What is your role?
As managing director of Strangford Lough Brewing Company my role is motivating a team of talented individuals to become the second most recognisable Irish beer brand in the world. And to obtain funding and establish operations in the USA, our largest market.
Why did you become an entrepreneur?
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. Working with the St Patrick’s centre in Downpatrick, we learnt that St Patrick had a brewer called Mescan, and the monks drank a gallon of beer a day. We then discovered a swashbuckling character buried in Co Down, Magnus Barelegs — the Viking king — and our two ranges of beers were born!
What were the biggest challenges in starting up?
Funding is the biggest challenge. A lot of investors want a large chunk of your company for a small amount of money. Getting around this problem made me very poor!
What is your unique selling point?
We make fine beer from Co Down produce and have strong branding which clearly reflects where we come from and who we are. There are very few Irish beers in the USA and there are 42 million Irish Americans to sell it to. We have 2,900 Irish bars on our web site irishbeerfinder.com and they have only four or five Irish beers to sell.
When we sought a brewing partner and were selected by the fourth largest brewery in USA they said: “Had you been an Australian or New Zealand beer we would not have been interested, but because you make an Irish beer we want to work with you.’’
What makes you a good entrepreneur?
I thrive when working in partnership with others, always looking for the win-win situation. These are the relationships which deliver long-lasting value. Our company partnerships are second to none.
How do you market the company?
We are running some of the most exciting social media marketing programs around.
What are the biggest challenges to growth?
Having the funds to deliver the dreams. Our business is in the JAM state, Just Add Money.
If you were starting out again, what would you do differently?
Think bigger sooner.
What are your plans to develop the company?
Growing the company in the USA. Our technical models enable us to deliver our beer worldwide at a price consumers are willing to pay.
Are you innovative?
Innovation is the name of our game. We export malt extract to USA, not beer. Shipping mainly bottles and water makes no sense, so we condense the brew and ship a concentrate. Our innovative business model of working with licencees also allowed us to get beer into 20 US states very quickly. And we are currently running a competition to find the best Irish bar in America.
How do you keep yourself and your staff motivated?
We are a family business comprising people from many different families. You need to select the right people to join the family. If you treat people as if they are your family with respect and consideration and give them an opportunity to learn, even to make mistakes, as well as continually challenging them to grow, they often react in very positive ways. Above all, try and make what you do fun!
Which entrepreneurs do you most admire?
Dr Ruben Rausing who founded Tetrapak. Stellios from Easyjet. Giles Smith, a butcher from South Wales who decided he wanted to build motor cars — check out Gilbern cars to find out more! They all had a vision to do something differently.
What is your favourite gadget?
My iPhone — my office in my pocket. If only it had the battery life to support all I want to do with it on those long transatlantic journeys.
If you could do any job, what would it be?
One that doesn’t take me from home so often!
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