My interview with Lee Fasciani on his journey to co-founding Territory, an independent creative agency whose recent work includes designing for Virgin Atlantic & The Guardian, to motion and screen graphics for Hollywood films The Martian, Avengers Age of Ultron & Guardians of The Galaxy.
Summary below or jump straight to the interview
We discuss why Lee, alongside his two co-founders David Sheldon-Hicks and Nick Glover, felt the time was right to leave their careers at a design agency in London and go on to set up their own independent creative agency, Territory.
Lee shares how the first project they were commissioned to do – creating motion graphics for the game Medal of Honor – gave them an initial 3 month payment runway to rent a studio and develop the business without the need to take on any business loans or financial debt.
With various successful projects under their belt from designing an onboard identity system for Virgin Atlantic airplanes, The Guardian Iconography to screen graphics for Hollywood films like The Martian, and Avengers Age of Ultron, Lee explains how Territory has grown into a multi-disciplinary design agency from 3 co-founders to nearly 20 people in 5 years.
Lee touches on how UK Film Tax Relief (FTR) has helped boost film production and post-production opportunties for Territory with the British Film Institute (BFI) reporting:
As of 31st March 2014, the Film Tax Relief (FTR) had supported £5.6 billion in production expenditures in the UK.
Whilst Lee is originally from Denton in Greater Manchester, Territory is based in London and this is where the majority of production and post-production work for the film industry takes place with with the British Film Institute (BFI) finding:
In 2014, there were over 6,000 film production companies and
over 2,400 post-production companies in the UK. The production, post-production and distribution sectors were concentrated in London and the South East.
Film, video and TV post-production company turnover was £1,389 million, an increase of 10% on 2009.
Lee and his co-founders are playing their part with Territory contributing to the UK’s design sector which The Design Council recently reported was the largest in Europe and the second largest in the world contributing £71.7 billion to the UK economy (The Design Economy Report, 2015).
How did you get started with Territory Lee?
Myself and the other two founding partners were working at a design agency called Fold7 in London.
It was a small agency and they were fairly hands off in terms of allowing designers and project mangers to have direct contact with the clients at all times.
It came to a point where we would kind of be doing and managing all of the work ourselves. And that’s when we decided we should go do it for ourselves.
We wanted Territory to be a multi-disciplinary design agency where I look after print, branding and the digital side of the business. David looks after the motion graphics side of the business and Nick Glover would be more like a Managing Director client services type of guy.
We’ve grown since then from 3 founders to nearly 20 people.
So as founders you had a great set of complementary skills to setup Territory …
Yeah, I think that’s key really.
Founding a new business, managing clients and having the complementary skills from day one to do the kind of work you want too really helped us.
Did that help you to go on and attract your first customers?
Yeah, you know you end up forming relationships with various people that need some design work doing. We went from a slow start.
The first job we did was a motion graphics job which gave us the financial capabilities to rent a studio and then have our 3 months worth of pay to get it up and running.
Oh yeah, yeah I have heard of them …
Yeah so it was Medal of Honor and the opening cinematic sequence to that game is what we got in as a job and it was a massive coup for us considering that we didn’t really exist at the time.
So we did that, with a small motion graphics team working day and night to try and get it out the door.
Did you hire freelancers to create the motion graphics team and help you complete the Medal of Honor project?
We did and we didn’t 😀
I mean we were a bit creative in terms of who worked on the project. There were one or two people we needed to create and animate some of the assets.
Did you have any fears setting up Territory with yourself and your co-founders? If you did, how did you overcome that?
From my point of view the fears were that we were not got going to get any work so we wouldn’t be around for very long.
Most people start a business with a loan, financial debt. We didn’t because of that initial job so we’ve been kind of debt free from day one.
If you’re not owing money to anyone, then the only bad thing that could happen if it fails is you’re going to have to find a find a job somewhere else.
So there’s no real pressure from that sense, although we all wanted Territory to work and we knew it would work. We just needed to put the time in and get it to work.
So I don’t think necessarily any of us were not convinced of our potential success.
Having that confidence and self-belief you are going to succeed is critical especially starting a new venture.
Was having your own business something you’d always thought about doing or was it an organic process that developed whilst you were working at the design agency?
My founders and I are all ambitious people. We were in positions at the previous agency where we wanted more control.
I was Head of Design and it was not a massive stretch to go from there to a Creative Director within a business.
So yes it felt like a natural next step to set up my own business.
During setting up Territory, I’m really interested to know Lee, how have you dealt with any set backs or failures, there must have been times when things have not gone to plan, how did you overcome that?
I think you quickly realise running a creative business, a lot of it isn’t about the ‘creative’, it’s about how you manage your staff, how you manage your clients, how you manage your business.
It’s a balancing act and it’s a bit of a wake up call when you consider that a lot of my days now and that of the Directors’ aren’t about creative direction necessarily.
That’s maybe a smaller percentage than you’d imagine. It’s about finding new work; it’s about managing current clients; it’s about dealing with any staff issues; it’s about maybe finding newer premises; looking at the competition and keeping your eye on the ball to know what people are doing.
So yeah its far more spread out than just being a creative, the idea is that you hire good creatives and you manage the business.
But it depends on what your ambition is and how big you need to grow. Territory is growing in different ways depending on the kind of work we do.
In what way is Territory growing Lee?
We’re using our expertise in designing future user interfaces to help businesses develop digital experiences all over the World at the moment and the motion graphics department is expanding beyond the wall of the London studio.
We’ve also got another partner who joined the business over a year ago and he heads up the brand experience. Their remit is looking at product and service design, which essentially feeds more into the production side of the business.
They are currently redesigning the interior of aircraft and the overall customer experience for an overseas airline at present – so you see the business has a multifaceted skillset.
That’s fantastic. I can imagine this is bringing in new skillsets and core capabilities you’re developing to manage your newly identified global opportunities and assets.
Yeah, we are beholden to new business so we have to get new business in no matter where it is in the world.
So I think we are just looking at it from those opportunities that aren’t just in London and England. They are European; they are the US; the Far East. Anywhere where there are the right requirements for our skillsets then we’ll do it.
I don’t think geography is necessarily that much of an issue these days.
Does that also relate to your hiring of talent for Territory?
It does, one of our Art Directors who worked on The Martian he’s from Barcelona. Our Head of 3D is from Hungary. If you’re good enough then you can get the work no matter where you’re from.
From what you’ve said Lee, you guys were quite business savvy from the offset in setting up Territory and knew the direction you wanted the studio to take.
Did you set yourselves goals to achieve x, y, z in 3, 6, 12 months time? How detailed were you with your business planning?
That’s one of the things you do is a business plan. I think any business does that anyway. Nick, one the Directors was very good at managing us in terms of getting the right people in to talk to us about how we see the business growing and how we plan for the future.
We always have reviews, performance statistics and financial reviews to look at what we are doing right, what we are doing wrong, what we can do better.
So I think you always need to be on top of that stuff.
Was this your first venture for you guys? Did you reach out for any help and mentorship?
Yeah it was.
Mentorship generally is something we’ll always look too. I think it can only be a good thing to learn from what people have done in the past.
What’s the ultimate dream Lee?
Professionally, the dream is to walk into work in the mornings and be happy, to be excited with the work you’re producing and the kind of people who are working with you.
It’s not always the case, there are a lot of trials and tribulations along the journey, but you want the control, you want the excitement and you want the financial stability at the end of the day.
Thanks for sharing your Dream 2 Venture Lee.
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