By Ian, MD and Founder of Fanatic
While studying graphic design, I mainly specialised in illustration but I was also interested in digital media. I decided to paint illustrations and bring them to life by using Macromedia Director to program interactive CD ROMS, popular in the late ’90s due to the fact that the internet was still using dial-up modem, and video or music had not yet made it online.
After graduating, I helped a group of friends start an online business called Southampton Online, a local portal which would provide local people with information, news and shopping guides. It also had a map, a feature which was not available online at that time. I spent a whole summer drawing an illustrated Southampton map using the A-Z as a reference, but it was that autumn that Multimap came out and beat us to it. Having also helped by cold selling advertising space, and designing a few client websites, the idea of city portals was finished for us by newspaper companies buying up domains and rolling out nationwide.
I then looked to Bristol, only on the basis I’d heard there was a hub of great creative agencies there. I phoned them all up, using the Yellow Pages. My first trip to Bristol was for an interview at a new and quickly expanding digital agency. I was offered a job based in a mixed technical and design role. There was not enough creative in it for me though, I do remember feeling like a square peg in a round hole, wanting to work on more than digital design, such as to create brands from scratch, with the printed as well as the digital materials which, while in the midst of the dot com boom, I still felt was important.
I desired to build something tangible of my own but how was it possible? I imagined the brand and came up with the name Desktop Fanatic, which I used for a hobby site to share illustrations for desktop wallpapers. I also began to hear of businesses looking for freelance designers.
Milly and I discussed starting a company, and that it should be called Fanatic Design, and that it would have focus as a full service agency. I’d learned a lot in a summer in Southampton, watching and helping the guys start a business, and also from a year in a larger agency, which had a team of very high quality professionals who were undervalued by a management which hyped the firm out of proportion to their experience.
It was after dinner one evening when my father-in-law said to me that I should make the jump to start a business, that gave me the confidence to do it. His advice and help continued for years to come, and is still an influence today.
Our goal was to create an agency respected for its work, where quality work did the talking. It would be a down-to-earth brand that respected the people within it and focused on client satisfaction. The idea was to grow slowly and sustainably with no investment other than our time and a laptop purchased on a credit card.
We home-made some brochures and business cards, and set about finding out how to connect with local businesses. I attended a few networking meetings, but referrals took off as the best way to get new clients, and it remains that way today. Our very first client, gained through my first networking meeting, is still a client today 20 years later!
We moved into the Tobacco Factory in 2002, and the team began to grow. Milly came into the business full-time in 2005 to handle the financial side, and the business has a strong family theme to this day.
We had the goal to build a full service creative agency known throughout Bristol, but this now stretches across the UK and Europe. We’ve brought many new professionals into the industry in design, web development and marketing roles, as career starters to work alongside our experienced guys.
Fanatic remains focused on giving the credit for fantastic quality output to the individuals and teams that deliver it. We continue to grow through creating happy clients, who are proud to refer us, and by ensuring the company is sustainable, financially self funding, down to earth, and delivering great work that continues to push industry standards forward.
We call ourselves the Biggest Small Creative Agency in the World, as no matter how many FTSE 100s we deliver to, we stay true to our original values, and we view every piece of work as our newest portfolio piece.