The biggest surprises we encountered launching Cool Beans

Trusting our instincts, we developed a spicy chilli Cool Bean product which tends to surprise those spicy-food lovers who taste it for the first time

Cool Beans founders Sarah O’Connor and Isolde Johnson

Cool Beans founders Sarah O’Connor and Isolde Johnson

 

We have encountered a lot of surprises since we started Cool Beans and there are two in particular that spring to mind. While both are different in nature, they offer a good insight behind the scenes at Cool Beans and may be relevant to those considering – or in the process of – developing a start-up.

Having embarked on our Cool Beans journey, we were confident that the tomato- and smokey-flavoured meals would be popular but we never expected that our big gamble on chilli Cool Beans – the real hot and spicy meal – would result in that product being our bestseller.

It was by no means the most popular of our three flavours during the countless focus groups we engaged with at the product development stage, or even at the music festivals. We therefore faced a major dilemma: whether to continue to develop a real chilli product that had a major hit to the taste or to tone the flavour down while keeping the same chilli label. Trusting our initial instincts, we developed a real spicy chilli Cool Bean product which ironically tends to surprise those spicy-food lovers who taste it for the first time. This is because, according to our customers, many food products labelled as chilli tend to not be too hot, and they find themselves satisfied buying a product that does “exactly what it says on the tub”.

Keep a close eye

This realisation has changed our thinking and will undoubtedly influence our growth strategy as we are now a lot more willing to experiment with products that are less mainstream. So keep a close eye on the Cool Beans shelves and don’t be surprised if you see fish-flavoured Cool Beans in the months ahead (okay, maybe not that adventurous).

We are determined, however, to avoid complacency. You have to be prepared to “fail fast” and ultimately be guided by your customers. The lesson from surprise number one is that just because you may like (or dislike) your product, it doesn’t mean that your customers will.

The Cool Beans journey has also thrown up surprise number two, which has been the amount of time that everything takes. The ingenious slogan “nothing added but time” is most relevant to our business – perhaps we could run with our own more appropriate version, “nothing added but thyme”.

For those of you considering developing a start-up, plan how long you think a task will take, then double it and add on an extra few months and only then will you be close to the actual time needed.

Chilled shelf

There is no greater buzz than watching someone pick up your product and buy it, but if someone had told us at the start it would take nearly two years to get the product from the Bean Machine (mobile catering unit) to the chilled shelf of supermarkets, we would have been willing to bet that we could do it sooner.

Things like branding and packaging development can take months, with lots of back and forth as the designers tweak the smallest elements. Similarly with product and recipe development going from the kitchen to larger-scale batches, there is no scope for cutting corners. Our advice is to ask someone who has been through the process or call the Local Enterprise Office. All too often people are afraid to ask for help – don’t be.

Of course, we are all aware that time is money, so if something takes longer it generally impacts on cost. In a game where margins are so tight, you really need to avoid lost time at every possible opportunity. Our friends often joke that they have just given us another €3.49 when they buy a pot of Cool Beans. Little do they realise the costs associated with good ingredients, manufacturing, distribution, branding and of course the percentage that goes to the supermarket itself.

In this game, it has become very clear to us that we cannot have any of our slim margin devoted to lost time as a result of ineffective planning with the business.