What did you do before setting up your business?
Before setting up Parakeat I was a student, youth worker and general-help at numerous restaurants located in and around Newcastle. From September 2015-September 2016 I was studying an MSc at Newcastle University in Enterprise and Innovation, here I was learning about high innovation and enterprise from experts in their field, and at the end specialised my dissertation on why businesses in the region succeed or fail.
As a Youth Worker, I ran the NCS program with 16-18 year-olds increasing disadvantaged young people’s confidence through team work activities and helping them carry out projects around social change in disadvantaged local communities whether through fundraising events or events for local families.
While I was a student I worked at four local independent restaurants helping with everything from waitressing and cooking to organising events. While working for these restaurants I developed a passion for supporting independent and small chain restaurants as I watched the impact each customer had on the business.
What inspired you to set up your business?
Working for small restaurant companies inspired me to start Parakeat as I learnt how important restaurant publicity is. Hearing “oh I wish I knew this place was here sooner” infuriated me as they confessed to eating, and being disappointed by, national chains while this fantastic independent restaurant was just around the corner. Independent restaurants can often not afford to be on city high streets or the huge marketing budgets to tell everyone where they are located and, as a result, customers don’t know they exist.
That is where Parakeat wants to make a difference - we show them where the restaurants are located, what the pricing is, give them a general description and inform them of general good-to-know information like if they have Wi-Fi, if they sell alcohol, do they have vegan or gluten free options or are they child friendly.
What makes this business different?
Parakeat is different because our entire objective is to support and help independent and small chain restaurants!
We make small independent restaurants app integrated without them having to spend a huge budget on developing their own apps. Not only this but we encourage user-restaurant interaction through the QR code system and the social feed encouraging people to tweet and post on Instagram, increasing the restaurant, and Parakeat’s, publicity. After finding that 80% of independent restaurants struggle to manage their existence on social media, we support and encourage users to interact with this, taking the strain off the busy restaurant owners.
What inspired you to enter the If We Can You Can Challenge?
After speaking to entrepreneurs who entered last years If We Can You Can and found it to be incredibly valuable, I realised that it was a challenge I could not miss out on. Getting feedback of my business, and how I showcase it is so important to ensure future success. I would also love the opportunity to showcase Parakeat to business experts and other entrepreneurs at the Baltic, as the app does not launch until January getting feedback on the business prior to launch would allow us to tweak and adapt based on these responses.
Where do you see your business in three years’ time?
In three years’ time Parakeat hopes to have launched in most northern cities including Newcastle, Durham, Sunderland, Sheffield, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool and Bradford. Supporting the independent restaurant market in each of these cities with the ambition of expanding south. While this may be ambitious we are planning on launching in Newcastle, Durham and Sunderland, with growth to Sheffield and Leeds coming soon after and then expanding to Manchester, Liverpool and Bradford 12 months later.
What has been the most rewarding part of your journey so far?
The most rewarding part of developing Parakeat to this stage is seeing the excitement on restaurant owners faces when I first negotiate the app integration with them. To know that it is free of charge to them, and that we genuinely want to support their growth is often comforting and fascinating for them to hear. Seeing how they integrate Parakeat into their marketing strategy and seeing their excitement is hugely rewarding.
What has been your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge has been developing the business to this point on such a low budget. Being a recent graduate and starting the business on such a low budget has shaped every decision and meant I have had to do most steps myself, with guidance and support from as many business experts as i can talk too. Working with the local university and entrepreneurial spark has allowed me to get business, legal and technical advice for free and grow my business to this stage on an incredibly low budget. Though this has also meant I have had to do everything myself which has often been challenging and time consuming, though has allowed me to grow my knowledge and avoid potentially costly mistakes.
Who/what gave you support or advice?
Being a graduate of Newcastle University has allowed me to use the rise up service for invaluable, frequent, mentorship and advice. After graduating from the university I was accepted onto the Entrepreneurial Spark hatchery which has also allowed me to gain support and advice from fellow entrepreneurs, mentors, business enablers and partners KPMG, Pinsent Mason and EMC.
What advice would you give to someone looking to set up their own business?
Connect with as many small business owners as possible, getting advice from people in the same position, or a few steps ahead, of you is invaluable. Also, find as many mentors and experts as you can to get advice from. Especially if you have a limited budget