Cool Beans cofounders on being overworked but loving it

Owners of successful start-up explain how to cope as you get your business off the ground

Sarah O’Connor and Isolde Johnson, founders of the Cool Bean Company. Photograph: Dara Munnis

Sarah O’Connor and Isolde Johnson, founders of the Cool Bean Company. Photograph: Dara Munnis


It can be difficult as a start-up to feel like you are achieving things because there is always so much to be done. Seriously, every time you get one thing off the desk it is preceded with five more vital things that needed to be done yesterday.

We got a new order. Great, now we need to spec out the new design, complete all the required documentation, sign off the packaging. What about a printer? We’ve come to the conclusion that for a growing business like Cool Beans, things will always be like this.

No matter how organised you are, deadlines will always be looming and there are daily challenges that need to be addressed. We haven’t met another start-up yet that isn’t in the exact same position and in certain ways if you don’t feel like you are overworked, and with a frightening to-do list your business probably isn’t going anywhere.

Unfortunately, there is no magic answer or solution to this but there are a couple of things that we have been doing to combat this.

“Done is better than perfect.”

We saw this once on the wall at the Facebook head offices and at first were totally against the sentiment, you should always do your best and give 110 per cent in everything. But then we started our own business and got a reality check.

When you are the chief executive, head of finance, head of marketing, sales rep and the general dogs body you can’t give your everything to every little thing.

You have to prioritise the things that need your attention and have the most impact on the business. For example, recently we were under pressure to submit a funding application, get a new product ready for export and take part in a marketing demo day event which would have taken a copious amount of planning and resources for one day.

Things were getting crazy and we knew we wouldn’t do everything so we had to stand back and assess. Number one was the product and export opportunity. Starting to export our product to the United Kingdom is a massive step for us and we had to put our efforts into that opportunity but we couldn’t give up the opportunity for funding as we will need that to fund our exporting opportunity – dilemma. So we had to step back from the demo day even though that too was an excellent opportunity. We couldn’t risk messing up the chance of funding and the opportunity of our first UK listing.

Celebrate the little wins.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the next thing that needs to be done urgently but what we’re finding is that stopping and reflecting on what you’ve done or achieved is just as important.

You need to stop, take a moment and give yourself a good pat on the back for a job well done or if you haven’t delivered on something then you need to know why, what went wrong and then learn from that.

Last week, we spent three very long days at the National Ploughing Championships. For anyone who has attended the ploughing you will know what a mammoth task it is, especially as it was our first time being there and we didn’t know what to expect. It was early mornings, long physically and mentally tiring days and late evenings prepping for the following day. There were three of us as we had James, our head of bean sales, with us and by the end of the week we were all exhausted but elated.

We had an amazing reaction to Cool Beans and pretty much sold out of stock. At the end of day three, tired and emotional, we packed up all our kit, lugged it to the cars and loaded up. But instead of hopping straight into the cars and racing off, and despite the rather bemused farmers passing by, the three of us stood in the middle of a field in Ratheniska and had a team huddle.

It may have been the sleep deprivation and exhaustion but we just had to have a little group hug because we had made it out the other end unscathed (a success in itself). Take the time to reflect on positive moments, acknowledge your successes and learn from your mistakes.

Make a to-do list.

So we’re still working on this one but what we’re finding is even if you’re not following them it’s so important to take the time to create a list every day. Outline the urgent things that need to be done and allocate a time they need to be completed by and then tick them off as you go. Of course with start-ups things change and urgent issues come up that won’t have been on a list but having a list, whether it’s on your phone or in a notebook, can keep you focused and on track during those times when you might be tempted to engage in a little Facebook or Twitter browsing.

All businesses have high points and low points and it can be easy to get bogged down with the endless tasks and working really hard but not feel like you’re actually achieving anything. Different things work for different people and businesses and despite being in business more than a year now we’re still trying to figure it out, so find out what works best for you in terms of productivity and getting things done and play to your strengths.