Right out of high school, Rae worked for Robert Herjavec—Canada’s most successful business entrepreneur and former dragon on Dragon’s Den and current shark on Shark Tank. Rae worked as an executive assistant to George Frempong, co-founder of the Herjavec Group and one of Canada’s most successful Black men in tech. Rae's exposure to this environment allowed her to pick up her interest in marketing, and she didn’t shy away from voicing this interest.
After Frempong gave her a shot, then-19-year-old Rae soon ran marketing initiatives and organized massive events for the company. Rae later went on to work for another company in the tech space.
In 2016, Rae started EQ, initially called Equation Sales. EQ began as a sales and marketing strategy company. Rae consulted for two years before bringing in her younger brother Michael. Another two years passed, and living in Jamaica at the time, Rae knew that there was more she could do. When she returned to Canada six or seven months before the pandemic, the marketing dynamic changed brands.
COVID-19 forced brands to cut their marketing budgets and shift to a digital landscape. That’s where influencer marketing came into the picture. So Rae hit up a few people she knew in the influencer industry and grew up with—content creators and athletes—and it grew into a full-blown $2 million-dollar business.
“It was just kind of full circle to where I started my career with Robert, even though it doesn't seem direct, but to me, it's pretty clear,” says Rae. Rae explains how Robert marketed his personality—being on TV, Instagram, and radio, racing in the Honda Indy, writing books, and more. “I helped him do that. I was 18 at the time and not connecting the dots,” says Rae. “That’s what we’re doing. We’re helping brands build their reputation in their business by leveraging people which are influencers.
EQ, a woman and Black-founded and self-funded business, is hitting milestones consistently while keeping true to who they are. EQ’s roster of influencers includes Black Canadian talent that is creatively taking up space in their industry.
“I wasn't given those opportunities; I had to scrape, claw, and take them. And so for me, it's exciting to get some opportunities for people who are specifically Canadian Black creators, Black athletes, who are just killing it in their lane, but never received those accolades or those opportunities,” says Rae.
Rae notes one of their big wins is with Brandie Wilkerson—an Olympic beach volleyball player and the first Black woman to have ever represented Team Canada for her sport. Wilkerson is the most sponsored Canadian athlete in all sports and the most sponsored beach volleyball player globally.
Rae says they’ve worked with Wilkerson for three years now, and in the first year, it was incredibly frustrating landing a deal. “They would pull away at the 11th hour from the deal. We knew, would you do this if she was white? Would you have this lack of respect? It was so clear to us, and that drove us even harder to be determined to say, no, no, we're getting her deals,” says Rae.
As a Black woman, Rae knew this could be her or her daughter’s reality—being counted out because of one’s Blackness. Knowing Wilkerson since high school made Rae realize that brands weren’t focusing on Wilkerson's gift as an athlete but on her skin. “There's no other barrier other than she's not blonde with blue eyes,” says Rae.
Rae notes that being a biracial woman and layering in business brings a “weird paradigm.” “You are experiencing certain things from white people and certain things from Black people that I don't know if other people face in the business setting,” says Rae, such as straightening her hair at ages 19 to 21 to look professional.
Now Rae says she’s not playing into what she’s supposed to look like. “I’m going to show up exactly how I am, how I want to have my hair, wear my jewellery, do my nails. You're either going to like me, or you're not going to. You're going to get the opportunity because what I'm not going to do is shy away and cocoon or be a version of what you think I should be,” says Rae.
Recently Wilkerson was named the global face of beach volleyball for the brand Wilson—a brand that works closely with Serena Williams. As the first Canadian to be given this title, this milestone and her partnership with 20 other brands reflects EQ’s mandate: to shift perceptions and make new realities possible for young Black professionals in Canada.
Another notable win is securing an ambassadorship with Mary Browns, the fastest-growing Canadian chicken quick service restaurant (QSR) for basketball creator K Showtime. “This is a young kid out of Jane and Finch, who would not have been given the opportunity, if he wasn't working hard and he didn't have people in the room advocating for him to have the conversation the way that we had,” says Rae.
A young man with a massive audience and matched engagement shouldn’t garner doubt from brands, but Rae says context like race makes brands take a step back. “Those brands we leave, we just move on from because we're not having those conversations, whereas some seem to get it, they understand his value,” says Rae.
The outcome of seeing value: people like K Showtime get to change the trajectory of their lives because someone gave them a chance. 20-year-old K Showtime moved out of Jane and Finch and got his own place through brand partnerships, says Rae.
As for the selection of brands, Rae says being yourself is the number one rule and one of the 14 principles within her company. “I teach this to everybody who I work with. My energy, personality, I’m just myself,” says Rae. Showing brands your true identity yields uniqueness, says Rae. As a young-in-age and predominantly Black company, Rae says the average age is under 25 and done intentionally to attract a young, edgy, grit vibe.
“You don’t know a ton, but I’m going to show you and show me that you care,” says Rae. “Versus the MBAs and masters coming in thinking they know everything. I don't have a degree, so I just hold zero weight to it. I’m looking for people coming in with energy and fire to want to get stuff done.”
This is similar to what Rae says EQ is looking for in influencers: content quality, an engagement rate of 3 to 5 percent, and consistency. “We've had the opportunity to get pickier at that now; we’re finding people who make sense,” says Rae.
Family business means trust
When asked about what it’s like to work with family, Rae said in the beginning, it was a little rocky, but now they’re “so past the rocks.” Rae was heavily involved in sports during her childhood and played rugby for Team Canada. Her younger brothers, Michael and Evan, also played sports. Rae says that their business side meshes well because of the competitive mindset they all have.
“We hate losing more than we like winning,” says Rae. However, Rae says they’ve drawn a line in the sand to have an achievable balance of keeping work and family time separate—even going as far as people not knowing Rae was related to her younger brothers because of the all-business demeanour they portray. Rae says her 5-year-old daughter has helped her find this balance.
“I think there's an understanding, and also not to take things personally. Check your ego at the door. This is a learning environment."
Rae says the great thing about working with family is: trust. “You have an unpronounceable trust for these people because they're your family. You don't ever feel, at least for me, ‘do I have to second question what they're saying?” says Rae.
Rae took a one-week vacation with her daughter —her first in five years—and disconnected from her phone. She could only do that because she trusted her business was in good hands.
When asked for advice she would give to younger professionals, Rae says paralysis is analysis. “The biggest obstacle is starting. Once you get out of the gate, things just start to move. Too many people sit and plan. Stop planning; just start.”
Rae includes being yourself and being curious in her lineup of advice. Rae says practical actions are making a LinkedIn profile, putting out information or content on LinkedIn, listening to people’s insights or lessons learned through YouTube, audiobooks, and more.
“I think that's why I've been able to be successful because I think I'm working harder. I don't think it's because I'm the smartest person in the room. I think I have lots to learn. And I continue to learn every day,” says Rae.