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News > Alumni news > An Interview with TWGSB Alumnus, Charlie de Rusett (Class of 2003)

An Interview with TWGSB Alumnus, Charlie de Rusett (Class of 2003)

Charlie de Rusett is a serial entrepreneur and has founded and owned three businesses - all before the age of 35.
30 Jan 2023
Written by Lucy Tipler
Alumni news

Charlie modestly describes himself as a Technology & Innovation Executive on his LinkedIn profile but he has achieved a great deal in a short period of time.  All three businesses were in collaboration with another TWGSB alumnus, Owen Hunnam (98-05), and they became an entrepreneurial tag team since they met at Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys.

Their first ‘venture’ was in the playground at age 11, when Charlie and Owen started selling sweets to their school friends during break time. After the then headmaster closed down their business 18 months later, the two founded a mobile disco business aged 12, which went on to generate £2,000 per month. They were forced to close the business when all of their equipment was stolen when they were 16.

Now, close to 24 years later, de Rusett and Hunnam have built and sold two further businesses and set up a third.  

Charlie de Rusett says of that time, “Owen and I were the kids that solved anything and everything on the school playground. We met when we were 11. I was quite naughty at school while Owen was quite academic. I left school without finishing my A Levels but I was good at maths and got into hedge funds. Owen went into Aston University. He had a theory if we took his student loan as seed capital, we could start a business. So using that £10,000, he launched Vine Publishing: a monthly local lifestyle magazines and business directory for highly affluent areas allowing luxury consumer brands to showcase themselves to the appropriate readership.

Meanwhile, the recession kicked in, and I realised that making investment decisions might not be where I got pleasure from anymore.

Owen and I had a beer together and thought about how to work together. That’s how I got involved. We grew the business, and ultimately sold it to World Media.

That’s when we made our first mistake. When we were growing our publishing company, our sales team said that marketing execs and directors are increasingly diverting their marketing spend from print to digital. We decided to train our team in digital skills and diversify from print. Back then, we were adopting a freemium model. 60 per cent of the content in our monthly magazines were strictly independent editorial, focussed on reader research. We had structure and a strategy, so when got an offer for the business, we got greedy and turned it down.

Ironically, a year later, the same company offered to buy us again but for much less. This was a lesson for us. When you know something is right for you, get it done. Don’t get bogged down by the numbers.

That’s where the early idea for Idea Drop came about. When we were a small team, it was easy to have ideas and work off them. When we grew to about 30 people, we realised that ideas that would just get told to us over our shoulder while we drafted a proposal, or it would pop up on a whiteboard during a meeting.

We had grown our business using cloud-based technology, so we had the foundations in place for content sharing. We went to Google to see how we could similarly capture these great ideas that were thrown about. There wasn’t anything out there, so we turned to our in-house team to build just that”.

This is when they co-founded Idea Drop – idea management software that allows organisations to harness the collective brainpower of their stakeholders, solve business challenges faster, increase collaboration and employee engagement. They managed to secure a £1 million investment to grow their idea sharing software business, which is a platform now used by Fortune 500 engineering companies, UK police forces and SMEs across 61 countries and 318 cities.

Fast forward from there, they rebranded and became a digital agency, Yellowball, of which Charlie is still a non-executive Director, shareholder (ex CEO & Founder).  Yellowball is award-winning creative consultancy, working with market-leading brands throughout London and Europe across sectors.

I caught up with Charlie to find out how his experiences at TWGSB impacted his career choices and his amazing entrepreneurial direction in life:

What, if any, aspects of your experiences at TWGSB most influenced your career and life choices? 

Being surrounded by smart peers certainly impacted both; close friends were entrepreneurial and interested in topping up pocket money through a range of enterprising ideas, from selling sweets to running disco businesses that catered for parties. It became clear early on that surrounding yourself with driven people has a material impact on your success in any chosen field.

What has been the most successful and rewarding part of your personal / professional life? What did you achieve / learn? 

I believe birthing and growing three different businesses has been the most thrilling and yet painful experiences of my life thus far. Thrilling because I consider myself a life-long learner and working in business gives you infinite exposure to new topics and people both of which are critical to self-development. Painful because failure is rife when starting businesses and you spend a lot of time picking yourself up from experiences that didn’t go your way, in a way it’s good because it quickly teaches grit, determination and tenacity but comes with the cost of a lot of sacrifice. Having great people around you will mean you have people to celebrate and commiserate with!

What was the most pivotal moment in your career (e.g. change of direction or role) and what personal/ professional changes did it bring? 

I’d been fascinated by the equity markets since an early teenager (back when you’d see the prices in the paper or on teletext!) but had decided not to go to university and was working as a Marketing Manager for an outdoor activities centre group. I’d been applying for some time to work in the back office of a Hedge Fund and sharing my own trading models with them to make up for my rather blank CV! In 2007 I got my break and over the next four years advanced to a front office analyst. This was effectively my university and without that tenure I’d have struggled to start the businesses in the years that followed.

What are you plans / expectations for your future career or personal life? 

My incredible wife, Jordan, and I are looking to spend more time in the countryside and starting a family - which we’re very excited about! From a work perspective, currently I’m helping the leadership of an AI company, 3AI. I've made a small investment in them and am assisting the maturity of their operational and sales functions to help them advance to their next funding round. I enjoy the cut and thrust of start/scale up businesses and hope to be an effective hands-on consultant/investor in this space for many years to come. Eventually, I’d like to do perennial farming! 

What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self or current students based on your own experiences?

Never forget how important the skill of discernment will be - it’ll help you surround yourself with the right people and focus you on the right activities regardless of what you want to do. Combine that with perseverance and it can be a potent formula.

What characteristics or attributes did TWGSB bring out in you, and how?

Competitiveness - it was good to be around a bunch of talented guys who were ambitious. There'll be days or even periods when you don’t feel like competing or even that you're not good enough to but just keep turning up and putting one foot in front of the other, persistence pays and when you look in the mirror remember you’re your only real opponent. 

Communication - when you leap into secondary school there are way more people from different backgrounds before you’ve reached this point. I learned not everyone looks, thinks or speaks in the same way at TWGSB and this really helped me prepare for this to change even further after school. Communicating considerately sits at the heart of developing long lasting relationships and I certainly think the school helped install these foundations. 

What did you gain from your TWGSB experience, either in terms or enjoyment at the time or skills / values used in later life?

I remember loving the variety of sports and subjects that I was exposed to during my time there and have needed that variety ever since leaving!

What single memory about your time at TWGSB stands out for you and why?

1000+ boys moving from lesson to lesson at the end of each period and how every year faces came and went as journeys began and ended there. Each person has/had a story and yet all of ours was/is connected by our time there - it seemed a cool thought then and still is now.

 

We wish Charlie continued success with all his future enterprises and best of luck. Please keep us posted! 


If you would like to inspire the current students and recent leavers with your story – please make contact: connect@twgsboys.kent.sch.uk


References: Other related articles which expand on Charlie’s Story: https://www.kentonline.co.uk/kent-business/county-news/idea-drop-owen-hunnam-95826/

https://growthbusiness.co.uk/from-selling-penny-sweets-to-getting-roi-from-innovation-idea-drop-15792/



 

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