Ben grew up in Limerick, before moving to Cork to study, before setting up the firm in Dublin. For more information, please visit www.thecoffeeex.ie, or call 087 250 8089
Rising after redundancy, Ben Burns set up his own marketplace, which has been coined ‘Asos for coffee’
Tell us a little about the Coffee Exchange
It’s an online marketplace for specialty coffee, which is roasted in Ireland. What I wanted to do is set up a central point where you can log on and see some of the top coffee roasters from around the country, and see deals from those roasters we hold in stock. We also stock equipment for everyone and anyone who is getting started in coffee-making and home-brewing, as against aficionados who love their coffee. My sister coined the term ‘Asos for Coffee’ – and she’s starting to ask for royalties!
What does your role entail?
It’s everything and anything really as founder! My own role is quite difficult to encapsulate. There are three of us in the business. I design the website, I would meet with roasters and add them to the website, and check on the service we provide to the roasters. It’s about growing awareness of certain brands outside the regions they serve. There is of course the boots on the ground, ordering stock, and getting the company going!
Where were you born and raised?
I grew up in the South Circular Road, and we moved out to Castletroy when I was 11 or 12. My parents had been living there practically up until recently, when they moved back to the North Circular Road. Now I live up in Dublin, where I have been for three years. I would eventually like to move back home to Limerick.
What is your educational background?
I went to Castletroy College, which was my local school. A young school, but a great school. I always wanted to study business and information technology. There was a course at University College Cork (UCC) called business and information systems. It sounded great, and matched everything I wanted to do. The course got me a role in Deloitte’s risk advisory department. I view this as a bit of a masters as well. You’re going into essentially what is a masters with people who recently graduated from college. You’re getting educated while in there, and building a network.
How did you get to where you are today?
I was in Deloitte for two-and-a-half years. Around this time last year, I wanted more of a challenge. I felt it was time to move on, to see what else is out there for me. I ended up being offered a role which I wanted in EY. I moved in February this year. I was only there for two months. In hindsight, it wasn’t the best time to be moving jobs with the Covid-19 pandemic. Sadly, it was a case of last-in, first-out so I knew my time was ropey in there, regardless of my performance. It was always going to come down to a monetary position, because no-one knew what was going to happen. So sadly I was laid off in late March.
What made you set up your own company?
It’s always something I've wanted to do. I was always interested in having my own venture, and was always really interested in coffee. I love the art and science behind it. To be honest, it married very well with the Coffee Exchange. They’ve been going hand-in-hand.
What are your goals for the next 12 months?
The next year is hugely important for us. You hear some shocking statistics for start-ups, which do not make it beyond their first birthday. It’s something I’d be keen to avoid! I’m absolutely loving what I’m doing. But it’s definitely a case of keeping my head above water and seeing where it goes. We are only in business five months, so just to survive 12 months is very important for us. We launched in July with six roasters, since then we’ve added two more. There are some more incredible Irish roasters we want to add to the website to improve the choice for the consumer.
In business and in life, who do you admire?
The Collision brothers who went to Castletroy College as well. They didn’t live too far from me. I passed their house going to school. They are incredibly smart human beings, we used to always hear about them in school. They are billionaires in their 20s. I use Stripe as my payment partner on my website, so I’m glad to say I’m contributing to a bit of their wealth!
Are you guided by any particular motto?
I would say my motto in life is to ‘go for it’. What’s the worst thing that could happen? You might possibly lose a few quid, but you gain experience. I’d try and look for the positives in each situation. Nothing comes easy, you have to be resilient and willing to work hard for what you want.
Away from work, what are your pastimes and hobbies?
In Limerick, I think it’s ingrained into you to be a fan of sport. I love all kind of sport. My main sports are rugby and golf. I would have played under-age rugby with Munster. It’s what I do to unwind. When you train, you are switched off, you’re not thinking about fulfilling orders, what you must deliver tomorrow.