An Interview with Colm O’Brien of Carambola Kidz

We were lucky enough recently to catch up with Colm O’Brien of Carambola Kidz for an interview about his background and business.  He explains how he had the idea for the business, gives some brilliant business tips and tells us what is next for Carambola Kidz.

What does Carambola Kidz do?

Carambola Kidz is Ireland’s premier producer of bespoke Healthy School Lunches. Since our inception in 2003 we have supplied over 10,000,000 individually tailored school lunch packs direct to either school or home. Each pack contains a menu specifically chosen by a parent, guardian or teacher for the child. The child’s name, her menu and its attendant calorie count (shown against a recommended calorific daily allowance (RDA)) is clearly shown on the label that seals the bag.

What gave you the idea to set up the company?

I was fortunate enough (ironically through the demise of a café business I was running at the time) to meet a man on the train to Dublin. That fateful meeting allowed a conversation which led us to tender for a Healthy School Lunch Pilot project in Moyross, Limerick in 2003. I had no idea such a market existed until I met Train Guy.

What was your background before Carambola Kidz?

I fell into the Café business (as an employee) in 1980; the plan on leaving school, that year was to go to teacher training college but I failed to get the required ‘Honour’ in the Leaving Cert Irish Paper so I chose to ‘work for a year’ and repeat Irish at night…I never did!

The job I got was in the Rooftop Restaurant in Clery’s Dept Store in Dublin…this was the beginning of an entire career in the food and service industry.

In 1988 I joined Bewley’s Cafes where I had the honour of managing the flagship store, Bewley’s on Grafton St (1991 – 1995) during which tenure I introduced the Café Theatre concept which is still running today. I then became Franchise Manager (1995 – 1998) for the Bewley’s Café group. My claim to fame here was the introduction of the enormously successful Hotel concept with the launch of Bewley’s Hotel at Newlands Cross.

In 1998 I moved to Limerick to take on my own Bewley’s Café Franchise.

Do you have any business idols you look up to?

Absolutely. Richard Branson does it for me. He gives the impression that he skates through life, across issues and problems whilst having fun with it. His accomplishments speak for themselves. His staff appear happy and productive. His creation of a brand that has credibility in so many diverse business areas is impressive to say the least. His contribution to business life and his interest in the planet and the issues facing us inspire me.

Do you use Social Media for marketing and if so which is your favourite channel?

Yes. Facebook and Twitter. Not sure which one I prefer though I find Twitter easiest to get my head around.

What lessons have you learned along the way about growing a business?

There are 10 that I speak about to Start Your Own Business Groups:

  1. Define the Big Picture (How do you want your life to look in 5, 10, 20 years?…your business is not your life, it is just one part of it) It is important that your business decisions align with your life’s ambition.
  2. Manage your priorities, not  time! Based on 1 above, you need to prioritise your time appropriately.
  3. Network. I would never have met Train Guy if I had not been out there making stuff happen.
  4. Be open to new ideas. All evidence suggests I should be in the Café business…but I’m not…Follow the paths that open up most readily.
  5. Be flexible. Your plans for your life (and business) may not be shared by the world or even those closest to you. Learn to roll with the punches.
  6. Read / Study. Your business can never outgrow you. Learn new ways of thinking by reading 10 minutes per day – a personal development book or a business book or an autobiography of some leader (business or otherwise) that you admire.
  7. Get good people on your team. Success (even for a one man band) is a team sport. Accountant, adviser, support network, etc; all must play their part
  8. Deal with issues. Small problems swept under the carpet will grow and fester and finally come back to haunt you.
  9. Choose to see Failure as Learning, not Losing. Google plans to have 80% of their new ideas NOT work! But often learning through one of these ‘failures’ will add value in a new arena…
  10. Believe! I recommend people consider believing in 3 things:
    1. God. I’m not here to preach but this helps me hourly, daily weekly. If I choose to believe (and I do) then why wouldn’t I pray for my business and my contacts?
    2. The inherent goodness of most people. Most people will help and support, The shysters out there are sad, tragic people and thankfully they are few and far between
    3. Themselves. Nobody on the planet can bring to the world the idea of an individual in quite the unique way any given individual can…why can’t the next Google/Microsoft/Marriott/Starbucks start with you?

Your team is spread around the country – how do you keep everyone on the same track?

I have one lady, Rachel Mescall Fitzpatrick, who is our customer care manager. She liaises with all the people around the country every week and often every day. Our office personnel and delivery personnel do the same but at a different level. Communication is strong and two-way…

Where are you planning to supply to next?

As I write we are trialling a new Home Delivery Service for Healthy School Lunches. #excited! Watch this space…

Are there any big plans on the Carambola Kidz agenda?

We have just (today) been appointed the IPPN’s (Irish Primary Principal’s Network) Preferred School Lunch Supplier which is strategically, potentially huge.

That plus the launch of the Carambola Home Delivery Service…2013 looks good!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this interview and have learned a bit more about Carambola Kidz and what they are achieving for the health of children in schools today.

Interview by Sian Phillips

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Sian Phillips is the Managing Editor of Tweak Your Biz. Sian is a qualified accountant and has an honours diploma in Journalism too. She is either content editing, accounting or writing on any given day.