How Julie Mitchell built two businesses — and is tapping into technology to run them better
As the founder and head of both Parcel Design (a brand strategy and communications firm) and Torq Ride (indoor cycling studios), Julie Mitchell isn’t just a serial entrepreneur — she’s a concurrent one. As both businesses expand, she’s looking for ways technology can be used to boost productivity and communication. Here’s how she’s getting it done.
by Shelley White
Julie Mitchell is a woman with a lot going on.
As the owner of two successful Toronto businesses, Julie always has a very full calendar, and that’s just the way she likes it. From running her businesses and managing renovations to doing fitness challenges and planning social events, Julie says she wants every day to have purpose and value.
“I just know that I feel better about myself and my life if I am really purposeful and very productive,” she says. “I’m a very driven person and I like having multiple projects. I drive my husband crazy with that, but I’ve been like that my whole life. The more I have to do, the more productive I am.”
Julie founded her first business, Parcel Design, 15 years ago. As the award-winning brand strategy and communications firm grew, so did Julie’s ambitions. In 2016, she launched another business, borne out of her love of Spinning (indoor cycling). The aim was to create a “next level” studio experience that didn’t exist in Toronto at the time. Now, Torq Ride has two locations located in Toronto’s east end and an ever-expanding client base of spin fans.
“Torq was an opportunity for me to apply everything that I’d learned over a decade of running another business, to have the chance to start again and build it from scratch,” Julie says.
There have been challenges along the way. A recent issue involving renovations and a landlord resulted in the company taking a large financial hit.
“That was a real test of my own personal resilience,” she says. “Anyone can organically build a brand, but for something that requires a lot of initial capital, it can be quite risky.”
Julie says another goal for Torq has been to create a self-managed business where trainers and other staff could flourish in an environment focused on professionalism, career development and leadership — something uncommon in the fitness industry.
It was this desire to improve her businesses’ internal processes and systems that spurred Julie to get involved in Cisco’s Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle (WEC). She first found out about WEC through her Account Manager at BDC, Canada’s bank for entrepreneurs. While discussing opportunities for her business, the banker suggested she might get a lot out of Cisco’s Circle of Innovation program — a program supported by BDC.
“I just know that I feel better about myself and my life if I am really purposeful and very productive.”
The Circle of Innovation pairs up women-led businesses with university students enrolled in technology-based programs. With support from Cisco, the students intern with the businesses for 16 weeks over the summer, helping them tackle tech challenges and projects.
“It seemed like something that was worth exploring, particularly because you’re able to work with someone who has a very specific skill set,” Julie says of the program.
While both Torq and Parcel were quite dependent on technology, Julie says she didn’t feel they were using it to their advantage. She was interested in developing a “living” version of what normally would be called an employee handbook. The idea was to improve the team’s productivity and communications by giving them instant access to an intranet, or “wiki,” that would house all of the company’s policies, processes, templates and brand standards.
“This tool gives everyone access to everything in one place, whether they’re working remotely or not. And nothing ever becomes dated,” she says.
Through Cisco’s Circle of Innovation, Julie and her team were paired with Sahaj Singh, a student of electrical engineering and management at McMaster University. All summer, he’s been helping them make the “wiki” a reality.
“Because he’s an engineer, he understands technology, and he’s been both researching it and working with us to develop it,” Julie says.
The Circle of Innovation program has been a positive experience, she says, and one she would recommend to other business owners.
“It’s very flexible. You have the option of bringing the person into work in your studio or they can work remotely, and there’s been really great support from Cisco as well,” she says. “We’ve really enjoyed having an intern, but also developing the relationship with the team at Cisco.”
Beyond developing their new wiki, Julie says she hopes to expand her empire further with a third Torq studio. She just needs to find the right location.
“I think I have a very clear view of what has made Torq successful and a big part of it is clarity around what the neighbourhood needs,” she says. “I think you have to be very cautious as you’re expanding to make sure that you’re not just guessing.”
And while serving the Torq customer is crucial, creating a positive experience for staff is just as important, she says.
“I just want to be very focused on building the brand and continuing to create lots of unique opportunities for the people on the team.”
The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs Circle — a program led by Cisco in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) — addresses some of the obstacles women-led businesses face in building their tech capabilities. Are you a business owner? Fill in a short survey to register for free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy and fill in your knowledge gaps, or try the BDC digital maturity assessment tool to find out in less than 5 minutes where your business stands compared to your peers, and how you can improve.