I STARTED OFF fixing phones at the end of secondary school.
I broke the screen of my phone – and when I found out the cost to fix it, I thought there must be an alternative to this. But there wasn’t.
So I basically sourced the parts myself, went on YouTube and taught myself out how to fix it. Then when my friends’ phones broke, I fixed those as well and turned it into a handy way to make a few bob.
It’s like anything, the first few were tricky but once you get to know how to do it properly without damaging the phone, it becomes second nature to you.
This was all small-scale, I was just fixing phones for some mates. But then I set up a page called We Fix iPhones and people from the local area started to ask me to help them out.
I was getting five-star reviews and that led to more recommendations. Smartphones were getting more common, so the potential number of customers was growing quickly.
I had my number up on the page and my address on the Facebook page because I was just doing it out of my house. But my mum would get annoyed about that.
We had people calling to the house to drop off phones and collecting the ones that were fixed. She didn’t like that at all because these were all strangers, or I suppose customers.
But I didn’t want to give it up because of that, so I decided to bring it up to another level. That’s how the concept of iBroke came about. There was no grand plan, just a problem that needed fixing.
The early days
A shop on the Tuam road was my first outlet. That’s my main hub, and I’m in the process at the moment of opening the second shop in Galway City.
At the same time as the chance to properly launch iBroke came about though, the opportunity to run a pub landed in my lap. It was 2015 and a friend of mine approached me about this rundown old bar in one of his properties.
It was a pub just for locals and wasn’t doing too well. My friend bought the building and he was looking to get the management of it off his hands, so I said I’d give it a shot.
I talked him through some of my plans to give it a new lease of life and bring a bit of creativity to it, so he was happy for me to take it. My friend was running a furniture shop as well and was just too busy and didn’t have time for it.
It was tough enough balancing both the pub and the phone repair shop. I was fixing the phones by myself at the start to cut costs and went over to the pub in the evening.
Why did I take on the pub if my hands were full? Well, I’m the kind of person who can’t turn down working on something creative. If I get an idea in my head and I think I can get something out of it, I go after it.
With the pub, I just thought I could bring something new to it and make it a bit quirky, which would help bring in some new regulars. It was rundown, the walls were bare and the tiles were manky.
Other pubs might be able to afford to do a couple of hundred grand worth of work on a place, I couldn’t do that. So to spice it up a bit, I would go off to flea markets on a Sunday and find memorabilia and quirky stuff to put in the pub.
That could be something like turning calling cards into beer mats, stuff like that to just give the place a bit of a vibe.
I remember when I first took it over, I’d tell people I’m running Carroll’s pub and they would say, “Where is that?” I’d tell them it’s on Dominick Street and they would ask the same question again.
It’s three years now since I took it on and I really think we’ve given the place a new lease of life. We put in a beer garden with a double-decker bus out the back and it’s thriving now.
If you asked people now, “Where is Carroll’s?” the story is different. They might say, “Ah yeah, that’s the pub on Dominick Street with the double-decker bus out back”.
Carroll’s and iBroke are working out, but don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried other businesses and they’ve failed. That’s just the way it works sometimes.
One thing I used to run was a video booth business for weddings and the likes. I got the booth designed, but it was the wrong fit and it was hard to transport. It just didn’t take off.
I also had a big shop on eBay as well, but it didn’t go well. I was buying more stuff than I was selling and some of the products I bought weren’t great.
You might buy bits and pieces off suppliers in China to sell on, but they looked better quality than they really were.
Luckily enough, it was manageable for myself to work on both iBroke and Carroll’s at the same time – tiring but manageable.
Since the phone shop was closed on the weekend, I could focus on the pub when it was busiest on Saturday and Sunday. Then I was able to focus on the phone shop during the daytime, Monday to Friday, when the pub was closed.
It was all worth it and I’ve been able to put those long days behind me by hiring managers to look after the general bits of the businesses.
It was getting busier, so I just had to let go of the reins a bit and start delegating a little. Now the two boys in the phone shop are solid, and I can rely on them to look after it.
Good and bad days
A good day for me at the office is when I get a five-star review for either iBroke or Carroll’s on Facebook, Google or Tripadvisor. It shows the amount of work you put in and the quality mark people place on it all.
They’re strangers I haven’t met, so it’s nice to know someone took the effort to rate our business and tell others, “These guys know what they’re doing”.
I like overhearing conversations of people giving their opinions about my businesses. It happens the odd time I would hear people to recommend others to go to Carroll’s and it means a lot to me. It makes me think, “Jesus, I’ve done something cool here”.
Obviously there can be a hiccup here and there, but I work hard to make sure everyone leaves my pub or phone shop happy. And if there is a problem, I deal with it. You can’t pack it away and ignore problems like unhappy customers.
One day you might do your best to fix a phone and it doesn’t work out, people aren’t happy then.
In the bar as well, sometimes the long hours can drain you. Sometimes people ask for a late drink and favours – it can put a lot of pressure on you. But it comes with the territory of running a pub.
I’ve run a few businesses now, but I feel like I’m still always learning new things. Sometimes I can get ahead of myself – I used to think of a new idea and fire into it, but now I’d talk to staff and friends and tell them my ideas to get some feedback.
I didn’t look for advice in the past when maybe I should have. I was probably afraid to ask questions, where as now I’ve no fear wrecking someone’s head asking what they think. It’s probably what I’m famous for now.
As I say that, I’ve actually started another business now doing Airbnb management for people as well.
The opportunity came up last year. I have an Airbnb above my pub and I found a few people were asking me about how it all works. I found one or two people asking me do I have any cleaners who can help them out.
So I figured I could set up a business in Galway that sorts this problem out for them and launched AirMaintain.
I’m chipping away at that idea, but I’m also looking at how I can grow iBroke. And I suppose if the chance to run another pub came along, maybe it would be too hard to say no.
Darragh Mullin is the owner of iBroke, Carroll’s pub in Galway and AirMaintain. This piece was written in conversation with Killian Woods as part of a series on unlikely entrepreneurs.