Cross Creative – Interview

Daniel Rae

Daniel is Co-Founder and Strategy Director of specialist social media agency Hydrogen. He was a delegate of the 2017/18 Cross Creative programme.

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We stopped by Hydrogen’s Glasgow City Centre office to chat to Daniel about Cross Creative, Canada’s digital sector and maple syrup.

“Cross Creative was all about personal development for me. As a new company owner with, to be honest, fairly limited management experience, I was slightly heading into the unknown when starting the business. In terms of leadership training, there’s not a lot out there. There’s no rulebook when it comes to running a company – there are initiatives out there for people trying to get a business off the ground, but training for business owners or senior people in a company is hard to come by. Cross Creative opens the door to networking with your peers, hands-on experience and international exposure. I don’t think anything else out there compares to it.”

Training with peers

“I was aware of the programme – I knew people who had been on the course before, so I kept an eye on TRC’s announcements and applied for it straight away.  For me, it was about growing as a leader – there’s a lot of things when it comes to business ownership, line management, strategy, etc. that I had to learn quickly but I think being in a room several times a year with others in similar roles was a massive help. I think the environment really helps – from day one it was made clear that this was an open, private community designed so that we can speak freely. And people did – everyone was very forthcoming about their companies, challenges and aspirations. It was a bit of a therapy session sometimes! But massively valuable to learn from your peers.

Not only that, the training was really helpful – negotiation was particularly useful, as it’s something you do every day without really realising it. There was a lot of useful information about business ownership, strategy around selling up and exit strategy, which we’re obviously not focusing on in the first year of the company, but will be massively useful in the future.”

Taking time out of the business

“We were only a year old when I started on Cross Creative, so I had to really make the case for taking time out for training. I think any business owner would agree that you have to take some time away from the company occasionally. It’s something we should do more of – taking an afternoon or day to strategise and plan for the future.  With Cross Creative, you’re out of the office for 5 to 6 days in total for training, which could seem like a lot when you’re running a business, but it’s definitely worth it in terms of what you get back. The trip as well – getting that international experience far outweighs the “burden” of taking a week out of the office. “

International field trip to Canada’s Toronto-Waterloo Region Corridor

“I think there’s a tendency to think ‘UK only’ when you’re a small company here– it was telling that only one company in our Cross Creative delegation had exported their services outside of the UK– so I think there’s a bit of a mental barrier to that here. Maybe people just don’t think about how they can export their services abroad, but from a social media perspective, why not? It’s been good to open doors and think bigger.

We learnt a lot about the business environment in Canada – they’re very new business friendly and there’s a lot of support for start-ups and a lot of potential investors. I also think there’s a better attitude to collaboration, which I don’t see happen as much here in the UK. As an agency owner, I don’t think there’s a natural inclination to collaborate and share with other agencies, but I think the Canada experience has opened my mind to being more collaborative in the future. There’s been some collaboration on the back of the programme already – we’ve referred work to other companies on the programme and we’ve won business on the back of Cross Creative. I’m confident that even years down the line, when Cross Creative is a distant memory, that network will still stick with me.”

Company Culture

“I’ve always had a concept of Hydrogen being a learning environment and encouraged the staff to self-learn as much as possible – we have monthly breakfast learning meetings where people come along and present a topic of interest relevant to the agency and our clients. The trip to Canada really reinforced this idea, so we’re going to introduce a monthly session where we discuss creative ideas and concepts that we’ve seen on social media.

Office environment was also a massive learning from the trip. In Canada we visited some really cool start-ups and incubators which gave me a lot of ideas about creating a fun and creative-friendly environment in the office. I’m not sure we can compete with Shopify’s Waterloo office, which was  in a converted brewery, or the incubator that had an indoor slide, but I do want to create a more open space that’s conducive to creative ideas for our next office. Maybe we’ll have maple syrup on tap too!”

Read more about Daniel’s thoughts on the Canada trip over on Hydrogen’s blog: Reflections on Canada 

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Cross Creative is an original training concept by TRC.

Cross Creative is funded by our partners BBC Nations and Regions, Channel 4, Scottish Enterprise & Screen Scotland. There is a company fee of £500.