Goodbye Goat.

Terence Sawtell
11 min readApr 4, 2024

I received some great advice from an old friend yesterday, and it was to write from the heart. Writing from the heart is a vulnerable place to start, but… I’ve never been one to mince my words, so why not, right?

Let’s start with the brass tax for all the people out there like me who struggle to get through an entire article without distraction. I’m shutting Goat down as of April 30th, 2024.

The past 6 months have been the most challenging of my career. Since COVID, we struggled to consistently get new work. On top of that, the move to remote was a slow burn to the bottom. This started with me and my style of management. I thrived with a group of creative people around me, and the energy that it brought gave me purpose and reason. Sharing the wins with your teammates. Sharing the losses with your teammates. It was never the same over camera.

When I lost that purpose and reason, I struggled to be my best self, not able to build a business the way I was used to.

I was forced to layoff my entire staff in mid October, just before our 10th year in business. I’ve dealt with many challenges over those 10 years, but nothing like this. The work dried up. The Canadian economy was/is in the tank. Costs going up. Salary expectations going up. Tech sector mass layoffs. Projects drying up or taking forever to close. I can go on forever… but the reality is, being a small, boutique shop is extremely hard in Canada… especially Vancouver.

Early Years

Goat started as an accident. After being shuffled around to 4 teams in a calendar year, I was bored at my corporate gig with TELUS. I was finding ways to occupy my time, and I rekindled my love for design and development by building a friend of mines (Andrew Kennedy) website, on the side. He paid me a tidy $5,000.00 to do it, and I was invigorated. It rekindled a hobby of mine in my teen years (I built my first website in 2003, and was selling websites to people in Yahoo Chat, cheers Dan Geary!), and my love for entrepreneurship at the same time. One website lead to another, then a fortunate encounter with Jillian Harris (thanks Bria Lear!) at a party turned into a deal to build her a new website. It was time to go full-time, and I made the plunge, quitting my cushy job at TELUS and renting a desk at Suite Genius in 2015.

It was a learn-on-the-fly kind of situation, and boy oh boy, was it eye opening. I had never run a business before (outside of the friendship bracelet stand in my front yard when I was 12), and the learning curve was steep. One of my favourite memories was standing in front of our first “office” door, with our sticker on the window, and my mom beaming ear to ear. For such a small thing, and in my first foray into entrepreneurship, this was a big, big deal.

Me (left) looking very tired and my awesome mom (right)

My first big hire was convincing Jeremy Newcombe to join the team as Creative Director. I had no bloody idea what this meant.. but the title was cool, and Jeremy was an absolute stud at his job. He was a wide-eyed graphic designer with a flare for beautiful, and his keen eye for detail was a major reason we were able to start our own little rocket ship of growth from 300k > 700k in our 3rd year.

Our first Creative Director, Jeremy Newcombe (right) and myself (left), at our first real office space located within Werklab.

Riding The Wave

In 2018, we moved from Worklab to a little live/work space in Mount Pleasant thanks to some connections in my network. The space was incredible, and our first “true” office. While the office was cool in theory, being in a residential neighbourhood, with residential style rents, it was a challenge. The office didn’t have office feeling, and it wasn’t our forever home. The rent was insane for the space we had, and one of the landlords lived next door. Bless Mark Busse/Ben Garfinkel, they were great landlords, but our next move was the move that would set things off for us.

Moving into the new office!
Our first independent office located conveniently close to Red Truck Beer.

This was our first move to expansion, and my wide eyes had me blissfully blind. These were our glory days. I happened to stumble across resumes for Joshua Mann and Katy Witts, two fresh to Canada Brits that I saw something special in. Josh was a graphic designer from London who was struggling to get a gig in Vancouver, and Katy was a Social Media manager coming from UK based apparel company Craghoppers, both extremely hard working and loyal (mostly cause they needed PR… kidding of course!). This was the rocketship I needed. Josh and Katy were under utilized in their previous roles, and with their talent, we had our best year ever. The work we were producing was top notch, and I was pitching/proposing 2–3 projects a month. Things were still hard… I was sleeping there on weekends while I Airbnb’d my apartment in the West End to help pay the bills, but looking back, this was peak fun at Goat.

We quickly outgrew this space, and I stumbled across an opportunity at a space in the GX Building. It was our first true blank canvas. One where we could build the space how we want, and we went all in. It was the biggest expense I had ever incurred, and while I knew it was risky, it was the move we needed to make to solidify ourselves as as serious agency that built world-class products. It was the first place that had our own meeting room, with office feeling. We played Mario Kart, listened to music, filmed hilarious content, had a coffee maker… the whole shebang!

At this time, I was thinking…

We made it.

Katy and Josh helping get the office setup.
Our GX building office at it’s best, with Josh, Katy, Heather and Bryce working away.

At this point, things were rocking. Business was hard but predictable, and the vibe was incredible. Our team was top notch and the work we were producing was far better than teams our size typically produced. We landed Heather Browne (who would end up being the longest tenured Goat employee ever!) fresh from Ireland, who transformed our design team, allowing us to not only support clients from a digital perspective, but from a print and brand perspective. That was the dream, right? We had landed some big name clients (SFU, JBS Equipment) while expanding our scope with existing clients like Angela Watson and Integrative. I was being asked to do speaking engagements, and clients wanted to work with us. Looking back, I miss these times the most. We were the most creative, adventurous and our clients really appreciated this about us.

March 2020.

I think we all have vivid memories of this month. It was the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic that swept the world up in quick order.

This was the beginning of the struggle that was the next 4 years. We were forced to go full remote, and while we had great spirits for the next 3–4 weeks, things started to change. People were sad and rightfully so. We had lost our creative flow. Our business wasn’t built on being remote, and we suffered because of it. We didn’t lose many clients, but projects were wrapping up and companies/public service sure as hell were not spending like they did before. There were agencies that benefited huge from this, with clients being forced to digitization… but at the time, the idea of brute forcing small stores and B2C customers into e-commerce builds that would be pointless in 3 months (what we thought, anyway!) didn’t seem ethical, or logical.

A couple months prior to the pandemic, we made the decision to start bidding on as much public sector work as possible, winning our first RFP with the Parkland and Cumberland Colleges (now Suncrest, see our work here! https://suncrestcollege.ca/), and this seemed like the right strategic direction to expose us to bigger, more complex projects. We doubled down on our bidding efforts, bidding on every available RFP out there.

I was definitely ignorant when it came to the challenge that is public sector work. With COVID in full swing, networking died over night and private sector work was far more challenging for me to close. Oh, on top of that, COVID. Budgets everywhere were slashed and the competition was hectic.

Looking back, the push to go all-in on public sector work was the biggest mistake I made. It requires an obscene amount of patience, and you need to know a LOT of people. I can go on for hours about how broken our Public Sector procurement process is for Digital Products, so I won’t bore you… but to sum it up. It’s badly, badly broken. I should have listened to the advice I recieved and stayed far away.

The teams chemistry was built on in-person experience, and without being in-person, we lost a lot of the magic that made our work stand out. Our key people started to move to new positions, and we took advantage of the opportunity to hire people across Canada as opposed to the geographical lock that presented ourselves when we had an office.

The Annual Goat Retreat kicked back off with help from former Creative Director, Josh Mann.

At the time, this was our turning point. We had staffed up with a more experienced, thorough staff, and we were ready to take on the world. Remote first was hard, but we adapted. Our team at this time was the most experienced, capable team I ever had at Goat, and the excitement was high. A mix of OG Goat (Heather/Tim) with some awesome new blood (Darren, Andre, Aidan, Sam).

But what I thought would be the beginning of a new era, was quick to slap me in the face with reality. Clients were far more nervous about spending budget on digital products coming out of the pandemic and the tech layoffs started happening. It started slow, but the wave hit the shores full speed after 3 years of overhiring and overtraining designers and developers. There were 100+ agencies bidding on every project, and without a ton of Public Service work under our belt, it didn’t matter how good the projects we had done were, or how great our pitch was, we didn’t even get a look most of the time. There was a point where had bid on 50 projects and never got shortlisted once, losing to agencies who I considered did far inferior work to us.

Closure and Reflection.

From 2021–2023, it was pure survival. Government grants ended, and it was a race to the bottom. I struggled to keep the team motivated, and I didn’t do my job in making sure the funnel was full of work. If you know me, you know I’m a social person, and not being able to be with the people you spend a majority of your time with was incredibly challenging for me personally.

The straw that broke the camels back was losing out on two projects we had been asked to bid on, only to find out we had been undercut by almost 50% on one, and not picked due to some serious nepotism on another. At this point, my personal network was weak at best and pivoting focus back to private sector was a near impossible feat with the amount of runway we had left.

I’ve struggled to articulate my feelings over the past few months, and while I made a TON of mistakes along the way (bad hires, poor people management, bad money management, sales vertical mistakes… the list goes on) and while it does feel like Goat was a failure today, I know the positives will outweigh the negatives looking back.

We did a lot of good.

I figure the best way to share the good we did, is to list some of the accomplishments over the 10 year run.

  • Generated over 8 million in revenue over 10 years
  • Hired and developed tons of incredible designers, developers and strategist that went on to work in senior positions for companies like Lululemon, Apple, Metalab, and some starting awesome, successful freelance careers like Kika Macfarlane, Julia Kozlov and Tim Lu.
  • Designed and developed over 130 websites for companies and organizations like the City of Oakland, National Capital Commission, Skipper Otto, Integrative, Moving2Canada, UBC, Cadex Electronics, Seeking Blue, SFU, Emily Carr University, City of Vancouver, EducationPlannerBC, Suncrest College, Truth for Teachers, Small Business BC, Fluxwerx, TDS Telecom and many many more
  • Fostered a culture of creativity and power, allowing our team to build high quality products that last the test of time
  • Supported and accepted people of all backgrounds, regardless of what the media told us we had to do. We did it because we’re all humans at the end of the day, not for some number to present to shareholders
  • Demystified the process of designing and building websites for our clients, focusing on education and great client experience
  • Created the opportunity for life long friendships within the staff group
  • Always tried to provide fair, equitable salaries with accompanying benefits

I always intended on building a business that could sustain a nice lifestyle for myself, while providing people solid employment and a no fuss, no muss style of work environment. I opted on skipping out on the fancy beer taps, ping pong tables and crazy offices that other start-up style companies offered, and focused on delivering quality products at a fair price. Other than the past 6 months of business, I feel I did that, and I’ll always be proud of that. I always envisioned ourselves as a cohesive hockey team. No one player is more important than the other, regardless of the statlines.

The reality is though… as a service business that only requires a laptop to start, you don’t really own anything of substance, and after 10 years, I’m left writing this post.

I’m proud of what I built, and I’m sure once the stinging is over and I reflect back, I’ll have nothing but positive things to say about the last 10 years. I’m excited for what’s in store in the future, and as I enter the next phase of life (marriage, kids), I’m pumped to use my experience to help companies be more productive, offer better experiences to their customers and lead hard working teams to designing and building the best digital products possible.

If you got to this point, I appreciate you hearing me out. It’s been tough to navigate the past few months and I needed to write this to push myself to move on.

I want to extend my deep appreciation to all the former team members of Goat. What we created was real, and I’ll always look back on my time with everyone fondly. I’ve created some lasting friendships, been through the ringer with you all. You were always patient with my sporadicalness, and candid when I did something wrong.

I want to thank all the clients that have trusted me for the last 10 years, especially Carmen Dueck and the Chan family at Integrative.ca, who hold the record for the longest client relationship (9 years), and Angela Watson, who put a huge amount of trust in Goat, even if we made the odd mistake here and there.

I’m looking for my next move, and frankly, any reason to get out of this damn room. If you want to grab a coffee, please reach out to me at me@terencesawtell.com. I’ll also be setting up a personal website at terencesawtell.com. That’s where I’ll be.

Signing out,
Terence Sawtell
Founder & Strategy Director @ Goat

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Terence Sawtell

(former) UX/UI/Development Agency Owner, car builder and fun-haver.