Andrea Sexton spoke to the well-known entrepreneur and ‘Dragons Den’ investor Deborah Meaden about Britain, business and what horses mean to her….
Do you think having a ‘Made in Britain’ label on a product still gives it prestige?
Britain is known for certain products such as fashion and textiles. It has a long history in the textile industry. It is lovely to be able to put a Made in Britain label on a product that you are proud to have made.
Are you personally passionate about products made in Britain?
Yes – when they are quality products I think it’s important to support British manufacturing. For instance I am involved with cloth manufacturers Fox Brothers. Getting involved in Fox Brothers (themerchantfox.co.uk) was one of those moments of serendipity; everything felt right – as soon as I visited the factory and smelt the wool I was excited to be involved.
Do you think that the often higher cost of manufacturing in the UK can be outweighed by the additional benefits that being ‘made in Britain’ can bring?
Interestingly it is not always cheaper to manufacture abroad in current times – certainly manufacturing in China is becoming more expensive and there are now good options here in the UK. The most important thing is that the product is good and has quality. It’s no good just charging more because it has a Made in Britain label on it. It has to be a good product.
What do you think of the equestrian industry in Britain?
Britain has a lot of horses and passionate horse owners who are prepared to spend a lot on their horses. It is really important for anyone starting a business to be smart about the product they are selling – just because you like it does not mean other people will. You have to tell a very clear story so people understand why a product is the best.
What are the biggest difficulties a person starting out in business has to face & what was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?
It’s very personal. For most people its confidence – as an entrepreneur you need to be able to take risks and to take a leap. Often people who have invented something are reluctant to talk about it to anyone in case their idea gets stolen – you do have to talk to someone eventually. You have to take a look at yourself and understand what might be holding you back as a person, you need to understand yourself. When it comes to choosing partners make sure they complement you; that they can do the things that you cannot.
What would be your one most important piece of advice for a young person starting out in business?
Enthusiasm! Be enthusiastic but at the same time you need to look outwards and keep an eye on what is going on around your business. Often enthusiasm can lead to blindness. The great thing about programmes such as Dragons Den is that it encourages more young people to look to run their own business.
Which characteristics do you possess that you consider to have contributed to your business success?
I was born confident and am happy to take risks but the most important characteristic is my judgement. This is something I have learned through analysing experiences and learning from successes and failures.
Often people are recommended to get a business mentor – What qualities make a good mentor?
A mentor is someone that will help you grow as an individual and as a business person. It’s not someone that will take over making decisions for you but they will be a sounding board, someone to guide you as you make business choices. They should be someone who knows when it is time to leave you to get on with running your business and not become a permanent fixture.
How would someone go about finding a business angel or an investor? – What is your advice to someone wanting to grow their business?
First of all, decide what sort of investment you need – is it cash or is it a certain skill set as well. For cash investment, start with your bank and search for local investment groups. Often there are groups of investors that are interested in a particular sort of company or product. If you are looking for particular help or skills make a list of companies and individuals that you want to approach. Remember that investors are looking for good investments so it might not be as hard as you think. Just ask!
Is there a moment, conversation or meeting that changed your business life?
There are so many moments that have joined together – nothing really stands out but it’s important to remember that no one has it all. Just remember to always learn. Learning from what others do is really important. Look at what they have done and why. Don’t make heroes out of people, just pay attention to what they do.
Do you think that being a horse rider helps you in business?
Your brain needs something else to do sometimes than to think business. When you ride you have to concentrate on the horse. You cannot be distracted. It helps me clear my mind and if I have a difficult problem to solve it is always easier after a ride. Horses have also taught me about communication. You have to learn to listen to horses in different ways than people – you pay attention to body language for instance. Horses have taught me to be better at listening and paying attention.
Article originally published in Style Reins Autumn 2016 magazine…