ThinkBusiness caught up with Mailo Power, founder of Monkey Cups, who will be discussing her inspiring business at the next Friday Breakfast Club in Waterford.

Monkey Cups

Monkey Cups started in 2018 after spending years working in the hospitality sector. I jointly ran the Athenaeum House Hotel from 2003 to December 2018 and I witnessed the growth of the coffee culture both nationally and internationally. For those of us in the hospitality industry, this in turn has led to the need to provide take away cups for coffee on the go.

Existing disposable cups, with their internal plastic polyethylene lining means they are difficult to recycle. Many disposable cups carry the recyclable logo, but the actual cup requires specialised recycling. As a result, over 528,000 disposable coffee cups end up in landfills every day in Ireland.

Many of the reusable coffee cups on the market at the time did not fit under the group head taps of espresso machines. I tried to source an Irish product that met my requirements and was unable to do so.

Getting off the ground

Monkey Cups began with a brainstorming sketch on my kitchen table. At the time I wasn’t thinking of starting a business, I simply wanted to come up with a solution to this growing environmental crisis by creating a reusable coffee cup that worked for both providers and coffee lovers. By utilising my experience as a hotel designer with Great Southern Hotels for over a decade designing crockery, carpets, fabrics and furniture, I wanted to create a reusable cup that offered a premium coffee experience for people who enjoy coffee. It took nine months from initial brainstorming sketch on my kitchen table to product launch.

“Over 528,000 disposable coffee cups end up in landfills every day in Ireland.”

We are eighteen months into the journey – the first stage was design, developing the prototype and launching the brand, but we are only six months on the market. We have over 34 stockists throughout Ireland and this is growing daily. Monkey Cups is now on sale in the Guinness Store House, and from next month Monkey Cups will be available in Shannon Airport Duty Free.

Networking

Business networking is a really valuable way to expand your knowledge, learn from the success of others, source new clients and tell others about your business. A strong and active business network has advantages that can make your help your business grow and flourish. I am a great supporter of events like the Waterford Friday Breakfast Club – it’s a great way to meet new people and share your story.

Supports

My first introduction to my Local Enterprise Office was in 2018. I met with Jacqui Gaule, discussed my idea and showed her my initial drawings. Jacqui advised me to apply for a feasibility grant. I was awarded €15,000 which combined with a personal investment of a further €18,000 enabled me to work with Inmasoll and take Monkey Cups from concept drawings to a marketable product. I also attended the 15-week owner manager business development course with Blaise Brosnan through LEO Waterford. This has been invaluable in taking Monkey Cups to the next level.

“I tried to source an Irish product that met my requirements and was unable to do so”

Finance

Like all start-ups cash flow is critical. We have managed this by keeping tight controls on all outgoings, doing a lot of work ourselves, and requesting proforma payments for first wholesale orders. This has enabled us to grow organically and meet our product payments.

Prior to being in the hotel business, I was a project manager/interior designer, and I learnt the importance of good budgets. It is very important to know your costs. Monkey Cups has a fixed production cost, and there is a direct correlation between sales and the amount of funds required, as income increase so does spending.

Biggest challenge

The lids were the biggest challenge. My initial idea was to create a reusable coffee cup, and as a result all our functionality tests were done with barista coffee. The lid performed well in all tests. We then began production and discovered an issue with leaking. On further investigation it appeared that the leaking only occurred with tea drinkers.

Tea is a higher temperature, which caused the LDPE to soften which in turn affected the seal. We also discovered that different colours affected the master batch, and production climate conditions also had an impact. The lids where being manufactured in China, and it took weeks to sort the issue out.

“I simply wanted to come up with a solution to this growing environmental crisis by creating a reusable coffee cup that worked for both providers and coffee lovers”

The future

Our long term goal is to maintain our core mission which is to turn the tide on of single-use plastic disposable cups. Each Monkey Cup can save on average 442 disposable single-use plastic cups ending up in landfill on an annual basis. Our first target was to save 1,000,000 single-use plastic disposable cups from ending up in landfill. That equates to 2,262 which we reached in the first two months of trading.

Now that we have a strong production team in place our focus is on building the brand and increasing sales. We have developed a quality product for a growing market place. Our research shows there is a high demand for reusable products.

Advice

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes, ask yourself the following questions; who is your target market, what are they looking for and what is their experience from initial contact onwards.

It is better to under promise and over delivery. Be straight up with what you can and cannot do, and always try to be as flexible as possible. Be true to your brand.

To attend the Friday Breakfast Club in the Bank of Ireland Workbench in Waterford, click here to register.

Friday Breakfast Clubs are events held every first Friday in Bank of Ireland’s Workbenches across the country. The first 30 minutes involves business networking over a light breakfast. This is followed by a fireside chat with a local business owner with a financial focus on the story of their journey to date, in a relaxed conversational setting, closing with Q&A with the audience.

By Stephen Larkin

Published: 16 October, 2019

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