Secrets of the rich and famous: a masterclass in business start-ups
The AIB Start-up Academy is back and seeking the latest batch of world-class business ideas.To inspire you to get involved we asked some of Ireland’s best to tell us how it’s done
Marissa Carter, chief executive, Cocoa Brown: ‘Live your brand as an extension of yourself’
You have had the 4am eureka moment, when the perfect business idea jolts you out of your sleep. Maybe nobody has had the idea before, or they aren’t going to perfect it quite like you. A business idea you believe in is something that consumes you, you might have already left your job to pursue it, but what’s next? As year three of the AIB Start-up Academy launches its latest search for the top start-ups in the country, some successful business owners give their expertise and top tips:
1. Be clear about your objective: Having a plan is a key factor in the success of a start-up according to Libby Carton of Kinnegar Brewing. She co-founded the Donegal micro-brewery in Rathmullan with her husband Rick LeVert in 2011 and it is now one of Ireland’s leading micro-breweries. “We had a very clear concept [starting out] about what we wanted to achieve and we believed in it quite strongly. You need to imagine what you are going to be able to do but that has to be backed up with a very realistic, concrete plan about how you are going to achieve it.”
2. All your communications matter: “Every aspect of the communications of a business is critical. So it’s how you communicate with your public, your suppliers, your bank, how you communicate with each other internally, with your staff. Good communication is one of the foundation stones of a good business,” says Carton.
3. Know your field and do the learning yourself: “I think there’s a tendency, I think it’s a very Irish thing, to say ‘I think I might like to start a brewery. Oh, there’s someone who’s done it sure I’ll ring them and talk to them.’ I think it’s really important to do a lot of learning yourself without asking other people how they did it. It can be really helpful to learn about the experience of other people, but it’s even more important that you know your field of enterprise thoroughly yourself,” Carton says.
4. Be authentic: Businesswoman Marissa Carter is chief executive and founder of the number one selling self-tanning product, Cocoa Brown. “Your branding should be an extension of your own personal branding because I think personal branding can be a very powerful marketing tool. I was always very conscious from the very early days that everything that was being done would be authentic to the Cocoa Brown brand. Live your brand as an extension of yourself.”
5. Be flexible: Do not be afraid of change. “Change fast and drop things. If something isn’t working cut your losses quickly and move on to the next thing. You’re going to fail a lot in business but let it hurt, let it bleed, let it heal and move on. If a business is to be commercially successful, you need to look at it with your head and not your heart,” Carter explains.
6. Constantly focus on your customer, not yourself: “All your customers want to know is what is it that you offer that benefits them. What’s the benefit of your business to them?” says Carter.
7. Hone your interpersonal skills: “There is a myth that starting a business means you will be your own boss. Your customers will always be the real boss and who really control your business. You’re going to answer to a lot more people when you become self-employed than you ever did when you were an employee and if you can successfully lead a team your business will have a lot more chance of surviving so your interpersonal skills are crucial.” says Carter.
8. Don’t waste what little money you have on fees and expenses: Businessman and entrepreneur Bobby Kerr is the chairman of Insomnia Coffee Company, a presenter on Newstalk, and a dragon on the Irish version of the Dragon’s Den TV series. “I often see small companies spending big money on legal fees and patents and things that cost a lot of money that they can’t afford. You really, really have to micro-manage every penny in the early days of a business.”
9. Ask for advice but choose a mentor with experience: “Don’t be afraid to ask somebody to be your mentor because if they think the idea is good and they believe in you, you would be amazed, often, they won’t even charge you (for advice). Choose somebody, if possible, who’s got experience in the sector, is a wise owl in the sector you are going into,” Kerr advises.
10. Do it for love: If you are considering starting your own business make sure you love what you do, think big, work smart and very, very hard. Dr Brian Moore co-founded Orecco with Dr Andrew Hodgson in Sligo in 2009. They “wanted to join the world of sports haematology with a unique proposition: to enable athletes to perform at their very best.” They work with world-famous athletes to prepare them for global sporting events like the Olympics.
11. Recruit well: As quickly as you can, recruit great people that are really good at the things you aren’t great at, (your team). And seek experience that you don’t have, (your board), Moore says.
12. Take your time, and time out: “Understand that this is a typically a marathon and rarely a sprint. Life in a start-up can be all consuming. Investing time in your own health and well-being, scheduling time off and turning your phone off is critically important. Otherwise, like a fatigued athlete or team, the law of diminishing marginal returns means you work harder and harder and get less and less back from it,” Moore advises.