Podcast: Creating and Selling Irish Bars and Whiskey - Interview with Kieran Folliard
The pursuit of happiness shouldn't be left behind when starting business ventures. Kieran Folliard discusses passion and pursuing your dreams through business.
About the Host
Ryan is an entrepreneur, podcast host of the show Life After Business and the co-owner of Solidity Financial. Having personally experienced the hazards of selling a business, he joined up with his friend Brandon Wood to educate others on the process. Through their business (Solidity Financial), they provide a platform for entrepreneurs called The Value Advantage™ that helps in exit planning, value building and financial management.
About the Guest
Born in 1955 in Ballyhaunis, County Mayo in the West of Ireland, Kieran started out in the hospitality industry carrying the bags for the passengers in his father’s Hackney (taxi cab) business. After 17 years spent in corporate marketing including time in Ireland, Saudi Arabia and the U.S, he realized that he loved being in pubs. So, like any good self-respecting Irish guy, he decided to open one.
18 years later, the pub business had grown to include The Local, The Liffey, Cooper, and Kieran’s Irish Pub, all in Minnesota’s Twin Cities area. 2 GINGERS® Whiskey was launched as a test in those pubs in March of 2011, and quickly earned a loyal following. So, in order to focus on a new project in pursuing wider distribution of 2 GINGERS, Kieran sold all his shares of the pub business in July of 2011. He heeded warnings about the door hitting him on the way out, and went on his merry way. Today, 100% of ownership of those pubs belongs to the management team that had worked with Kieran over the years to make them successful.
2 GINGERS is now Kieran’s full-time passion. He’s lived in Minnesota for 25 years, but has seen more of the state since launching 2 GINGERS than ever before, as he hits the road to sample his new product and meet the people who support the new brand.
Just nine months after the statewide launch of 2 GINGERS in its home state of Minnesota, the whiskey can be found in over 800 liquor stores and over 1000 bars and restaurants. When he decided to start 2 GINGERS, it was with confidence in the product and an undeniable urge to make a go of a good idea. Kieran’s entrepreneurial drive is contagious to those who know him.
If you listen, you will learn:
- How Kiernan decided to become an entrepreneur and about his experience moving from Ireland to the United States.
- How Kiernan’s passions fit into the equations and why exploration was key. He also talks about how his parents were supportive.
- How starting an Irish pub solved a problem that Kiernan encountered in Minnesota.
- How Kiernan overcame some of the challenges that accompany opening a restaurant, which is known to be a difficult type of business to open.
- How Kiernan went about hiring a team and making sure that everyone’s skills were complementary. He also talks about how he established a vision with his team.
- The emotions that surrounded backing away from one venture while starting another.
- Considerations Kiernan kept in mind as he developed and grew 2 GINGERS.
- How Kiernan structured his business transitions.
- What Kiernan is applying to his business model to ensure longevity.
- Where Kiernan gets his ideas from, what he’s trying to accomplish, and what the future may hold.
Announcer:00:04Welcome to life and your business the podcast where your host Ryan Tansom brings you all the information you need to exit your company and explore what life can be like. On the other side.
Ryan Tansom:00:17Welcome back to the life after business podcast episode 69. Have you ever heard about people talk about how difficult the restaurant and food businesses will today today you're going to hear from Kieran Folliard who moved to the U.S. from Ireland at a really early age and has successfully sold some of the most popular Irish bars and restaurants in Minnesota and his whisky brand to gingers. You learn how culture people impassion help Kieran grow a great brand and some of the most popular bars and restaurants within the Twin Cities and allowed him to exit both companies while he continues to follow his passion. So without further ado I hope you enjoy my interview with Kieran.
Announcer:00:57This episode of Life After business is brought to you by solidity financials growth and exit planning their proven process gives you clarity on all of your exit options and how those options impact your financial success timing and future happiness. Sell your company on your time frame to the right buyer at the price you want.
Ryan Tansom:00:57Kieran, how you doin today?
Kieran Folliard:01:23I'm doing well, Ryan, how are you? A nice sunny day here in Minnesota. I thought it was good.
Ryan Tansom:01:26I can't complain right. Or we're getting though the winner in the fall whether it's any day and I think it's actually even better to have a nice cup of whiskey too which is going to be part of the premise of the conversation today.
Kieran Folliard:01:26I'll never deny that.
Ryan Tansom:01:47So for listeners sake. Yeah you've got a really cool background. Andyou know you've been an entrepreneur you've got a couple of different ventures but take us back to your days in Ireland and how you know how did you decide to become an entrepreneur and cause your journey to become an entrepreneur and you've been to the states is an interesting one so maybe you could can you give us the brief backdrop of it.
Kieran Folliard:02:10Well for a start I can hardly spell the word entrepreneur. And certainly I didn't. I was thinking about the word entrepeneur what it actually meant. I really grew up in a small rural community in the west of Ireland in County Mayo in the field I work in as a kid. I still actually own there and the opportunity was really for you know getting a good education. I was born in '55, and in early 1960 they took the opportunity to go to what you would call high school or we call secondary school that became free education in Ireland. And that was a really I would say the start of what has now become a very thriving, well-educated, very successful economy in Ireland - notwithstanding a few bumps along the way, one about five or seven years ago I guess. So that opportunity. What it did was take people from giving them an opportunity to not have to immigrate.
Kieran Folliard:03:27And to not also just have to go into the trade. Nothing wrong with that if you were, if that was really your passion or your skill set, etc. And then the opportunity I would say to think about what sort of a life that you wanted in terms of your work that you would pursue. And so that was the pivotal in terms of just, "Yeah. I just happened to be born as was with many other people at the right time with free" education. And then I also grew up with a fairly curious and open, encouraging father and mother.
Ryan Tansom:04:10Yeah that's I mean curious is a is a is a great way, especially if you get the landscape to build up to explore and have opportunity to figure out what it is that you were passionate about so what it what is it that you were passionate on and how did you start exploring what kind of life you wanted to create?
Kieran Folliard:04:30Well you connected two words there, passionate and exploring and, exploring was definitely high on my agenda. I even went to Manchester in England when I was 16 and worked for the summer over there on construction and came back and I was given that opportunity by my parents because they really didn't stand in my way. My mother was 43 and my father was 46 when I was born. And we we joke in the family that they happen to be - this isn't a joke, but they were also second cousins - and my kids say, "Is it any wonder I ended up the way I am?" But you know, by the time I was 16, they were almost 60. And it was kind of like, "Oh you want to go work in England for the summer? Sure!" And I couldn't imagine having done that with my own kid at that stage, but that opportunity was there and so I really. Looked
Kieran Folliard:05:23towards... I had a curiosity about travel about people. Exploring. And shortly after college I got an opportunity to go work in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for an Irish food company - two farmers from Northern Ireland - and help launch a dairy product brand, which was a really interesting story and I think pivotal once again. Another pivotal moment in terms of pursuing a vision or a passion for something, and I suppose what you would call an entrepreneurial journey. Because the two brothers Alistair and Paddy McGuckian were - certainly Alistair was very very visionary in what he wanted to achieve in his business life. And they launched a dairy products brand called Almarai.
Kieran Folliard:06:14Literally farms in the middle of the desert. Cows in air conditioned housing, tents to pivot irrigation systems from Nebraska growing sorghum grass eight feet tall. And the brand we launched in 1977, it's probably the most successful indigenous brand in the entire Persian Gulf today, employing 35,000 people. So that made a certainly a very big impression upon me that you know the dreams were certainly achievable or you could certainly pursue the dreams provided you were prepared to go to work and to take action.
Ryan Tansom:06:53So, once your mind expands you're able to see that it's hard to go backwards isn't it?
Kieran Folliard:06:58Yes that is I would say that's you know a little bit like a muscle. You know, you work it. Whether you are playing football or wrestling or running. Whatever it happens to be - you know you can get better at and if you are if you become in the best sense of the word addicted to it. You know there's potentially a downside, too. It can be a two edged sword because it can become everything in your life. But if we can balance that somehow, then I think you want to pursue more and you want to continue to build and to take risks and to work hard on things.
Ryan Tansom:07:39So how did you after you launched that brand with them when you saw that dreams are able to be accomplished like that. How did that change where your passion and where you want - the life that you wanted to create, because I mean I'm assuming there's a couple stepping stones into jumping into doing that for yourself. Was it... how did you connect those dots and decide what your passion is and what passion did you want to pursue at that point?
Kieran Folliard:08:04Well I would say very clearly I can look back and think about - even long before that, even back when I was 11 or 12 years of age - I liked ideas... I liked the idea, "Oh you know I could do this." And pursuing that. Just the notion of having a thought that you could visualize how that might work out and what would happen if it worked out to the degree that you were envisioning it seems very appealing to me. It seems like, "Boy, that's kind of an interesting thing to do." As opposed to
Kieran Folliard:08:43You know maybe I'm not cut out for some other things. I certainly - academically, when it came to the sciences wouldn't have been a strong suit. The things that I really loved at school were geography, funnily enough, history, English. And so it was more on the liberal arts side of things and so you know from the first time when I said to my father, "You know I want a section of this field."
Kieran Folliard:09:12I was like 12 years of age . "And I want to grow carrots in it and I want to sell those to the shop in the village come up and shop. That was... he said, "OK, fair enough. Fire ahead." And so for that idea that seemed like really why wouldn't you just do this with everything in your life? Why wouldn't it become your passion? So
Kieran Folliard:09:35it was really the pursuit of ideas and bringing them to life. I would say that was that was the passion. Not so much really the business side of things, because I certainly have never been motivated by money. If I was, I'd probably have a lot of it now and instead of just always spending it on new ventures.
Ryan Tansom:09:57What was the idea that you had that got you into the hospitality - the pubs? How did you make the launch from launching the food brands to actually starting... and I'm assuming there's a time there where you actually came to Minnesota - and Minnesota and out of all places, I gotta ask why? Before we get into it.
Kieran Folliard:10:19Well we did get exposed to Minnesota because we did we had a joint venture - mascot was the company I worked with - we had a joint venture with cargo. So I did get exposed to, got exposed to here.
Kieran Folliard:10:29I never worked for them but we did have a joint venture with them in Saudi and in the Persian Gulf itself.
Kieran Folliard:10:37And so exposed to it here and I do like to say that there is a saying, "The best entrepreneurial ideas come from solving your own problem." And my problem after I've being here a couple of years in the Twin Cities was there were no Irish pubs - there were some very good Irish-Americans pubs here but nothing that of what I would call the modern take on an Irish pub. So I decided to open up a pub myself. You know, cuz I like sittin in pubs. I like what pubs are about.
Ryan Tansom:10:37Solve your own problem; create your own bar. What's a better idea?
Kieran Folliard:11:20You get to create your own bar and you get to work - create a culture of hospitality, a culture of culture as it relates to Irish music, theatre, poetry, and sports from Ireland. We were activating all of these things, so you know we put a satellite on the roof
Kieran Folliard:11:34in 1994 when I opened up Kieran's originally and that year I got to watch the World Cup with Ireland in it and you know - things like that Gaelic football direct from Ireland. So it was like really creating your own entertainment center, but it was hard work and I was working a lot of the time - but it was also a passion and I did discover
Kieran Folliard:11:59that passion is fine, but you better have some expertise as well for it.
Kieran Folliard:12:03And I didn't have a lot of I didn't have any training in particular in the pub business, but I did manage to hire some very good people who I worked with and eventually they ended up being the people that actually worked for the most part on the pubs today.
Ryan Tansom:12:20So there's a lot of different ways to go with it because first I guess the first question that I have is: the restaurant.
Ryan Tansom:12:26You said you started your own pub and restaurant and then you own a handful of them around the Twin Cities - all very reputable and great places that a lot of people know of - the restaurant industry is notoriously looked at as is is a hell of a time and very difficult because of a lot of different reasons. A) was it as difficult and then B) how did that transition into you opening up multiple, multiple locations because obviously you figured something out that you were able to leverage? Does that make sense?
Kieran Folliard:13:02Yes it does. It is a very difficult business but I think it is a kind of a nickel and dime business and you really have to be very focused on controlling your costs - your systems that are in place - and then obviously bringing all the things to the table. [unclear] that your concept require so that you can attract
Kieran Folliard:13:32a loyal following and build a reputation and build a good business. And I think the key to it certainly from an Irish pub standpoint is you know an atmosphere. You think of the pub culture the public house, in Ireland. You want to have a very welcoming, warm environment. You want to have quality in the finishes of the work that when it's put together I think that you have to bring value for money because, of
Kieran Folliard:14:10course, it is a public house; it's an egalitarian gathering spot. And then, you know, the hospitality side of it. I mean the Irish are known - and when people go to Ireland and they come back, and I talk to them and they say, "Oh my god the place is beautiful, and the people were so friendly!" And that really is a minister at the heart of really the Irish pub experience as well is you know it's got to feel great in the place and people have got to be friendly. And so you know that wasn't a stretch for me in terms of I mean that is how I feel. I feel in general about people, either the people I work with or whether it's customers or the community. I do believe that everybody is equal and everybody is on a journey and people have to be treated well and with respect. But also have a little bit of fun along the way.
Kieran Folliard:14:52We're told the pub is supposed to be - you know, rejuvenates you. And so that was again there was something. And of course the Irish and all the things that went on with that I felt very very strongly about that. And of course as I hired more - some very good people - they want to grow the business as well. My strength I would say if there was strength there was really about the ability to get the resources to take risks and things to work hard and you know have a vision for the business.
Kieran Folliard:15:28And those are all things that I would say are key to what you would call the entrepreneurial experience of what it takes to make it work. And then you know your partner with again a very strong team that has a complementary skills in terms of operation just to make sure that the trains run on time.
Ryan Tansom:15:52Right and I think you know every entrepreneur that I've ever talked to - myself, my clients, anybody - people always have one of the biggest struggles because I can totally tell just how genuine you are and you truly would be an absolute freaking blast to sit down and have some drinks with. How do you take your team, how do you translate that into other people because to open up on multiple occasions and to eventually pass it on to them, I mean you... How did you go about hiring and building that team and making sure that the different skill sets are complementary because I think that's something that people struggle with so much.
Kieran Folliard:16:28Well, again I think I can only speak through personal experience and I do believe it's very very difficult to do. I think it's very important to start with you know a strong sense of yourself, one; a strong sense of the culture that you want to create in the business; you've got to model the characteristics of that culture; and then do your best to hire people that you believe cannot alone model, but actually believe in and are the embodiment of the characteristics of that culture.
Kieran Folliard:17:06And you know in a pub and Irish pub environment I would say people who are by nature are friendly and say by nature are positive, have a positive attitude. I mean nothing worse than going into an Irish pub and everybody's a bit of a downer.
Kieran Folliard:17:31I mean God's sakes... [cross-talk] I could tell ya I did not get it right all the time.
Kieran Folliard:17:33So trust me there were plenty of mistakes made, but I think that by and large probably on balance we made more right hires than poor ones. And then I do believe in that old maxim as well that hire slow and fire fast. But if there isn't a strong cultural case.
Ryan Tansom:17:58So now you know as you get as you built this team you said that you know vision was important and having a good team. So what was the vision of you as your program assuming your vision grew to after Kieran's. How did that... how did you establish a vision? What was the vision for the pubs? Was there a certain amount of location? Was it just having fun? What was your vision, and then - because that will dovetail into how things pivoted for you - but you know when you think about just the pubs, how did you and your team establish the vision and where did you see that going as you were growing it?
Kieran F:18:39Well as the English author Samuel Johnson once said, "The great thing about the Irish is they never speak well of each other." My vision for the pubs was really rooted in the fact that I wanted to create and build pubs here. That if people - colleagues or country men or women - of my own from Ireland direct from Ireland came into the pubs that they would be I suppose complementary that they would be... They'd feel proud of the pubs, that they be happy with them. It may not necessarily be their cup of tea in some regards, but that they would feel that it represented them and their... and our culture and our country
Kieran Folliard:19:27very well. So I suppose what would you call that? Authenticity. That it was real and it was true. And so I would say that that was important. Locations obviously are very important. And then I think it is, you know, how do you create something that you feel has longevity, you know? So, I took the Local, for instance, which I opened 20 years ago with a good team - 20 years this year. And my thinking on that is that it can be around - it was actually built in 1912, the building, and I wanted the physical structure inside of the Local to be able to withstand another hundred years. And you know I feel that that was achieved. Markets do change. You know the pubs have been around now for quite a few years but it’s still a very planting time right now in the Twin Cities for bars and restaurants particular because of the lack of tip credit.
Kieran Folliard:20:24And I mean I think everybody - certainly all the people I know the business are certainly in favor of a very livable minimum wage and certainly on the liquor side of the bar/restaurant business.
Kieran Folliard:20:40You know, I dont know. Nobody has ever talked to me and said that they were opposed to the $15 minimum wage. I mean many people within the organization are already at that or very close to it. It was the lack of tip credit that is a real - that's the real challenge. And so I think that's, you know when you look at that first, that kind of vision, and it's really about the long haul in terms of, you know, do you see... Are you doing this so that they remain in business for a long time and that they have obviously got to be kept up. You've got to keep... I won't say reinventing, but there is an element of reinventing to stay current. Because trends do
Kieran Folliard:21:24change and so forth. But I do believe that, even today, as much as any time in the past, the idea of having a gathering place where people can come and feel comfortable and let their hair down. And whether they're by themselves sitting at the bar or reading there - I would have normally said newspaper, but now they read something on their iPhone - or whether it's a group of people letting their hair down after you know a day at work. Or a family coming out to enjoy themselves and they're going to a concert or a game, celebrating something or maybe commiserating over something. That sort of environment I think you know with this technology world and how it's developing at such a rapid rate that still that human connection is still I can't foresee a time when there won't be a need for that type of space.
Ryan Tansom:22:14I completely agree with you. That's the best part of all why we everybody does what they do is to experience those relationships. And you know I think it's interesting that there is the fact that you had the vision of the long haul and you've got a you've got an industry that is one of the more difficult places to have a long haul because so many restaurants don't have the ability to take your vision your values and transition those into the next generation management or definitely across multiple locations as well. So I think - how did you, you know... How did you make sure that you felt comfortable as you started stepping away in then - and maybe before you even answer that we can... There was a triggering event that happened based on you launching a product line that I think was your next idea. So how did you deal with all those emotions and strategies on your new venture that you wanted to pursue and also backing away from the current one?
Kieran Folliard:23:20So I did it very quickly. One) Obviously I think there was great confidence in the people and the team that I worked with. I knew them very well, we had all been together for many years. You know, some from - one person, Patricia, from day 1. Peter who was running the operations, day-to-day operations, for my God at that stage probably 10 or 11 years or so. And so there was great confidence there and then it was a question of, I suppose, pursuing what had been a trade of mine for many years tacked on an idea whether it was to open up a new club, whether it was to take some initiative within the pubs as it related to some of our beverage operations, or the food operations, or could have been something on the service side of things.
Kieran Folliard:24:15Or certainly supporting and encouraging people on an operations side to use technology and things that they were coming up with their own ideas and so the idea then to launch our own brand of whiskey which originally was just going to be within the pubs and it did so well within the pubs that it was only four months after that that the agreement had been reached whereI would be bought out and I would take the whiskey on the road and they would stay and obviously run the pub. You can't do both in this country since prohibition or at least you can do it transparently.
Kieran Folliard:24:57And I certainly wanted to do it transparently and be fair to everybody as well. And so that happened very very quickly and again I would say it was just true to who I am myself. It was an opportunity, an idea, something that was of interest; it was going to be a big challenge to put a new team together again to launch Two Gingers Irish Whiskey and, you know, we did that.
Ryan Tansom:25:27So you know it's interesting how you know how to go back to how you started that story which is: so you are actually actively pursuing new ideas for within the restaurants in operations whether it was service, technology, or ops, so did you have a good process that you were going through to filter through all of these ideas before you came up with two gingers?
Kieran Folliard:25:56Well I wouldn't say it was much of a filter and I would say the process was really just again always being curious about things and asking a lot of why questions: why does that work like that? and not just within our industry. I mean looking at things that were happening out in the world and unrelated to our industry, whether it was in the consumer products world, whether it was in other service industries, whether it was something that was happening internationally, whether it was something that just was kind of interesting - it was creative, it was different. And so connecting a lot of those dots, discussing it internally - how do we think this would fit with who we are? I mean, you got to stay true to who you are as a core. But then within that core, What are the opportunities to - I suppose you call it innovation - to innovate in whatever aspect of the business so that it is going to improve the overall value to the customer. What is it that the customer... what job did they want us to do for them.
Kieran Folliard:26:59And I think it's fairly clear what people want when they come to an Irish pub! So how do you best satisfy that? Most places would say, "Boy you need a niche in the market, it's for this demographic, et cetera." Well the Irish pub, actually, it's more a mindset; it's an attitude. That's your demographic that's out there. It's a demographic of I would say openness, friendliness, not taking themselves too seriously, and just want a great gathering place so they can let their hair down and nobody's judging or has expectations other than obviously treat people well.
Ryan Tansom:27:41So yeah. And which is all the things that you want when you go somewhere like that. And so how do you know a couple of questions on that. How did you land on the whiskey and then how did you guys kind of go through developing it? And so that's I guess a little bit more of a practical question, but also yeah why don't you answer that one then I want to know how you decided to launch it and what did you have any plans of what was going to happen? Because so again you know how did you decide on Two Gingers and then how did you go about developing it? And then did you have any kind of plans for what was going to happen should it take off?
Kieran Folliard:27:41Well, the Local itself was the single largest Jameson account in the world. And it was five years running, and you [crosstalk] and the brass plaques are in the Cerrado floor.
Kieran Folliard:28:31At The Local that you know of one of the things was that we were the reason for that was we were selling as much Irish whiskey in the summer as we were in the winter, which is not what one would normally - and certainly back then, that wasnt the norm. And we were doing that because we had a cocktail called The Big Ginger and the big ginger we trademarked this. And people would be drinking Irish whiskey as there was in a column bath with Ginger and lemon a nice squeeze of lemon over ice. And people were drinking at happy hour in the summer versus maybe a domestic
Kieran Folliard:29:07beer or a house wine or something along those lines. And so it was we were doing very well with that but I thought there was an opportunity in talking with Peter and the rest of the management team - that there was an opportunity for us to launch our own whiskey. Through relationships with our distributor, here, Phillips, Dean Phillips, and then also with what was the Cooley distillery at the time - the Kilbeggan distillery in Ireland - we were in a position to create our own blends and our own brands
Kieran Folliard:29:42of Irish whiskey and it needed to be personal. So obviously, the idea of Two Gingers which is my mother and my aunt. We had the Big Ginger that was trademarked. And the goal was to just have a you know it was a little different in the sense that it was distilled twice versus three times for all other Irish whiskeys. But it was blended with whiskeys.
Kieran Folliard:30:02And then it was aged four years versus three years. And so you know there were things about it that a high malted barely content about 22 percent. And so this was an opportunity for us to create a high quality product that had our brand on it and make it part of the brand of the pub
Kieran Folliard:30:30as well because nobody else had their own brand of liquor that they were selling. And we were still going to serve all the other Irish whiskeys that were available and so it was up to the customers to choose, but we obviously would promote this beyond what we would with the competitor brand so to speak. So we were able to do that with the distillery and I still have that relationship today, which is now six years later - well, will be seven years next March.
Ryan Tansom:30:57That's awesome. So, like - and by the way, it's fantastic. I absolutely love the Big Ginger and your whiskey it's definitely a favorite.
Kieran Folliard:30:57Thank you.
Ryan Tansom:31:06Yes absolutely. And that was before I met you, so I'm not biased.
Kieran Folliard:31:12I like that.
Ryan Tansom:31:12So obviously I mean you said it took off in four months and so with how quickly this is I guess you know one of the main you know one of the main questions that I have based on some of your story is because of the pubs and the atmosphere and the people and the friendliness... I mean, most businesses are reflections of the entrepreneurs and your business is a crazy reflection of you, your values. You're representing Ireland here in the Twin Cities, so there's got to be a lot of pride and how you own the things that happen inside those pubs.
Ryan Tansom:31:48And I know you had the team, but within four months for you to like almost separate like that you know how did you guys go about doing that and how did that mentally go over with you?
Kieran Folliard:32:03Well, mentally, I mean I don't have a strong attachment to things - you know, I don't baby stuff or whatever. I'm pretty certain we're here for a short period of time on this Earth. And so I'm not yeah I'm not attached to things, I'm more attached to what excites you today, gets you out of bed, keeps me up late at night. How does that fit in with the rest of your life - your family, your friends, community, all of those things. And so I knew that I was going to continue to obviously have a relationship with the people that I worked with all those years. And of course I still do have a relationship with them.
Kieran Folliard:32:03They're also a customer, obviously, because now they buy the products and they and they support it. And so with many other places of course as well of which we're very thankful for.
Kieran Folliard:32:53And so that part of it not so much and certainly very supportive of the things that they do and what continue to do that. But for me I guess it really was, "Well that's an interesting and exciting challenge that's on the horizon." I wonder, you know, can we you know relative to what market you're in and your product, can you do the absolute best with your product? I mean that's pretty important to me because that is a reflection of one's self.
Kieran Folliard:33:24Certainly of one's heritage and all of those things. Your family and whatnot, so you do want to produce the best possible product you can, within the category that you're in.
Ryan Tansom:33:43Totally agree with that. And so obviously you probably just knew within your gut like OK this is something and like you said it's a new challenge and probably instinctively made sense. How did you guys technically structure the you know the actual transition because you from what I understand you sold the pubs to the management team so... is there any insight you got on how you structured that, how you valued it, how you worked out any kind of deals? I mean we don't have to get into the actual financials, but just things for owners that because I think even again in the restaurant space is even more difficult.
Ryan Tansom:34:18But how did you guys technically structure some of that transition?
Kieran Folliard:34:23Well many of the key people already had sweat equity in the business. It was really a question of putting... getting an outside firm to put an valuation on the business, based on our history, our financials and was the you know the prospects, the projections, are looking right and we just agreed on a number and that was pretty much it! It was not a difficult or time consuming or expensive process. I would say it was just like everybody looked and said, "Right, that seems fair. Kind of a win-win, ok let's do it."
Ryan Tansom:35:13Awesome. I mean what did you do? I mean did you get outside bank financing or was there... Because, you know, I don't know if you own the buildings or not, but sometimes you know depending on you know what structured underneath it you can use buildings to help finance it or you just do, you know, earnouts or you know installment notes.
Kieran Folliard:35:25Well, it was over a period of time and then that time is that time is done. But it also involves, of course, the whiskey and then one of my partners of the business Henry was still involved also really drove the financing side of that. But but we're also banked with better bank as well. I have and with the same insurance agents, the same accountants, the same bankers even though it's a different bank and the same lawyer except that he just retired about a year ago and I started out here 30 years ago. [crosstalk] Those relationships that helps as well because everybody is very familiar with each other. There's a trust factor and so it's not... are not trying to get to know each other and it was pretty pretty smooth.
Ryan Tansom:36:20I think you hit on a key point there is having people at the table that actually all know each other and understand what you're trying to do because then you don't have to be looking out for yourself all the time.
Kieran Folliard:36:32That's a pretty good pretty good run of now almost 30 years with all those key they're all beginning to retire which says something about what in the name of God am I doing, really.
Ryan Tansom:36:46I think you know entrepreneurs again have a little bit different, deeper fire passion within. So you know we're chasing something. You know is there you know when you look at where you're going and you know where the future of the longevity...
Ryan Tansom:37:01Going back to you know to steal your phrase, it's about you know the longevity and making something last. You know, what are you applying that is going to help you accomplish that?
Kieran Folliard:37:12Well they ended up the beam actually bought the distillery in Ireland. And we could have probably continued to be independent. As it turns out, we could have probably just continued to be independent maybe forever. But they made a pretty compelling case of why we should go with them. And of course shortly after that they got bought up by Santore and now it's a very interesting, I mean it really... it's interesting, it's fascinating. I love working with people there at looking at how they make decisions. They have a lot of very talented people working there that's for sure. So it is interesting and I think I learned a lot from them as well. So.
Ryan Tansom:38:00Were you planning on selling that fast? Or did they come knocking on your door? [crosstalk]
Kieran Folliard:38:04but that was not the plan. No, the plan was to build a nice business.
Ryan Tansom:38:09So how do they value something that was only 15 months old? I mean, was it... did you look at it like using their distribution system to make - How did you come to a negotiation?
Kieran Folliard:38:22Well I think it is partly - I mean, how do you value anything? You value based on what's the current performance, but a lot of it has to do with what's the potential. Where do we see this going? And the potential that was obviously going to be heavily driven by also what they could bring to the table in terms of again financial resources but also the distribution resources that they had as well and their relationships and the expertise of those fields. And so it was again, you know, I would say it was kind of a little bit of a gut thing as well.
Kieran Folliard:39:08A bit of intuition, you know? I think I like these people and I think we're gonna work well together and let's see how this journey works out.
Ryan Tansom:39:19Yeah I love how you said it's about the potential because a lot of people don't necessarily think about that. I mean when you get into the strategic acquisitions like that, it's all about the potential. And you probably felt in your gut knowing what you know what you guys can do together. Numbers can go out the window because you're not you know looking at - like you did with the bars - looking at the cash flow and you know doing some normal financing. It's about... it's completely different, so I don't know if you want to... Is there anything you would - any kind of insight you'd say about how that process is completely different than the internal transition you did?
Kieran Folliard:39:51Well, I think you start to really look at you know what the trends are out in the marketplace. You look at what the aspects of the business are and put that in any situation. But for me it was after a short period of time it was really about how do you articulate what you believe are the the wins-that are the favorable wins that are going to drive the best. Now somebody like a Beam Suntory have access to an awful lot more data, raw data, than I would have had. But I had the benefit of, I suppose, being on the end - the consumer side of the business. A retailer. And just the fact that you know you talk to a lot of people and you see things over a longer period of time. And you can kind of tell about some things in terms of the trend.
Kieran Folliard:40:53You know whether it is Irish pub. Maybe there's an opportunity for an Irish pub? Because of the way the market is going. Maybe there is an opportunity for Irish whiskey because of where the market is going? what are the trends of the marketplace? And so, that's where you know observing, being curious and looking all across - not just your own industry, but all other industries - probably helps a little bit as well. Can maybe also get you into trouble, but I think that's part of it as well.
Ryan Tansom:41:23I think you hit on a couple of really key points because you know it's a lot different in the corporate world where we're sitting in a boardroom and you know it's all theory and hypothesize... what the guesses that everybody's got in order to determine what the customer's gonna do, where you're just actually asking them and serving them. It's just a totally different insight.
Kieran Folliard:41:46Yes it is very much a different insight. And I think you know that's why you see most of the major companies now, certainly all the liquor big companies - Diageo, Pernod Ricard, the French company that owns Jameson Powers, Paddy, Redbreast, all of those whiskeys, Beam Suntory, General Mills, Kelloggs, Unilever... they all have these separate start up incubator if you want to call it they're all slightly different. But basically is how
Kieran Folliard:42:13do they tap into what the next trend is. And they run them separately from the headquarters from the main corporate body, because they are different - different mindsets and different activities and different skill sets that are required to identify and to
Kieran Folliard:42:33Seed and nurture and grow a new idea. That's very difficult within the larger corporation because you know people have you know they're on tight budgets and they're very focused on goals a profit and they're also very... you know trying to climb the corporate ladder.
Kieran Folliard:42:56So making mistakes, that's not good for the resume, you know. Well, if you're starting a business, if you're an entrepreneur, you better not be too afraid of risk; making mistakes. You you're going to have them. You're just they're just not going to bat a thousand.
Ryan Tansom:43:13The faster you fail the faster you figure it out.
Kieran Folliard:43:17I'm still involved with the brand, working with them. And the portfolio of Irish whiskeys - they own the distillery in Ireland, also - and the portfolio of whiskeys they've got - Tyrconnell, Kilbeggan, Connemara, Two Gingers - I get to work on all of those brands now with them. Really more on the visioning side, the strategy side and the ambassadorial side as well. And so I get to stay involved, primarily because I'd like to finish the job I guess. And it's sold now around the U.S., you know it's a growing market, and it's a kind of an interesting challenge.
Kieran Folliard:44:08How do you have one foot in the entrepreneurial world and one foot in the big corporate world? So far we're all getting along just fine.
Ryan Tansom:44:14As we're kinda wrapping up here, what's your pursuit of ideas and passion? I mean, I'm just kind of curious you know where are your other gleaming ideas coming from? Is there anything on the forefront that you see yourself potentially chasing or you know what's the main purpose or thing that you're trying to accomplish at this point?
Kieran Folliard:44:31Well with that food building in Northeast Minneapolis, we've got the only whole-hog Salumi production in the whole country, Red Table Meats. Winning national awards, doing very well here in town. We've got to grow that business, it's in the very early stages. But it is at the highest end of the Salumi market in the country. We've got Bakersfield Flour and Bread, organic grains from Minnesota - stone milled flour, here on site. Stone milling flour is I believe - and obviously I'm not the expert, but Steve Horton who is the miller-baker and is the expert, of course - people in his world believe that if you stone mill the flour, you have to start with great grain, obviously, which is you know in abundance here in Minnesota. That is the only way to get the best flour and ultimately the best bread
Kieran Folliard:45:36as well. So that's exciting to have again products, you know. Mike Phillips with Red Table could go up against anybody in that profession of this country. So these are the things where you can have very high quality products that really represent what real food is about. They're very clean labels. The nutrition and the flavor value in them is at the top end of the scale. That's exciting to be doing those types of things, as well. So that's keeping us busy at the moment.
Ryan Tansom:46:14So this is the food. You know I know I love the the concept of the food building, too, because you're diversifying your interests in the ability to help everybody accomplish these things. I mean is that your way to keep all these different ideas and be able to you know keep fresh in the different places that you like? You know I'm just kind of curious because I think it's something that a lot of people struggle with where... how to keep energized and keep the ideas flowing without taking a bunch of risks as well as the time frame closes in.
Kieran Folliard:46:53Well, I would say that if here was a psychological profile done of me that they would probably say that I was running from something.
Kieran Folliard:46:58I don't know this is certainly... This is a a big commitment and a big investment and I'm all in on that as well. And so, you know, all of these... I even consider Two Gingers and the Irish whiskey portfolio is almost a startup in this country. And certainly the other products with Red Table and Bakersfield that we've got here are all startups as well and the concept of food building itself is a startup. And so it's going to be a major challenge for the next couple of years to get them to
Kieran Folliard:47:36solid ground. But I believe, if we're successful in doing that, it can really be a very significant part of the movement towards greater diversity in the production side of the business here in the Twin Cities or in Minnesota in general. I think we can be a key part of that, with many others. Many others are doing tremendous work out there as well, but it's a very exciting time to be in the real food startup business in Minnesota.
Ryan Tansom:48:13So, Keran, as we're wrapping up here, if there's one thing you want to highlight over the journeys that you've had as an entrepreneur of even starting and pursuing your passion, is there you one thing you want to highlight or leave our listeners with... what you think it would be?
Kieran Folliard:48:13No close second. Work with or for people that share the same values.
Ryan Tansom:48:35What is the best way, Kieran, for people to get in touch with you?
Kieran Folliard:48:[email protected]. That's pretty easy.
Ryan Tansom:48:44Thank you so much for coming on the show. I've had a blast. Thank you.
I hope you enjoy the interview with Kieran. I really had a blast talking to him and my three takeaways from listening to him are that you can grow a business that is true to who you are, really reflects your personality - especially in a bar and the restaurants that Kieran created - they were deeply ingrained in his pride from Ireland and who he was and what he wanted to deliver to the clients and the atmosphere. He was so involved and so intertwined with it, but he was not devastated when he sold it because he was looking above and beyond some thing and being attached to a business that can love him back. So I was really impressed on how he was able to tee it up to his management team and really be proud about what he had built, but then move on very quickly with the 2 Gingers and his notion of having a thought and seeing if it could work out the way that he wanted, which is pursuing the ideas and pursuing the passion, the ideas, and it wasn't necessarily about the actual physical things.
And the second takeaway that I had was people are the key to success. I think a lot of us already know that, but he was able to align his vision for what he wanted with the bars and restaurants and 2 Gingers and get his team on board. And the longevity of the people that he had in an industry that is absolutely notorious for turnover, for stealing, for complications and being able to create a staff member and staff and an executive team that made the transition seamless to him was very very impressive. And you can just tell by the way that he was explaining it that it would be an absolute blast working for him anyways.
And the third takeaway that I had was that he as a knack to always think about the customer. You know he was always concerned about what was the feeling that they walked in when a few experienced the bar the hospitality and hearing and knowing what the customer wanted and constantly having his ears and eyes open to different trends allowed him to succeed with the 2 Gingers. But then also as 2 Gingers was bought out and what he's doing now - he's very keen and aware of what his customers and clients want, which allow him to constantly be looking forward to the future. So I really appreciate you listening. I know there's tons of things out there begging for your time. You can check out the show notes and links on the website.
And if you're really enjoying this show, please go on iTunes and rate it. Means a ton to me. And if you have ideas or thoughts for future topics or episodes, please reach out. So until next week, I hope you have a good one.
Written by Ryan Tansom
Ryan runs industry-specific podcasts on his website which pertain to mergers and acquisitions, and all the life lessons he wish he had known then. He strives to bring this knowledge to his listeners in a way that is effective and engaging by providing new material each week from industry experts.