INTRODUCTION TO BLENDi SNACKS
In 2017 Dolan Founder of Blendi Smoothies set out to disrupt the Smoothie Category, first to market by developing a “Smoothie in Seconds” by using freeze dried fruit and vegetable, (mango, beetroot, banana, cucumber, broccoli etc) the consumer would tear open the packet pour to a Blender add liquid and blend the result was a smoothie with the same creamy texture and nutritional integrity as using fresh ingredients. A Winner!
The challenge came when Dolan went into commercial production only to find that her smoothie concept was too futuristic & ahead of its time regarding the manufacturing capabilities and many obstacles arose for the small start-up. The choice was to give up or consider it as part of the Blendi story.
Chapter II – The Pivot
In June 2019 Dolan launched Blendi Snacks, “keeping the name Blendi, indicating a “Blend” of Roasted Vegetables for Snacking. Again first to market with a Broad Bean & Roasted Garden Pea (Red Onion, Garlic, Salted with Skins, Chili & lemon, Chili & Pepper, Honey Mustard). The Roasted Broad Beans & Peas tastes just like a roasted nut without the high calories, 70% less fat and with no allergens.
1. How did you get the idea/ concept for your business?
In 2016 I had an idea to develop a healthy version of “Pot Noodles” this opened the doors to the world of dried, dehydrated, freeze dried ingredients. Blendi Smoothies went on to win the “World’s Best New Innovation” in London April 2018. Every successful Entrepreneur looks back on their first idea to what they have today, the ups & downs the disappointments we are challenged with every day is what moulds us into Entrepreneurs.
2. Give a brief account of your education background.
I went to Boarding School at the age of 11 which I believe was the beginning of my Entrepreneurial journey, forced to make decisions & to stay strong at a very early age. Apart from a Diploma in Digital Marketing & Ballymaloe Training my entrepreneurial skills have been tried & tested through my four previous start-ups & three successful exists, also 12 years of self-employment in Croatia and Spain will make you sit the honours papers!
3. Is entrepreneurship a common trait in your family?
Actually No. My father & his father were both Bank Managers (so the other side of the desk). When I meet people today who were clients of my Dad they would say your Dad was a gentleman “he gave me my first loan & I remember he would say as I was walking out the his office door “Now (John) I know you won’t let me down” and you couldn’t ! You would not want to disappoint him – hence all loans were repaid.
4. Did you have prior knowledge of the industry before setting up your company?
I was always interested in food. My first start-up in the 80’s InterHamper Ltd (Corporate Christmas Hamper Company) which after 17yrs was sold to Bewleys. I then went on to open a food & wine store “Rossini’s” in Dalkey. I always had in the back of my mind if I started a food product it would not be a slave to the Supermarkets it would have many other applications (e-commerce friendly, vending, airlines, etc) I am proud to say our very first order is 4,000 Blendi snacks for vending machines into Facebook HQ for September 2019.
5. What was your previous work experience (if any)? Do you think this gave you an advantage when setting up your business?
Two years in Investment Banking & then took a punt on myself, to everyones surprise or should I say family disappointment I handed in my notice and started up a Christmas Hamper company & as every Entrepreneur would agree you can never go back!
6. How did you initially fund your business? (self-funded, government funding, etc).
I have personally invested 120k in the company
Enterprise Ireland invested 75k and have become an equity partner
We are now HPSU & will be seeking private funding matched by Enterprise Ireland.
7. Looking back, would you have changed the method of funding you chose?
No, but I would have focused more of my time on sales first (especially repeat sales). Investors need validation its less of a risk for them.
8. What difficulties, if any, did you encounter when securing funding?
Investors want to see a strong team behind a start-up and this is the chicken & egg because I feel it’s very difficult to get anyone interested without some salary and only a promise of an exit down the road. There’s a whole mystique about raising money my advice would be just get on with your business and make it profitable, they (investors) will find you.
9. Did you encounter any financial difficulties in the first year of operation? If yes, what did you do to surpass them?
Year one is normally manageable, you put in all your savings, your investing in yourself, you are high on excitement & positivity, its year two & three that gets challenging you need to get more creative without funds. One example is a strategic partnership, very early on I convinced a Marketing Company in London to back Blendi Smoothies for 5% equity in exchange for £30,000 worth of design, marketing etc. (this was done with an idea in my head & some ingredients in my hand)
10. What characteristics do you feel benefited you most when starting your business?
There’s no certain road map to success; all you can do is follow your gut, execute your vision, and never give up. I know when I put my mind to something I can master it, I remind myself of the time I was determined to get my handicap (golf) down to single figures and after 18 months I went from 23 to 5 that was something that I remind myself of regularly, stay focused and believe in the success that’s around the corner and it will happen. Fail Fast. Failure is part of the learning cycle, just like falling over when you learn to walk. The whole ideas that you need to get everything right first time is nonsense but as a society, we are stuck in this paradigm. I was lucky to have had some personal challenges/ failures over the years which helped me to learn how it feels when it changes.
“No man ever became great or good except through many and great mistakes” William E. Gladstone.
11. To what do you attribute your company’s success/growth to?
The importance of me being creative, having an excellent product, good timing, and most importantly a team. Only very recently I have taken on two very experienced team players, one previous Managing Director of a well known Food Distribution Company and the other a retired Financial Director of another Food Company. I believe we now have a good to excellent chance of making Blendi Snacks a Global player in the Snacking Category.
12. What is your opinion on the importance of a professional network for an entrepreneur?
There are many, but my number one is relationships, business is built on relationships. If you are good at what you do, people are only too eager to recommend you once there is a relationship in place. A professional network is where you will be in an environment to build on relationships with people of a similar mindset, and then you wait for a little bit of luck for somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody!
13. Do you think entrepreneurship has changed in recent years?
Some might say there are fewer barriers to entry with the ease of e-commerce and very little cost you have a website and you are open for business but we are all on a tightrope only inches off the floor and not everybody will keep getting back up. So, in conclusion its perhaps easier to enter but just as difficult to navigate.
13. Would you ever consider starting another company or involving yourself in new start-ups again?
Yes, I could never imagine myself not trying to bring something disruptive to market or think of how can I be more creative than my competitors.
14. If you had one piece of advice for a new entrepreneur, what would it be?
If you are a very early entrepreneur follow your gut, go with your free spirit don’t listen to anyone……When you get the validation, there will come a stage when you know the time will be to switch to conventional mode, but always remember.
“If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough”!