After two decades working for British Airways in the UK, Brian O’Briain (left) studied coffee roasting in Copenhagen and returned to Ireland in 2012 with partner Alan Coleman to set up Anam Coffee, a speciality coffee roasting and wholesale business, located in the Burren, Co. Clare.
What is your business’s elevator pitch?
Small batch, high quality. We source seasonal, fresh coffee, harvested in the last six months. We’re on a mission to showcase the fact that coffee doesn’t have to taste the same, to show the fruitiness of an Ethiopian coffee or the nuttiness of a Colombian. Like wine, it’s all about the terroir.
What do you regard as your business’s greatest achievement?
The fact that we are still going! 24 months ago this was still a concept. Six months ago it was a feasibility study. Now we are selling directly to consumers online and wholesale clients.
What was the lowest moment?
We had to dig deep during the pre-launch phase financially. It wasn’t a ‘low’ so much as a constant challenge because the initial spending on equipment is massive. Having given up a big, permanent and pensionable job to do this, it was hard but so worth it.
How do you cope with stress?
I surround myself with positive people. I’ve also found a mentor in local entrepreneur Brigitte Curtin (founder of the Burren Smokehouse) who has been a tremendous help to me. We live in a beautiful place, so that helps too. And we have a lovely Lurcher dog we rescued locally, so I take her out for long walks in the evening, and that helps clear my mind.
What motivates you?
In my 30s, I’d have rated success in financial terms, but not anymore. Now it’s more about achieving a quality of life. You can’t live in a place as beautiful as this and expect someone to give you a job, so you have to do it for yourself. Just being able to live here motivates me.
What would you do differently if you were starting your business today?
I’d have found a fellowship of local entrepreneurs to share experiences with. That would have been helpful to me. Before this, I’d always worked in a team, so this is my first experience of the isolation of entrepreneurship. In fact, there is a very entrepreneurial spirit in the Burren so, if I were starting over again, I’d ask for help more quickly. It is hard to pick up the phone and ask for help from other business owners but by and large my experience has been that people are happy to give it.
How did you raise your start-up capital and how was that experience for you?
We put in around 75% of our start-up costs from our savings, and the remaining 25% came from a combination of our Local Enterprise Office and our local bank. What helped us secure those elements were the fact that our business plan was very strong, and we had letters of intent from retailers that proved there was a market out there. It’s one of the advantages of having a husband who is an accountant by profession – our figures were water tight.
What would have made the start-up process easier?
Having an incubation space to work from, somewhere I could have based myself. As it is, we struggled for a long time just to get a broadband signal. I think if the government is serious about developing the rural economy there has to be an investment in infrastructure to match.
What is your ambition for your business?
We want to be ‘the’ speciality coffee roaster in the West of Ireland, to the point that, like craft beer, if you come to the West you want to taste a coffee roasted in the West. There’s plenty of potential on the west coast of Ireland alone and then, ultimately, if we want to scale up, we might start thinking about a retail space.
If there was one thing you could change about business culture in Ireland, what would that be?
I think sometimes Irish people are afraid to say something if they think might upset you. I love feedback, even if it’s not all positive because honest feedback is what helps drive your business forward. Good or bad, it all helps.
READ: How to apply for a loan.
Images from Anam Coffee.