Fin Irwin


Enterprise success stories

Fin Irwin

What did you study at the University of Exeter?


What is your business all about?

It is a theatre and cocktail bar in Exeter

What is your business’s unique selling point (USP)? What is your main form of advertising? Who are your main competitors?

Our USP is that there is nothing and never has been anything like it in Exeter. We are the only small scale, professional theatre in the region. We have a unique business model whereby the theatre is supported by the bar and we are therefore not reliant on funding or subsidy. Our main form of advertising is through social media and word of mouth. We compete with the other theatres in town and regionally but we all offer very different things. The other cocktail bars in town are competitors also.

Where did your idea come from? What is the start-up story behind your business?

Our theatre company found the abandoned subterranean Chinese restaurant (Jan 2010) and were given permission to use it for three weeks to put on a play. We created a small theatre in the space and made a small success out of it. We were then offered the space for four months to test the concept. That summer we took on the lease, knocked through to an adjacent cellar and created a separate bar and auditorium. In October 2013 we won the UK’s Most Welcoming Theatre award.

What things helped you learn how to run a new business? Has there been anything or anyone in particular that has helped you along the way?

Trial and error. Bureaucracy and the need to do certain things by the book. Ambition, drive and a good spreadsheet.

What do you think has been your key to success so far?

Finding the niche. Knowing the market and most importantly knowing the city and its people. I wouldn't say I was brilliant at business but I am brilliant at Exeter.

Have you made any mistakes along the way? Is so, what have you learnt from these? And further, if you could go back in time, are there any things that you would change or would do differently?

Small mistakes, of course. But no - we’ve been sensible whilst taking risks and its paid off.

What can we look forward to in terms of your business? Have you got any future plans for it?

It’s growth is now with my business partner. I’m a 50% share holder and that’s it.

How about yourself? Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years?

Artistic director of my new theatre company. I’m not a business man, I’m a creative and I need to make work.

What advice do you have for University of Exeter students who are looking to start their own business?

Do your research, talk to local people - what do they want and how can you deliver it? Be nice to people, talk to the right people and get them on board, be humble, ask questions and make sure that you enjoy what you’re doing.