Yousuf Afridi has always sought balance — whether it’s balance between his professional and personal lives, between the structured formality of a traditional agency and the vibrant uncertainty of a radical start-up, or, most important of all, balance between his three careers as designer, producer and businessman.
He started in marketing in 2005, as the youngest summer intern ever to be taken on by Saatchi & Saatchi Toronto. Eighteen and eager to show his skills, he took it upon himself to redesign Saatchi’s website from scratch in a single weekend, using the knowledge he’d gained from a small web design business he’d started two years earlier. When he showed his design to colleagues, they liked it so much it eventually became the basis for Saatchi.ca. It stayed up for three years.
In 2008, on his own initiative, he took out a line of credit, bought a video camera, and flew to Pakistan to film a documentary about violence against women. Soon after he landed, Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated and many of his interviews were cancelled due to the ensuing riots, but Afridi made the best of a bad situation and ended up reporting live with his camera for CP24.
After finishing a degree at OCAD later that year, he went to work at Compass360 Brand Architects as a designer and later client liaison. A year later he moved to The Hive, where he worked as a digital producer on major projects for Coors Light International and Nos energy drink. On one Facebook campaign for Nos, he put three car enthusiasts in a room with broken-down golf carts and 600cc motorcycle engines, and filmed their attempts to build and race them.
Throughout his early agency days, Afridi kept his ear to the ground for opportunities to expand his skills and his companies’ relationships. It was his ambition and his international connections that drove Compass360 to do business with top-tier property developers in Dubai, and helped the Hive land Ulker, a major Turkish food producer, as a client.
Despite these successes, he wasn’t satisfied that his work had the right balance of creativity and business management. In a less formal environment, he imagined he’d be able to work more directly with clients and have more of a hand in steering projects. So he got on board with Meru Media, a startup launched by former mentor Sumit Ajwani, where he helped with everything from branding to seeking new clients to designing the UI of Meru’s flagship project, PriceMyRide.ca. He went on to consult with other start-ups like Pilot Interactive, 4ormat.com, and Kolor Inc.
But although the startup world put him where the action was, he ultimately found the uncertainty outweighed the potential rewards. So when he was offered a position at Taxi 2 by general manager and now-mentor Matt Shoom-Kirsch, he went back to the agency world, this time in a position he hoped would blend all of his skills together.
Recruited to lead Taxi 2’s Capital One account, he took to it with the same enthusiasm he’d shown at Saatchi in his days as an intern. Through multiple big-budget social campaigns, a new social content strategy and a Facebook contest that pitted Just For Laughs standup comedians against one another, Afridi took the brand from 30,000 Facebook fans to 200,000 while maintaining the highest level of social engagement of any financial institution in Canada. His account team’s efforts led to Taxi 2 receiving its first 100% grade on Capital One’s quarterly agency review, and Afridi was credited personally by both client and agency.
Today, he’s the second-in-command on the Koodo Mobile account. Shoom-Kirsch often asks Afridi to work on pitches for new business, where his breadth of experience and entrepreneurial spirit prove invaluable. What sets him apart, says Shoom-Kirsch, is “his tireless commitment to being at the forefront of digital thinking… He fosters tremendous, respectful and trusting relationships with clients. He works hard to understand clients’ businesses, and what keeps them up at night, and tries to figure out how we can deliver solutions to help them address those problems.”