“To enhance the lives of our clients, our employees, and their families.”

Lofty? Maybe. But Kai Hulshof’s mission is as simple as that.

Kai is the co-founder of Canopy Media, a full-service digital marketing agency with a driving purpose to transform businesses and lives for the better, one client at a time.

“I get chills just thinking about it… that's the point of marketing, right?” said Kai.

“We help other companies become better businesses”

Kai co-founded Canopy Media in 2007 a bit on a whim, and with no idea of the impact it would end up having. He always wanted to change the world, he just thought he would do so through journalism at the time.

A Georgian Bay native, Kai left his hometown of Owen Sound to obtain an Honours Bachelor of Arts in Cultural Studies and a teaching degree, and then graduated with a diploma in journalism from Loyalist College — but not before Kai and his girlfriend at the time (now wife) travelled through Europe in a van.

After finishing their first degree, the two flew to Europe to visit family in Holland, where Kai’s uncle gifted them with a van. The young couple spent the next 10 months driving south through Germany, Switzerland and Italy and then boarded a ferry to Greece, where they lived for quite some time. Once it got cold, they scurried back along the Mediterranean coast through France and Spain and landed in Morocco.

“We were basically living for free on beaches and whatnot,” said Kai. “We could get books for 10 cents at all these markets, and we would read and hike and eat and swim. It was great.”

Eventually, they ran out of money.

When the duo returned to Canada, they took a job in Bellville working for a for-profit foster parenting agency and moved into a small farm on the outskirts of town. The job was more like a professional community of sorts, one Kai calls “professional parenting,” where university-educated adults would “productively parent” foster children and provide them with the skills and support system necessary to integrate into society.

“It was a lot of fun, but a lot of work,” said Kai.

Kai was also supply teaching at the time, but he didn’t like the instability and uncertainty of changing classrooms every day, so he went to journalism school.

He landed a job at a small community newspaper that was eventually bought by Quebecor. He absolutely loved it, but after three years as the news editor, he realized it wasn’t going to be a long-term thing.

“I knew over the course of time, it was going to be difficult for me to provide for my family in the way that I wanted to,” he said.

While working at the newspaper, Kai connected with another father from the foster parenting agency who he had become friends with. Eric Fequet had a technological background, and Kai brought the writing expertise, so they teamed up and started hosting and developing websites for other small businesses.

They called themselves Canopy Media and worked on it as a side hustle for six months. Kai still remembers the first website they built, which they did so for about $600 almost 20 years ago.

The business quickly gained traction, so they quit their jobs and dove in, full time. They also realized that what they were offering was much more than website design and development — they were building business growth.

“We help other companies become better businesses,” Kai said. “Through marketing, but also through business development.”

Their services now include everything from lead generation, paid search advertising, traffic generation, and SEO to website design, content creation, social media management, and so much more.

“We realized, if businesses were having all these problems along the way, then we should probably figure out a way to solve all of them,” said Kai.

So Canopy Media evolved into a “one-stop-shop” for all things digital marketing.

“We’re basically betting on ourselves, because we believe wholeheartedly that we will help them succeed”

“We’ve had enough experience with enough companies over the years to have a pretty good sense of what needs to happen, not just from a marketing front, but also to add value, like how to scale, how to prepare for scaling, how to know how to grow your business, how to assess which products and services are going to generate the best margins for you…” said Kai.

And the best part, Kai said, is that he gets to learn the ins and outs of all of these different businesses, which keeps every day interesting.

“We've got these projects that are endlessly fascinating,” Kai said.

They now have a team of 10 employees, and work with about 25 subcontractors at any given time. Kai and Eric are business partners to this day, working as the managing director and technical director, respectively.

They are currently focusing on incorporating a partnership-based or “success fee” model in Canopy Media, where they offer an opportunity to provide their services in return for equity in their client’s company that is based solely on success. So, if a company is unsure whether they are willing or able to make the capital investment in Canopy Media’s services, they are able to reduce their risk by offering equity instead — increasing the stakes for Canopy Media.

“We’re basically betting on ourselves, because we believe wholeheartedly that we will help them succeed,” said Kai. “We wouldn't pitch them if we didn't think we were gonna win.”

After a decade in Eastern Ontario, Kai and his family moved back to the Collingwood area in 2009, and they couldn’t be happier.

“I missed Georgian Bay,” he laughed. “And I missed winter.”

Kai started coming to the Foundry a few years ago as a place to meet with clients outside of his home, and he quickly fell in love.

“This space really works for me. I like the way it feels,” said Kai. “We're always conspiring together and talking about our businesses and sharing knowledge about our own experiences, which has been really valuable.”

Kai also adds that his revenue has grown every year since joining the Foundry.

At the end of the day, though, Kai doesn’t necessarily care about making money or even making his clients money for that matter — he said it’s what you do with the money that matters.

“Everybody has to solve problems, and you have to make money,” said Kai. “But once you make the money… What are you going to do with it that has meaning?”

So for Kai, marketing is much more than promoting and selling products and services.

“I think it's sort of, you know, it's the other side of journalism, right? I'm telling marketing stories now, which can also be quite meaningful and interesting,” he said. “And you can have a deep impact that way, too, is what I've learned along the way.”