Gaining Momentum: Daithi O'Connor, Revive Active

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The latest in our series of briefings with influential Irish business leaders features Daithí O’Connor, founder and MD of health-food supplements company Revive Active.


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In 2011, Dáithi O’Connor gathered together a team of health experts and scientists to form Revive Active – the name behind an ‘all-in-one’ health supplement. Fast forward eight years and that supplement is stocked in 1,000 shops and on sale online in 43 countries. Revive Active was recently named one of the FT's fastest-growing firms in Europe, and its founder was a finalist for the EY Entrepreneur of the Year.

What’s the unique selling point of Revive Active?

“This is essentially everything you need in one sachet – tailored to your age. I got a real benefit from taking a health supplement around 10 years ago, so I began to explore that area and noticed there were boosts for nutrition, prevention of illness, recovery from injury – but consumers were having to buy about 10 different bottles. There seemed to be no product that contained everything needed at an affordable price, so I led the charge. Revive Active is a soluble formula and contains a master list of 26 active ingredients, but they’re all natural – no added sugar, no caffeine, no preservatives.”

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What were your early breakthrough moments?

“One really stands out – through some very hard work, we‘d managed to get our product into two small local branches of Lloyds Pharmacy. But the then Lloyds MD, Goretti Brady, visited a branch in Roxboro, Limerick, and saw that its sales of vitamins and mineral supplements were up 900% – so she asked why. The manager handed her a pack of Revive Active as the reason for the sales increase – and suddenly we were in 110 Lloyds Pharmacies in Ireland, 77 of them in Dublin. Now we’re in 1,000 stores across Ireland and exporting around the world.”

What are the main challenges facing businesses, especially start-ups, that want to scale up?

“You need to be prepared. We always had a vision, we had a supply chain plan, and we were ready with training sheets for retailers to articulate the benefits of our products and showcase them to customers. Internally, you have to have the right people in place. Scaling up doesn’t just happen – it needs proper thought, planning, organisation and achievable targets. Your structure needs to develop to enable you to grow”

How has your business changed since you launched?

“We offer many more products – a joint supplement, beauty supplement, a supplement for cognitive function, supplements for children, teenagers, adults and over-35s – and like the original Revive Active, all are clinically proven. And people realise they work: we have a 91% excellence rating on Trustpilot.


"We’re a commercial concern, but giving people the opportunity to become healthier so they can live life to the full is our number-one value”
Dáithi O’Connor, founder, Revive Active


 “The business itself has also changed – we have 35 staff now, including six sales reps and a digital and offline marketing team. But in other ways we haven’t changed at all – our ethos is still to bring the best possible product to deliver real benefits to the consumer. We’re a commercial concern, but giving people the opportunity to become healthier so they can live life to the full is our number-one value.”

What about in terms of finance?

“We had to work really hard at the start to raise the funds. Convincing the banks was a hard sell, and no suppliers would give us credit, so we had to scrape together contributions from friends and family, crowdfunding and I sold a little bit of equity, reinvesting the funds to keep afloat. Then we had to get the product right and try to get retailers to take it, and to pay for it upfront.

“We had our foot on the accelerator and brake at the same time due to funding – we didn’t pay ourselves any wages for 18 months. But in 2018. we turned over €5m and are forecasting €7m this year – and we see the company going past €20m turnover in the near future. Enterprise Ireland’s involvement with our company has been immense.”

What attitude should entrepreneurs have towards financial support?

“Make sure any investment deal is the right one for you. No one knows or will care about your business as much as you do – but get the right deal and it can really take you places.

“The Employment and Investment Incentive Scheme (EIIS) is great for SMEs. When we first applied, no one was interested – we had just come out of a recession. But we started our own EIIS campaign and raised €200,000, including €100,000 from Pat McDonagh, the founder Supermac’s. That raised a few eyebrows – a fast food/health supplement partnership – but it also raised our profile because Pat brought huge credibility as a businessman and investor. The same investors put in the same amount twice more in the next three years, which then leveraged an Enterprise Ireland matching loan.”

Recommended Reading: Gaining Momentum: Noreen Doyle, The Irish Biltong Company

What should an entrepreneur’s approach to risk be?

“Do your research. Most risk is around growth or expansion, so ask the questions and find the true answers, not just the ones you want to hear – hopefully they’ll be the same. Mitigate that risk as much as you can with planning or contingencies but never be afraid to explore it.”

How did you approach building a team?

“In terms of the product, we wanted to gather a team of science professionals that could develop the best formula we could get. But your team grows as your business grows, so it’s about having a clear structure from the beginning that people fit into. Your business will only go so far unless you have the structure of a senior management team and everyone knows what everyone’s role is.”

What’s the best business tip you’ve ever received?

“’Follow the vision and the money will follow you.’ I’ve heard that a couple of times and it’s true. Don’t set out to make money – follow your passion, work hard, stay true to what you believe in and the rest should look after itself. The other tip is to make sure you take at least one day off a week. And, of course, take a really good health supplement!”

What’s next for Revive Active?

“We’re anticipating 35% growth this year. We’re looking for serious expansion into the UK, where we already have 50 outlets in London – plus we’ll have a major online expansion and we’re working on entering the US market in the next six months.”

 

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