With four failed start-ups behind him, Devan Hughes is anything but a quitter. The CEO and co-founder of Ireland-based Buymie, an app offering same-day grocery delivery, may be an unlikely business mogul. But with Buymie now boasting partnerships with Lidl and Co-op and expansion into its first UK city, it’s looking like it might be fifth time lucky for the affable entrepreneur.
Although the idea for Buymie was conceived “over a pint of Guinness in an Irish pub,” Hughes was anything but flippant about his “methodical” research. “Ideas are a dime-a-dozen,” he explained, “execution is everything”.
While working full-time for an energy company, Hughes spent evenings and weekends meticulously researching the grocery sector, looking for opportunities in an industry he had little experience of.
One of the sector’s main attractions was the reality that leading supermarkets struggle to make a profit from online orders. Necessary infrastructure for deliveries, including warehouses and dispatch vehicles, require capital and often shops subsidise delivery costs to attract customers. Hughes didn’t shy away from the “dysfunctional” market, but saw an opportunity to get stuck in.
Throughout his varied career, Hughes has opted to take jobs that could teach him what he didn’t already know. A few years ago, after three business ventures failed in quick succession, he searched for a job with an established start-up. His ambition was to realise what had been lacking in his own ventures believing entrepreneurship, like a “muscle,” must be trained.
Hughes took the same approach with Buymie, knowing investors wouldn’t take him seriously if he didn’t have tech or grocery experience. A year at Salesforce ensued, learning the ropes, and in evenings and weekends he continued his dogged research for Buymie. Hughes is adamant that his meandering career, successes and failures alike, have all provided useful lessons. “These different skillsets are all part of the toolbelt,” he said.
Launching a homegrown business is an “incredibly intense” experience, said Hughes, but one that doesn’t have to “contain excessive risk”. Hughes was careful in his approach. His decision not to quit his day job and meticulous research, which included surveying close to 1,300 shoppers in supermarkets on weekends, prepared him to take the plunge 18 months after his idea in the pub. He has also been cautious not to take on credit card debt for the business.
Successful entrepreneurs often make personal sacrifices to get their businesses off the ground, and for Hughes, his biggest sacrifice has been his time. As Buymie’s first and only delivery driver, he completed 1800 grocery orders in the first 20 months of trading. Given the start-up operated 9am until 10pm Monday-Sunday, whatever Hughes was doing, whether out to dinner or “watching a movie with my wife, if an order came in, I was leaving”.
It wasn’t plain sailing: “I can confidently say I found every single way to screw up a customer’s experience.” But the setbacks taught him to find scalable solutions.
To date, the greatest perk to come with Buymie’s success has been the ability to offer employment. “In a time where job creation seems somewhat of a novelty, we were hiring hand over fist,” said Hughes. For the determined entrepreneur, that’s been “one of the nicest aspects of the business”.
You can check out the full interview in the video below.
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