‘Some people love to jump into the next thing and quit their job’
But most of us can’t just drop it all to start a new business. These entrepreneurs say that slow and steady wins the race
‘We cooked beans in the morning, went to work and cooked beans in the evening after work. It was just insane’. Sarah O’Connor and Isolde Johnson of Cool Beans.
Starting a business and being your own boss is a dream for many. But taking the plunge does not necessarily mean being able to quit the day job straight away.
In a challenging economic climate, it often makes more sense financially to keep on some form of employment before taking the plunge.
While working full time, Sarah O’Connor and her business partner, Isolde Johnson, began selling homemade beans from a van at music festivals and markets to test the response to their product before jumping into their food business with the Cool Bean Company.
“We cooked beans in the morning, went to work and cooked beans in the evening after work,” says O’Connor. “It was just insane.”
But despite all the juggling, they felt it was important to ensure the business would be a success before giving up their day jobs.
“Our advice would be: don’t quit too early,” she says. “Make sure you have tested your product; will people pay you for your service? If you quit too soon, you are in trouble.”
Having a family and financial commitments such as a mortgage can make the leap to starting a business all the more daunting. Having a steady source of income was important for Doc Parsons, co-founder of online ticketing platform Tito, because he had a young family.
For the first few years of getting Tito up and running, Parsons kept up freelance and consulting work to pay the bills.
“Some people love to jump into the next thing and quit their job,” he says. “That’s fine doing that in your 20s, but when you get a bit older it’s great to have two things on the go so that, if possible, money is not a factor. The lack of funds will turn every situation sour, no matter how good the idea.”
Working in an area similar to the one you want to start a business in can also be of benefit in terms of expertise and knowledge. Colin Harmon, who founded 3fe coffee shop in Dublin, quit a career as an investment banker in order to gain experience in the food and drink industry by working in a cafe. Without “experience or money”, Harmon was advised to get “knowledge capital, and you can leverage the business off that”.
Coffee was his chosen area, so he went to work as a barista in Dublin’s Coffeeangel. After winning the Irish Barista Championship and coming fourth in the World Barista Championships, he moved into consultancy and training while setting up his company. The work was flexible but juggling was “incredibly stressful”. In the end, though, he gained the expertise he needed.
Cool Bean’s O’Connor worked for big four accountants EY on their Entrepreneur of the Year programme while her business partner worked for a food development company. It helped them to get “loads of insight” but also opened their eyes to “the reality of things”, such as the low margins and high volumes characteristics of the food industry.
The idea for the Cool Bean Company was born out of working in the corporate world. O’Connor found it difficult to find healthy convenient food and saw a gap in the market. “We were finishing work late after long hours in the corporate world and having cereal for dinner,” she says.
Look after yourself
Starting a business from scratch is stressful and time-consuming, particularly while working another job. So looking after your health and other areas of your life is important, advises Tito co-founder Paul Campbell.
While juggling consultancy work along with their growing start-up, Campbell made sure he got to the gym three times a week. In addition, “always putting family first” and making time for his partner helped keep perspective.
O’Connor also advises making time for family and friends. “You need to check. Have you given time to yourself, family and friends and, if not, you need to address it,” she says. “You have to give yourself a bit of down time.”
On the personal front, having a supportive partner or spouse was “probably key to a lot of this”, says Tito’s Parsons
“There was a period over a couple of years where I was just working all the time,” he says. “And my wife was very patient in that regard because she saw that I was working on something I was enjoying.”
Equally, having the support of a co-founder or business partner helps, says O’Connor. “It makes the process so much more enjoyable and easier if you have someone to share things with, the workload, the successes and failures.”
Despite the long hours, the stress and the juggling, setting up your own company is hugely rewarding, says Campbell. Seeing Tito become a viable, self-supporting business and getting the product to customers are “the highs that make up for the nights you wonder what you are doing”.
Ultimately, it is important to take a chance and go for it, says Harmon of 3fe.
“If you feel like it is something you want to do,” he says, “my attitude is go and do it because I’d rather do it and fail than die wondering.”
Previously published in The Irish Times.
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