By 2018, the Quilty-based seaweed weed company, established by the Talty family, is anticipating a €1 million turnover. The firm, Wild Irish Seaweed, was considerably boosted in this ambition on Sunday night, when Evan and Gerard Talty appeared on RTÉ’s Dragons’ Den where they were successful in pitching for a €50,000 investment from Alison Cowzer, one of the four dragons.
“Everything changes now,” Evan told The Clare Champion on Monday. “While we’ve got this far on our own, we now have an investor on board so we have to be accountable to her and to prove that we can do what we said we’re going to do. We’ve also just been lined up for High Potential Start-Up status by Enterprise Ireland. They come in and give you €200,000 for a 10% share in your company,” he revealed. The company currently provides employment for 25 people, include 14 harvesters, who sell their produce to Wild Irish Seaweed.
The reaction to their appearance on Dragons’ Den was immediate on Sunday evening.
“It’s amazing the traction that the show has. We knew what was coming down the track and Alison had advised us to be prepared. So we had a good bit of work done on social media and on our website. On Sunday night, between 9.30pm and 10pm, there was up to 4,000 people on the website. On an average day, you might have 40. We were prepared, so that it wouldn’t crash.
“On top of that, we were prepared regarding Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Dragons’ Den really promote it heavily on Twitter and you see the traction it was gaining. Today [Monday] we’ve had enquiries on the website and offers to go to the US and other places. While the €50,000 investment is great, as regards the advertising, you couldn’t buy it. We have a tiny budget for sales and marketing because most companies at our level wouldn’t have the budget for that. But to get almost 20 minutes on prime-time RTÉ TV was great. I think almost one million people tuned in,” Evan noted.
One woman who definitely tuned in later tweeted that Evan “can wrap me up in seaweed any day”.
He had some prior experience of making presentations, which was a considerable help in seeking to convince the dragons that the company was worth investing in.
“We were in there for an hour and a half. I was lucky in that I had done New Frontiers in Limerick, which is an Entrepreneur Development Programme run by Enterprise Ireland. It’s a six-month programme and part of it is pitching in front of eight to 10 people, once a month. I was confident enough going into Dragons’ Den that I had pitch experience before. The only difference was the cameras but what was most nerve-racking was that I thought we’d get as many chances as we wanted with the pitch. But they said no and they said that if we did make a mess of it, it was better television for them. That really put the pressure on because the whole country would see you make a donkey out of yourself,” he laughed.
The family is steeped in the art of collecting seaweed but they sensed a real opportunity to expand eight years ago.
“My grandfather, Mickey, would have been involved with seaweed for years. Around 2009, a customer of his said that his customers were gone mad for seaweed. We were just giving my grandfather a hand picking but all of a sudden the Fukushima nuclear accident [in 2011] hit in Japan. There was a sudden surge in traffic on what was a little website at that time. We said there could be something in this so we went to Leader and we built a €200,000 factory out of it. It just snowballed but in the last year it has really exploded.
“We have gone from selling €180,000 to doubling that to €360,000. We’re probably in line to double that again this year. The problem we have is that none of us have any experience in growing a company to that size. We’re good at going back to the tide harvesting seaweed. We’re not good at the next level, which is structuring the business. Our aim is to turn over €1m in 2018. That’s what we’re targeting but with that you need to put the structures in place and that’s why we need someone like Alison Cowzer,” Evan stressed.
Wild Irish Seaweed will introduce a US product to the Irish market at the Bloom festival in Dublin.
“We’ve acquired Ocean Halo as a new brand, which we’re bringing in from the US. We have the European rights to it. Anyone who wants to bring it into Europe has to come through us. That brand is in Walmart and Costco. Our first container is coming for Bloom on the June Bank Holiday weekend in the Phoenix Park,” Evan said.
By Peter O’Connell