Thursday 14 December 2017

Why I gave up a Google job to make high end fruit juice

UCD business graduate Raymond O'Hara quit his Google job and turned his pastime into a passion, starting-up a juice joint in Ranelagh with old college friend Kevin Johnstone, writes Alison O'Riordan

COLD-PRESSED JUICERS: Kevin Johnstone and Raymond O’Hara of Green Beards in Ranelagh. Photo: Gerry Mooney
COLD-PRESSED JUICERS: Kevin Johnstone and Raymond O’Hara of Green Beards in Ranelagh. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Alison O'Riordan

Juicing connoisseur Raymond O'Hara doesn't feel the people of Ireland have been fully converted to the benefits of integrating plant-based health into their busy lives. But, in his opinion, we are certainly going in the right direction as a nation.

As co-owner of a Ranelagh-based cold-pressed juice bar, the 29-year-old feels there is still a lot of confusion as to what vegetable juicing is all about, with society regularly questioning whether it's just another fad.

"Juicing allows our bodies to consume and easily digest raw ingredients that we might not otherwise eat. I don't see convenient healthy products going away. Instead, I see the movement towards real foods like salads and juices continuing to grow," says the entrepreneur, who offers raw beverages in his Dublin 6 joint that are handcrafted with deep regard for organic growing practises, seasonal harvests, local suppliers and recyclable materials.

The UCD business graduate was working in Google as an account strategist until 2013, but realised after a few years working for someone else, that it wasn't for him. Extracting juice from plant tissues, such as fruit or vegetables, soon became a morning ritual which went from being a pastime to becoming a passion.

"It all started off with me buying a juicer and experimenting with flavours in my kitchen and from there, I started to notice a dramatic increase in my energy levels. It was definitely an eye-opener for me as to how what I consume could affect my day-to-day life and my interest grew from there.

"Handing in my notice in Google was not easy, it was a massive step into the unknown, but once I made my decision, I switched my focus to setting up my own business, which involved twists and turns and also catching up with an old friend of mine from college, Kevin Johnstone, who is now my business partner."

As part of his research, the Portobello native began juicing out of his kitchen, as well as inflicting his juice concoctions on family members and friends. "We wanted to make sure people were receptive to what we were trying to do - which was to make vegetable juices and make them in a way that maximised the nutritional value of the drink by minimising heat and oxidation. Would people outside our friends and family be willing to pay a little extra if they understood the process and ingredients?

"The feedback was very positive, and it helped reaffirm what we could see was a massive growth area in other countries."

With a father as an entrepreneur, Raymond has a great mentor that he can turn to for guidance and support concerning his funky juice bar, which was born a year ago on Dunville Avenue in Ranelagh.

Having considered all avenues to get the business off the ground, such as banks, investors and even crowd funding, from the outset, the business partners had a good idea of the amount of capital needed, and so stuck within the realms of their budget.

"We funded Green Beards ourselves through personal savings and we also managed to convince our families to invest in the business opportunity. We have been approached about possible investors a few times and I think if the right person or people spoke to us now, we would be open to chatting about what our plans are for the future."

There was a huge amount of challenges setting up, such as finding the right location at the right price, getting funding together, choosing their identity and delivering that message to customers. "We face multiple challenges as we continue to grow in terms of keeping our product to the standards we set and also trying to communicate our story to an expanding audience.

"Produce prices fluctuate, while we maintain a set price which has an impact on our bottom line. While becoming more process-driven in the effort to become more efficient, it is important for us to be able to remain flexible enough to add new products and expand and continue to refine our products."

The only way they can compete with other hip juicing bars in the area is by educating their customers about their differences. "Competition drives us forward and, ultimately, I think forces us to constantly improve our products, and when new juice bars open, it actually widens the net of people juicing, which often leads them to our shop."

Does Raymond worry about the must-have diet gadgets like the Nutribullet, which pledges to outperform any other machine of its kind in breaking down plant foods into an easily digestible state?

"People that juice at home are often even more appreciative of our products as we have the time and the best machines and ingredients to make what often would cost a greater amount if they made it at home. When they realise the amount of work and costs involved, they are happy to purchase it when they haven't the time themselves."

Starting juicing at the ungodly hour of 4am each morning, plans are in the pipeline to target some big multinationals like Google.

O'Hara believes it is important to keep refining the business before they look at opportunities for expansion. One of their trademarks is their glass bottles, which are returnable so they can be cleaned and reused again. This green ethos ties in with their name 'Green Beards' and captures the essence of what the company is about.

Sunday Indo Business

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