Digital Skills Academy
Start-up Stories: ProperOrder

Start-up Stories: ProperOrder

In this episode of start-up stories, we had the pleasure of talking to Brian Lennon. Brian is a graduate of Digital Skills and the founder of ProperOrder. ProperOrder is a simple to use, online system which allows its users to order wine, beer and other drinks from their existing suppliers in one transaction. It also allows users to browse through multiple suppliers' lists in one location.

What does your company do?

ProperOrder is an online platform which allows hospitality businesses to order products from their suppliers quickly and easily.

How is it going / how has the last twelve months been?

It’s going very well. We are getting a great response from the restaurants that are using the MVP and we are about to roll out a new version which has greater functionality and flexibility.

What inspired you to start it up?

I couldn’t believe that ordering in hotels and restaurants was still being done in such an old-fashioned, laborious, error-prone way (i.e. telephone/voicemail) and just knew that there had to be a way to streamline the process for both the suppliers and the hospitality businesses. Talking to both restaurateurs and suppliers confirmed that they were all looking for a better way to manage orders.

How did you find your time with Digital Skills and in what ways did it help you / prepare you for launching your own business?

I learnt a lot about coding, project management and start-up best practices. It really gives you a good skill set to enter the start-up world on the right footing. I also met a lot of diverse and interesting people along the way.

How did you validate that there was a business opportunity?

By getting out there and talking to people - anyone and everyone I could - suppliers, sales reps, restaurateurs, bar managers and business people. 

What did this teach you? What did you do with the feedback you received?

We ran with what people said to us. We listened to their feedback in relation to the layout and other inputs, and we made small adjustments accordingly. We didn’t need to pivot, rather just improve on what we were offering. Recently we have tweaked it in the last few months to allow restaurants to add more of their own content.

How long have you been going?

Our first order was a year ago. I was also at the Digital Skills until this summer. We launched officially in February of this year, while I was on the course.

Did it help being on the course while also developing your business?

Yes, the content of the course was helpful. We then got to try things out. The coding was very useful, as was working in a team on our final project.

What have been your big successes to date with your start-up?

Getting a product to market on time, which has had 100% uptime and zero errors, took a lot of focus but has been very satisfying. Also, getting onto Phase 2 of New Frontiers (accelerator programme) was great for the business. 

Anything you would have done differently with hindsight?

I would have gone out and talked to more people earlier. The quicker and more thoroughly you validate your idea the better.

Also, don’t wait for people who are slowing you down - in my experience, they are always going to drag you back. You might think you need them at the time but you can always find another way to get things done. For us, some buyers were not moving as fast as we wanted to. This slowed us up for a while, till we found other partners who were willing to move more quickly.  

What's next for you / where do you hope to be in next 1 year?

Our next milestone is launching the new version of ProperOrder at the end of this month. This time next year we hope to have gained significant traction in the Irish market and be well on the way to entering international markets.

What are your plans for growing the business?

We are looking at the UK market if it takes off, and the US too.

Are you taking on any money yet?

We are bootstrapping first, to prove the business model. Money would help but we don’t want to deal with the compromises that come with this before we are ready to do so.

Was Web Summit any use to you?

It was an interesting experience, worthwhile, but we’re not looking for money at the moment. It’s a good thing to go to, lots of great things going on and you really get a sense of what a buzz there is around the start-up community. 

Tips to other people thinking of starting their own business?

Just go for it. Today. Get out there and make something! It’s incredibly satisfying and taking the rough with the smooth gets a lot easier as you go on.

Several of us came out of Digital Skills and we’re on New Frontiers Phase 2 too now which is brilliant, with a great standard of mentoring. You get some funding and office space, but the mentoring is the main benefit. Digital Skills was great for developing your ideas. If you can try to get your own particular idea onto the final entrepreneurship project that you work on at the end, so you can validate it and build it.

What sort of marketing did you do?

Talking to people, making a list of contacts, finding out where people’s pain points are. Get good at doing this, don’t go in with a sales pitch. Just aim to build a small group of loyal followers, advocates. Then worry about scalability once core users are happy. Have a list of testimonials, and keep working with your existing customers and try to expand the circle.

Anything else you'd like to add / we should have asked you?

Don’t be too precious with your ideas. Share them. Collaborate. People won’t steal them. Plus, it’s all about the execution at the end of the day.

Talk to anybody and everybody - you never know who knows who or what until you start talking to them. You’ll be really surprised! It’s one of the ways you make serendipity happen.

It’s great to do something that makes a difference and gives you a sense of purpose. When things are tough, it’s that purpose that will keep you going. 

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