Gaining Momentum: Niall Horgan, Gym+Coffee


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Niall Horgan’s business Gym+Coffee is, unexpectedly, neither a gym nor a coffee shop. But it is an increasingly successful brand, combining its own high-quality ʻathleisurewear’ with events that bring people together to enjoy exercising and socialising. And with impressive online sales, two shops and 20,000 social media followers, this is a fitness-focused business that’s really working out.

What’s the unique selling point of your company?

“It’s the lifestyle that we put front and centre of our business – and the high quality of our clothing. Three of us started the business having worked separately in the US and Australia, where there’s a strong lifestyle of using exercise to socialise, and big athleisure brands to support that. When we came back home to Ireland we realised there was a gap, which we were eager to fill.

We started off producing hoodies, but our main emphasis was on our brand. The ethos at the centre of Gym+Coffee is about bringing people together who like to combine exercise and socialising; who want balance, and to enjoy working out while hanging out. Our slogan is Make Life Richer – that’s not ʻstronger’ or ʻfaster’ but richer.”

Recommended reading: Gaining Momentum: Daithí O'Connor, Revive Active

What were your early breakthrough moments?

“It’s one thing creating a product, as we did with our hoodies, but you also need to find a way to bring a brand to life. We decided to create opportunities for people to meet, so in 2017 we held what we called a Summer Stretch – events across Ireland on 10 consecutive summer Sundays, including boot camps and hikes – and we did so in partnership with local independent coffee shops, allowing people to meet up and relax together afterwards.

Around 40 people came to the first one, and over 100 at the last – and when we did them again last year we got well over 100 at every single event. There was a buzz about them and our social media just exploded – that was a real breakthrough moment.”

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

“There are obvious ones. If you’re going to hire more people or need more stock, managing cash flow is a challenge. But also, be careful how you make that leap – scaling quickly can endanger your brand. If you try to entice huge numbers of sales through discount deals, all you get is new customers always waiting for the next offer, instead of a loyal following. We’ve grown organically so far, in a very measured way, because we were very keen not to compromise or hurt our brand and ensure we remained true to it.”

How has your business changed since you launched?

“It’s changed a lot. In those two years we’ve gone from three staff to 17, we’ve significantly increased our range of products and we make a lot of international sales – 20% of our online revenue comes from the UK and the US. In the last six months we’ve also moved into offline sales by opening two stores in Dublin. Again, we’ve been sensible; it’s about a ‘test and learn’ approach. But the stores are great – they fulfil our philosophy that we’re not just a commercial enterprise; we want to create leisure communities and bring people together.”

“If you try to entice huge numbers of sales through discount deals, all you get is new customers always waiting for the next offer, instead of a loyal following”

Niall Horgan, co-founder & CEO, Gym+Coffee

What about in terms of finance?

“In the beginning, myself and my two co-owners all put in our savings, which allowed us to cover things like web domains and logos. But once you start really increasing your stock you need a bigger cash flow, so after 18 months we received some seed investment and a short-term stock loan.”

What attitude should entrepreneurs have towards financial support?

“You need it to expand. But you do need to be aware of the time it takes to look at all the financing options, which is time that can take you away from your business. However, you need to remember that with the right investor, you’re not just getting their money, but also their business expertise and skills, which can be hugely valuable.”

What should an entrepreneur’s approach to risk be?

“If you’re not comfortable with risk you shouldn’t really be an entrepreneur – the two things go hand in hand. But we take a minimal viable product approach – you have a proper plan, you test, you learn and you make iterations and changes as necessary. That means we still take risks, but we change and react quickly so they’re more calculated risks.”

Recommended Reading: Gaining Momentum: Daithí O'Connor, Revive Active

How did you approach building a team?

“Hiring was actually quite tough because the business was growing so fast. But a lot of our staff were people who turned up at our events – they liked our brand, were passionate about the lifestyle we were promoting and were on the same page. Although we have learned to make our hiring process stricter – we were more casual in the beginning, but now we make sure we have a project-based part to the hiring process. That way we can match the skill to go with the passion; if you only have one of those it will only take you so far. Realising that means that our fantastic staff have both the passion we want and the skills we need.”

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

“Just because something isn’t going exactly right doesn’t mean it’s going wrong. Creating your own business is an emotional rollercoaster, and sometimes your heart makes it difficult to step back and think rationally. Setbacks happen but as long as you know you’re moving in the right direction, even slowly, it’s not the end of the world.”

Momentum is a series of four breakfast events and a continuation of the successful Momentum Summit conferences that Dublin Chamber has run since 2015. The purpose of the Momentum series is to give Dublin Chamber members access to influential Irish business leaders that have successfully scaled their businesses.
The series is sponsored by Ulster Bank who understand the value of business networking and shared learnings for Irish SMEs and our customers. For more on how Ulster Bank could support your business, please visit or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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