A Place to Solve Problems: McKinsey Chooses Toronto for First Experience Studio

Normally a global consulting firm opening a new office is hardly a call for celebration, let alone news. However, unveiling the new McKinsey Experience Studio wasn’t a common office opening.

The idea for the space is a new and engaging place for McKinsey clients and partners to solve problems. While this idea isn’t necessarily new, this particular office space is the first of it’s kind from McKinsey in the world.

The reasons for putting this kind of innovative office in Toronto, rather than Silicon Valley or New York City has as much to do with Canada’s largest city’s challenges as it does its advantages. One of the first speakers of the night was Sam Sebastian, CEO of Google Canada, and Sebastian was candid in pointing out some of the problems Toronto’s tech and startup sector face.

“The scale isn’t there compared to the Valley,” said Sebastian.

Even with that caveat, Sebastian did provide insight into Canadian strengths as well. “We [Canadians] love to partner. That’s how Waterloo became what it is,” he said.

Beyond technical business maneuvers like partnerships, Sebastian was also quick to point out some cultural shifts that need to happen in Canada. “It’s not just Zuckerberg, or Larry and Sergey (the founders of Google) in California. We need to create Canadian role models for Canadian kids in university,” he said.

Sebastian, even though he pointed out that Canadian companies have scaling issues, did mention one particular stat that speaks to Canadians ability to reach a global audience.

“We have this small product called YouTube,” Sebastian said cheekily, “90 per cent of views on Canadian videos come from outside of Canada,” he added.

Any technology focused event in Toronto will have a slew of comparisons to the US. Often, it’s people who have been successful in the states come to help Canadians learn their ways, but some homegrown entrepreneurial talent did mention ways we can look south to learn.

“Changing the world in common in Silicon Valley,” said Ariel Garten, a Toronto based artist and entrepreneur. She went on to say that Canadians don’t necessarily think small, but that funding streams, space for entrepreneurial efforts, and other support mechanism are all relatively new in Canada, while they have been common in the US, especially Silicon Valley, for many years.

The event itself, the opening of the new office space in downtown Toronto, just around the corner from Drake’s former condo, was just as hopeful with an eye to the future as the all the speakers were. The space is all white from the carpet to the ceiling. The walls are equipped with dry-erase markers and erasers, so you never be able to forget a great idea.

Companies and startups that occupy the space will vary over time, but the eclectic nature of the startups on opening night gave a glimpse into what McKinsey has in store for the days to come. From a not-for-profit Ladies Learning Code, to Muse, a company that makes a device that measures brainwaves to help with meditation, to companies making OLEG light lamps, to AR and VR companies, almost every aspect of the tech sector had a representative. Each of these companies had a table complete with demos of their products for anyone in attendance who was interested.

For McKinsey, the move to dealing with startups in an innovative ecosystem is a matter of survival. In the past, McKinsey has represented blue chip companies, but they now realize the disrupters in the economy don’t wear a suit and tie, they wear jeans and hoodies. This new space is representative of a shift in the driving forces in the market, and Toronto is the place that needs exactly this kind of resource.

Dom Barton, McKinsey’s Global Managing Director summed up the feeling of the new space succinctly when he addressed the crowd.

“We’ve been telling people what to do for awhile now. It’s time for us to do it ourselves,” he said.