My startup story: belief, support, action!

rachel hanna new frontiers startup journey

“All roads lead to Damascus.” Someone very close to me once said these words when I was having one of my mental blocks, and it has come to be a bit of a mantra I tend to use on this roller-coaster entrepreneurial journey.

Believe and Do!

The belief part of this equation is at times difficult, and we can all have periods of doubt, questioning and “what the hell am I doing?” moments, but it is the inaction that stifles any startup and I am convinced that it is the latter part of this equation that separates the winners and losers in business.

We can all read and buy into a lot of the self help books and entrepreneurial success stories out there and belief is a huge part of making something happen, but action – follow through and a relentless, endless pursuit of the end goal – is imperative if you are to realise your ideas.

My own entrepreneurial journey probably started when I fled the nest at 17 and headed to Dublin City University to study for a Communications degree. This was actually my second choice, having fallen short of the points for English and Drama in Trinity.

I was not too disappointed, though, as the Communications degree was also right up my alley – covering TV, radio, broadcasting and a host of other interesting topics such as linguistics and social and cultural perspectives. I also managed to satisfy my theatrical bent through part time employment at Andrew’s Lane Theatre and claiming the role of President of the Drama Society.

Following college, I spent a summer performing with Shannon Heritage, completed a course with the Gaiety School of Acting, and started an MA in Drama in UCD at the tender age of 21. I continued to work in the theatre industry and around this time I secured an agent and had some minor successes with a number of TV commercials, plays and my ’15 minutes of fame’ in Damien O’Donnell’s Inside I’m Dancing (including an on-screen kiss with JAMES MCAVOY – a movie moment that I will be able to show the grand-kids some day!).

When life changes course

Trying to make it as an actress and failing to make the elusive breakthrough into the big time proved to be a great foundation for what was to come next, and furnished me with some very important tools to bounce back.

I learned that ‘no’ is not necessarily a definitive “NO!” and that the word “NEXT” is just a step closer to the next part – not an indication that it’s time for you to exit stage left (or right)!!

As the story unfolded, I did actually exit… or at least sidestep slightly. Trying to keep a roof over your head while living hand to mouth goes hand in hand with this type of career, and in order to keep going I fell into a number of so-called ‘stop gap’ promotional jobs. I found that working in events, public relations and publishing was more suited to my skill set and I also liked the novelty of suddenly having a slight jingle in my pocket for a change.

With hindsight, I now realise that there is a close similarity between being a starving artist and a budding entrepreneur!

The move into publishing

Having worked in events for a number of years, I started working for a publishing company in my late twenties and spent several years working across a variety of titles and with a number of publishers before setting up on my own in 2010. I spent a few years working on contract publications, but was eager to launch my own title and in 2012 I identified a niche in the market for a lifestyle publication for secondary schools.

Acting quickly, I gave birth to Bell TIME Magazine in 2013, sending an inaugural copy to every secondary school in Ireland to test the market from both a consumer and commercial perspective. We had great feedback from advertisers and schools alike and with that Bell Media Ltd was established in 2014.

And so the story begins

Getting used to rejection at an early stage in life has, I believe, proved to be a great life lesson for me as a budding entrepreneur – something which gives me the resilience needed to continue in difficult moments.

I was lucky to have had some good people around me who supported me in the delicate and difficult startup period. I had energy, passion and good marketing skills and a vision for where BellTime could go, but there were a host of other gifts I needed which were not in my own repertoire. Graphic design, customer care, distribution, sophisticated IT skills were some of the more obvious deficits that needed attention, but there was also the need for what might be called the ‘softer’ support systems such as encouragement, prudence, patience and wisdom.

This is where having a support network is imperative to survival. My family, my partner and a few close friends were my ‘go to’ people, who nourished and protected me in fraught moments when I thought I had taken on too much and that I was in over my head. They also kept me balanced and helped me take time out to avoid becoming totally absorbed by my work; this helped to recharge my batteries and to keep me sane when life had become all too hectic and work all too engrossing.

The next step in this process is to get busy living – I relate this to the now immortalised line in one of my favourite films, The Shawshank Redemption:

“Get busy living or get busy dying.”

My Phase 1: BELIEF

Being a one-woman band back in 2014 – and not having the first idea how to even play a musical instrument – I quickly tapped into a number of resources that were available to start ups.  Through the help of our Local Enterprise Office, The New Frontiers programme, InterTrade Ireland, Plato, The Regional Development Centre, and DKIT Dundalk, as well as support from Enterprise Ireland, we have been able to reach our third year in business and launch phase three of our business plan.

Making the right decisions in employing the right people is imperative if you are to realise your dreams. Having key staff members, a support network and people you can trust who will tell you what you don’t want to hear is crucial. Being surrounded by “Yes Men” is a sure key to failure.

My Phase 2: SUPPORT

Having valuable experience across a number of industry sectors relevant to your business startup are essential ingredients for the success of your company; if you excel in a certain aspect of the business, apply the majority of your efforts to this area.

Employ other people to do the jobs you can’t. People who are better and more talented than you! Life has a funny way of leading you down many meandering country lanes, allowing you to experience different career paths. You can get very competent passing through these routes and even feel like an accomplished driver before you finally reach the motorway and suddenly…

Oh my God!  you’re in the fast lane for the first time now and you have to overtake competitors, only you have never done this before or driven this fast!

This is where what you have learned thus far – your successes and failures to date, the preparation, blood, sweat and tears you have put in to your startup – kicks in. With a bit of tunnel vision and some, albeit, blind ambition, it’s time to accelerate.

My Phase 3: ACTION

We are about to climb a summit – hope to see some of you guys on the other side!

Some of my tips for startups

  • BELIEVE – DO
  • WRITE IT DOWN – WRITE IT DOWN – WRITE IT DOWN
  • GET IT DONE – GET IT DONE – GET IT DONE
  • GET UP – DRESS UP – SHOW UP

For those mental block moments, I use the following:

“The blank page is the place to begin. Open your mind and fill the page in.”

About the author


rachel hanna bell media new frontiersRachel Hanna

Rachel Hanna is a New Frontiers alumna and the founder of Bell Media. With a magazine, website, digital channels and events, the startup is on a mission to foster a culture of innovation in school communities and inspire young people internationally… [Read Rachel’s profile]

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