Written by David Silverberg
“I get excited by having the opportunity to reinvent the way the world gets design.” Dawson Whitfield isn't being hyperbolic; his Toronto startup Looka has sold more than 300,000 logo packages since the firm began operating in 2016 under its former name Logojoy.
Whitfield, the 26-year-old CEO and co-founder of Looka, says the branding pivot had to happen because the company wanted to sell to clients more than just logos, its main specialty. Many companies also needed social media assets, business cards and brand guidelines.
“We want to be that platform you come to if you need business cards or flyers or restaurant menus,” he says. To make the design process accessible to business, Looka doesn't charge more than $90, a one-time purchase.
Coupled with the company rebrand is the launch of a website builder product through a partnership with Weebly. This drag-and-drop tool, along with other design features available to clients, “makes it feel like a designer is right next to you, working with you,” Whitfield says.
At the core of Looka is its AI-fuelled backbone, which enables algorithms to create custom symbols, fonts and graphics for clients who input several details of their design preferences. “We constantly teach our AI system how to improve itself, so if it begins to understand what makes a great, say, business card for a bakery, it'll get better at designing those cards over time.”
But wait, aren't business cards somewhat outdated in this age of sharing contacts via smartphones? ” I agree that business cards hold less practical value than ever,” Whitfield replies, “but there's still something to be said for the statement that a business card makes. It's often the only tangible, physical thing you have with your business name on it.”
Whitfield got the idea for Looka when he was working in the design field and enduring more than one bout of frustration because “I felt like a glorified font picker, charging one client $4000 for a logo that took three weeks to do, and I got thinking that there had to be a less expensive way for companies to design their logos. And so the company was born.”
As for the appeal of basing Looka in Toronto, Whitfield says the city carries the aura of the underdog, something he admires. “There's this vibe that Toronto startups are the next big thing, and it's motivating to our team, especially since investors look beyond Silicon Valley towards Toronto to find that hidden gem.”
Looka already benefited from that investor attention: In 2018, it raised a Series A $6 million round led by Real Ventures.
Sam Haffar, a partner at Real Ventures, said at the time: “We feel [Looka] will be uniquely positioned to become the go-to graphic design service that helps entrepreneurs get all the branding assets that they need to succeed on day one.”
Turning to leadership strategy, Whitfield says he's more of a hands-off CEO: “I like to lead by giving my team the tools, knowledge, support, and space they need to succeed, and let them get to it. I like to think a strength of mine is effectively setting and communicating the vision of the company and continuously instilling our ‘why' to the team.”
An area he's aiming to improve upon, which many entrepreneurs can relate to, is public speaking with purpose. “One thing I'd like to work on this year is my ability to tell stories to large groups of people. There's a lot of power in telling a story beyond the facts, a story that has meaningful emotional hooks that connect with people on an emotional level.”
Photo credit Zlatko Cetinic, Images Made Real