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Inside the Dragon’s Head (Part 2)

Published: 19th August, 2013

A frank conversation with Bobby Kerr, businessman, broadcaster, and public speaker. (Part 2)

In the past thirteen years, Bobby Kerr has gone from being a sole trader with one small start up coffee shop to being Chairperson and partner of one the Ireland’s commercial success stories- Insomnia Coffee Company, a very well respected broadcasting figure with a high profile TV program behind him and a current well rated radio show, partner in Bang Restaurant and an inspirational and popular public speaker. I was eager to continue our conversation- how did he manage it all and what had he learned on the way.

Bobby Kerr

Lessons in starting and growing your own business

I asked Bobby what he would share with young business entrepreneurs about the initial lessons he had learned in starting your own business. Always the mentor and coach, he didn’t hesitate for a second.

  1. It will take twice as long as you think to get the business open
  2. If you’re not actually making money, you’re burning it
  3. Ask for twice as much money as you need
  4. Be all over the business at the start, when the business is small enough
  5. If you’re at every dogfight, you won’t be able to grow the business             

The initial time estimate for opening Bobby’s first business, Perk was two months- it took eleven months to open and costs built up. When it opened, taking his own advice, he was all over the business, which meant personally writing every cheque, controlling every cost and placing every order. He grins as he describes those early days “It was a very flat management structure…in fact there was no management structure.” There was a part time accountant doing a few hours a week and there was Bobby. Returning to a more serious tone, he adds,

“I quickly figured out that if I didn’t change the way I was doing things, I would never be able to grow the business”

He had to learn to trust other people.

The essence of a good business partner

Bobby still works with his initial partners in Insomnia today. I wanted to know what he thought important in choosing business partners.

  1. Choose partners with different strengths & qualities to your own
  2. Must be ‘street-wise’- alert to opportunity and market temperature
  3. They have to be able to get on with people

“I think the later may be the most important of all in business. I’ve seen the most brilliant people become virtually unemployable because they can’t get on with other people.”

A Dragon’s fame!

 An extrovert and social person by nature, it’s not really a surprise to Bobby’s inner circle that he has emerged as a public figure. A friend of Bobby’s wife Mary, worked with Bank of Ireland, who were sponsoring an Irish version of the UK hit show ‘Dragon’s Den’. He approached Bobby about joining the show “That type of thing had never been central to my world, so I refused at first.” He was soon persuaded however, and did an audition and a screen test.

“I liked it… really enjoyed the 4 years there as a ‘Dragon”

Four years and ten investments later, Bobby left the Dragon’s Den. “Some of the investments were good, some were ok and some were bad” He’s still involved with some of them and regardless of the outcome he says “I was always at one with all the people and still am”

Bobby Kerr NewstalkFollowing on from being a ‘Dragon’, opportunities arose in radio and Bobby can be heard weekly as he hosts Newstalk’s ‘Down to Business’ every weekend. He hopes to do more radio in the future. At the time of this conversation Bobby had just finished filming a pilot documentary for TV- 6 shows looking at maritime Ireland, inland waterways and around the coast- a project he was very excited about.

He is still always on the lookout for good business opportunities and invested in Bang Restaurant in 2010 with partners. “It’s a well placed business and a good one,” he tells me. “Food has always been a passion for me and I like to be involved but it’s refreshing sometimes not to be the front guy.” Bobby is a Director of Bang Restaurant and can be occasionally seen running up and down the stairs working on the floor there!

Bobby Kerr SailingGetting ahead of himself

So the question really is, how does he manage to accomplish as much as he does?

He gets up at 5.15am every morning to get ahead of himself.  He answers mail, gets to the gym, and never gets stuck in traffic at a time when most people are still sleeping.

He made the gym part of his work life about 6 or 7 years ago and that gets scheduled just like another meeting.  He is an avid sailor and makes time to sail once a week on a midweek evening from 6-8pm. He is also sails competitively.

“You should never feel guilty about spending time doing something you love- the value it brings to your life is immeasurable”

This particular lesson, he told me came from the Dragon’s Den.

At the time of our conversation, he had recently taken up running and had just completed his first 10K under an hour. Since then he has gone on to finish the Rock n’ Roll half marathon in 2 hours and 7 minutes, a time he is rightly very proud of and was also involved in the organization of the race. He’s still not sure if running is for him but will compete in some more races and review then.

Although always working, Bobby doesn’t worry too much about his businesses, thereby allowing him the time to explore other areas of interest.  For this, he credits the very good people who work with him.

Married to Mary for the past 25 five years, they live in Sandycove with their four daughters and he has always made time for family too.

“Sleep was the only thing that ever got compromised, I suggest it still is!”

Bobby Kerr Diving into Sea

Political ambition

My final question to the man of many talents was if politics was a direction he would ever consider. He was very adamant in his response

“Never. Never- I saw what it did to my good friend Sean Gallagher- I wouldn’t touch it”

Looks like the Aras will have to do without Mr. Kerr.