This was the question posed to a panel of experts as part of the Student Slinghot, on Tuesday night in Dublin Castle. On hand to answer were the founders of the boojum chain of burrito restaurants Karen and John Blissard, founder of Third Floor Espresso Colin Harmon, founder of Bunsen restaurant Tom Gleeson and creator of Thinkhouse Jane McDaid.
The wealth of experience on the stage soon became evident as the panel discussed their paths to success, revealing the challenges which they faced and the successes which they each achieved. The reflection from each of the panellists proves incredibly valuable as they each found themselves in the shoes of the audience members at one stage, only beginning of their entrepreneurial journeys.
A term which cropped up on more than one occasion was passion. None of the panellists omitted it from the advice which they disclosed, but they all heralded it as a key component in any successful business endeavour. Colin Harmon reiterated this point as he discussed his decision to leave a secure job in finance to pursue his love for coffee.
His mind set was “if I don’t take a risk now, I never will,” going on to state that “the biggest challenge is in your own head.” The decision was one which paid dividends as Colin now owns a highly successful coffee company, supplying some of Dublin’s most popular cafés. When questioned about the current climate for budding entrepreneurs, Colin expressed worry. He was clear that the recession presented affordability for his youthful enterprise and that he started “in a forest fire, and we were those green shoots coming up.” However rising rents and service charges present a threat to new start-ups.
The Bunsen chain has experienced this threat to development first hand as “new premises are harder and harder to come by,” according to founder Tom Gleeson, international chains such as Starbucks snap up much of the available property, thus hampering expansion.
On the topic of expansion, John and Karen Blissard revealed the secret of the success of the “emotional rollercoaster” which is Boojum. The couple had to “learn everything, the entire industry,” before they could open new restaurants. John explained that “you fall into your own pace,” a pace at which you can develop comfortably without the risk of stretching your business too thin.
Jane McDaid added to the advice dished out to the prospective business people present, telling them that it’s crucial to “have your brand in check in every single way,” people should “enjoy, trust and engage with it,” to be successful.
As well as practical instruction, the panel also provided encouragement, as they appealed to people to have faith in themselves. Both Colin and Tom alluded to the fact that anyone is capable of owning successful businesses. In the words of Colin; “it’s just a job.”