A branding and design studio for ambitious entrepreneurs, visionaries and innovators, Hangar has, over the past decade, established itself as an industry leader in the design space. With a commitment to a personalised service and a focus on branding and user experience, Hangar designs and develops brands and products for startups and scaleups in fintech, health tech, edtech, AI, VR and blockchain.
Looking back to 2012 when he first launched the company, Clint reveals that the main motivation for setting it up – and the element that has sustained it since – is simply personal satisfaction. “Design has always been my favourite part of the job and is the business’ reason for being. Everything evolved from the joy of design – that’s where it all started and what it all goes back to. One of the most important things for me as a business owner is to keep having fun whatever I’m doing. I now know from experience that the moment I feel we’re getting distracted from this original purpose, we absolutely need to slow down.”
As such, the business has progressed organically over the years, without any formal plans for growth. “The idea was always to have a small business as I never wanted to scale into a massive agency. That doesn’t mean that we weren’t ambitious. Our ambitions were just different; but we still wanted to work with high-level clients on big projects. Of course, we understood that it would be a challenge as certain clients prefer outsourcing to a 50-strong team than one or two or three people. But still, we were doing things our way and learning as we went along. And since I had no prior experience working in another agency, we had to learn how to do everything from scratch. This turned out well for us in the end, because it enabled us to stand out from the competition because we weren’t conditioned to do things the way others did.”
Fast-forward six years and the company had scaled to a staff of 14 by 2018, drastically changing the structure of the business. On the one hand, a bigger team allowed Hangar to take on more projects as the company grew with the demand. On the other, Clint felt that the business was veering off course and losing sight of its original goal.
“At heart, I still wanted us to be a small business with big ambitions, going at a slower pace and doing things our own way,” he admits. So, it was at this point that he took the bold decision of intentionally scaling back down to focus only on the projects they brought the most value and impact to. “Today we are more of a design studio than a designer marketing agency, so we specialise solely in branding and design – our true expertise.”
The decision to slow down was further accelerated with the advent of 2020. “Before the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of our marketing was experiential, so we organised and promoted in-person events for our clients. Obviously, that side of our business took a big hit but, thankfully, we were able to replace it with other longer-term services like brand strategy, which actually grew the business in a single year. We started 2020 thinking it would be the worst year ever for our business, but it turned out to be one of the best.”
This, in fact, ties in with one of the most important lessons Clint has learned over his ten years at Hangar. “You really cannot plan for every possible future scenario. The past 10 years have been full of changes and surprises. In and of itself, the nature of our business is already very fluid in the day-to-day, what with changes in markets, cultures and economies. Let alone when unexpected global events take place, such as a pandemic, war and recession – the implications are huge, so you just have to be on the ball and ready to adapt.”
This lends further weight to the iterative approach that the team has adopted, which goes against long-term planning like setting a five-year business plan. “There’s no point planning three or five years ahead. We plan for the shorter term, then reschedule and refine on a quarterly basis or as needed. When we build a digital product, it doesn’t have a start and end date – there is no implicit expiry. So we collect data, run tests and then make necessary changes. Additionally, from a business perspective, we try to look at business behaviour and identify patterns of how it progresses throughout the year, to see if there are periods that tend to be more or less busy. But the reality is that this shifts year on year. At times there are unexpected dips while at others business is more consistent.”
A definite plus that came out of the pandemic for Hangar was the shift in the company’s business model, which Clint said pushed the team deeper into the tech sector. Today, Hangar has a roster of businesses that are worth over €50 billion – an impressive figure by any measure.
“For us, our success is all about our clients’ results. Through a combination of rebranding and prepping pitch decks, we facilitate the process for startups to attract the right investors so they can raise funds and get their round of investment. One proud milestone for us came in 2022, when we helped our clients raise close to €100 million in total.”
Ultimately, for Clint, the key to having good customer relations is to remember that he is working with people. “Design isn’t just about how something looks but what it enables people to do. We build systems that help people communicate, so our end goal is always to improve the customer and user experience.”
Clint draws an interesting analogy with an aeroplane hangar – the company’s namesake. He explains that in a hangar, you don’t build a plane – you build a transport system. The goal here is for people to get from point A to B safely while enjoying the experience. Moreover, hangars are places where different teams work on different projects with great precision and efficiency. Similarly, at Hangar, the team works hard to create effective systems that allow customers to reach their proverbial destination.
Another critical component of the customer experience at Hangar is the personalised attention clients receive, thanks to a direct line to Clint himself. “Clients appreciate communicating with the person leading their project because it’s so much more efficient than having to go through multiple hierarchies of management, which I can tell is a pain point many would have already experienced when working with other bigger companies first. With us, nothing gets lost in translation – fewer layers means less friction.”
Reflecting on the qualities that make a good leader, without hesitation, Clint credits empathy as the cornerstone of his leadership philosophy. “In our industry especially, empathy is key. Everything we do revolves around communication among multiple parties. So our job is not only to figure out how we can keep our clients happy and solve their business problems, but to do the same for their customers and users.”
What stands out most to Clint here is the essential human element that is central to all communication. “Even if you have to use a device to speak to someone, you should never forget that there’s a person on the other side of the screen.”
What’s more, as a designer himself, Clint emphasises the importance of understanding the needs of his co-designers, particularly in challenging situations where clients might not understand the problem the team is trying to solve. “To me it’s critical that the whole team is happy and fulfilled in their roles. One of the current members has been around since 2015, when he applied with us for his very first design job,” Clint smiles.
Given the location-agnostic nature of their work, the team doesn’t need to operate from the same place, and currently numbers three members working from Malta, Croatia and Stockholm. This makes the job very flexible and accommodating, but also requires a certain level of individual ownership as everyone must manage their own workload effectively. “I am only involved in the overall direction of our projects but don’t need to micro-manage anyone or get involved in the nitty-gritty,” Clint explains.
Looking back on 10 years of leadership and a promising track record, Clint is enthusiastic about what the future will hold for Hangar, and is keen for the team to keep doing what they’re doing to attract new and exciting prospects.
For someone with such a passion for tech, he concludes with an interesting and thought-provoking observation: “For the foreseeable future, no matter how important, complex and central to our lives technology becomes, there will always be the need for humans. It is humans who will continue to create, consume and communicate tech. And that is something every leader and team player should remember going into the rest of 2023.”
The interview forms part of the 50 Business Leaders project. The online serialisation on MaltaCEOs.mt will feature 50 distinguished business leaders, CEOs, and emerging business minds to create debate and encourage business leaders to share their journey with our readers.
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