My Career: Búla Box was born in lockdown

In our weekly My Career column in WOW! we chat to Maddie O'Connell who founded her business during the pandemic
My Career: Búla Box was born in lockdown

Maddie O’ ConnellFounder of Búla Box.

Name: Maddie O’ Connell

Age: 29

Lives: I am living in Inchydoney at the moment.

Job title: Founder of Búla Box.

Salary bracket: As I have just started out, my salary is not clear yet, but I’m going to reach for the stars, so let’s say I aim to make €45,000-60,000.

Education background: I studied primary school teaching in Mary I. I completed a diploma in Graphic Design in Dublin institute of design in 2017.

Hobbies: I love art, I have been doing an art class in Dublin for the past few years (Declan Boyle Art Studio — he’s great and he is continuing art classes online during Covid). Besides that, I love running, surfing and brunching with friends — can I call that a hobby?

Describe your job in five words: Uplifting, fun, creative, exciting, and at times hand-hurting.

Describe yourself in five words: Creative, thoughtful, a perfectionist (when it comes to certain things), compassionate and driven.

Personality needed for this kind of work? I am quite precise in the way I wrap the Búla Boxes, I think that’s important for presentation. Both Breff, my fiancé, and Deirdre, my mum, have offered to help packing and although that’s really nice of them, I fear for the folding of the tissue, they are more of ‘get the job done’ kind of people. 

I also wanted to create a business with excellent customer service so I am pretty much always at the other end of the phone. 

I’m happy to be able to provide that service and I think it’s something customers have appreciated so far.

How long are you doing this job? I launched the website last week — — but I have been working on the idea since January this year.

How did you get this job? I trained as a primary school teacher and have worked in Dublin and more recently New Zealand for the past six years. Art is always my favourite class to teach in school and I love making things for lessons. I did a course in graphic design in 2017 because I was interested in the idea of it but didn’t do much with it after that. Myself and Breff moved to New Zealand in November, 2019, and when the pandemic hit I was really missing home. Ireland seemed a lot further away with a pandemic in the mix! 

A colleague in school knew I was a bit home-sick and sent me a little box of treats in the post, I thought it was such a nice idea — totally unexpected but it brightened my mood right up. 

I went searching for something similar I could send to family and friends in Ireland to tell them I was thinking of them and couldn’t find anything thoughtful/affordable enough. Fast forward a few months, we were back home in West Cork, facing into a few months of lockdown and looking for a project and so Búla Box was born.

I was encouraged by my brother, Jack, who is an entrepreneur himself — he said ‘If you don’t try it, you’ll never know’ — so I went for it! Breff chose the name — a nod to bualadh bos. I thought that this was such a simple idea, it would be easy to set up, but I was seriously under-estimating how much work goes into getting any project like this up and running.

It took three and a half months really from idea to completion but I enjoyed every step of the process. 

Breff’s mum, Karen, recommended tapping into the Local Enterprise Office and honestly it has been invaluable. I did the start- your-own business course which basically takes you through writing your business plan and in turn how to set up a business.

I did a mock-up of what I wanted for the logo and a designer on ‘Design Crowd’ made it for me. I contacted high quality Irish chocolate, coffee and tea suppliers in search of small versions of their products to fit in my small but punchy Búla Boxes. I came up with four different types of boxes to start — The Choc Box, The Cuppa tea and Biscuits Box, the Coffee and Chocolate Box and The Vegan Box.

Then it was all about setting up a fast, user friendly website, which I am so proud to say I did myself. I designed it on shopify, which is perfect for someone who knows nothing about coding like myself. I have also been running the Instagram page myself. That was probably the scariest part, putting up the page, I left my phone at home and went for a run straight after but everybody has been so supportive.

Do you need particular qualifications or experience? I have learned so much since I started exploring the idea of starting my own business. The local enterprise office is such a great resource. They continue to be a great support. Besides that, it is so important to tap into the network you have around you. I am so lucky to have an amazing accountant for a sister-in-law, some great friends in marketing and a family of cheerleaders. I also had a few phone calls with people who have set up their own businesses and everyone is so generous with their time. I’m looking forward to giving that back. I’ve also been listening to lots of helpful podcasts — ‘The winging it Podcast’ for one — and when all else fails, Google absolutely everything!

Describe a day at work: I get up at about 7.30am and either myself or Breff will make breakfast. Then I hop online and check what orders we have. I print out the order forms and highlight the personalised elements on each form, then pick out the postcards and write the customers personal messages. I download the photos and print them on polaroid paper at this stage. Then I pick out pre-made boxes, wrap them and tie with thread. I pop them in an envelope with the order form.

Once all the orders are wrapped, I start to input the addresses (this will soon be automated!) I print off the addresses and stick them to the envelope. I give my delivery man, Tony, a call in the morning and he lets me know what time he’ll be around to collect the orders.

Then I have a bit of lunch, If the weather’s good, I’ll have a little swim or surf. Then I’m back at the desk trying to plan a bit of marketing. Before I stop working for the day, I restock the boxes and get ready for the next day.

Is your job stressful? How? Rate it on a scale of 1-10: At the beginning, I was anxious when calling suppliers and describing my idea to them. That has gotten far easier over time. Then I was very nervous pre-launch but the excitement far outweighs the nerves with all of it. In general, it’s not a stressful job. 

I spend my days facilitating gift giving between friends and family, which is lovely!

Do you work with others or on your own? Breff gives me loads of help, I’m very lucky to have him. As I mentioned, I’ve got a team of family and friends behind me (my mum and my aunt, Jacqui, have become my PR strategists and are digging out influencers’ addresses — I’m scared to know how they are finding them).

I also need to give another shout out to my sister-in-law Louise who has been working on my accounts from Dubai, she has been amazing. Hopefully I’ll be able to hire someone over the coming months to help with packing/ marketing.

When do you plan to retire or give up working? Not for a long time.

Best bits: Reading all the lovely messages people are writing to each other — it would bring a tear to your eye.

Worst bits: I haven’t managed to get my label printer up and running yet — which is resulting in an extra time-consuming job — but it should be fixed this week!!

Advice to those who want your job? If you have an idea that you are passionate about, I really think you just need to go for it, carry out your market research first but go for it — the local enterprise office is the best place to start.

Someone mentioned Henry Ford’s quote to me when I was starting out in January: ‘If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.’


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