Monday interview: Ryan O’Rorke, Flavourly founder

IN THE end, Ryan O’Rorke decided not to take the £75,000 on offer within the Dragons’ Den, but the founder of gourmet food and beer distributor Flavourly is still hoping to cash in on his 17 minutes of television fame.

Ryan O'Rorke has been successful at raising funds. Picture: Contributed
Ryan O'Rorke has been successful at raising funds. Picture: Contributed
Ryan O'Rorke has been successful at raising funds. Picture: Contributed

Fans of the series watched last night as all five Dragons tabled proposals, including a bid by Kelly Hoppen to get O’Rorke to come and work for her. By the time of the closing credits, Borders-born O’Rorke had agreed to take money from Peter Jones and Piers Linney in exchange for a 20 per cent stake in Flavourly.

But a few days after the programme filmed last March, O’Rorke started examining the fine print. Despite the three-month, three-stage application process just to get on the show in the first place, he decided to pull the plug on the deal.

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“The Dragons’ agreement didn’t meet with our needs,” O’Rorke says. “It was a good experience overall, but the investment just didn’t work out for us.”

The story doesn’t end there, however. In conjunction with the airing of last night’s programme, Flavourly has launched a funding drive on Crowdcube with the aim of raising between £300,000 and £500,000.

O’Rorke has been down this road before. The month before the filming of Dragons’ Den, Flavourly exceeded its £116,000 funding target on Angels Den in less than 24 hours, making it the fastest-ever equity crowdfunded project in the UK at that time.

Like the funds raised last year, the new money Flavourly is seeking to drum up will be used for “aggressive” customer acquisition.

There are plans for television commercials, insert swaps with Amazon and advertisements through Facebook and Google.

The aim is to double or even treble Flavourly’s current customer base, which has already expanded rapidly since O’Rorke started the business in August 2012 in his grandmother’s garage in Edinburgh. Since filming Dragons’ Den, sales have doubled to £100,000 per month on the back of shipping an additional 200,000 new products.

“We have been growing at an absolutely overwhelming rate,” O’Rorke says.

Part of that has been driven by the launch last June of a craft beer club that got 3,000 orders on its first day. The addition of beer to the range of foodie treats Flavourly sources from more than 200 small independent producers shifted the gender balance of its customers base, which was previously dominated by women.

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Each month, subscribers receive a selection of eight beers sourced from across 1,000 UK microbreweries. On the food side, “Flavour Boxes” contain a range of eight to 12 unique products such as bacon jam, whisky pasta sauce or chilli popcorn.

O’Rorke’s first venture after leaving Queen Margaret University was an online comparison website called LoveOnlineDeals, which he set up at the age of 23. It allowed internet-savvy subscribers to receive all of their online voucher offers in a single e-mail sent out each day.

He hit upon the idea for Flavourly a few years later after watching his father, an amateur honey maker, struggle to sell his product outside his local circle in the Borders.

“He was finding it hard to get a route to market – that was his pain point,” says O’Rorke, who subsequently discovered that three-quarters of all small producers don’t have the resources, infrastructure or expertise to sell direct to consumers.

“There was a pain point for me as well because I am a foodie and like trying new things, but it can be difficult to find unique hand-crafted products. I just combined those two pain points.”

Flavourly initially secured seed funding from Edinburgh entrepreneur Kevin Dorren, the founder of Diet Chef, before going on to win a further £34,000 from the Scottish EDGE competition. Despite this and its crowdfunding forays, Flavourly remains under the majority control of O’Rorke.

To date the business has generated about £600,000 in sales, and is on course to hit turnover of £1.1m this year. That is anticipated to rise to £5m in 2016.

O’Rorke wants to expand into Europe before an eventual trade sale of Flavourly, which he would ideally like to complete within the next three years. This will involve further growing his team of 11 – including chief executive Assean Sheikh, who joined eight months ago – operating out of 2,000 square feet of warehouse space at Ocean Terminal.

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“Everything just squeezes in there right now, but as we grow we are going to need more space,” O’Rorke says.

Though flattered by the offer of a job during his time in the Den, O’Rorke says he much prefers working for himself. For now, that means taking full advantage of every opportunity to expand Flavourly’s share of the £14 bilion-plus UK market for fine foods, snacks and craft beer.

“We want to ride the wave of Dragons’ Den and get everything out of it that we can,” he says.