Lathering Heights – Nicola Dunne Interviews Startup Award Winner Donagh Quigley!
Up and coming Irish business The Handmade Soap Company recently won the Grand Prix prize at the first ever Startup Awards so Startups.ie caught up with owner Donagh Quigley to find out his secret to success.
“Your product has to be tip top. The marketing has to be tip top, the packaging has to be tip top and your team and the people around you have to be tip top. It’s a combination of things.” So says Donagh Quigley of the remarkable success enjoyed by his business The Handmade Soap Company..
If starting your own business is a daunting experience, then starting one during a recession could be likened to climbing Mount Everest in socks – an already tricky task that is suddenly made even more difficult. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that despite the difficult economy, there are plenty of successful Irish start-ups out there including the Meath-based soap company which was established in 2009 by Donagh Quigley and Gemma McGowan.
While on a road-trip to Australia, Donagh and Gemma noticed an opportunity to develop a natural skincare range for an Irish market. By then, the recession beginning to impact on Donagh’s thatching business and the two decided to forge ahead with their new idea, quickly learning all they could about soap before launching their first products at Dublin’s Christmas Craft Fair in 2009.
Fast forward three years and The Handmade Soap Company is a multiple award-winning business with products that are stocked in over 100 stores nationwide. With such success under his belt, what does Donagh think is the first step any budding entrepreneur should take?
“Make a plan,” he replies. “The more information you have in it the better. Eighty percent of all businesses fail in the first year and of those that don’t, eighty percent fail in the second year. When I started everyone kept saying you have to do a business plan and a business plan was my worst nightmare. I hated school – I thought that’s why I went in to business! But it’s very important that you get your figures right because you could be re-jigging it a lot and you’d nearly have to write a new one every couple of months.”
The importance of a strong business plan aside, every new business will also encounter its own challenges and opportunities but the thorny issue of access to credit and State support for new ventures are two near-universal experiences. Unsurprisingly, credit flow is still a major issue for many companies and it is still difficult to get access to funds and capital.
On the other hand, Donagh reveals that The Handmade Soap Company received assistance from Enterprise Ireland and though you have to work hard to get your idea noticed, the support is invaluable. “Enterprise Ireland has been good to us,” he says. “We met their criteria and they were very good. At the same time you have to help yourself – there are a lot of people looking for funding and it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.”
As Donagh’s business continues to perform well at home, the next natural step for many successful enterprises is the exports sector and The Handmade Soap Company is no different. Its products are already proving popular in the U.K and United States though Donagh stresses that their Irish customers will always remain a hugely important focal point for the business. Long-term, The Handmade Soap Company aims to continue as a strong Irish brand with a global customer base.
Modestly, Donagh declines to give advice to other entrepreneurs but instead offers a tip that others gave him when he was just starting out. “In the first year you’ll spend a lot of money, more than you think you will, in the second year you’ll try to stop spending as much, and in the third year you’ll hopefully make a few quid.”
Interview by Nicola Dunne on behalf of Startups.ie