Business Irish

Sunday 17 December 2017

The Irish businesses that are built on friendship

What happens when friends team up to set up a business? Successful entrepreneurs tell Fiona McBennett how they managed to do it

NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE: From left, entrepreneurs Isolde Johnston and Sarah O’Connor, who together founded Cool Beans in 2013
NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE: From left, entrepreneurs Isolde Johnston and Sarah O’Connor, who together founded Cool Beans in 2013

Fiona McBennett

Statistics released last year in the UK by data research firm, Duedil, and small business network, Enterprise Nation, showed that the number of under-35s setting up businesses there had risen by more than 70pc since 2006.

While being young and fearless can be beneficial for starting a new venture, going it alone can be tough. However, many young Irish pals have proved that anything is possible with the help of a friend when creating a thriving businesses together.

Mike Morrissey (27) and David Kenaghan (28) met five years ago, as trainee accountants and set up their own company, My Deal Doc, in 2013.

Having created two apps through the business - BoozeDoc and BabyDoc - offering a live feed of the best deals in alcohol and baby products on offer across Ireland, the pair say that they are glad of each other's support.

"One of the best decisions we made was going into business as friends. There are so many obstacles that can get you overwhelmed. On the tough days, one of us will crack a joke and it eases the tension," says Kenaghan.

The men have the same goals and drive to succeed, yet say their personalities are very different.

"People think we are alike because we are accountants but we're chalk and cheese," explains Morrissey. "David is good at thinking over our options and decisions, while I am all about getting things done."

"We are able to have completely different opinions on things, discuss them and move on. I don't think it would work for all friends - we are very lucky."

When it came to taking the leap into entrepreneurship, both agree that being young was important.

"If we'd had a mortgage and kids, it would've been very difficult to do," admits Kenaghan. "I think Ireland is moving away from our parents' generation - where you had to settle down and get a steady job once you left school."

Friends since the age of 13, Brendan Ennis and Simon Bastable last October launched Bloq -their street-wear and lifestyle brand - following careers in finance and insurance.

"We had always been interested in fashion and clothing and we get on really well so we knew it would work," says Ennis.

With a retail premises in Dun Laoghaire and the recent launch of their second clothing line, the 27-year-olds have their hands full.

"It's been daunting and exciting to create a new brand," says Ennis. "It's difficult not having that guaranteed monthly pay cheque but the opportunities we have now outweigh any fears we initially had."

The stress of a new business project would test even the best of friends, but Ennis believes their relationship has grown stronger.

"Arguments do happen from time to time but we just dust them off. We get on even better now and the dynamic of the business is really strong. We socialise together a lot, so work does come into our lives a good bit but we are both happy to talk about it.

"I think it's a good time in Ireland for young people to start a business; things are improving and our generation is grasping at that."

Isolde Johnston (28) and Sarah O'Connor (29) founded their one-pot bean meals business - Cool Beans - in 2013.

The pair met while working on the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year programme in 2007 and although their career paths went in separate directions, they stayed in touch.

"Sarah and I were always talking up different ideas for businesses. We both have a passion for food and loved the idea of a healthy, tasty product," says Johnston.

After developing recipes, the women applied to the SuperValu Food Academy Programme. The programme nurtures the development of small food businesses and led to their product being stocked in stores nationwide.

Delighted at having recently employed their first staff member, Johnston admits that while success has not come easily, their friendship has made the journey smoother.

"I was getting married last year and Sarah was my bridesmaid, so all we talked about was beans or the wedding," she laughs.

"We began as friends working together and that really benefited us, as we knew what our working styles were like from the start."

According to Johnston, today's younger generation are perfect for entrepreneurship.

"We have grown up with an attitude that nothing is impossible and that the world is our oyster. There are less limitations on us now."

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