Being an entrepreneur is not easy, but that's never stopped Colehill man Garret Flower from throwing himself whole-heartedly into every viable business idea he's ever had.
One of the founders of Parkpnp, Irish Times Innovation Award winner and cronut enthusiast, Garret has the mind to turn anything into a business, the motivation to stick with it and the strength to walk away when he knows it's not working out.
His most successful business venture to date has been Parkpnp, which has completely changed the way people park and it all started out with a story to which every motorist in the country can relate.
“About three and a half years ago, I bought a car and the first day driving the car around Dublin, I couldn’t find any parking,” Garret recalled.
“I started to see this open space in front of people’s driveways and I pulled in and knocked on the door and this old lady opened up and she said I could park there, which I did and I came back with some chocolates, €10 in a card and a new business idea, which was the airbnb style for parking.”
Parkpnp is a one-stop shop which allows parking space owners to connect with motorists in need near them.
The app's unique approach allows local governments, parking companies, local businesses and home-owners to make money from their parking space, while providing a space to motorists who are sick of wasting time.
“That’s since grown to 40,000+ users in Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands,” Garret told the Longford Leader.
“And we also are now focusing on office parking - ParkOffice - and how we can maximise office parking for the real estate industry. We have a lot of companies who have office parking problems getting in touch and we’re able to maximise their spaces by 25%.”
That's a serious undertaking and one of which Garret is extremely proud. But no entrepreneur is an overnight success and this certainly wasn't Garret's first business attempt. In fact, he's got a long and worthwhile story to tell about his rise to the top.
Garret grew up in Colehill where he spent a lot of time enjoying the outdoors, making friends and exploring his surroundings.
“I had a great time running around the fields and playing in the outdoors. Rain, snow or sun: we were outside. It was cool,” he said.
“I loved going around everywhere and then we had quads and everything and we were flying around going nuts on them. So it was great craic.”
We started selling noodles to the rest of the students at night in the dorm and that's where I made my first mini-fortune. I think it was like a hundred quid
He was educated in the nearby Tashinny NS before moving on to Wilson's Hospital in Westmeath, where he was a boarder for six years.
The business mindset was always there, he said, as his parents were entrepreneurs and had set up a fruit juice business. But it was when he was in Wilson's that he started up his very first, semi-successful business.
“When I was about 12, my parents got divorced and the family wouldn’t have been as comfortable. And that was the time I went to boarding school, so I never had much money for sweets and stuff like that,” he explained.
“Everyone else would have money for sweets and I just didn’t. It didn’t really phase me too much but I remember setting up a noodle business with my friend, Mike.
“We started selling noodles to the rest of the students at night in the dorm and that’s where I made my first mini-fortune. I think it was like a hundred quid,” he laughed.
After school, he moved to Dublin Business School where he set up his next somewhat successful business.
“Moving to college I had business on the brain and I was able to set up a business where people would come over to my apartment in Temple Bar and pay €10 in and they would get free drink and free food for the night and then they’d get free into the night club and a free shot as well, all for €10,” he said.
“Us Longfordians love a good deal, you know? And that went well, actually. There was an average of 40 people a night who would come over.
“It got really busy but I realised that it would have to end at the end of college. So I finished college and finished that and decided to turn my attention towards a real business.”
Start-up of the week: Parkpnp https://t.co/mIujrIndkC— SiliconRepublic (@siliconrepublic) September 26, 2016
That's when Garret and his friend Devan Hughes started up a renewable energy business.
“We tried to set up a solar wind farm in the land in Longford and we were really focused on solar energy. We thought it was the future.
“So after a year, when we realised that wasn’t going anywhere, we set up another business called Esport Golf, which is where we bought golf products from China and started selling them across Ireland in golf shops. That didn’t work either, so after a year, we parted ways.”
But the road to success is never a straight one and two failed business ventures certainly didn't phase the Longford entrepreneur.
Garret went on to set up another company, Krust Bakery, with Rob Kramer. Together, the pair were the first to introduce the cronut to Ireland.
“We focused on cronuts, donuts, pastries, breads. And that grew quite well and it’s survived to this day. It was seven years old actually last week,” said Garret proudly.
Krust Bakery now operates its own commercial bakery and cafe on South Great George's Street in Dublin and was Garret's first successful business, with Parkpnp being the second.
It's quite an amazing achievement to have not just one, but two successful businesses under your name - especially at the age of 30 but Garret has no time for an ego.
“Outside, I always sound so confident, but on the inside I’m actually very insecure,” he said when the Leader broached the subject.
“I look back and think, ‘Jesus, why couldn’t I have done more? How come I didn’t go faster?’ In my head, that’s what I think and I suppose on the outside I portray confidence.
“But that’s the same with everyone I think. It sounds more positive and then on the inside it’s chaos.”
Chaos it may be, but it's really paid off for the Colehill man and, according to Garret, it's all about seeing what works and what doesn't; and, while it's always hard to walk away from a business that isn't working, it's important to recognise the fact and simply move on to the next thing.
“I think you believe that something works initially and the thing with business is that it has to make common sense,” he said.
“What you do initially is you have a good idea and you try and see how it won’t work and if you don’t see how it won’t work, then you go for it. And if you go for it, sometimes you find out that there are different factors that you didn’t know about before, which can stop you down the line.
“For example, we started a renewable energy business in 2007 when renewable energy policies in Ireland weren’t as advanced. There was no real support for what we were trying to do.
“So the product was good; the idea was good; the business idea was really good. But the time was wrong. Now you see a lot of companies coming up, which are doing really well in this renewable energy space but we were just too early.”
So you can have the right business idea at the wrong time, he added, and that was also true for his golfing business, which saw him bringing in cheap golf product from China and selling them for a profit.
“And the problem was wrong timing again. We hit a recession. We hit a global recession. And one of the worst to get hit was the golf industry. We had sold most of our product and then no-one could pay us back,” he said, before moving on to his more successful ventures.
“When Krust took off… back then we were going into shops that only had chicken fillet rolls with a plain white baguette and a plain white croissant and a plain white pain au chocolat and that’s it.
I'd encourage anyone to try and start up their own business because it's the best thing I've ever done. I think it's a challenge for the soul to just go and do it
“And then we came in with all these different pastries with coconut and dark chocolate and raisin, strawberry and yoghurt and all these different flavours of pastries and we were the first to launch the cronut in Ireland and that was something that was different, so we were able to scale quite quickly.
“I think people in the recession wanted their treats still and we were offering something different for the first time in a long time.
“That grew quite quickly. We got into the coffee business with the two cafes. People love coffee. A trend of coffee blew up so we did well on that. Sourdough bread as well - that trend blew up so we were able to capitalise on that as well.
“And then parking… so, parking now is a huge industry. It’s a hundred billion euros globally worth of an industry and it’s something that touches people on a daily basis and, if you’re able to make that easier for people, then that’s a huge opportunity for us as a company.”
Right now, Garret is looking at launching ParkOffice in the US - a big step, but one he's certainly not shying away from.
“There are a lot of different types of entrepreneurs. There are people who are very focused on an industry they like, whether it’s social media or marketing or whatever,” he said.
“I tend not to care what the industry looks like before I get in there. The parking industry isn’t very sexy; I knew nothing about baking; I don’t even golf. Renewable energy was a sexy, cool industry and I really like it but it just was too early for me.
“But there are opportunities in them all and that’s what attracted me and excited me - the ability to be able to create something that was not there before is pretty cool.”
Garret finds his inspiration from other business owners like himself. He doesn't look up to the big world leaders in tech or business, because he feels they're not in his league.
“You see these big guys and they’re not in your weight class. You’re talking about things that you’re way too small for and it’s not even relevant, a lot of the things,” he mused.
“The people that inspire me are closer to my age and doing what I’m doing right now. And for me, that’s what gives me motivation.”
But his friends and peers in the business world aren't the only ones to motivate him. Garret is quick to praise his fiancée, Neassa Judge, who has been an inspiration to him for years.
“There have been many days, if I’m honest, that I go home and I say ‘Jesus, this is so tough: will I keep going or pack it in?’ and she’s always saying ‘no, you gotta keep going’.
“And honestly, those little gestures and little comments make a massive impact - that you have the support to keep going and that you’re not alone in trying to do this big, crazy, audacious thing. Someone is there to support you,” he said of his partner of five years.
The couple got engaged in January and are currently living in Churchtown, Dublin. And they're really happy together, Garret added.
“She’s a pharmacist herself and she’s very successful. It gives me a good foundation to get inspired from the person I’m with all the time.”
It's been an exciting and successful few years for Garret with Parkpnp and, with ParkOffice almost ready to launch in the US, it will certainly be interesting to see how successful he becomes in the next few years.
“I actually am a big believer in having huge ambition and it was always my ambition and still is my ambition to grow a really big company - a generational business. And that’s what I’m aiming to do. I’m currently building a company that will change the way people park forever - that’s the aim,” he said before adding some parting words of inspiration for other aspiring entrepreneurs.
“I’d encourage anyone to try and start up their own business because it’s the best thing I’ve ever done and you learn so much that’s so valuable… I think it’s a challenge for the soul to just go and do it.”