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Butcher Turned Entrepreneur and Social Provocateur Share Secrets to Their Success

Posted by Barney Beal, Content Director

Put a couple of Irishmen on a couch and ask them a few questions about growing a business and you’re almost sure to get some interesting stories.

When one of them is Pat Phelan, a butcher, turned chef, turned serial entrepreneur who founded Trustev, and sold it to Transunion for $60 million and the other is Paul Stenson, of the White Moose Café, perhaps most famous for refusing to give an Instagram star a free stay in his hotel and sharing the interaction with the world, the results are funny, touching and informative.

Phelan and Stenson shared their insights in a broad-ranging conversation on Behind the Curtain, an interview series with a live audience sponsored by Oracle NetSuite. Here are some of the highlights.

Phelan’s advice for entrepreneurs

“Sell something,” he said. “The startups I see it’s burn, burn burn. All this money [goes into] marketing and very little in sales.”

Stenson’s Social Media Provocations

Stenson gained global notoriety for himself and the White Moose Café with #BloggerGate, when he posted a response to Elle Darby, a self-described social media influencer who had asked for a free stay over Valentine’s Day in exchange for the exposure she could provide. The Facebook post, in which Stenson asked how that exposure was going to pay his staff, went viral and became international news. Not yet done with Darby, he subsequently sent out an invoice for €5,289,000 for the exposure he had provided to her.

“Today, when you’re honest about one thing or another, people think of it as controversy,” Stenson said. “We use offense takers as the vehicle by which the White Moose Café has become a global brand.”

Stenson and Phelan’s Early Years

Stenson began his career in hotel management and the family business, but found his way to social media when, drunk and fed up with customer, he walked off the job, caught a bus to the Office of Radio and Television in hopes of landing a job.

“[I went into hotel management] rather than following my dream, which I should have done,” he said. “Snapchat and social media is now my dream following me. Two purposes to what I do on social media first to entertain and second to make a few bob for the family business.”

Phelan, who founded Trustev after stints as a butcher and chef, sold the company two years later for $60 million but wasn’t done. He went on to start a recruitment business to help staff restaurants in London with labor from abroad. When those laborers had difficulty contacting people at home, he founded an internet café. He went on to build a Twitter phone that would dictate messages onto Twitter in the early days of the platform and has recently opened a Botox clinic.

“Every time I change verticals, I challenge myself,” he said.

The two went on to describe their challenges with alcoholism, success and more.

Watch the complete interview with Stenson and Phelan here and see who wins the “Is that Meat in my Mouth” Challenge and the story behind it.


The next Behind the Curtain will tape at the WeWork office in Spitafields, 10 Primrose Street, London, EC2M 3AB on Sept. 18. Follow StartUp Van on Facebook for details.