Today’s #GIRLBOSS’s are the very talented duo who founded Cool beans. Isolde Johnson (Trinity BA) and Sarah O’ Connor (UCC BCOMM) met 7 years ago and shared a passion for healthy yet quick food and had always dreamed of going into business together.
In 2012 Cool Beans was born. Cool Beans is a new innovative company that caters to those who want healthy, convenient and delicious meals. They make cannellini bean pots in three amazing flavours – tomato , smokey and chilli! They are the perfect meal on their own or paired with fish, meat, or anything you fancy. They even have an abundance of recipe ideas to get you in the mood on their website! These girls are on a mission to bring healthy, fun and convenient foods to your door!
Sarah and Isolde are the perfect examples of two #GIRLBOSS’s committing to and following their dream! Here Isolde tells their story!
My advice would be to start working on your passion in the mornings, evenings and weekends until you have a very clear idea about what you want to do and how you’re going to make money
What was your first job in the real world?
My first job was working with Michael Carey as his Executive Assistant. Michael was Executive Chairman of Jacob Fruitfield and was involved with a lot of charities and not for profit organisation so I got great experience in the corporate and non profit worlds.
Tell us about your Career path?
I studied Business & Politics in Trinity College and while in college I did an internship in the EY Entrepreneur of the Year. That’s where I met Sarah. She had just completed a B.Comm in UCC and just started working there full time – we clicked straight away, we had similar goals, ambitions and work ethic and remained friends after I finished my internship. I graduated in 2009 right in the middle of the recession and after doing a couple of free internships I got a job with Michael Carey in Jacob Fruitfield. Sarah and I had always kept in touch and talked about setting up a business together and would regularly brainstorm ideas. When we had the idea for Cool Beans everything seemed right – I had the food industry experience and Sarah had an amazing network of contacts who were all more than happy to help. We both work full time while we stress tested the idea and tested the market. I left my full time job in February 2014 and Sarah came into the business part time in November 2014. She still works part time with EY and part time with Cool Beans.
Why Cool Beans?
Sarah and I worked really long hours. At the end of a hard day at the office we struggled to find something healthy and tasty to eat and were never too inspired by the selection of ready meals on offer. More often than not would reach for the bran flakes for dinner giving us very little useful fuel for our bodies for the next day in work. As we became more aware of this issue amongst our friends we also noticed a growing trend of gourmet backed beans on toast popping up in brunch places around Ireland and the UK. We LOVE beans and immediately saw the potential for a fresh gourmet baked bean product for retail shelves… Cool Beans was born!
How did your business evolve?
After we had the idea for Cool Beans initially we started to do some research into beans and how good they are for people. This spurred us on and we began making up batches of our own, after a couple of attempts we nailed down the Cool Beans recipes for the three flavours; Tomato, Smokey and Chilli with the help of our friend Sophie Morris who is a chef. We wanted to create a product that was essentially a no fuss healthy meal in a pot with a focus on top quality ingredients. Cool Beans in full of protein and fibre, it’s low in fat, salt and calories, it has no added sugar and is gluten free. It’s a perfect meal for one on mash, toast or pasta and also delicious poured over fish, chicken or steak. It’s a really healthy but convenient product for anyone who wants really good quality food but doesn’t have the time, resources or know how to cook from scratch.
We were both working full time and then decided we would test out Cool Beans with the consumers before we quit our jobs so we bought a mobile catering unit called the Bean Machine and went around to music festivals selling Cool Beans and getting customer feedback. We learned a huge amount during this time and the reaction to the product was phenomenal – we knew at this stage that we were on to something big. Around this time we also got accepted into the Food Academy Programme a joint initiative between Supervalu, the Local Enterprise Office and Bord Bia to give small producers a big chance to launch their products into the retail market, we were also accepted to the DCU Ryan Academy Female Propeller Programme – an accelerator programme for female entrepreneurs. We decided that it was sink or swim time and this was the push I needed to quit my job and focus on Cool Beans full time. We began both programmes in February 2014 and for the following six months we focused on developing the brand, packaging, design and tweaking the recipes to make them even healthier and better. We launched into Supervalu stores in Dublin in September 2014 for a 12 week trial which went incredibly well and then went on to the Food Academy Advance which meant we could start supplying Supervalu stores across the Country. We are now listed in over 150 Supervalu stores nationwide.
What has been your most memorable moment so far?
There’s been so many memorable moments for us personally and as a business – some that spring to mind would be our first Cool Beans delivery to Supervalu on the 19th September last year. Another is filming our TV ad for Supervalu Food Academy and seeing it on the TV for the first time (here’s the link in case you haven’t seen it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EyEGiuQFxA
The MOST memorable though would be our appearance on the Late Late Show. We were selected out of hundreds of applications to be part of a start up piece they were doing at the end of January this year. We were sitting on the couch chatting to Ryan Tubridy and about 600,000 viewers at home for about 5 minutes about Cool Beans and our journey. It was very surreal and just an incredible experience that we will never forget.
What makes Cool Beans such a special brand.
We decided early on that we would put ourselves and our personalities front and centre in the brand and I think this really comes across with Cool Beans. Often healthy food businesses can play it very safe when it comes to the branding but we wanted to do something quite different. Cool Beans is fun, edgy and we’re not afraid to push the boundaries. We also have brought lots of our background in festivals through the design and branding which adds to the quirkiness and excitement in the brand.
What is a typical day in the life of the founders of Cool Beans?
No two days are the same for us. Some days we’re on the road visiting stores and increasing our brand, other days are spent doing in store tastings in Supervalu all around the country and then other days are spent at Sarah or my kitchen table working on strategy, marketing or sales plans of the accounts.
What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
We want to build Cool Beans into both a national and international brand. We will be working really hard to get the product into all the Supervalu’s in Ireland over the next few months. We have loads of great ideas for new products down the line. We like to dream big – the ultimate ambition is to be an internationally recognised food company that is focused on educating the consumer on what they are eating and why quality, non-processed foods are so important to peoples diets, their health and ultimately their happiness in life.
what is the most exciting part of your job?
The most exciting can also be the most frustrating and that is being able to make your own decisions. It’s so liberating being able to get information, analyse it and make a decision or action something without having to get approval from your boss. It means that things can happen so much quicker and you can capitalise on opportunities much faster. That said I do have days when I just cannot for the life of me make a decision, but having that option is exciting.
What motivates you?
I’m generally motivated by people and I’m lucky to have the best co-founder. Sarah motivates me every day to achieve more and be more effective in the way we operate Cool Beans.
What is your work Mantra?
Celebrate the small wins. It can be difficult at times to get a business off the ground – things move very quickly and you experience many ups and downs. It’s important to acknowledge the wins when they come. Sarah and I do 30 second dance parties – if something really good happens or we get a really good opportunity we’ll turn the music up really loud and dance around like lunatics for 30 seconds. Then we get back to work
What would you tell your 21 year old self?
Everything happens for a reason – don’t sweat the small stuff. I know it’s a massive cliche but I genuinely believe that. I remember at 21 in final year of college being devastated for not getting a place on a graduate programme with an international company. Looking back now it was probably one of the best things that happened to me. There is a reason for everything and you just have to work hard, set goals and trust that things will work out for the best.
Most rewarding part of your job?
At the moment it’s seeing the sales of Cool Beans increasing all the time. We’re focusing a lot of our efforts on sales doing tastings in Supervalu stores all around the country so it’s very rewarding to see the knock on effect that it’s having on orders and sales.
What is your dream vacation?
I’ve always wanted to travel around South America. I’d love to take 2 months out and head off on my travels. I’m not sure if it’s going to happen any time soon but it’ll stay on the bucket list.
What is your advice to other women who feel like they want to quit their day job and follow their gut?
Starting your own business is not for the feint hearted. It’s a lot of work and pressure pretty much 24/7. If you have the passion and drive you can get a lot done while still working in the day job to pay the bills. My advice would be to start working on your passion in the mornings, evenings and weekends until you have a very clear idea about what you want to do and how you’re going to make money. In the case of business it’s important to test the market and gain a bit of traction first before taking the plunge. We both worked on Cool Beans for 18months part time before I took the plunge and quit my job. It was a terrifying and exhilarating experience but I knew I had made the right decision in the end.
If you could have lunch with any woman who would it be and what would you order?
Such a difficult one. I think it would have to be Ellen Degeneres. I think it would be the funniest lunch ever. The food bit is easy – I would order beef carpaccio for starters and tuna steak for main course and then a lemon posset for dessert. Yum! Ellen would have Cool Beans of course!
Just click on the image below to go straight to their website! Enjoy! x
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