women in business

Do you love gin? Do you love Donegal? Do you love to support entrepreneurs? Then this one is for YOU!

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Laura Bonner, founder & CEO of the Muff Liquor Co

If you answered yes to all (or indeed any!) of the above questions then this blog is for you.

Laura Bonner is one of my neighbours in rural Inishowen, Co Donegal and she’s about to go live with her crowdfunding investment campaign via the Crowdcube platform on Tuesday 24 September.  If you’ve ever fancied owning a piece of an Irish craft gin company then read on.

I knew Laura’s father long before I knew Laura as the Bonner family company installed our new windows way back when we bought our house in Greencastle 15 years ago.  I then spotted the Muff Liquor Company gin bottles creeping in behind the till in my local Centra in Moville & thought to myself – how on earth are they going to make a cheeky name like that work for their product?!!  Time passed & I was really delighted to find that Laura was joining my Back for Business group in January of this year.  Back for Business is a programme sponsored by the Department of Foreign Affairs in Ireland that offers support to people who’ve come home to Ireland from other parts of the world & started a business (check it out if you’re thinking about coming home & have a burning desire to start something – I’ve included the link).

Since January we’ve become firm friends.  I love Laura’s hustle & her generally sunny outlook on life.  She faces every challenge she encounters in business head on & with an air of optimism.  Earlier this week I called up at her Moville HQ to conduct this interview & if I’m honest – to coat-tail (is that even a word? – but if it isn’t you know exactly what I mean don’t you?) on some of the excitement fizzing in the Muff Liquor team around the impending Crowdcube campaign.

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Laura & me at the “bar” in Moville

This is my interview with Laura.  I hope you enjoy the read & even more I hope you’ll believe in & invest in her fabulous company.  You’ll be sorry if you don’t … (By the way, I can confidently predict glorious success this week as when I was in London on Thursday & casually mentioned Muff Gin to a friend of mine, he quickly opened up his What’s App to show me a photo of a bottle of Muff Gin … taken last week at Exeter Rugby Club by the Muff Lickers he’s friendly with 🙂  )

(MM) Tell us briefly your reasons for starting The Muff Liquor Company Laura & give us a bit of background.

(LB) I’ve known since I was 19 that I was going to own The Muff Liquor Company and produce potato vodka. That was always my dream. My Grandad Philip McClenaghan was a potato farmer and he used to make poitin ((MM) if you aren’t Irish & don’t know what this is, follow the link… ) in his barn and I thought there must be a business in this. I went to college and had a solid career which I loved but the feeling in my stomach wouldn’t leave so in 2017 I made the move home and in February 2018 we launched the business with our premium potato based Muff Gin followed by our premium Muff Vodka.

(MM) Do you think it helps to come from a family of entrepreneurs?

(LB) Yes absolutely. I admire my Dad, my brothers and my sister so much. Their determination and work ethic has given me the drive that I have and taught me life

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A bit about Granda McClenaghan

values not only directed at work but that I believe you need in order to succeed.

(MM) Like me you’ve always worked as a woman in a man’s world – do you see that as a drawback or an advantage & tell me why.

(LB) I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t experience certain comments or backlash from a few male peers back in the day but I knew my worth and I always knew their comments were related to their own insecurities. The roles I have had and now have are predominantly male roles but women are being recognised throughout the world as empowering leaders and I predict that trend will continue.

(MM) I’ve met some of your wonderful international team & I know you’re very proud of them.  Why do you think the team & culture is important to get right in a startup?

(LB) I’m an extremely positive person, some say a little too positive but I have to work on that daily. I attract like-minded people and I believe it’s important for everyone in a startup to be on the same page otherwise it won’t work. Starting a business and running a business is difficult but having an amazing team around you helps and I have that. No one got anywhere in life on their own.

(MM) Have you found it difficult to find people for your team and do you place a lot of importance on networking?

Muff 1(LB) No, I’ve been quite lucky. I know in seconds from meeting people if they are for me in work and in my personal life. There have been two occasions where I went against my gut in the last two years and both failed so these days I’ll always listen to myself. I love networking, I love meeting people and I love hearing their stories plus I like to help people so if I can, I will.

(MM) You’ve been quite vocal about how difficult it’s been for you to borrow money from the Irish banks as a new startup.  There’s a bit of a fashion in Ireland (north & south) for banks to position themselves as “friends” to startups.  Do you think they should be more transparent about what they’re really offering?

(LB) Yes, I’ve found it extremely difficult and frustrating. Very disappointing to have institutes that don’t understand our business’s potential as they see us as high risk but if they did their research they would know that the global market has grown rapidly in recent years with the craft spirit market expected to reach USD 80.43 billion globally by 2025 according to the latest report from Grand View Research Inc. It would be great to have Ireland leading this charge as the spirits we as a country are producing are phenomenal.

(MM) Related to that last question, as a Donegal based startup you’re very familiar with the support currently offered by the Irish government.  What more could the government do for rural businesses & especially for Donegal based startups?

(LB) Every new business once established should be contacted by their LEO as by the time I contacted them I was too late to access many of the grants available to Irish startups.

(MM) What advice would you give to anyone else thinking about starting a business in

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This sign in the Muff Liquor HQ made me laugh … a lot!

Donegal?

(LB) I love Donegal, it’s my home. I want to create jobs locally and grow my business here. It’s harder for sure but like anything – if you care enough you’ll make it work. My only advice would be to contact the LEO office before you start and get the startup help offered from the very beginning.

(MM) You’re raising money via the crowdfunding based platform Crowdcube.  Any advice for anyone else going down this route?

(LB) I didn’t want to do it, I felt I should have been supported by our Bank and to have to part with equity at this stage is a hard pill to swallow.  However, it was our only option and so far it’s been great.  I’m looking forward to welcoming our new investors, fans and ambassadors. We’re really enjoying the campaign and the response has been incredible. It’s great to have interest from people who can see our potential and believe in us and know that we’re going to do it!

(MM) How can anyone reading this blog get involved in supporting you via your Crowdcube campaign?

(LB) Our investment opens officially at 9am Tuesday 24 September.  Anyone who’s interested in grabbing a piece of the action & becoming another fan of Muff can pre-register via our website at https://www.themuffliquorcompany.com/invest

(MM) Last one Laura – back to that company name – how did you come up with it & have you had any negative reactions?

Donegal people are used to hearing about Muff village.  Since we started using it for our spirits, the name & its connotations are already raising eyebrows across social media.  I’m confident all that will change after everyone gets a taste of our Muff Gin & becomes a Muff Licker themselves.  The name represents the cheeky identity I wanted for the company but I’m sure it’s the taste of our products that everyone will remember; not the name.

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Laura at her desk – both phones never far away!