Back in the Seattle Saddle Again, Wexley’s Cal McAllister Launches New Agency

The Paper Crane Factory will focus on early-stage companies

Cal McAllister's The Paper Crane Company is initially opening offices in Seattle and Silicon Valley. Getty Images
Headshot of Doug Zanger

Cal McAllister, one of the former owners of the independent agency Wexley School for Girls, is starting a new agency. After shutting down the 15-year Seattle creative mainstay last spring, McAllister’s new agency, The Paper Crane Factory, will focus mainly on working with companies that are at the front end of their existence.

“The opportunity to do game-changing work with brands is happening at a much earlier stage,” said McAllister during last week’s Cannes Lions.

McAllister is initially opening offices in Seattle and Silicon Valley, taking a more lean and digitally focused approach with his client base and building more around equity with partners, as opposed to the traditional agency model.

“The billable hour—I think is broken,” noted McAllister. “The fact is, the way agencies make the most money is by putting more people on jobs and having it take longer. This is precisely what clients don’t want now. We are focused on taking clients who are willing to pay part of the fee in equity, so our wins are their wins, and their wins are our wins.”

Another flip of the script for McAllister is how the agency’s business develops. Though Humm Kombucha remains a holdover national client from the Wexley days, the agency plans to work with early-stage venture fund Stage dot O. The Paper Crane Factory has landed two clients from the fund’s startup list of nine, both in real estate: Real Savvy of Austin, which builds analytics for higher-end residential properties; and soon-to-launch Plotify, a U.K. firm that allows for much faster and efficient real estate investment in both London and the U.S.

“My skill is not picking the company that’s going to be successful,” said McAllister. “[My skill] is picking what ideas I think could work.”

At the onset, The Paper Crane Factory, which is also exploring openings in Chicago and New York, will rely on freelancers but does have plans to start staffing up as the business evolves.

“There’s terrific talent in Seattle, and we have a reputation for having great creative thinkers,” said McAllister. “At the same time, to be good in San Francisco and London, we need people that understand the market. But it is the time to spread the Seattle creative vibe to new markets and brands.”

The agency’s evocative name comes from the Japanese tradition of senbazuru, the folding of origami cranes for support and good luck on a new adventure.

“I was recently in Japan and saw [senbazuru] everywhere,” recalled McAllister. “[There is] attention to detail, every one of them is unique and handmade. In working with early-stage companies, in a way, we’re putting together paper cranes for them to wish them well on their journey.”

@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.