Gaining Momentum: Noreen Doyle, The Irish Biltong Company

NoreenDoyleSR_

The latest in our series of interviews with influential Irish business leaders features Noreen Doyle, co-founder and CEO of The Irish Biltong Company, who believes maintaining a clear focus is the key to business success.


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Noreen Doyle’s business success is literally cut and dried. The Irish Biltong Company, the family business in Naas, County Kildare, that she co-founded three years ago with beef wholesaler husband John, provides a quality healthy on-the-go snack from cuts of the purest, locally sourced Irish beef – and a projected annual revenue this year of €1.1m proves the market has an appetite for it.

What’s the unique selling point of The Irish Biltong Company?

“Our biggest USP is undoubtedly that we have the best quality, locally sourced Irish beef – that’s a huge point for us. We’re also a family firm so have complete control over every process. My husband (Irish Biltong co-founder John) was previously a beef farmer and my early career was in fashion marketing and design, so we don’t outsource anything. Absolutely everything is in-house, which guarantees the quality of our product.”

Who is a typical customer?

“When we began we concentrated on the sports market, through nutritionists and dieticians – a lot of rugby players used Irish Biltong as a healthy, pure snack – but our customer base has now broadened out into the general health and wellness mainstream markets. We’re on sale in supermarkets but it’s still very much health-conscious people who buy it.

But more corporates are also buying it for their snacks or canteens – they see the health benefits and the purity of the product and want to be seen to be doing the right thing by their employees.”

Recommended Reading: Gaining Momentum: Eamon Moore, Hikari Data Solutions

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

“Cash flow is a major challenge. Start-ups who scale up tend to do so either because they grow organically, or because they are forced to. We were the latter – Applegreen told us they wanted to stock Irish Biltong in 110 stores and we had to move quickly. We were already in early conversations with potential investors but here was a chance to upscale immediately and we had to decide if we were ready to suddenly make that move.

We said “yes” but we were able to do so because we had good ready-made cash flow from our online business – access to working capital. For any business looking to upscale, that’s the key.”

If resources are tight, how can a business square that circle?

“You have to spend smart and be super-conscious of where all of your money is going, down to the most minute detail. My husband is a spreadsheet freak, with his finger on every single cent that goes out of the business. If you can’t do that yourself, find someone in your business who can, because it’s invaluable. Every cent makes a difference.”

What about in terms of finance?

“Again, it’s about looking after the cash flow, creating a model that enables you to keep ticking over without always waiting nervously for your next payment to come in. In some businesses it’s easier said than done, but it should be one of your aims, and you should be looking to see how you might achieve this.”

“You need to have a very strong, clear, solid idea of where your business is going and what you want out of it, and keep that at the forefront, whether you’re going to a bank or an investor”

Noreen Doyle, co-founder and CEO, The Irish Biltong Company

What attitude should entrepreneurs have towards financial support?

“You need to do what feels right for your business. We have in the past been close to an investor deal but pulled out because we weren’t doing ourselves justice. You need to have a very strong, clear, solid idea of where your business is going and what you want out of it, and keep that at the forefront, whether you’re going to a bank or an investor.

Work things out and be honest and realistic about your market and your projections. If you’re looking for finance, don’t make up your big business plan at the last minute – if you haven’t considered things properly you’ll either miss out on the money altogether or you could find yourself exploited.”

What should an entrepreneur’s approach to risk be?

“There’s a risk element in every start-up – that’s the nature of it, and it’s why one in five start-ups fail. I’m the risk-taker in our partnership, whereas John is very cautious, but by meeting in the middle we make it work very well. The key is always putting yourself in a position where you can pivot – don’t be blinkered towards a single end goal. You have to take risks but you have to mitigate them – take advantage of the experience of people who have been there, done that.

Always seek advice. Then always be adaptable, giving yourself an opportunity to manoeuvre if and when things go wrong. You have to take risks to grow, but if you don’t have that mitigation, you just end up as a daydreamer with no money – and that’s no one’s end goal.”

How do you feel about networking?

“It’s crucial. Put yourself out there. It can be difficult for some people – being female in the meat, and the sports industry, I sometimes found it challenging. But today’s world brings so many opportunities for networking, in person but particularly on social media – we’ve built up such a hugely loyal customer base online. But remember it’s not just about building those networks, it’s about how you continue to utilise them going forward.”

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

“Some years ago I heard Blaise Brosnan, the smartest businessman I know, talk about measuring all aspects of the business, and how you needed to keep focused, keep that tight rein on where you’re going. This is most crucial when everything suddenly has traction and things are going great – because that’s the time, among all the excitement, that you’re in danger of losing that concentration. If you do that, suddenly all of your hard work is a waste of money. You need to stay absolutely focused.”

What’s next for The Irish Biltong Company?

“We’re concentrating on export, to the EU and particularly to Germany. They love Irish beef and the cleanliness and quality of our products. We’re building the business in many ways, but at the moment that’s where our growth focus lies.”

By Peter Taylor-Whiffen

 

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