Karyn O’Brien

CITY: brisbane

Business: Setting Up Shop

What?  We provide practical, personalised help for retailers building a new bricks & mortar store.


How did the idea for your business first come about?

So many small business owners struggle with fit out - managing designers, suppliers, contractors and landlords, and relying on friends and their own gut feel to deliver their new home. I show them a better way - more visibility and control, how to brief and manage their providers, and how to protect themselves.

When did you have a ‘f*ck-it moment’ and decide you were going to go all-in and start your business? 

When I saw that my employers were only interested in their own bottom line, not their clients' needs. I couldn't stand the hypocrisy and "good enough" approach any more. I had been toying with a website on the side, thinking that a resource for tenants would allow them to apply project management principles to their fitouts, passing on some tips and tricks from my experience and making it a bit less stressful for them. The possibility of working for myself instead of other people grew from there - it was a slow burn over a bout 12 months. But the move itself was quite sudden. After a couple of failed attempts to work out a compromise with my then employer, my husband said that I should just make the leap. So I did!

What were some major challenges you had when starting your business? And how did you overcome them?

I faced some challenging times after about 9 months, not right at the start when I launched the business, which I wasn’t expecting. Finding and convincing those people is tricky, and I struggled to get any engagement. It was difficult for me because I see so much frustration when people don't know how to plan for their fitout - there are lots of traps that are easy to fall into, even for someone who has done it before. I had a particularly bad experience with a client that left me feeling quite disheartened.

After a holiday in mid-2018, I decided to re-focus the business, and switched to working with landlords on their tenancy delivery - helping their tenants work through the design and fitout of their shops. Getting to that point was painful - I felt like I was turning my back on my original idea and had let myself down, that I had failed to achieve my goal. I've since learned that it's such a common occurrence there's a name for it - a pivot! That made me feel a bit better.

What has been your biggest “pinch me” moment?

Hearing other people, people I admire and look up to, say that this is a good idea. Sometimes I think I jumped in with my eyes shut, but the last year has been so affirming! I always thought I would need to have everything figured out before starting my own business, and in fact spent many years saying I would never do it as it was too difficult and I didn't want the responsibility.  I know now that flexibility and an ability to roll with both the punches and the opportunities are more important for a small business owner.  That and a focus on cashflow - gotta listen to your accountant sometimes!

Starting a business can be gruelling – what keeps you motivated, and keeps you going?

Providing help and seeing results, knowing that I've made a tangible difference for my clients. And now that I am an employer, I find that incredibly rewarding.

How do you create a work-life balance?

Not sure I do! I work more, and at stranger hours, than I ever used to. But it doesn't feel like work any more - it feels like a really fun hobby!

Website: www.settingupshop.com.au

Facebook: fb.me/settingupshopbrisbane

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/settingupshopbrisbane

Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/karynobrien