Bean-there.com: Aisling Collins
How Aisling Collins' internet café had the grounds for a great business
Experiences whle abroad inspired Aisling Collins to open Derry’s first internet café. She tells Startups.co.uk why coffee and technology do mix
Bean-there.com is the first internet café in Derry, Northern Ireland. While it has pioneered internet access, Bean-there.com is also making its mark as a café. It sells good quality Italian coffee, gourmet sandwiches and a selection of cakes and cookies as founder Aisling Collins knew that customers still need to whet their appetite with more than they can get on the web. Customers can and do just pop in for coffee and Aisling ensures that the menu is constantly revised and updated.
The idea came from a working holiday in Australia that was meant to last a year, but in fact lasted three and a half. “It was such a nice lifestyle”, says Collins, explaining her extended visit. Having used internet cafes around the world on her travels, she realised there was an opening in Derry for an internet café. There was just nothing like it in the Northern Irish city.
Learning in the city
It was staying in San Francisco where Collins learnt everything she needed to know about the internet. “If you can’t learn about the internet in San Francisco you can’t learn it anywhere.” Collins funded her travels working for an Irish company in San Francisco. She still maintains contact with her former colleagues and is able to use their expertise if she needs it.
But far from the ‘get up and go’ attitude in the US, Collins found it harder when she returned home. “Being so young it’s hard to get anyone to take you seriously, especially banks because they’re so conservative. They’d say ‘you’re 28 just back from overseas, full of bright ideas but why should we trust you?'”
Location was the next major step in the process, and Aisling proved that yet again she was not someone to take no for an answer. She found the ideal location – it just happened to be an empty site, which was not even advertised for rent. However, she managed to track down the owner. “I found out he was a 76 year old man who thought the internet was a terrible disaster and I had to convince him otherwise. He’s now one of my best customers.”
The effort paid off as bean-there.com is situated in a prime location. Since the peace process there have been busloads of tourists entering Derry and every tour bus drops off its passengers opposite bean-there.com. The café is also situated close to the hostels – making it very accessible for the tourists. Also nearby is the shopping district and offices, employing many local people.
Having got the perfect location, Collins also spent considerable time thinking about the style and layout of her shop. “It’s completely different to the cafes round here, its really really modern, spiral staircase, bright colours and really relaxing. I really, really love it.”
As well as the décor, the menu was a big part of her plans. There were other cafes in the area but they offered “food which was really basic, fried egg butties and watery tea.”