Riva O’Malley

Startup Salon Panelist 2015

To set up a business that means something and has the capacity to not only capture the tastes of its target market but their hearts and minds too has to be the objective for businesses to have a chance to achieve stand out in the marketplace.  It can’t just be about money or lifestyle; there needs to be a genuine emotional hook and this can only come from the founders.

We’ve heard a lot about how Ireland has benefited from the flow of people back home after their recession enforced stint abroad.  And, of course people don’t come back unchanged, especially after living in a place like London. They bring back fresh perspectives and new ideas and knowledge about how to go about executing them in ways that are creative and bring a bit of the place they’ve been to back to Dublin.

Though Riva O’Malley has had a lifelong dream to work for herself ‘I had a goal to set up a business by the time I was 30’ (she is turning 30 this year) and has had ‘loads of different ideas for a business over the years’ her evolution as a founder of a startup happened in tandem with her return home to Ireland from London where she’d been living for three years with co-founder (and fiance) John McGee.

Anyone who has lived abroad and come home knows that the transition from big city to small town can be hard. Though London is only a hop over a small slip of a sea, it is worlds away from County Wicklow and even Dublin City. As Riva said ‘It’s a big change from London to Wicklow, we wanted to keep life stimulating and exciting‘ so the plan to set up a business was made before they returned.  Where they lived in East London was a good place to be to start planning a business, as Riva said the ‘many new small businesses and opportunities and the can-do attitude there’ inspired them to think that they could do the same thing back home in Ireland.

The vision from the beginning was to promote Irish food and drink products by opening a cafe. Initial research revealed that there were ‘many places wanting to stock premium Irish products’ already. They turned their sights to manufacturing and began experimenting with traditional Irish products. While still in East London they made lemonade, and baked soda bread.  But further research revealed that there were plenty of products like this already. It was when they found a gap in the premium soft drinks market at home that things clicked; as Riva said ‘that was the first lightbulb moment and one idea lead to another’, eventually they settled on the one that manifested in Black Castle Drinks; named after the ruin of a castle located on the coast in County Wicklow

They began to execute the idea when they returned home and Riva enrolled in Local Enterprise Office’s Start your Own Business course in Wicklow town. Then they applied for an Innovation Voucher and the voucher of €5,000 paid for the food technician in Sligo’s Centre of Expertise.  They used this to develop the flavours.  Entering the Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur competition was a key moment; Riva, who came second in the Wicklow part of the competition, said that this experience was very helpful in that they had to develop a business plan and pitch to a panel. This meant they had to refine and delineate clearly what they wanted to achieve with their business.

Riva said ‘provenance is important’ to the brand and Ireland and County Wicklow (where Riva lives) permeates all aspects of Black Castle Drinks; from the ingredients of the three flavours of drinks currently in the range to the branding and the materials used in its packaging.

Riva’s story highlights the importance of passion in creating a business.   Passion for home and the vision to promote Ireland infuses the Black Castle brand with meaning.  As passion and vision are often what separates successful startups from those that aren’t, perhaps then, it would be a fair prediction that Black Castle Drinks may become as synonymous with Ireland as say some other big brand names….like Tayto or Barry’s Tea – both brands you crave when you live abroad.