As a former ad copywriter and social media strategist, I have been inspired by certain people in my life. When I was starting out in advertising, two agencies always impressed me: TAXI and Sid Lee, both born in Montreal. The first, TAXI, was founded by Paul Lavoie, whom I remember hearing speak at an Infopresse conference. He has now sold the agency to devote himself to another project, Beau Lake – a company with a deep connection to water and nature. I’ll let you discover a little more about it in this interview with the great Paul Lavoie.
First of all, how are you doing? You seem to be a very busy man these days. What occupies your time?
Apart from spending time with family and travelling, I have co-founded an exciting new startup that’s not in the familiar technology space – it’s totally old school, analogue. It’s called Beau Lake. It’s not really a lake, however; it’s a lifestyle brand and a state of mind.
And then there’s VoilaFoundation.org. our family foundation that is currently focused on an important land conservation project in Canada.
Let’s talk about Beau Lake. Can you tell me what you had in mind when you created this company?
I’ve always been inspired by nature. And I find my sense of well-being by the lake in the Laurentians, which is still and always my favourite place in the world. It’s a place that allows me peace of mind, that is calm and an endless source of ideas –including those for Beau Lake.
At Beau Lake, we create products that enhance your experience at the lake or the beach. Our products are completely in sync with nature. The paddleboards do not use gas. Our nautical line is human powered. It is beautifully handmade and built to last. The market is saturated with disposable and inferior products. We want to make timeless items that become classic family traditions that people can hand down to the next generation. A portion of our profits will be set aside to help various water charities. Having the luxury of playing in the water should also remind us of the many challenges that water shortage and pollution represent. You could call us a product design company, but I prefer to be labelled as a water company.
Tell us a little bit more about the design itself. The logo has the look of a vintage car. What was the inspiration?
I have to credit my partner and Design Director, Lee Kline.
His inspiration comes from his great-grandfather, who was a metallurgist and fine cabinetmaker. Wooden peg games, a handmade orchestral flute in rosewood with pure silver levers and hardware, figured oak pot-bellied dressers, and old trinket boxes were all around him growing up. Lee’s love of wood comes specifically from his great-grandfather’s work.
Kline’s career path sounds custom-made for Beau Lake, too. “He started making wooden go-karts, guitars, and furniture in his teens and early 20s. Then he worked with metal – first silversmithing jewellery, then aluminum sand casting for the hardware for his furniture designs, and eventually stainless steel fabrication and chrome plating. As Lee’s designs became more modern, he needed freer forms, so he learned about fibreglass and composites. He then started to design for international hospitality clients and undertook specialty fabrication for hotel foyers of Vegas casinos, hotels and restaurants in Manhattan, and retailers as far away as Hong Kong.”
Having great design isn’t everything. Can you tell me what products Beau Lake currently offers?
We started with paddleboards and a beautiful Adirondack-styledock chair, and we are about to launch a gorgeous pedal boat that will redefine that space. The plan is to add towels, blankets and other accessories that accompany your experience on or by the lake or beach.
Do you have a favourite among them, and why?
My favourite is the pedal boat. I think it’s a game changer. Everything that has ever been designed in this space is – well, let’s be honest. It’s really ugly. You know those blue and yellow fibreglass paddle boats? They are a blemish on the landscape. We have changed all that with the Beau Lake pedal boat.
Its design harks back to the old runabout classics you would find in Tremblant, Muskoka, Lake Tahoe, or the Amalfi Coast.
Any new products coming soon?
We have some more surprises coming in June. We have a partnership with Todd Saunders, the famous architect who designed the Fogo Island Inn. Very exciting!
Looking at these products, nature seems to be very important to you. How did working in cities like New York and Toronto help you create a brand that focuses on nature?
I have homes in the downtown areas of both those cities. But no matter how large those cities are, nature is never far away. Think of New York’s Central Park or the ravines that extend throughout Toronto.
All cities, however dense, have their own Mount Royal and all have an escape route to nature. Urbanites always seek to chill and renew themselves in nature: the Hamptons, Fire Island, Muskoka, Tremblant, Lake Tahoe, Malibu, and so on. And those escapes are Beau Lake’s playground.
You were a successful entrepreneur with TAXI, now a part of WPP.
What’s it like to create something new after having all that success? The energy and excitement of a startup is the sweetest nectar for an entrepreneur.
The ups and downs are frequent, and nothing is dull or predictable. It’s a fantastic experience if you can stay calm and focused. These Beau Lake times remind me of the early days of TAXI.
You are still a board member of the VCU Brandcenter. Do you miss the advertising business?
Like you say, I’m on the board of the VCU Brandcenter. We just had a three-day board meeting last week. The board members represent the cream of Madison Avenue advertising. The students are some of the top graduates in America. For all kindsof reasons, the business of advertising is more difficult and challenging than ever. I take comfort in the fact that it is essentially a creative, problem-solving industry. I’m not worried. They’ll figure it out.
As for the question of whether I miss the advertising and design business – well, I haven’t completely left. Instead of helping to build brands like Telus, BMW Mini, Nike, et cetera, I’m building my own brand, Beau Lake. Now, I’m both the creative director and the client. You could say that my working hours are more cost effective.
Now that you’re a client, is it more difficult to deal with having products to sell than to sell the client’s products through ads?
The job is the same. All great brands need a story. Stories connect people. Today that narrative is told in many ways, through user experience, advertising and social media. If anything, the buffet of available options helps to accelerate business objectives.
Has the web changed how you develop a product’s business?
Yes. It has played an important role, especially with startups, because it is now much more affordable to launch a company.
Do you have any advice for the young entrepreneurs who will read this interview?
Your product or service needs to fill a void. Make stuff that makes the world a better place. Embrace failure. Eliminate ego and surround yourself with better, smarter people. Always ask yourself if you are thinking big enough.
To finish the interview, here’s our new feature: the RDPMAG quick questionnaire. Favorite city in the world?
I have had the privilege of living in Amsterdam, New York, Paris, Toronto, Quebec, Montreal and Morin Heights. On certain days, any one of these places can be the absolute most beautiful place on earth.
If I had to have one last meal in life, I would choose L'Express in Montreal. For its food, its wine list, and all the great memories.
Bemelmans, in the Carlyle Hotel in New York. It's a classic. Also, Smith & Mills in Tribeca – that’s probably the smallest bar in New York. In Toronto it's Ronnie's in Kensington Market, and in Montreal it's the Ritz-Carlton bar and Big in Japan on St Laurent.
Tough question. Either my Tesla X or my 1960 2CV.
Emirates First Class, NY – Dubai.
Your favourite place to travel?
Without question, the Laurentian Mountains
Favourite place to shop?
My tailor, Duca Sartoria, in New York.