10 Years of Davis Pier

Co-founders, Mike Davis and Darryl Pierrynowski reflect on 10 years of Davis Pier.

Mike Davis & Darryl Pierrynowski

Ten years in the making. 120 month ends. The first one saw us walking down Barrington Street in Halifax to pick up an actual cheque so we could make payroll—and the last one has found us confirming that we’ve exceeded our business plan to grow by 15% (again). Whether it was revenue, impact, or culture—we are confident that we met our goals.

How It Started

Goals. Objectives. Mission. Purpose.

We are regularly asked about these when we talk to people about Davis Pier. Why did we start a company? How did we decide to build a social impact organization? What did we set out to achieve?

Our answer to these questions often surprises people. The truth is that we hadn’t thought much about it. We didn’t start the company with a grand vision in mind—it was out of necessity to remove ourselves from an untenable situation.

We have said that we didn’t start the company to make money; we started it to figure out what impact we could have. That’s not entirely true. We started the company to make money. Not to become rich, but to feed our families while doing something we were good at.

The premise for the company was simple. We felt that consulting was becoming more commoditized. People seemed to be hiring consultants to fill roles on projects or deliver activities instead of hiring them to solve problems. But that wasn’t the work that we liked doing, so we decided to position ourselves as a company that focused on helping to solve the most complex problems in government and community.

We soon came to find out how many complex problems existed.

We had early success working with clients that wanted solutions to problems. And the more we figured out how to solve those problems, the more problems we were asked to solve. Our key clients cared much less about things like needing a business analyst, what specific change management methodology we would use, or how we wrote project charters. They simply cared about us working with them and their colleagues to do whatever was necessary to design and implement lasting solutions to tough issues.

They trusted us to prioritize their interests over our own.

How We Succeeded

That trust is what makes Davis Pier what it is. Our clients trust us. Our team trusts us. We (and now our other business partners) trust one another.

Trust is an interesting thing. It takes a long time to build and requires you to demonstrate that you are consistent and continually doing things in alignment with your values. And it can be undone very quickly. One or two instances of not honouring those values is all it takes to erode trust.

What does trust look like in our context? It is clients being comfortable having us speak on government’s behalf in community, with the objective of describing the difficult position policy makers find themselves in. It is having community regularly invite us into discussions and share openly with us about the systemic barriers that need to be broken down. It is people with lived experience in vulnerable and difficult situations opening up to us about their challenges, their perspectives, and their strengths and ideas. It is all these groups thanking us for being involved and telling us that we don’t feel like other “consulting firms”.

It wasn’t until recently that we understood the trust our clients and communities had in us and its importance to our business model. As we reflect on the last 10 years, we now know that it is the foundation that has allowed us to learn and grow as a social impact agency—and inspired us to double down on our mission to tackle complex issues and challenges.

This trust allowed us to grow and innovate as an organization, operating very differently than when we first started. We embraced diversity—of thought, of educational background, of race, of gender, and of lived experience. We invested in growing our expertise in areas like human-centred design, social innovation, behavioural science, and digital practices – all because we felt these were the capabilities we needed to drive impact. We advocated for delivering our work differently and, with the trust we earned from clients, were able to do so. And we implemented. We were on the ground with governments and healthcare providers, designing and delivering services for people most in need.

We don’t provide reports, we provide results. We don’t consult, we collaborate. We don’t have clients, we have colleagues (of course we have clients, but you get what I mean!)

We have learned so much over the last decade about how to drive impact. We will elaborate on some of those learnings and what that means for the next 10 years at Davis Pier in an upcoming post. For now, though, we want to thank a few select folks that supported our success.

Screenshot 2024-04-09 at 9.02.31 AM

Who Was Involved

Our Clients

We have had key clients over the last 10 years (you know who you are!) that take us with them no matter what organization or department they end up in—again, because they trust us to deliver results. We’d personally like to thank those folks that allowed us to work in social services—income assistance, food security, affordable housing, and employment supports; and in healthcare—continuing care, primary care, public health, and acute care. We have learned so much about poverty, health, and community wellbeing while designing better services to support those experiencing barriers in these areas. These were a life-altering opportunities that have changed us forever.

Our Team

Someone once said, “find a group of people to challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and they will change your life.” That could not be truer about how we feel about our team.

If we have done one thing well, it has been to build a team of incredibly bright, impact-focused people.

—Darryl Pierrynowski, Co-Founder & COO

We have had spectacular colleagues, many of whom have been with us from the first year and some of whom have never worked professionally anywhere else. Now some of them are our business partners and others are future business partners. The care the team have for our company, clients, projects, and community is almost mythical. It’s why we regularly hear people tell us how different working with us is and that they can almost predict that someone is from Davis Pier within moments of meeting them.

This is why we coined the phrase ‘Davis Pier Mafia’. We care deeply about our work and taking care of people in need, and we are fiercely protective of one another. We are as much family as we are colleagues.

The team at the Davis Pier office in downtown Halifax

Our Advisors

In addition to our team, we have advisors supporting our accounting, legal, Human Resources, and leadership. We have been lucky that these people are not only experts in their fields but understand the unique challenges of small and growing businesses. In the best way possible, they have felt like a natural extension of our team.

Our Families

Finally, a big thank you to our families. This has been a challenging journey for both of us and there have been times when we know our family life has suffered because of it. But we also know that our respective families understand the importance of the mission of the company and impact that we’ve been able to make. Without the support of our partners and children, we both know that none of this would have happened.

What’s Next

What’s next for Davis Pier?

We’re going to honour the last decade and use it—not as the blueprint for success—but as the foundation for an ever-evolving direction. We will continue to innovate as a company with a focus on driving impact, solving complex problems, and improving the lives of others.

We’re going to use the trust we’ve earned from clients and community to amplify our impact on their behalf. How will we do that? Well, you’re just going to have to wait and see.

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