Homegrown Business: Toronto Marketing Agency 5&Vine

We had the pleasure of catching up with Toronto-based marketing agency 5&Vine.  We spoke with founder and CEO Rahul Raj to find out more detail about what they do and how they help businesses reach their full potential in this already over saturated market.

 – Founder and CEO of 5&Vine, Rahul Raj

What is your business called and what does it do?

5&Vine is a fractional CMO and marketing agency for challenger brands. Ultimately, we help brands who “do good” go head-to-head with incumbents. By analyzing and supporting their marketing efforts and honing in on their social impact, our work helps to fuel their success and growth. We provide assistance in marketing strategy, growth, social media, creative and copy, and empower brands to think like Challengers.

What made you want to do this work?

Firstly, I wanted to find a way to better the world in a material way. Each of us has a choice about how to direct our competency – in my case, I’ve chosen to enable brands that I believe are delivering economic and social outcomes. I’ve assembled a team that believes in this deeply – we are not just mission driven, but social purpose driven as well. Secondly, it comes down to the fact that life is short – if you have the opportunity, you shouldn’t waste your time on people or things that don’t bring your joy. It’s about advancing brands we believe in and choosing to work with the high quality humans behind them. I read a quote that said, “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” and I found this to be unbelievably powerful. I wanted to be in a position where I chose the five people I engaged with to elevate my average, and help influence theirs. With 5&Vine, we choose the clients we want to work with, the people behind the brand, and it has materialized in a higher quality of work, and life.

What problem did you want to solve with the business?

One of the challenges younger organizations face is needing an experienced and proven CMO to help guide them, but being unable to afford them. These businesses need someone that can refine strategy and engage in formidable challenges. The challenge goes deeper as these businesses are also up against organizations with deep pockets, brand reputations, and a big team that can do more. That’s where our model as a fractional agency came from. Clients can access our team as they need us, without having to commit to the overhead of engaging us full time. Our competitive advantage is bringing a proven level of experience to these younger organizations, and enabling them to have the expertise they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.

Who are your clientele/demographics?

5&Vine engages with startups that are mainly between Series A and Series B – that’s our sweet spot. That being said, we also engage with Fortune 100 companies that are incubating our launching new ventures. Our overarching theme is to help socially-minded challenger brands take on or take down industry incumbents. It is also important to us that the clients we work with are great humans.

While the majority of our engagements abide by a regular fee-for-service business model, there are a handful of clients where we have done equity and cash compensation so that we have a stake in the business, and skin in the game.


How does your business make money? How does it work?

We think of compensation in three ways – we optimize for joy, impact, and money. We do not try to optimize for money alone. There are a number of ways to make money, but that’s just one of the factors. Money can’t exist without impact. 5&Vine is here for a reason – to show that business can be a force for good and the impact we have on the world matters deeply to us. We aim to achieve a balance between these three pillars. Work doesn’t have to be a chore – it can be a joyful activity.

Where in Toronto can we find your profession?

Prior to COVID, 5&Vine was located in the heart of downtown Toronto at Queen and John, with an office that our team would gather in. Since COVID, we have embraced the concept of remote work. While our team is largely based in Toronto, our policy enables them to work anywhere +/- 3hrs of EST.

What is the best part about what you do? What is the most challenging part?

The best part of what I do is working with so many ambitious and well intentioned companies on a daily basis. It feels like an intellectual cross fit. We feel the rigour of exercising different parts of the brain, which just makes us stronger as we show up to address new challenges. It’s extraordinary to have so many different sandboxes to play in; it provides so many sources of inspiration.

The most challenging part is having to say no to organizations that aren’t values aligned. We want to leverage our talent to advance socially-minded brands and challenge stereotypes. Fortunately our process has enabled us to work with some extraordinary humans and businesses.

What is your favourite joke about your own profession?

Marketing is often associated with the stereotype of a travelling salesman doing whatever it takes to sell something – and this isn’t untrue! Some marketers and businesses bend the rules if there’s money to be made; we just happen to be on the other end of this spectrum.

PAY IT FORWARD: What is another Toronto business that you love?

There are two businesses I’d love to shout out, and the first is a company called Speaker Labs. Speaker Labs is run by two fantastic, high quality humans, Eric Silverberg and Eli Gladstone, that have such great energy. Most importantly, they drive impact. They know how intimidating public speaking can be for so many, and they’re demystifying it and equipping people with tools and confidence to share their stories. We all gravitate to great storytellers – they are the best people and brands in the world. The gap between humans and their success is this story telling capability. Storytelling helps level the playing field, and Speaker Labs has amplified this hidden talent for many, driving a huge, positive impact.

The second is a company called Quartermaster run by one of my favourite people Michael Phillips. Their team is smart, capable, caring and high-integrity. They leverage the power of neighborhoods and connect you with local Pros your neighbours trust. I love their focus on unlocking the power of community to make home ownership easier and better. I rely on their emails to help me determine whether it is garbage or recycling day. I look forward to my meetings with their team every week – as their team, approach and work brings me joy.