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Brave entrepreneurs who bounce back after failing


Martin Thomas of the Artisan Parlour and Grocery

Martin Thomas of the Artisan Parlour and Grocery

Peter Connor (right) and John Farrelly of Bullet

Peter Connor (right) and John Farrelly of Bullet

John Burke of Burke Joinery

John Burke of Burke Joinery


Martin Thomas of the Artisan Parlour and Grocery

Failure is something every entrepreneur dreads, yet it tends to go hand in hand with success.

Both Bill Gates and Arianna Huffington admit to having experienced failure during their careers and Richard Branson goes as far as to suggest that business owners embrace it.

While embracing failure may be easier said than done, having the courage to diversify or start again, is vital not only to survive, but to thrive in business, and in recent years, many Irish entrepreneurs have been doing just that.

Martin Thomas was well-known in the Dublin club scene during the 1990's. For 15 years, he ran popular club nights and worked as a marketing consultant for a number of major drinks companies. His career went from strength to strength, until the club scene and the economy began to dip.

"As the noughties went on, the club scene began to dissipate for a number of factors. There was a level playing field between pubs and clubs, so suddenly there was a generation that had no need to go to a nightclub. Then when the recession hit in 2007, it was the final nail in the coffin of an industry that was already on its way out."

Difficulties getting paid after spending weeks working on marketing projects left Thomas feeling despondent over the future of his company.

"I began to realise that I was wasting my time and that my business was essentially bankrupt. I let the company fizzle out and stopped trying to make it work before deciding to try my hand at something else."

Thomas then set about establishing his new business venture, the Artisan Parlour and Grocery, a food hall come deli in Ringsend village.

"The challenge of setting up a new business gave me a buzz. The more I researched it, the more I grew in confidence and I just went hell for leather at it," he says.

With the help of angel investors he contacted through LinkedIn, Thomas was able to create his new business, which opened its doors this August. He admits that getting the funding was difficult to begin with.

"The biggest challenge when setting up a new business is always getting the money needed to put it together. Even though it's a small enterprise, kitting out a kitchen, buying stock, refurbishment and paying rent, all cost. My initial budget was too big, so I scaled it back massively and worked it out so that investors could throw in five figures instead of six."

Thomas says this his past experience has not knocked his confidence.

"The only time I have been terrified in all this was the morning we started. I am a greater believer in the American phrase, 'Fail fast, fail better'. A company failing is not personal, you just need to get on with it and do the next thing better."

Peter Connor had been working in an online financial resources company before he decided to set up his own web development company six years ago. After two years of success, the business ran into trouble when the recession took hold.

"I started the business just before the crash started to accelerate and then the economy started to implode. Literally over the space of a couple of months things froze. People were looking for stuff for nothing and then it was impossible to cover the development costs. It became a pretty impossible situation," he says.

Although the business was Connor's first entrepreneurial experience, its failure didn't stop him from trying again. In 2010, he set up a product based company, Bullet, which provides online invoice templates and accounting software.

"The failure of the company meant that I discovered my love of product. It also led me to meet my co-founder, John Farrelly, who runs Bullet with me. We are currently up to 2,200 customers in Ireland and are also working on our first partnership in America at the moment."

According to Connor, failures in business can be beneficial when it comes to learning to manage expectations.

"Businesses are ferociously personal and no one wants to fail. You put everything into it, so it feels like a break-up when things go wrong. Yet failures help to calm you down and keep you on an even keel. As an entrepreneur, you get so many near successes that don't work out. You eventually learn not to get too excited about everything."

Connor believes that having self-belief is the most important aspect of running a business.

"I often say that the darkest time for an entrepreneur is not when things fail. It's when they are looking at themselves in the mirror and asking themselves if they can succeed at what they are doing. When you start losing belief in yourself, that's the toughest thing."

In December 2012, John Burke was left with four staff members, having previously employed 56. His bespoke joinery company, John Burke Joinery, had enjoyed success since 1986, yet its future was looking bleak.

"We were in a bad way," recalls Burke. "The recession hit the construction industry hard and we had been on a steady decline since the summer of 2007. When we came back to work at the start of 2013, there was no one in our usually busy factory. It was scary."

However, rather than close his family-run business, Burke started to look for ways to reinvent it. Having always been a fan of the old telephone boxes that were in the country until the Eighties, he set about manufacturing replica models.

"It had always been on my mind that I could make those boxes. They are an iconic part of our history and it's sad that they no longer exist. Thankfully, there was a demand there straight away. Many businesses are using them as a quiet zone where staff can make calls on their mobiles and we have lots of pubs using them as docking stations."

The company now has a growing international client base and has recently begun making accessories for sale in Clery's and Trinity College.

"As each day goes by, it's getting bigger and bigger. We currently make seven different sizes, raging from a life-sized model with a bench inside, to a four-inch Christmas decoration that lights up."

This success has allowed Burke to re-employ staff and the joinery side of the business has also picked up again.

"We didn't sit on our hands during the recession. We stay ed in business by diversifying, doing something different. It got us through the void period when we were on our knees and it's been great to get staff back to work and grow again. We have now started to recruit for the first time in five years."

Burke says that admitting defeat during the difficult times was never an option.

"Lots of other businesses would have closed down but my instinct was always to soldier on and fight back. It was like a boxing match at time. You kept getting punches and falling down but you just had to pick yourself back up. We can now look positively towards the future."

Sunday Indo Business