So what marks out pupils from teachers at Hurtwood? Age, of course, is the obvious starting point. I am not going to say commitment, because I encounter this on both teacher/pupil sides, and on a regular basis; nor will I say passion, because likewise, whilst we’re not always on the same page so to speak, we are all rather driven up here on the hill, towards ends variously rewarding. But when I met Henry Russell over the phone yesterday, I had to admit defeat: what divided us was a forceful energy and relentless drive that I recognized from my own twenties. It was impressive and almost overwhelming, and it was immediately apparent that what had taken him from A level student to founder and CEO of Quench, an impressively fast-growing video and marketing company specializing in craft food and drink, already building an impressively varied client base, is sheer youthful energy and optimism. If you take a look at his site you’ll see that the hallmark is clearly a cheeky, sexy, intelligent and inviting business approach, and, as we caught up on his onward journey from Hurtwood, it is apparent that Henry’s business is evolving and growing from week to week, even at the centre of a Covid-blighted world.
Next question: what has taken Henry from A levels at Hurtwood (Media/ Theatre/ Business) to the heady heights of running a cool, flexible and expanding business based in Shoreditch, in the course of only three short years? Well the first element is that the original concept began while he was still with us at Hurtwood. Realizing that one could legally establish a business at the age of 16, he launched HRussellMedia Ltd from his dorm at Beatrice Webb.
Coming from the more traditional educational world of Stowe, which had given him excellent foundations, Henry tells me that it was the encouragement and focus that he found at Hurtwood that gave him the confidence to launch straight into the business world. He makes a few confessions along the way. ‘I must have been very annoying in class,’ he tells me. (I had heard a whisper!) ‘I used to challenge a lot. It was obviously naivety all the time... my weekly reports were never too great’. All the more encouraging then that with hindsight he can critique his own performance. Meanwhile, building on the expertise and input of his different A levels, he began to hone his focus. With a pool of ‘extraordinary acting talent’ right on his doorstep, in the shape of his friends and peers, and with the fantastic professionalism and enrichment offered through Hurtwood Film Academy, he was acquiring the skills that are immediately apparent on his company site. Ideas were hardening into a business model and having already decided that the real world held more immediate draw than further education, he set about making the dream a reality.
A six-month stint back at home in Suffolk confirmed the need to consolidate a London base along with the consequent strains: economic challenges and hardship, alongside building up equipment, the client-base and an immediate way forward. A sharp learning curve followed: offering virtually free promotional videos taught some clear lessons, having to make-do with claustrophobic studio conditions (‘The Cell’, it was called), and the need to build profile and exposure. The first truly paid and unsolicited gig for a private hockey coaching business was a very exciting watershed: the business was off the blocks, and work gradually began to build through networking and an expanding client base.
With lots of false starts and cul-de-sacs, a unique selling point began to emerge in the form of a focus on food and drink, and in particular the rather zeitgeisty area of ‘craft’ food and drink. Henry says many times in our chat that it is the passion and commitment that he has found in this area that drives his own business model, that he finds so appealing. Things are now really beginning to happen. Quench offers three services, Video by Quench, Design by Quench (product, graphic and brand design) and Shop by Quench (Online e-commerce store development). With a new name, a cool East London base and credibility, a clearer aesthetic and house style, and a core team of like-minded fellow workers, as well as top-quality flexible and reliable contractors, the clients are building, the businesses growing in range and size. To some ‘totally brilliant small but iconic craft labels’, big company names have been added, including such big beasts as Conde Nast and Marriott hotels.
What struck me as particularly impressive in this journey was the adaptability on show here: the way that Henry has built in a range of specialisms including motion graphics among many others, offering so much more than just ‘awesome videos’ and brash and eye-catching youth culture. The company has just established ‘Quench Collective’ to help craft companies distil their individual brand design into one-stop online shops, offering clients everything from packaging and image to outlet, in the face a changing market place with Covid closures of retail world. Another recent commission has involved producing explanatory videos for Marriott hotels to communicate the changed protocols of the hotel chain in our weird Covid world.
So what have been the key moments in these whirlwind couple of years, and what are his proudest achievements? To the many that have already come up, add the first really big name, William Grant and Sons, who handle so many of the top cool labels, from Hendriks to Monkey Shoulder Gin, with the consequent kudos that has been added to their portfolio.
Being taken seriously by so many really talented companies, still seems to bowl Henry over, and he is clearly proud of what he considers the freshness and transparency of his business model and package. It has to be said that offering a range of clearly identified packages and prices, displaying a clear understanding of cultural appeal, that seems honest and direct, he certainly looks in control of something that is solid and sustainable even in the face of our economically challenging world.
Time to let him get back to his demanding kingdom. How did Hurtwood help him achieve all this I ask? In every way he replies without hesitation. From the network of pals to help with the videos as well as the knowledge to make them. He reiterates that the whole mood he found with us encouraged and supported his own passion, that he wouldn’t be where he is now without this sense of support and self-belief.
‘I loved my time at Hurtwood’ he announces. ‘They were two of the best years of my life. I loved everything about it and I’m happy to shout about it!’
Here is one really impressive young business entrepreneur, I think, liking the combination of brash self-belief as well as a surprising capacity for modest self appraisal. I particularly liked one of his mottoes ‘Fail fast’ and learn from your mistakes: he has included plenty of his own false starts alongside the obvious achievements of his journey, with a comfortable sense of inbuilt transparency and drive. What does he hope to achieve by the time he is thirty I ask, changing the goal swiftly to twenty five as he seems to be moving so fast! A weekend off, he tells me, more delegation. ‘I don’t think that I’ve had a weekend off in three years.’ The goal speaks volumes about the nature of success.
I leave Henry exhausted – in a good way – by the sheer force and energy that he exudes, the comfortable manner in which he spreads the enthusiasm and commitment, and the way he makes it all sound easy. It has been a privilege to catch a little time with a young man in such a hurry. ‘It’s been a wild road, a big learning curve,’ he affirms, ‘and we’re on a slow climbing trajectory now.’ Are we impressed? Bring it on, we say at Hurtwood – and hooray for Henry!