A wicked rumour began to circulate last month, claiming that Dragons’ Den – best known for its multi-millionaire investors, nervous entrepreneurs, and Peter Jones’s socks – was to be cancelled. Fortunately, this story has been refuted by long-standing Dragon Deborah Meaden, who announced on Twitter that it was “fake news”.
I’ve always found it a fascinating programme. As followers of my blog will know, I’m not a fan of presenting or talking about myself (see Networking for the Petrified Introvert post), I can only imagine how dry my mouth would be, how badly that catch in my throat would tickle, and how shallow my breaths would become, if I had to stand in front of five giants of industry, and explain to them why I would be worth their time and money. It must be an incredibly character-building experience.
So I was delighted today to be in the presence of someone who has not only done that, but managed to get Theo “you want my children’s inheritance” Paphitis and Peter “HOW much have you valued your business at?!” Jones to battle it out over the investment. Her name is Jules White. She came to our April SJPoole Network event to tell us about using LinkedIn, and she began her talk with the story of her time in the Den – and I thought I would share it here on my blog, because it was very interesting.
In the early years of the new millennium, there were people running Party Plan businesses all over the place, for almost every conceivable product type. There was Partylite for lovers of candles, Cabouchon and Tocco for the costume jewellery fans, Pampered Chef for the cooks, Tupperware for you to put it all in when you’d cooked it, and of course Ann Summers for “dessert”. Jules had just had a baby, and she realised that there was nothing at all for that part of the market – so she started Truly Madly Baby.
She grew the business locally, recruiting friends as consultants, and they grew their networks, so that before long there were over 20 individuals running their own Truly Madly Baby parties, and selling the products. Jules was able to run the business, make her own sales, and be at home with her baby.
One morning at 7:30 she came across an invitation to apply for Dragons’ Den, which was entering its second series. She filled in the details, and by 9:30am she’d received a call from the BBC, asking her to be in London the following day for an audition piece to camera. She went to London, and in Broadcasting House she did a two-minute speech to a camera on a tripod in the corner of a room, and left; and a few weeks later, she was invited to take part in a show.
Careful preparations, rehearsals and business figures all in place, she stood in front of Duncan Bannatyne, Rachel Elnough, Doug Richard, Theo Paphitis (the newest dragon), and Peter Jones. After two and a half hours of presentation and interrogation, she was in the ideal position – watching two Dragons fight it out to win investment. She eventually accepted Peter Jones.
She said that in the taxi home, she felt like she’d won the lottery, and that anything and everything was possible – but it wasn’t to be. Filming was in May, and weeks went by with very little communication from his team, and none at all from Peter himself. This left her treading water with the business, not knowing whether to develop it or keep everything the same, until contracts were produced in September; but when the contracts finally arrived, their terms were heavily weighted towards the investor, and under strong legal advice, Jules turned it down.
However…the programme aired in October, and that’s when the real success began. The next morning after the show, Jules found 2.5k emails in her enquiry inbox. By the end of that year, she had grown from 24 to 60 consultants across the UK, and plans were forming to grow internationally. So perhaps it really is the taking part, and not just the winning, that can stretch you to new heights, and in timescales you’d never dreamed of.
Things have changed and evolved for Jules in the years since, and she has moved away from Truly Madly Baby; she’s brought that wealth of knowledge and experience to her business coaching and mentoring firm, Compassio. She gave us an excellent session on using LinkedIn this morning, and I highly recommend speaking to her if you feel, as I do sometimes, a little out of your depth in the world of self-employment and business ownership.
As Jules says on her website: “…life is a journey, and you never know exactly where your journey will go, how long it will take, and who you will meet along the way.” I am delighted to have met a real-life Dragon Slayer.