm that respected technology. There are other firms in Toronto that are a mix of product, design and technology including Normative, SayYeah, BoltMade, Nascent, TailoredUX among others (including those with a more technology focus VennPivotal LabsOK Grow!Isle of CodeThe Working GroupBNOTIONSEndLoop StudiosUnspaceRangle.ioPeople & CodeDigiflareFunctional ImperativeMetaware Labs).  TeehanLax showed that it was possible to build a world-class design shop in Toronto. I’m hoping someone realizes this is the combination of the caliber of the output, the process to build the culture and the requirement of building the business/revenue streams.

Interesting times in Toronto. Congratulations to Jon, Geoff and David. Thank you for being amazing. And the best of luck on your journey.

Teehan+Lax – Office Coordinator

Toronto, ON

We’re Hiring: Office Coordinator Wanted

The Office Coordinator is an important role here at Teehan+Lax that includes managing and coordinating day-to-day tasks such as manning the phones, coordinating meetings, ordering office supplies, plus additional administrative tasks.

Skills and Abilities

  • Ability to build rapport and work effectively with all studio members and clients
  • Able to juggle many tasks within a short timeframe while remaining calm, with effective prioritization
  • Positive, mature and professional, can-do attitude
  • Detail oriented, self-sufficient and organized
  • Must work independently with minimal supervision
  • Solid written and verbal communication skills
  • Proactive thinker who seeks to create efficiencies within the work environment
  • Intermediate knowledge of MS Office Suite


  • Post secondary education
  • 1-2 years experience in an office environment
  • Reception and customer service experience an asset

Outline of tasks

  1. Phone Operator
    Someone has to answer the phones, right? As a representation of T+L, a pleasant phone manner is imperative. This includes talking to clients, taking detailed messages, knowing everyone’s extension and whereabouts, and being ‘aware’ of projects going on in-house.
  2. Make Sure The Fridge Is Stocked
    Nobody likes their cola warm and sometimes we need some grub for a lunch meeting. Of course, the studio also needs to be straightened up when clients visit and when they arrive, you’ll need to take coat and offer beverages.
  3. Ordering Supplies
    Sure, we work primarily in a digital world, but that’s not to say we don’t use a lot of paper and pens (from Pen Island of course). When our supplies run out, we’ll need them replenished.
  4. Maintenance
    Left it our own devices, this place would fall apart pretty fast. You’ll need to coordinate with landlord for any building related issues (yes, our AC went out last summer and no, I don’t want to talk about it). We also need to keep the place clean, so you’ll need to ensure the cleaners are doing a good job, or inform them of any extra requirements.
  5. Awards / PR
    We enjoy winning awards (who doesn’t?), but you have to actually enter to win (shocking, I know). You’ll need to maintain list of award shows and make sure we meet their submission dates.
  6. Job Postings
    It’s no secret that you can’t do great work without great employees, but it’s not easy finding and interviewing these people. As a result, you’ll need to coordinate and post job listings, collect resumes and setup interview times.
  7. Studio Organization
    The organization and aesthetics of our office are very important to us, even if we sometimes have difficulty staying on top of things. Most of us are concerned about the work and less about the space around us, which would be a lame excuse if it wasn’t true.
  8. Administrative
    You’ll also be in the thick of things, helping our Project Mangers with various administrative tasks. This includes writing SOW’s and Change Orders, assisting with Q&A and ad, signage, and website reviews.
  9. Travel
    Booking hotels and coordinating flights is an art unto itself and when the tickets are booked, it’s important that the studio members have the confirmation and travel agenda. Oh, and you’ll be the first person we call when get lost on the road, just in case you were wondering.
  10. Billings / Invoices
    This may be listed as #10, but it’s really job 1. Here’s a little sample of what you can expect: Manage all cheques, invoices, bank statements etc. (ie. Freshbooks) Coordinate cheque/invoice pick-up and drop-off with bookkeeper Input monthly billings/invoices into Freshbooks from master billing sheet. Send invoices to clients and enter payment once cheques are received. Create expense reports for studio members as required Manage company AMEX accounts – (receipts, statements, etc).

How to Apply

You’re excited, I know. So are we. If you’re interested, please send a resume and cover letter detailing your experience to

Teehan+Lax – Senior Front-End Web Developer

Toronto, ON

Teehan+Lax Inc. is currently seeking a motivated, hands-on web developer to help our front-end development group on a 3 month contract, with possible extension. Developers are involved throughout our process and are encouraged to work through ideas and solutions with the entire design team.

Required experience

  • 5+ years development experience
  • Expert hands-on knowledge of XHTML,CSS, Javascript, AJAX, XML
  • Experience translating comps and wireframes into flexible and usable code templates
  • Knowledge of developing cross platform/browser compatibility for dynamic web applications
  • Adherence to web standards and object oriented programming
  • Experience with source/version control software is a plus
  • Self-motivated, and able to multi-task
  • Build a technology practice to support the work being done in both the programs and platforms sides of the business.
  • Work with T+L processes and methodologies that deliver quality work
  • Work with clients and third party technology groups to deliver great work
  • Work with Dev team internally to create and deliver great work


  • Experience with Flash
  • Experience with Javascript frameworks
  • Experience with server technologies bonus (PHP, MySQL)

What’s different about working at Teehan+Lax

We focus exclusively on front end user experience design for the digital channel. There are no technical build teams, no offline divisions. Everyone you’ll be working with desires to create best in breed online user experiences. In fact, 90% of the staff here hold creative positions. That means no Account Managers, no Managing Directors, no Business Analysts. We maintain very little hierarchy. There are two roles at Teehan+Lax: Partners and Associates. The people with the right skills are put on the right projects. We’re small and nimble. There are no pitch teams, no “B” teams. All of our staff work directly with our clients, so if a client has a question that relates to IA they’ll speak to the Associate or Partner who worked on it – not an
account manager.

How to apply

If you’re talented, smart, hard-working and dedicated, we’ll enable you to do the best work of your career.

Send us a resume and portfolio of your work to “jobs [at] teehanlax [dot] com”. Suitable candidates will be contacted promptly.