In Spring 2019 Zip Us In Founder, Kate Bell, filmed for the popular BBC program Dragons’ Den. It’s been kept under wraps for over a year, now it’s out in the open we wanted to share the experience with you all and get an insight from Kate about what the experience was like and what it meant to for Zip Us In.
1. What had you hoped to get out of the show?
On almost every occasion that I tell someone about the Zip Us In Jacket Expander Panel, the response is “You should go on Dragons’ Den”. When I received the call inviting me to audition for the show, it seemed to be great timing – I had begun working on my first raise, hoping to secure investment to accelerate the company’s growth. We were already selling out regularly and had received interest from stockists in a number of countries we were not yet able to supply. With investment I would be able to increase our stock level and scale the company even faster. Finding an investor for Zip Us In was not only about the injection of cash. Being a sole director has its own challenges. I was looking for a partner who could bring new insight and I had no doubt having a Dragon on board would do exactly that.
2. How was the experience of appearing on Dragons’ Den?
Intense to say the least, the Dragons’ certainly pack a punch. I had spent weeks before hand reviewing every detail of the company but stepping through the lift doors to face the fierce-some 5, I felt like my mind had just been wiped. The environment was very intimidating, but I believe you can only learn and grow by doing the things that push you out of your comfort zone and Dragons’ Den most certainly did that. The BBC team were fantastic and did all that they could to help ease my nerves. The drive back down South from Manchester was a long one. Luckily my husband had come along with me and did an amazing job at managing my Den debrief. I could think of a million things I forgot to say or questions I would have answered differently after the event, but my husband reminded me about the courage it had taken just stepping in to the arena and fighting for my brand.
3. Did you agree with the feedback the Dragons’ gave?
Zip Us In is a little like my third child and I am extremely passionate about the brand and the products. It’s always tough to hear negative feedback but it’s also a great opportunity for learning, especially when offered from such experienced entrepreneurs.
The Dragons’ pointed out that I had made a number of mistakes while growing the company and I agree that it was by no means perfect. That said, if I had the opportunity for a do-over, I wouldn’t change a thing. I started from my kitchen table and my business grew organically simply because my customers loved the product and my story. I have maintained the same direct contact with my customer base as I have scaled the company as their feedback is vital to the growth of the brand. I still have a long way to go and there’ll always be so much more to learn, but for now I am grateful for each one of my mistakes as they helped me to grow.
4. Did you secure investment?
I didn’t get an offer from the Dragons’ when filming for the show but was lucky enough to get an offer from a private investor the very next day. Since filming, the company has now completed four investment deals at a company valuation of £1m and the 4 individuals have brought a wealth of experience in retail and business strategy to the brand. I may not have secured financial investment in the Den, but I did take away a huge amount of value from the experience. Having such a short amount of time to present over 5 years of decisions was a huge challenge, add in the intense pressure of the Den environment and it really made me question my choices and the business structure. Having input from such knowledgeable individuals gave me an opportunity to reassess the brand, the product and my own direction as the Founder. I truly believe I have come out the other side with a clearer vision, improved personal strength and even more determination to grow my brand.
5. What has changed for Zip Us In since filming for Dragons’ Den in Spring 2019?
I’m sure any entrepreneur would agree that running a business is comparable to riding a roller coaster while attempting to learn algebra, and this last year has been the epitome of just that with a mass of up’s and downs. When I stepped into the Den, the company debt was at its highest and stock was on its way to us; like any product-based business, this is an unnerving place to be. The day after filming we secured our first of four investors which supported the company’s valuation and within weeks of the stock arriving, we began to sell out of our most popular items. At the start of 2019 I had a clear plan for growth which required a fairly large investment in stock, I was confident the demand for the product warranted an increased level of stock and so I took the risk of securing debt to ensure I had the finances to pay for the stock. My strategic planning and assessment of the market was correct and in the last year, we’ve seen a great uplift in sales and produced a good level of profit. Despite the feedback given in by the Dragon’s, the business plan and my awareness of the market proved itself correct and we made no major changes to the company. I am really pleased with the company’s position; customers continue to send such positive feedback, and our universal panels are providing a solution to new parents all around the world – showing that the risks we took were worth it.
6. What have you got planned for the future?
I have always had a clear picture of the future of Zip Us In and, for now, we seem to be on the right track. We are making great strides towards the products being offered all over the world and as a brand we continue to work towards the reduction of fabric waste. This year has seen the launch of our BUY IT BACK incentive. We are proud to be able to offer customers a cash incentive to return products to us when they are no longer required. The returned products are offered to sling libraries, charities or put through recycling.
We have again doubled our stock manufacturing for this year and I am excited to continue with this growth trajectory. I will be continuing with my first raise and am still looking to find our final investor to complete the team. We also have a number of brand-new products in testing which I can’t wait to bring to the market.