“I told him he was mad!” – Cully & Sully on their early days in business
In the first episode of JOE’s new show The Architects of Business, in partnership with EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™, Colum O’Sullivan and Cullen Allen describe their remarkable journeys as the founders of Cully & Sully.
Established in 2004 by friends Cullen Allen and Colum O’Sullivan, Cully & Sully has built success upon success to become one of Ireland’s best loved food brands.
Speaking to JOE’s Tadhg Enright on the opening episode of The Architects of Business, Cully and Sully describe their childhood friendship, the jobs that left them unfulfilled and the path to success they followed in establishing their business
“I’d really wanted to start a business, there was something in me,” Sully revealed.
“I can’t really describe what it was. I’d an interest in food and I’d an interest in agriculture. In the year 2000 Ireland was a very entrepreneurial place, there was an awful lot of stuff happening.”
Sully was working for the wholesale company Musgrave at the time, but describes the itch he had to do his own thing; he knew he’d need a partner, so decided to give his old schoolfriend and college housemate a call.
“I told him he was mad,” reveals Cully, the grandson of Ballymaloe founder Myrtle Allen.
“Sully basically rang me up one day and asked me did I want to start a food business."
Having been around the food industry all his life, Cully was unconvinced.
“I figured the grass was always greener on the other side, there had to be easier ways to make money than the food world.
“But I went with it. I’d been working as a website designer and I was starting to become a programmer and that was the end of it for me, I knew I had to get out of that job because I’m sitting in front of a computer for too many hours of the day.
“That was never me.”
Cully describes how this period of unhappiness in his professional life came between 2000 and 2003, and when he got the call from Sully - after his initial reluctance - the moment was perfect as he had been considering what would come next.
He describes how another friend rang him on the same week and asked him if he wanted to start a business, adding: “Thank God I chose (to work with Sully).”
They launched with pies in September 2004 - they would move on to their much-loved soups in 2006 - after Sully had spent a period working in Dublin.
He got the idea to start making pies after the food he would bring from Cork the previous weekend would run out, and he needed something that was quick, easy but most importantly wholesome to fill the gap.
Sully was given the chance to research his new business on the side by Musgrave rather than just quit his day job entirely, one that allowed him the freedom to explore a new way of working.
He and Cully would set up business meetings and always bring along a prototype of the Cully & Sully box. As the latter explains, “A picture is a thousand words.”
Sully describes how the food business in 2004 was very different from what we see now, and how both he and Cully were determined not to use preservatives, starches and hydrogenated fats in their products.
“The food needs to taste delicious and we need to make people smile,” remains the company mantra.
They reveal how they used the French technique of sous-vide cooking – vacuum packing ingredients to keep all the nutrients locked in during the cooking process – in order to ensure a longer shelf-life for their products while maintaining taste and wholesomeness.
They returned to Ireland but, despite the roar of the Celtic Tiger at the time, found it near impossible to secure funding to get their business off the ground.
Cully & Sully talk about learning the importance of branding – “Cully & Sully was a name, we didn’t (initially) think of it as a brand” – and how, when that took on a life of its own, success in the food business followed.
Listen to the full show here, as Cully & Sully tell The Architects of Business host Tadhg Enright how they managed to establish one of Ireland’s best-loved products.
Listen to the full episode here...