Start-up Advice: Aoibheann O’Brien, FoodCloud

8 Sep 2015

Aoibheann (on right) with FoodCloud co-founder Iseult Ward

This Start-up Advice column comes from Aoibheann O’Brien, co-founder of not-for-profit social enterprise FoodCloud, which connects businesses with too much food with charities that can redistribute it.

FoodCloud, which featured as a Start-up of the Week in 2013, was founded by O’Brien and Iseult Ward in 2012, when the pair were students. The company uses the FoodCloud app to connect businesses with surplus food with the charities that need it. In July last year it announced a partnership with Tesco that sees surplus food from Tesco stores all over Ireland redistributed to charities.

The pair were also named Ireland’s top young social entrepreneurs last year and also won the final of the Google Adopt a Start-up Programme in Dublin in May.

O’Brien and Ward will speak at the Bord Gáis Energy Business Leadership Conference at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin later this month.


In your opinion, which areas of technology hold the greatest scope for opportunities?

I am passionate about using technology to solve social and environmental problems. Much and all as I love new technology innovations that make our lives a little easier, e.g. Hailo and Facebook, and more pleasant, such as Spotify and WhatsApp, I think there is a huge opportunity to channel the best brains in the start-up and tech communities to try to solve some of our trickiest global problems, including resource efficiency, access to education, income inequality etc. Good Irish examples include the likes of ChangeX, Coderdojo and even ourselves at FoodCloud.

Are good entrepreneurs born or can they be made?

They can be made! If somebody sees a problem that they are really passionate about solving it really brings out an entrepreneurial spirit that may have been dormant for a while.

What are the qualities of a good founder?

Passion, hard work and lots of energy.

What does a successful entrepreneur need to do every day?

Focus – with so much going on every day, it is very difficult to not get distracted. Start each week and day by making a short plan with realistic goals and try to stick to it. It is also important that you have realistic expectations of what you can achieve each day or week otherwise you will always be disappointed with your productivity levels. This is advice that I also need to remind myself to follow.

What resources and tools are an absolute must for your arsenal?

A belief in what you are trying to achieve and a good sense of humour!

‘I think there is a huge opportunity to channel the best brains in the start-up and tech communities to try to solve some of our trickiest global problems, including resource efficiency, access to education, income inequality etc’

How do you assemble a good team?

Bring people together who want to learn and grow as your organisation does. Each team member needs to be dedicated and committed to the vision and mission of the organisation. At FoodCloud, we try to make sure that each team member is involved in our annual and strategic planning processes and therefore understands the important role that they play within the organisation and so are motivated by what we are trying to achieve.

What is the critical ingredient to start-up success?

Passion — you are going to be investing a ridiculous amount of time and resources in trying to get your company up and running, you have to have enthusiasm and energy for what you are doing as there will be a lot of good days and bad days that you will need to power through!

What are the biggest mistakes that founders make?

Not understanding the problem that they are trying to solve. We started FoodCloud with a lot of assumptions about what food businesses and charities were looking for and realised quite quickly that we didn’t truly understand the problem we were trying to solve, what food charities could use and when, when stores would have food available, what are the barriers and challenges etc. Having realised this, we went back to talk to as many of our prospective clients and stakeholders as possible and tweaked our solution.

Who is your business hero and why?

Norah Casey – at FoodCloud we are all for women in business.

Whats the No 1 piece of advice you have for entrepreneurs?

Build a support network fast — there is a great start-up community in Dublin full of people and programmes that are all more than willing to help, from accelerators like LaunchPad run by NDRC to programmes run by Google for start-ups.