This week our featured tech start-up is The Happy Pear, a natural food market and restaurant based in Greystones, Co Wicklow, that has diversified its business portfolio by creating an online store in addition to an online course to help people improve their health and lower their cholesterol.
The Happy Pear fruit and vegetable shop has been a staple in the town of Greystones since identical twins David and Stephen Flynn set it up in 2004.
"We started with a fruit and vegetable shop. From there it grew into a juice bar. We had to make the shop fashionable and cooler. At that time smoothies were hip. From there it grew into a café. We also have a farm where we grow superfoods like sprouts and wheatgrass and we now have a distribution business," explains David. Right now The Happy Pear employs around 35 people.
This year, however, the duo decided to make the technological leap and set up their online store.
"Last October we came up with the idea for it," explains Stephen, "but it wasn’t until January that we got the online shop up and running. It has been this year that we have really embraced the tech world."
It was when their friend, a programmer, approached the Flynns about setting up an online shop that they decided to go for it.
"He did up a full business plan and pitched it us so we said ‘brilliant, let’s do it’," explains David. "We’ve got all of the stock so it is literally another avenue to sell our products."
Stephen says that the most exciting part has been reaching out to new customers. "We’ve spent nearly eight years running a bricks-and-mortar business so it is a joy to go down the online route," he says.
Doing the catering at the F.ounders event last year as part of the Dublin Web Summit also cemented their plan to make their foray into the online space work.
As for The Happy Pear’s new online course Happy Heart, how did the idea for that come about? Well, it first kicked off in a room above their shop.
Because the twins are so passionate about health and want to inspire people to be healthier, a few years ago they started giving health courses at their Greystones base.
"We started giving general health courses over four weeks and people really enjoyed them but they rarely made significant changes. So, we decided to come up with some way that we could quantify improvements in someone’s health so that people could be inspired to eat more healthily," explains David.
Because heart disease is one of the biggest killers in the world, and cholesterol is the main indicator used to measure it, the duo started designing their Happy Heart course.
"We put people on a four-week course where we gave them meal plans and recipes. We taught them how to cook," says Stephen. "It was a huge step for us into the unknown, but the first course was very successful. There was an average drop of 20pc in people’s cholesterol and they lost weight. There were so many beneficial side effects from it."
He says that more than 200 people have now participated in the physical Happy Heart course, with an average drop in cholesterol of more than 20pc.
Building an online version
They then decided to create an online version of the Happy Heart course.
"It has taken us nearly two years to build the course and we launched it at the start of September. We have 50 people doing the online course at the moment," says David.
He says it has been a "massive’ learning curve moving from a physical class to an online one.
"It’s really embracing all that’s good in online education. We have created progress quizzes and progress bars so people can map their journey during the course."
Video lectures and video recipes are part of the course, as well as meal plans.
"We shot all of the videos ourselves with a small team," explains Stephen.
And while the course does hone in on improving one’s cholesterol he says the course offers many other health benefits. "I think people really want to take responsibility for their own health and this course really enables them to do that," adds David.
Obstacles along the way
So have there been any challenges when diversifying into the online space?
David says that building the online shop was a lot more straightforward than building the online course.
"It has taken us two years, so we had to think about what platform to build the course on and aspects like payment gateways. We have really had to learn from the start about how to do this. We have been very much hands-on all the way through."
For instance, Stephen has been embracing coding while David is doing online marketing courses at night.
For now, they are going to concentrate on the launch of their online Happy Heart course, but David doesn’t rule out the possibility of creating new online courses down the line.
Finally, their advice for other traditional businesses that are thinking of building up an online presence?
"I would say definitely jump in and do it, but I wouldn’t dabble with it. You want to get in and learn or get someone else to help because there is just so much in it, especially in terms of social media, explains David.
Fancy making your heart happy? Dave and Steve are providing a special offer to all Silicon Republic readers. The online happy heart course is normally for sale for €99. Silicon Republic readers can get the course for half price by entering the voucher code ‘siliconrepublic’ until Sunday, 21 October, when they subscribe.