An interview with interactive creative director Hans Spooren

Hans is the creative director of Mr. Henry, a young creative web studio based in Antwerp. He started his company just one year after leaving school. They already have a diverse and interesting portfolio after 6 years of existence. We have a word with the man. 

How did you start Mr. Henry?

Literally, in my old bedroom at my parent’s place. When I graduated, I started work at a big company, with high aspirations of my own. High aspirations in the sense that you could “change the (internet)world”, be it a little bit. Didn’t find my groove at the big company so, being a fresh-out-of-school (read: with little/no cash) person, I went back to my parents to start freelancing under the alias Colorblind. Back then it took up all my time, just getting accustomed to the freelance way of life. Anyway, long story short: I started getting more requests than I could handle, and together with some people I started Mr. Henry. At the moment, I’m the only partner left, but I’m liking every minute with my baby as it is.

Mr. Henry

What was the most difficult part in starting up your own business?

$$$. It sounds stupid maybe, but it boils down to the moolah. When we started, we looked into getting subsidised funding, something to help out with the little things. When you start, and everything is new, the one thing that is there from the start are the bills (rent*, internet*, prostitutes**, our own pay-check*, midnight cocktail parties**,…). In combination with the uncertainty of jobs, it can get scary sometimes. A lot of stuff has happened, and we learned A LOT from past mistakes (bad clients, totally wrong estimates, being too naïve, …). Looking back on everything, the hardest thing is balancing out delivering awesome work with paying the bills each month, without feeling bad pressure (and having a social life).

What is the most rewarding part of starting your own business?

No doubt, the people we’ve gathered over the years as a close team/family. I really try to create an environment, with room for everybody’s amazing talents. Together with getting recognition for the hard work, we do each day, in our aspiration to make the internet a prettier place, that’s my reward, right there.

Mr. Henry

I can imagine that some clients are that receptive towards new media, how do you challenge them to go that extra mile?

We always try to get in the mind of our client. What makes them tick? Why are they doing what they do? It’s easy to do this when the subject is cool (like vegetarian shoes, or a photographer with amazing work) but we like to try and do this for everybody we meet. Also, we tend to be really honest about everything we do, and we tell clients what we think is best for them. Sometimes they go with it, sometimes they don’t. The global awareness has changed for the better though, everybody “knows” that their business needs to be online 😉

Mr. Henry

For sure the balance between commercial and non-commercial work is a hard one. How do you keep things balanced?

We don’t really dive into a project with prejudice, and we make it as interesting for ourselves as possible. This way, the best result will always come out. We always give our foremost, thinking further than the brief if possible. To get as much as feedback possible, we always work with multiple people on projects, making a project something of everybody, instead of always the same person. It’s nice for developers/designers to have the feeling they can work on everything that’s floating around the office.
And we try to have some Fridays completely to ourselves, building our own stuff, and doing nothing for clients a whole day. This has proven to be not so easy as it sounds.

Mr. Henry

What is the project you are most proud of over the years?

Without a doubt, our own company Mr. Henry. I hope it doesn’t come over as too narcissistic, but to see what we’ve accomplished in 5 years (yes, we’re rolling into our sixth year as we type), that makes my heart warm. We’ve grown so naturally, and on our own tempo, doing what we do. Gradually the audience for how we see things is growing and, to me, that’s something to be really proud of. I’d like to stress out that how everything went is only possible with a healthy dose of love for the trade, and that’s something everybody chez Henri has. I’m happy with the feeling to have created a “home” for our team, a place they like to come into every morning.
Also, my personal project lose-weight-fast is coming along.

Where do you see your agency in 5 years?

Oh boy, I hate questions like this. I would say; to be the little, flexible studio we are today, still loving what we do, with people that have the same goals. We feel ourselves growing up each day, and still learning from all the little things that happen. “Little, flexible studio” doesn’t mean we want to stall, no we want to stay lean! At the moment we’re eating our lunch with 5 people every day, I hope to gradually expand, with the same natural “shwoong” that led us where we are today. 

Quality over quantity…

Mr. Henry

You also work for big names like the New York-based Hugo & Marie or the London based Hi-reS!, is there a big difference between Belgian & international agencies?

Uh, for me personally both experiences were simply a-ma-zing! If there was a big difference, it would be in an approach I think. Because of the distance, they cut to the chase right away. There’s a really solid way of approaching the project at hand, and we get the feeling of being guided, yet have plenty of room for suggestions. When we communicate, we mainly use Skype or go to London if time allows it (NY is too far sadly enough). And that goes really well. 

Also, they give mad credit yo! We were mentioned as a valuable partner in crime when the project was featured on the respective sites. Something we also always does, give credit where credit’s due. We don’t know many Belgian companies who do that.

 And we also learn to speak better English to boot. It turns out, one shouldn’t translate “hout vasthouden” too literally.

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More of Mr. Henry’s work

Published by

Timothy Helmer

Designer, curator of Let's Talk Design and founder of Creative Network.