A “Coffee with Colm” Blog – Episode 3 of Three Things That All Successful Businesses Have In Common (or lessons learned *ahem* while drinking coffee!)

Two weeks ago I started this discussion with the analogy that a solid business can be likened to a 3-legged stool.

Three legs guarantees that a stool will always sit solidly on the floor.

In my opinion (and in my experience with Carambola.ie; €7m+ annual turnover, 100+ employees) the most effective, successful and potentially sustainable businesses MUST have three legs – any fewer and they just cannot stand, (Imagine a 2-legged stool? No? Neither can I) more and they run the risk of being wobbly for reasons outside your control.

So if I can only have three, what should they be?

The three legs are:

  1. Brand
  2. Systems
  3. People

That’s it. The most effective business model is strong across all three of these legs.

In week 1 I spoke of the importance of Brand reputation as one of the legs needed for a successful and potentially sustainable business.

Last week I spoke of the importance of building robust systems around every aspect of your business, systems that can be taught to, and implemented by, others.

Others means people – people form the third leg on the stool, people are at the heart of the third secret in building a successful, sustainable, scale-able business.

Watch the short video or read on below for more…

My friend, there are only so many hours in the day. You and I can only get so much done alone. Time is finite. It is NOT a renewable resource.

So, how do you do more; how do you scale?

Leverage. That’s how.

And, how do you leverage? One way is through people. (for more, see my blog on leverage?)

You and I need to begin with a decision that we are building a business, and not simply remaining self-employed. Once that decision is made, we must consider a brand, begin to operate some systems and then the hunt begins, or the antennae are raised looking for people to join your cause.

I was talking with some school children last week and told them it is my belief they are in school to learn two things only;

  1. They are in school to learn how to learn
  2. They are in school to learn how to work with others

Master those two skills and you can go anywhere, create anything, fail to and you will struggle.

I read somewhere that success is 15% dependent on your technical expertise around your career and 85% reliant on your people skills! In other words people skills are almost 6 TIMES more important than technical ability.

Richard Branson, the charismatic leader of the Virgin Group, doesn’t fly the Virgin Atlantic planes but I think we’d all agree he gets paid more, and has a higher net worth, than any of the pilots his business system employs.

So, for you and I to build successful, sustainable, scalable businesses, we must build them across the three legs alluded to in this trilogy; brand, systems, people.

One feeds off the other.

Your brand (reputation) is fed or starved by the robustness of the systems you build and ultimately by the implementation of those systems by real people on the ground, producing the products, answering the phones, providing the service, interacting with the customer; find great people, they’ll add value to your systems, the wrong people will damage the systems, your brand, and ultimately your business.

Every day I give a tour of the Carambola facility to outsiders, whether adult or child, truthfully I am blown away by the systems we have built.

Carambola produces 24,000 individually labelled and sealed lunch bags – each one different to the next, each carrying on a label, the name of the child, the menu items chosen and even the calorie count.

Making that happen every day requires fantastic systems (which we have developed over thirteen years of trade).

Doing it brilliantly every day, day in, day out requires a dedicated team of over 100 great people that have chosen to join our cause.

Doing it consistently year on year is what has allowed us build a brand with an excellent reputation for quality, consistency and reliability.

Good Brand – Great Systems – Even Better People.

Thankfully in Carambola over the years we have attracted many great people. As a natural consequence we have also made some hiring mistakes (and so will you) but I wouldn’t change it for the world. The alternative was eternal consignment to working in a small business that would require my personal time and effort ad infinitum.

For me, that wasn’t an option.

Before you go, here is a snippet from my book, “Feeding Johnny” describing my early forays into attracting others to ‘the cause’

“Meet the Team”

“Who speaks English?” was my first question as I met four fresh-faced Poles in Raheen Business Park on a Sunday in 2005. I had finally managed to find a buyer for all the café furniture I had left following the failure of the café business earlier in the year (more about THAT later…no skipping forward by the way) and it was all piled in a store room in our first production facility. A truck was due any minute to take it off my hands.

 So to clear the store room I had called some of the new staff we had recruited. Four of them arrived.

“Who speaks English?”

“Me.” came a timid voice from a skinny young man with glasses.

I shook his hand and said, “OK, you’re in charge. What’s your name, by the way?”

“Máirtín” was the reply.

And so we set to work. I showed him what I wanted done and let him off with his three fellow countrymen. Within a few hours the place was cleared. I had a clear store room and four new Polish staff, one of whom seemed to have leadership qualities. Máirtín turned out to be Marcin (pronounced mar-cheen) and Marcin happened to be a computer scientist, let’s face it a geek; but he was a good geek, a conscientious geek, a hardworking geek who had been willing to take a risk in coming to Ireland, the new land of opportunity for many Poles at that time. Marcin found Carambola and over time Carambola found a man who has assumed responsibility for all of our IT infrastructure, all of our facilities management and all of our transport network. Not bad. A good find for both sides.

 And largely that is how it’s been as people found us one by one. Many great people and a few dodgy ones, it has to be said – they know who they are – have come through the doors and all we do at Carambola is offer opportunity. Those, like Marcin, who saw the opportunity fit their lives, chose to rise and grow with the challenges, and are still around. Those who didn’t aren’t, simple as that.

For example, Lil, head of accounts, or ‘Making sure there is a few bob in the bank’ as we like to say was our original bread-butterer found us when she was ready to re-enter the workforce. Her claim to fame is that she was replaced by two, not just one, buttering machines; her only stipulation was “I don’t want responsibility.” Over time we changed her mind. And Dorota, head of operations, whose Carambola Kidz title is ‘Making sure Johnny gets fed every day’, was labelling sandwiches when an opportunity arose to assist us trial our early IT system. She stepped up and never looked back.

And Rachel, Carambola’s Customer Care Manager and Nutritional Adviser; ‘Head of making sure Johnny is healthy and happy’ in Carambola-ese was a self employed trainer, teaching kids about nutrition when she arrived at a parenting expo with a friend. She shouldn’t have been there, she had no kids at the time and I had just been let down by a.n. other body who had promised to do a ‘nutrition for kids’ session in one of our schools. Rachel and I had a coffee. We hired her for a one day gig. Over a decade later she’s still here.

I could write about them all, but the others will have to forgive me – maybe next time. People turn up. We allow them in. They choose to perform or not. I love them all.”


MORE? As we live in a Netflix World, if you missed episodes 1 and 2 would you like to access them now?

STAY CONNECTED: If this is your thing, consider joining in the conversation here

FREE BOOK: If would like a complimentary copy of the book in audio, narrated by yours truly so you get all the nuances, feel free to grab one here

Thanks for thinking with me.

Yours truly,


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2 Responses to “A “Coffee with Colm” Blog – Episode 3 of Three Things That All Successful Businesses Have In Common (or lessons learned *ahem* while drinking coffee!)”
  1. Mark

    I really like how you empower your people and also start with the assumption people are very good and need to prove you wrong. Also like that you are open that you don’t know everything and other people can help out to support. Thanks for sharing. Mark

    • Colm

      Hey Mark

      Thanks for that. Wonderful catching up the other week. Looking forward to our chat in September.

      Keep up the great work with WIKN.


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