Radiator Turns 20: An Interview with Our Founders
This year Radiator celebrates 20 successful years working in digital.
How time flies! It was in 2002, while working in the design department of the Picardy media agency, that co-founders Stephen Hunter and Fraser Hogg took the leap into entrepreneurship and together set up Radiator Digital - this was a time when only 500 million people had access to the internet, compared to 5 billion today, social networking was in its infancy with the likes of Friendster and MySpace, and a slow dial-up modem and bulky desktop PC were the only way to get online for the majority.
"Congratulations on your 20th Anniversary Team Radiator! It has been a pleasure to work with you for around seven of those 20 years. Considering the competitive marketplace, and recent challenging times, it’s testament to the team’s skill, creativity and leadership that Radiator continues to grow and evolve. Here’s to the next 20!"
Jill Spink, Edinburgh International Conference Centre
Today we sit down with both Stephen and Fraser to discuss everything from how they got started, advice for those looking to follow in their footsteps and what the next 5 years look like for both them and Radiator.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you did before Radiator?
Fraser: We both worked at Picardy. I was in the design department - it was mainly CD-Roms and animations. You started as a flash animator. The first bit of work Stephen did was a screensaver for Hewden Stuart that would have needed basically deep blue to run it because it ended up being about 3GB in size.
Stephen: But the sound effects were remarkable. Remember you interviewed me for the job, and at the end you asked "is that it over?" because it had felt like I was interviewing you? Before that, I had taught English in Sabadell just outside Barcelona.
What was it about digital that appealed to you both and how did you get started?
S: I think for me I was always interested in design and digital was clearly where it was going. I was also interested in the interactive nature of it. It wasn’t just the aesthetic - it had to be usable and make a difference to the organisation and individuals.
F: I think it was just a continuation of what we were doing in Picardy, because the background was in video production, and they were kind of only dabbling in it. It was very early days, but content management was just coming in for websites and CD-Roms were going to be obsolete.
And why the name Radiator?
S: Which version do you want to give? I had 3 names in mind when we had our pre-setup session and they were "Radiator", "Radiation" or "Radiate".
F: I don’t think "Radiation" got the right vibe across; you just think of radiation poisoning.
S: Someone came up with a better reason, and that there were 2 types of people in this world: either radiators or drains. We liked that.
F: We reverse-engineered the story of the name and went with that.
Is there anything you would do differently if you could go back?
S: As a general rule I don’t regret; every step leads to the next. I would certainly swap out being paid for the early work we did with Skyscanner for the share option.
F: We didn’t know if they would actually go for that; but there were a few other suppliers that went that way so they may well have gone for it.
S: But then we wouldn’t be here today...
"Happy 20th birthday Radiator Digital! Although I’ve only personally worked with you for the last 3 years (and what a 3 years), you’ve been a part of team RZSS and been with us through some transformational digital projects that will aid our charity in better knowing our audience and supporting our work in worldwide wildlife conservation – thank you for all your hard work to make this happen!"
Lisa Robshaw, The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland
What does the future of Radiator look like? What is the plan for the next 5 years?
F: More of the same; we’ve built it solidly and well over the years. It’s a nice place to work. We've never had plans to turn it into a company of 100-200.
S: We’ve got a really good set of clients and a great team, but as I hurtle toward the half-century I certainly expect to take a backward step.
Stills from an early 'Digital Christmas Card' campaign for Drambuie
What advice would you give those looking to get started in digital today?
S: For me, it would certainly be to have a clear idea of what you stand for and what the key offering is. Don’t be confused - it’s a very cluttered market. You certainly need to define your offering and make it clear and as easy to communicate as possible. You need to have a passion for looking after clients - that needs to be a natural characteristic.
F: I think the challenge is there are so many different skill sets that you need; design, digital marketing, project management, etc. The challenge for starting out as a new company is getting that mix when there are only two of you. You’re going to be lacking in some areas until you can get specialists in to fill the gaps.
"We began our partnership with Radiator in 2018 and they have supported us on a number of key projects over the years, contributing hugely to the success of our digital strategy. We can always rely on them to deliver to the highest quality, no matter how large, small or time sensitive a project may be. We really value their insight and innate ability to ‘get’ our vision from the outset, and they are extremely well-respected throughout our firm."
Jennifer Gibson, MacRoberts - One of Scotland's Leading Law Firms
What does success look like for you both?
S: Happy clients that continue to use you, a sustained team without too high a turnover despite the buoyancy of the market, and definitely self-fulfilment!
F: I think when a client is very appreciative of your design and works with you on it, that’s very good. The flipside is obviously the reverse. Also, how everyone is in the office. You can have all the skills in the world, but if the culture or the environment is terrible then it’s not going to work.
S: There’s always room for improvement. Keep on moving - we are sharks!
A huge, special thanks to our clients who helped contribute to this post - we value all of you, and look forward to collaborating on more amazing work with you all in the years to come!