From working with Connacht Rugby to becoming a frozen yoghurt manufacturer, VOOM quarter finalist Niall Moloney discusses his transition to business ownership and pulls back the curtain on the fast-paced world of food retail.
It’s time for VOOM 2017, the pitchathon from Virgin Media Business that puts the most promising entrepreneurs and their ideas in front of a team of panellists poised to elevate their business to the next level.
Last year, 7,000 entrants commenced their journey with the aim of battling through the stages, all in the hope of getting to the final round and presenting their game-changing business idea to Richard Branson and an all-star judging panel. There’s a €1,000,000 prize pot up for grabs as well as some invaluable mentoring from some of the best business minds out there.
VOOM also connects contestants’ businesses with their potential end-users of their services through a crowdfunding competition that gives businesses the opportunity to raise funds and their brand awareness at the same time.
One extraordinary individual that sought to meet the demand in the food retail market with the help of VOOM is Niall Moloney, a dietician that put his knowledge of nutrition to work to create a product like no other. Niall kept cool in the hot seat as he answered Virgin Media Business’s burning questions about his high protein frozen yoghurt business, Pow Cow.
What made you move from being a dietician to becoming a frozen yoghurt manufacturer?
Lunacy! I was working with a number of athletes, Connacht Rugby, GAA teams and Olympians. I was also working with weight management clients, diabetic clients and the one thing that was coming up time and again was that the sports guys were all saying “we have high energy requirements with the coaching and we’re struggling to meet them. What’s on offer in the protein shakes out there tastes disgusting. Is there anything out there that has the nutritional requirements that also tastes good?” At the same time the diabetic clients were looking for a low sugar dessert substitute. That’s when the lightbulb idea hit me. I bought an ice-cream maker and started experimenting with recipes. I set myself a challenge to make a healthier version of ice-cream.
How did your business grow from there?
I started talking to an ice-cream manufacturer who let me rent out his factory one day a week, which allowed me to scale up. There were new challenges then also. The recipe not scaling properly, the product not freezing quick enough etc., but we cracked it and launched it into the market in May of last year and then there was a great demand and VOOM helped us an awful lot in raising our profile in Ireland and the UK…When things are moving quickly you don’t stop and take time to think how you got yourself to where you are. You keep the head down then one day all of a sudden you say “Gosh, I’m ordering pallets of stuff where before I was just making a few tubs”.
How did you find learning the admin and sales side of things?
As a dietician, I had absolutely no experience in setting up my own business or HR issues, invoices or simple things or even how much retailers expect to be able to make by selling your product. The great thing for me was I went through the Food Academy Process with SuperValu which gets you ready to get into SuperValu stores. This gave me a great base knowledge, but what really made the difference was getting on to the Foodworks programme run by Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland and Teagasc.
This course focuses on how to scale your business and is very focused on finance and export opportunities. I’d regard it as being the closest thing to an MBA in food…It’s very much about negotiating with food retailers. You need to be a good salesperson.
What stage was your business at when you entered VOOM?
We were very early on in our business journey. We started VOOM and had our products onto the stage in the same month. So, I was doing the competition, producing the product and delivering it at the same time…It was a hectic period, but VOOM opened so many doors for us and gave us so much more credibility. We got on TV3, we did several national press releases and it gave us confidence and gave us great exposure to consumers. It was very worthwhile doing it and we think that it’s something we’d definitely consider doing again. Especially because we’re a bit more established this time around.
What was the VOOM pitching process like for you?
The first time we did it, it was probably one of the scariest things I’ve done. It was part of the pitchathon, the 30+ hours where the heads of Virgin Media Business were there, listening non-stop from pitch to pitch. It was the first time I had done a pitch with that level of a competition. There’s a lot of cameras on you, and a strict time limit so it forced me to think carefully about how I would pitch. Before this, I would have been one of the people who would have been happy enough knowing the points and waffle on. I learned from VOOM that you need to write down the pitch and practice it numerous times to make sure you get your points across as quickly as possible
As you got through the stages of the competition did it become more exciting?
The original pitch was scary, but once I had done it I thought “that was probably one of the best things I have ever done”. It’s great to challenge yourself. To be told that we got through to the quarter finals was a massive achievement and it really spurred me on. It was great to meet some of the appointed advisors in the VOOM competition, because you know that this guy is going to talk to you about finance and legal aspects so it forces you to sit down and to brush up on those areas…Competitions like VOOM, force you to step back and examine the pillars of your business.
What ICT services does your business depend on?
Talking on the phone to people is a big part of what we do, but our business wouldn’t exist without a good broadband service. We do have an e-commerce website and I might send 50-100 emails regarding business development leads each day, so solid infrastructure is important. You have to rely on technology to take some burden off you so you can best utilise yourself. A lot of the retailers are moving to digital too. We sell online via retailers’ online stores and the trend of the digital supermarket from the likes of Amazon is on the rise internationally and could affect us more in the future.
Is social media a relevant marketing channel for your business?
Social media is integral for raising the brand awareness of our business. Although we’re not selling direct to consumers as such, every consumer on Facebook goes into a shop at some point. So, we have very detailed social media plans and digital marketing plans in place. For us as a new start up with very little money, that’s the only way we can grow our brand…Social media is the channel for us to create what we call “The Pow Cow Tribe” to get people involved with the product and the ethos of our brand.
If you had brand new investment tomorrow, where would the money go?
Some of it would go into the digital strategy and a lot more offline marketing. The second piece would be investing in other export markets. For example, for a food company going into a foreign market you need to be looking at €100,000 to support and launch the product in its first year and a lot of that would be in-store promotion.
Unleash Your #VOOM
Ready unleash your #VOOM? Join our festival of business and lap up a host of free advice and workshops in advertising, crowdfunding, marketing and more when the VOOM tour lands in Dublin at TechConnect Live on 31st May. Tickets to this event are free and you can register here.