David Martin — Co-Founder & CEO, Fantasy

David Martin talks to TheNextGag about why he is choosing to move his company to Silicon Valley, how he plans to own the product design space and why he believes work-time can be best spent on non-client work.

David Martin is the Co-Founder & CEO of Fantasy in the USA.

David Martin is the founder and C.E.O. of Fantasy Interactive, a human-based design agency that helps its clients “think beyond the ordinary” by combining digital strategy and user experience design. The company’s client list is as extensive as it is impressive, with brands like Facebook, HP, USA Today, and Twitter, to name a few. In 2008, Fantasy made Imagine Publishing’s list of the 21 Most Inspiring Companies, along with Apple, Virgin, and Pixar.

Martin founded the agency in 1999 in Sweden, and the company currently has headquarters in New York and San Francisco. Since its inception, Fantasy has received over 200 industry awards and helped thousands of clients worldwide to further their companies’ image and brand. 2015 saw the launch of Fantasy’s new website, Fantasy.co, and the company has been nominated for Agency of the Year by Net Magazine.

Martin was born in County Dublin, and his first job was working at a paint factory during the summer. He attended Institute of Technology Tallaght, and lives in San Francisco with his wife Camilla and their son Maverick.

David will be a speaker at WebSummit in November 2016.

THENEXTGAG: WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO MOVE YOUR WEST COAST OFFICE FROM SAN FRANCISCO TO THE SILICON VALLEY ?

DAVID MARTIN: So basically, for us, we’ve been in San Francisco since 2010. And all our clients here in the West Coast have been coming from Silicon Valley and they haven’t been coming from San Francisco. It means that we have to travel down to the clients or they have to travel to us. And also, because we are moving primarily much more towards being a product design UX/UI company, versus the whole marketing type of work that we’ve done. Once we are closer to where the products are … We’ve seen the majority and stronger products are typically down in Silicon Valley. They are not based out of San Francisco.

San Francisco is a great place for much more marketing-driven type of work. And our New York office is staying very focused on working for both product and marketing. But San Francisco is primarily focused on product. And that’s why we are moving to Silicon Valley.

Also, we are seeing that a lot of people don’t want to live in the city anymore. Some of the more senior people that are out there, they have families and so on. And working and living in the city is very expensive for them. So they search outside the city and the commute to the city for everyone is quite difficult. So we feel it’s more appropriate also to attract some high-quality employees that have families. Also, San Francisco is kind of grey and cold. And Silicon Valley is a lot warmer and nicer.

So, there are a couple of reasons why we think that Silicon Valley is a very strong move for us. Primarily, because all our client base and the direction we are moving the agency.

TNG: DOES IT MEAN THAT YOU ARE GOING TO TRY TO POACH EMPLOYEES FROM COMPANIES, LIKE APPLE, GOOGLE OR FACEBOOK ?

DM: In the past, we’ve lost employees to the Apples and Googles of the world. Some years ago. However today, in Silicon Valley, we feel that for really passionate strong designers looking to excel, it’s very difficult to do that in such a large company, like Apple or Google. That’s like working on a cruise ship, it’s very hard to move that cruise ship. It’s just so big and there are so much people. And it’s very difficult to stand out. So, we feel that there is no very strong dominant player when it comes to design that is based in Silicon Valley. We want Fantasy to become the dominant player for UX/UI and the future of UX/UI. And that starts with Fantasy in Silicon Valley.

We want to look at Apple employees and Google employees, for example. People that feel that is very difficult to go above and beyond because of a standard corporate infrastructure. When you work at those massive companies, they are all business-driven, they are corporate-driven. That’s the model that they have. Whereas Fantasy is not business-driven, it’s design-driven. We feel that we can have a better environment, better challenges and a better quality of work life all around for the design community in Fantasy and Silicon Valley. Not saying that there are benefits in working at Apple that we can provide, but we feel that there are stronger benefits at Fantasy on the design side that we can provide.

TNG: YOU ANNOUNCED YOUR MOVE IN A TWEET NOT A PRESS RELEASE OR A BIG ANNOUNCEMENT IN ADWEEK OR AD AGE. HOW DO YOU EMBRACE COMMUNICATION AT YOUR COMPANY ?

DM: We don’t really read what Adweek or Advertising Age say. We feel that they are very suited for marketing-driven companies. For us, Fantasy has its own brand recognition and we have acquired a large following in the design community. And that design community we found is typically not on Adweek and not Advertising Age. They are on things like Dribbble. They are on Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, Medium, Behance. And these are the platforms that we find valuable to speak to the design community. And for our work itself, we tend to have quite a great following.

Our form of communication and what we do is all around the design community. It’s not around the marketing and business community. For example, when certain clients want to do things that are super innovative, they ask their own design teams “Who should we hire ? Who’s the best at this ?” They don’t go to Ad Age or Adweek to find that out.

We really love focusing in the design community areas for the people we want to hire, to the business that we want to attract. We find that there is a really great sweet spot for us. And that has been working really well.

TNG: I FOLLOW THE WORK THAT YOU DO. BUT IT SEEMS THAT YOU GUYS ALSO SPEND A LOT OF TIME WORKING ON YOUR OWN WORK. HOW DO YOU BALANCE THAT ?

DM: We feel that it is very important to push our clients and potential future clients. I was just talking about this last night at Fantasy with a group of people around a beer. We were talking about the importance of our “What If ?’ concepts and how that really helps our business.

Pretend you have all the airlines in the world. And all those airlines are not really doing anything amazing on the design and digital sides. They are doing OK, but they are not doing amazing. The only time that they will do something amazing is when somebody else does it. And that’s the problem with many industries. No one is really doing things that are super amazing.

So we created the “What If ?” at Fantasy which is set up to encourage the company and the people to create amazing concepts without a client. Without the limitations of technology. And to really show the world where we should be going. And those things are super important to attracting business to Fantasy, to helping grow our brand. We put in a lot of time, there is a lot of effort. So, sometimes, for some teams, we don’t take on certain projects and we just focus primarily on doing those concepts. We will block out three weeks to come up with something and put it out.

That’s the type of things that we try to do as much as we can. We try to do a concept every quarter. Sometimes, some of those concepts we do don’t come out, because a client we’ve showed it to loved it so much they say “Ok, we want to do this”. And sometimes, these concepts will come out of actual client projects.

It’s about dedicating the right energy. You can’t do it half-assed. It can’t be an hour a week or an hour a day. It has to be dedication to do that work. And it is also important to find industries that we know we want to be part of. We know that we are going to be strong in. It’s also finding an industry that we know is pretty broken and there is not a lot of innovation happening. When we put something out in healthcare, retail or booking, we tend to see a huge amount of trust.

When the airline project went down, we had over sixty airlines call us from all over the world. Pretty much every major airlines called Fantasy saying “Oh my god, what is this ? How can we be part of this ? What’s happening ?” And this is something that was a wake-up call for us. When these clients were calling, only because we put something out that didn’t even exist. It was just our thoughts on how we could be innovative. It was only then that they were like “Ok, we must do something like this”. We find it is very important to dedicate time like that, to help the industry think above and beyond. Because, if they don’t see something amazing, they won’t do it.

TNG: I BECOME FOND OF YOUR COMPANY AFTER THE USA TODAY REDESIGN. I PARTICULARLY LIKED HOW YOUR PEOPLE SHARED THE ENTIRE PROCESS AND WENT TO INSPIRE OTHERS TO DO SO. IS IT MORE CHALLENGING TO WORK ON A DYNAMIC PROJECT VERSUS A MORE STATIC ONE ?

DM: It is always challenging to work on any client’s project. Because you have a client there. If you got any assignments, to do USA Today, to do New York Times, to redesign Google News or whatever it might be. On your own, it is really fun and really easy. When a client comes along, it becomes so much more challenging and difficult. And sometimes, the client can be an asset or sometimes, they can be a roadblock. A lot of the times, the clients answers will be roadblocks, so it is very challenging from that perspective.

With USA Today, it wasn’t quite a dynamic site versus a static site, we also had to come up with innovative ways to redesign their advertising business model, which is a key component of the design for USA Today. Which ultimately saved their online site and their online revenue, and helped other companies go in the same direction.

When you sit down and have to go through the challenges, it’s something that we take very seriously and try to climb up very cheerfully. What we are going to do to achieve the goal to try to get the client support. The key thing for us is that when the client comes to Fantasy, they only come because they are not going out to most other agencies because they need a redesign. They are coming to Fantasy because they know they need something that is very innovative. And there are not that many companies that they can go to. Fortunately, we are one of them. So, when they come, there is already an expectation that they want something innovative. Not that they want to do a standard redesign. So, it is already up to a great start. When it comes to technology, there is a lot of work in ensuring that the technology doesn’t consume all the creativity. That it doesn’t sway. There is a lot of alignment there. Just common goals between the technical team, the design team, the UX team, the strategy team, and the client. We all share the same goals of what we are trying to achieve, in the highest quality possible. That’s always a part of the DNA of the entire project from the beginning.

And it is one of those things when we try to share that process. We think it is very important to be sincere. And especially for designers that are very passionate, they want to be really sincere about talking about their work, and giving back to the community. Because, at the end of the day, doing that work is a long journey. And sometimes, people just see the end result. And the journey was a phenomenal part of that whole design experience with the design team. That’s one of the reasons why we try to profile the work that we do the way we do it.

David Martin

Fantasy

Co-Founder & CEO

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