Meet the mentor: Bobby Kerr of Insomnia Coffee Company
‘Passion about a particular product or service can make it easy to overlook market conditions’
Insomnia Coffee Company chairman Bobby Kerr is this week’s AIB Start-up Academy mentor.
Originally from Kilkenny, Kerr has been in the food and beverage catering business for the last thirty years. He was the managing director of Bewley’s Oriental Café and is a founder and owner of Insomnia Coffee Co.
The chain has 100 coffee shops across the country and 200 other outlets in shops such as Spar.
In his own words, Kerr has “been around a few years and seen a few recessions”.
A former dragon on RTE’s Dragons’ Den, Kerr is also no stranger to start-ups.
“I’m actively involved in small businesses through my investments in Dragons’ Den…I’ve a genuine interest in start-ups and businesses.”
The topic of the AIB Start-up Academy programme this week is “design thinking”.
“In my world, that means new product development and implementation, which is something I’ve done a lot of in Insomnia. We’re all the time looking at how to make things better.
“We have to keep innovating around the product…We need to make sure customers don’t get menu fatigue.” That means introducing seasonal products like pumpkin lattes at Halloween and iced drinks starting in May.
“Because we’re a chain, we have to have the same standard in each outlet. When we bring in a new product, it has to be compatible with all the shops, which is the most challenging aspect of new product development.”
Insomnia introduced 30 new sandwich and bakery products last year and is about to unveil a Bakewell tart that is under 200 calories.
Kerr is a “huge believer” in giving customers what they want. For Insomnia, that includes displaying calorie contents, even though it’s not legally required.
Kerr says he will focus on product research and implementation with the AIB Start-up Academy finalists. “I’m looking forward to meeting them,” he said.
Kerr’s top advice for start-ups is: “It’s ok to change your plans, but you have to have a plan.”
“The other thing I say to them is many people will tell them to give up. You need to believe in your own idea. But it’s ok to change it relative to the market.”
He says passion about a particular product or service can make it easy to overlook market conditions. But “if you’re on a losing horse, you need to get off it or change it. Sometimes people can stay too long.”
“The last thing I say to start-ups is enjoy what you do because it’s very easy not to. It will be an interesting journey.”