'Dragon' Deborah Meaden's 8 top tips for new entrepeneurs

16th Sep 17 | Lifestyle

The Den's most generous dragon reveals how to build a successful business.


Have you been watching Dragons’ Den? It’s the 15th series – and already veteran dragon Deborah Meaden is feeling a little smug, having taken a 10% stake in quick-drying beach towel brand Dock & Bay in last Sunday’s episode.

Deborah invested £75,000 in the brand (a drop in the ocean compared to the total £3,366,000 she’s invested since joining in series three), despite initially looking unimpressed when flip-flop-clad Ben Muller and Andy Jefferies walked into the Den to pitch their “unique microfibre” towels.

Deborah Meaden with Dock & Bay founders Andy (left) and Ben (right) (Charlie Glover/PA)
Deborah with Dock & Bay founders Andy (left) and Ben (right) (Charlie Glover/PA)

While other dragons weren’t keen, Deborah saw potential. “You don’t have to come up with something new – you have to come up with something better, it has to have a reason to be,” explains the entrepreneur, 58.

Deborah started her first business aged only 19, and even though that one failed, she learnt some valuable lessons from the experience – and is now a full-time investor with a varied portfolio to her name.

Here, she shares her advice for anyone wanting to start a successful business and win over investors…

1. Be curious
“When you’re curious in life, you learn and you get a sense of what is missing. You think, ‘Oh it would be good if we could solve that problem’. You keep your mind stimulated.”

2. Know why your customers love you
“You should know not only what you and your business offer, but also why your customers love you. Businesses have personalities and having a customer is like having a friend. They trust you, and they’ve got to imagine that they know the business, they know what you think, they know what you’re offering and that they can trust you because of that. Know who you are, know why your customers love you and behave within those parameters.”

3. Know where your customers spend their time – online and offline
“Some businesses fit Instagram really well, but they don’t really respond to Twitter, so you’ve got to really understand where your customer is when they’re online in that virtual space, as well as knowing where they go physically, because you still want physical touchpoints with your customer.”

4. Be open to opportunity
“I see opportunity slap people around the face because either they don’t notice it, or they’re like, ‘Oh that’s a bit scary, I don’t want to do that’.”

5. Take risks
“You’ve got to be brave. I’m not a gambler. I do take risks though, and they’re calculated risks. And I speak to people – and they are smart, they’re really good at their jobs – but when they talk to me and say, ‘I’d love to have my own business’, I say, ‘No you wouldn’t, you would hate it’. In the early days, you wake up in the morning and know that if you don’t earn any money today, you don’t get anything. You’ve got to be in a position to take risks. If you’ve got a newborn baby, for example, or for whatever reason, it might just not be the right time for you.”

6. Build trust with your customer
“Particularly with so much distance buying now – you’re not even going into shops, so you’ve got to form a trustworthy relationship. We’ve all had friends who we really like and then they do something odd and we think, ‘Really?’ And that is what your customers will think about you. If your customers think that you are one way, and then you start behaving another, they will stop trusting you.”

7. Make increased connectivity work for you
“The whole world of business has changed – you don’t go and get a load of business cards printed and put yourself up in an office [any more]. You don’t have to do that! What you can do is look at an opportunity, and look at the best way to run it for you and for the business.”

8. Ensure your business plan constantly evolves
“You need to have a business plan. But the days of a great tome of a business plan are gone, because the world moves so fast. You have to have a core plan, and then you have got to be able to write it up really sharply on no more than a couple of pages. You have to say: A) this is what we are about; B) this is how we are going to do this; C) this is why this product is so important; and D) this is how we are going to achieve what we say we are going to achieve.

“It should be really short and sharp, and constantly changing. There needs to be a core personality to a business and a core function, but then you also need to be able to adapt because the world is coming at us so fast.”

The next episode of Dragons’ Den is on BBC Two on Sunday, September 24. Previous episodes are available to watch on iPlayer.

© Press Association 2017