At the age of 10, Christian Lunny knew he wasn’t cut out to work for someone else. “I’ve always been very stubborn,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to be in a position where I was in the lead.” And while there are plenty of headstrong 10-year-olds in the world, few launch companies while still in elementary school. With YouTube blocked on his school computers, Lunny built a site that would allow his fellow students to access the popular video-sharing platform. It was the first of many ventures, the latest of which, Winnipeg-based advertising agency Dash, he’s been leading since the age of 16.
Now 20, Lunny operates Dash from its newly leased Toronto offices. Between Winnipeg and Toronto, the company has 20 people on its payroll; it’s planning to have 30 by Christmas. Lunny and his co-founder, David Bell (who’s just one year older), launched Dash in 2011 when they realized that few agencies in Winnipeg were focused on digital advertising and social media campaigns. Since then, the firm has done work for such high-profile clients as the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and the Paul Gross–directed film Hyena Road.
Winnipeg isn’t exactly the centre of the advertising universe, so why start an agency there? “We built our business in our backyard because, at the time, we didn’t have the resources to go anywhere else,” Lunny says. But he’s quick to note that the industrial makeup of the city has been key to the company’s early success. “Larger brands place value on brand awareness, ad campaigns, that kind of thing. In the Winnipeg market, a lot of the companies are smaller and are extremely focused on ROI.” In the early days, Lunny would sit down each week with the general manager at a local car dealership to explain the value his agency was adding. “We’d check the numbers and make sure he was still positively growing his sales,” recalls Lunny. “The whole experience taught us the concept of providing immense value to our clients.”
Ambitious to the core, Lunny muses about “pursuing the building of an empire” with complete seriousness. (He’s also the co-founder of an app, Musi, that allows users to listen to music on YouTube sans video.) Such an attitude might seem arrogant coming from a garden-variety CEO, but it seems fitting when it’s an entrepreneur who has been drafting business plans since before he could legally drive a car. “Our goal has always been to work with the biggest brands in the world,” he says. “I think we’re well on our way to achieving that.”