Interview with Ash Phillips and Miro LaFlaga: Co-Founders of Divvi Productions
Edited by: Kosta Kounadis, Nisha Verma & Rivkah Groszman.
Divvi Productions is a Montreal-based branding and production agency that focuses on helping POC-owned businesses shine. Divvi’s mission is to empower creative entrepreneurs “who see the future as a blank canvas, who don’t just embrace change but seek it” and help them achieve what they envision for their companies and brands.
Can you please tell us a bit about yourselves?
Ash: I’m Ash, co-founder of Divvi Productions. My background is in graphic design and I completed my studies at Ahuntsic College. Personally, I was never interested in going to university and started my freelance career right away. I worked odd jobs and in small agencies, but quickly realized that I was not cut out for working under anyone and wanted to be my own boss.
Miro: I’m not one to talk about myself much. I’m a Montreal native and have been working in this field for roughly 5 years now. Almost everything I’ve learned has been self-taught.
Tell us more about Divvi productions and its mission.
Ash: Divvi is a branding and production agency that helps businesses and creative entrepreneurs grow by providing them with the visual communication tools they need to achieve their goals. We want to work with people who are looking to influence positive change in their industry, society, and the world at large.
Why did you decide to create your company? Miro: Looking at the number of creative agencies here in Montreal, how many can you say are Black-owned? We felt the need to fill a void and create a change here. We want to inspire other Black creatives and minorities to take up space in the creative scene because we are just as talented as all other Montreal creatives, if not more.
Ash: It’s important that Black people and other minority groups have representation, not only in front of the camera but behind the scenes, where executive decisions are made. Divvi was also created to bring value to creative work through education.
What was your favourite project or workshop you’ve done so far? Miro: We don’t have a favourite project. Each project and workshop brings out a different set of challenges that we have to overcome, so it’s hard to rank them.
What makes Divvi unique? Ash: We are still learning and are transparent about that. We share what we know along the way, taking our audience with us as we grow. Our projects also have a very personal touch, as we work closely with our clients. We take on their goals as our own.
What is your dream project?
Miro: We don’t necessarily have a company we want to work with, but our dream is to become the most diverse production studio in Montreal, producing films and shows as well as impactful marketing campaigns. We also want to have our own educational center for young, underprivileged, aspiring creatives.
How has your business been affected by the pandemic?
Ash: We were definitely not immune to the pandemic, as we have lost some big contracts. However, we have chosen to use this time to our advantage by slowing down. Our culture values high productivity and constantly keeping busy, which can be draining for our mental health. The pandemic has allowed us to reflect on different ways in which we can be productive. We also chose to see this as an opportunity to re-evaluate our business strategy and goals to help our community adapt to the change.
Is there currently a way for JMSB students to get involved with Divvi? Are you open to hiring student interns?
Miro: Yes, just send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are always open to collaborating with new talent.
How has Divvi been affected by the recent resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement?
Miro: The BLM movement has always been a part of Divvi’s core values. We have always been transparent about uplifting black creatives, but the resurgence has impacted our approach to collaborations. We’ve started being very direct and upfront about diversity and inclusion, asking the uncomfortable questions, and offering our help in creating solutions. We want to make sure that the people we work with also share our values.
What piece of advice would you offer to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Ash: Education, being business-savvy, and having clear goals and values to stand by are all extremely important, but it is equally important to work on your mindset. Although having good mental health and stability is a process, it should be your priority because you cannot achieve your goals, nor your greatest potential, without it.
Where do you see Divvi 5 years from now?
Miro: We see Divvi as a renowned production studio run by a solid team of Black and POC creatives that will be producing movies, television, and more. I like to say that we are the next Disney.
Is Divvi your full-time job?
What motivated you to work in the field of marketing?
Miro: I’ve always been very fascinated by culture, about what drives people to react to things. I’ve always been interested in sociology and people. I see marketing as a form of psychology.
Ash: I wanted to be more than a designer. Being a creative director allows me to create experiences by bringing out different emotions in people. I love that.
What is your end goal for Divvi?
Ash: We really just want to influence and inspire people to pursue their dreams. We want to open the door for more Black-owned creative agencies to be formed in the future. We want to see our people win. So, we’re aiming to win in order to give them that much-needed representation. Also, we want people to understand the value of creatives and creative work through education.
What is the hardest thing about starting a business?
Miro: There’s a lot of trial and error and a lot of things you have to figure out on your own. You can read as much as you want or watch as many videos as you want, but nothing is going to prepare you for the real thing. So, go out there prepared to make as many mistakes as possible so you can learn from them quickly.
If you could avoid one mistake you made when starting Divvi, what would it be and why? Ash: In the beginning, we were very self-centered and we isolated ourselves from the outside world. This cut us off from so many of the talented people we know today. We did not make enough of an effort to connect and build relationships with others in our city.
Is there anything else that you want our readers to know?
Miro: There is a cultural shift happening on a grassroots level here in Montreal, and POC are at the forefront of it. The masses need to get involved, to discover the movement, and support it. Otherwise, they need to step aside and allow it to flourish freely.
Ash: There is power in inclusivity. We need to really get uncomfortable and work together in order to see our city grow as a collective whole.