The Entrepreneur: Grainne Kelly, BubbleBum

The founder of children's car booster seats on global ambitions, honouring integrity and why being secretive doesn't get you anywhere

Founder: Grainne Kelly
Company: BubbleBum UK Ltd
Description in one line: The inflatable and deflatable car booster seat for kids
Previous companies: Franchise of Travel Counsellors PLC
Turnover: $2.2m
12 month target: $3.4m

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

  • BubbleBum is a niche solution not only for travel but for fitting three kids across the rear vehicle seat.
  • Our distribution model is effective in reaching many territories with few distributor relationships.
  • As a result of clever PR/marketing and tight purses the business was self-funding for the first three years.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

Launching in 2008 Walmart stores.

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

Units sales numbers, not revenue, are run every morning against our weekly, monthly and annual targets.

BubbleBum children's car seats Grainne Kelly interview

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

We sell into 26 different countries but focus on USA, UK, Ireland, France, and Spain presently.

Describe your growth funding path:

The business was self-funded for the first three years and only required funding for the scaling in the US. We then took on angel investors and a co-invest fund from Invest NI of £500,000. This enabled us to fund the marketing for the initial part of the US launch into Walmart. Funding the supply chain took a cocktail of funding from various sources but did not result in giving away any equity.

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

GoToMeeting. We have weekly and sometimes daily transatlantic calls with our US team and it is very hard to work any way other than face to face if you want the team to remain engaged.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

In three years I would like the business to turnover $20m and would like to be selling into Russia, China and Korea.

Growth challenges

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

Nothing so far has been hard, other than having to part with equity. But as we say in Ireland, better to have half a loaf than no bread!

What was your biggest business mistake?

Not having factories sign NDAs from the first conversation. It has cost us a lot over the last three years in legal and patent fees, but was a good lesson learned.

Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:

Duplication of safety legislation for each country. The legislations are pretty much the same with slight differences in wording but the testing should really be globalised in my opinion.

What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?

Being too secretive and not asking questions off of the right people. Ask questions off of people who are experienced and successful in what they do, you would never go to the butchers for a haircut. People will not share with you if you are clandestine. The best approach is to be open and honest – of course ask for NDAs to be signed in advance.

How will your market look in three years?

It is hard to say. There will certainly be a much bigger market for us as the regulatory requirements for booster seat use increases to a higher age.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

I was once told, honour your integrity. It is the one thing that no one can take away and it resonates throughout your team and your business.

Personal growth

Biggest luxury:

Time off with my kids and husband in the fresh air

Executive education or learn it on the job?

No official executive education. The Ernst & Young Alumni group annual retreat has been highly educational for me. I’m presently doing a Cambridge Leadership for Growth program.

What would make you a better leader?

Less operational and more strategic function on a daily basis. I am working on my personality traits at the minute that would potentially be deemed as inhibitors to growth such as paying more attention to the personal needs of my team.

Business book:

Mastering the Rockerfeller Habits by Verne Harnish.


(will not be published)