On a shoestring: How Ciara Troy bootstrapped Oishii

Oishii Foods Ltd | AIBF
Ciara Troy, Founder of Oishii Foods Ltd photographed with her All-Star Accreditation certificate.

It takes guts to start a business…

About 90% of startups fail, and research shows that 10% of startups fail within the first year.

For Ciara Troy, Managing Director of the Oishii food company her path was made even more difficult because of her (lack of) capital…

“Lots of people talk about a shoestring but I started Oishii on what was genuinely a shoestring.” She told The All-Ireland Business Foundation.

“Everything was made from my kitchen at home. I haggled on a secondhand shelf from a hardware store, picked it up for 10 quid and used it as my display at the farmers market.”

“We had no fridges so we had ice hooked up to keep the products cool – It was hard work, but you do what needs to be done.”

Oishii is a double Business All-Star Accredited food company, specialising in fresh sushi products for the retail market.

The inspiration for Ciara’s business was ignited during an Erasmus year spent in Japan while studying Business & Sociology at Trinity College.

Whilst living in Tokyo, she fell in love with Japanese culture and was deeply influenced by the clean diet and how it made her feel.

Her experience formed the concept of Oishii – which means delicious.

“I started out making teriyaki salmon, gyoza dumplings and katsu curry but it was the sushi that everybody wanted,” she explained, “and they were willing to wait for it.”

“Because I was making everything by hand, people would order, then go off and do their shopping. They would come back and pick up their sushi when they were finished.”

Ciara would constantly get asked by her customers at farmers markets around Dublin if she had a restaurant or a shop.

She didn’t.

Neither did she have the funds to establish one…

She knew she had a great product – now she had to scale her business.

“When you have no means, you have to get very creative with how you’re going to progress,” said Ciara.

“I didn’t have the money to start a restaurant or a shop and so really the easiest route with very little money was to go through retail.”

She began contacting Irish retailers and slowly began to build her retail portfolio.

Almost 17 years later, Oishii is the largest fresh sushi supplier to the Republic of Ireland & Northern Ireland, employing 28 people out of their approved production unit in Smithfield.

The Oishii Foods Ltd Team photographed with their 2 In A Row All-Star Accreditation Certificate.

They supply nationwide to Lidl, Tesco and Applegreen service stations as well as to select stores owned by Musgrave, Dunnes Stores & Spar.

But Ciara’s route to success was slow and “rocky” and she admits there were times that she felt trapped by the business that she had created.

Perseverance and resilience are among the core qualities that have enabled her first to survive and then thrive.

We asked Ciara what advice she would give to budding entrepreneurs hoping to emulate her success.

Here they are…

Be resilient.

I firmly believe that entrepreneurship is an exercise in resilience and sometimes it is literally the only thing that separates those who succeed and those who don’t.

It’s all about picking yourself up and trying again when it doesn’t work and constantly analysing where you went wrong. You learn by asking yourself ‘how can I avoid that pitfall in the future.

Get good advice

Seek advice from the resources that are available to you..

I have been involved in Going For Growth for many years; an initiative headed up by Paula Fitzsimons, this is a female entrepreneurial network that I found really useful & supportive because entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey as well.

Look outwards

As an entrepreneur, you’re often wearing every hat in your business and you’re probably doing it from the confines of your own home – so I think that you have to look outwards as well as inwards.

You can learn a lot even from people outside of your sector because it’s about the unit, it doesn’t really matter if that unit is a watch or a plate of sushi – the thought processes behind being lean or being innovative are cross-sectoral.

Surround yourself by people who can do what they do better than you can

It’s about building a strong team.

A business is only as good as the sum of its parts so bring in people who are stronger than you in key areas.

Identify those growth areas and when the time comes – don’t be afraid to bring in talent.

Know your why

Ask yourself ‘what am I getting into business for?’

I can tell you that I would not still be here if it was for the money. Because it’s been a slow rocky road to success.

Thankfully, we are in a very strong and profitable space now, but there is no way that I could have stood the test of time if it was for the money.

It has to give you a sense of meaning, and a sense of purpose.

The All-Ireland Business Foundation would like to thank Ciara for taking the time to share her valuable insights with the Business All-Stars TRIBE.

We look forward to supporting her wonderful business toward even greater success.

To learn more about Oishii Foods Ltd, visit their All-Star showcase page here.