Deborah Meaden’s tips on how to be a successful entrepreneur


Multi-millionaire and Dragons' Den star Deborah Meaden

Multi-millionaire and Dragons’ Den star Deborah Meaden

The dream of a luxury retirement means something different to everyone. Many people long to claw back some time for themselves so they can travel the world; others want to simply potter about their garden.

Meanwhile, increasing numbers of retirees are finding they aren’t ready to give up work altogether and are instead launching into new ventures.

Whatever is the case for you, today’s edition of Money Mail’s brilliant How To Get Rich series is all about turning your retirement dreams into a reality.

Over a number of stories, we will bring you inspiration from a host of retirees who have turned their passions into healthy new income streams, and we will explain how to ensure your pension pot does not run out too early.

But first, multi-millionaire and Dragons’ Den star Deborah Meaden offers her advice on becoming a successful entrepreneur at any age.

Despite turning 60 this year, Deborah has no intention of putting her feet up any time soon. We caught up with her after a long day of filming for the 17th series of the popular BBC show, which airs this summer.

‘Retirement has never, ever crossed my mind,’ she says. ‘And I honestly can’t imagine when or why it would. If you’re doing the thing you love, why on earth would you want to stop doing it?’

F or Deborah, the concept of a retirement age is outdated. ‘Putting a marker in the sand to give up the thing we have been doing for ever is crazy,’ she says. ‘We feel better when we’re making our own decisions and are in control of our own lives.

‘I’m not going to be told that I shouldn’t be doing anything, or behaving in any particular way at any age of my life.’

Deborah’s own parents, Sonia and Brian, are still working in their 80s, with both holding senior roles in hotels and leisure companies after decades of experience in hospitality.

Deborah says that the social interaction and intellectual challenges of business life are a great way to stay mentally fit as you age

Deborah says that the social interaction and intellectual challenges of business life are a great way to stay mentally fit as you age

‘They’re phenomenal: they still have businesses and will carry on having businesses.’

Deborah adds that the social interaction and intellectual challenges of business life are a great way to stay mentally fit as you age.

‘It is not just gossiping over a garden fence, but thoughtful interaction, where people challenge you. That’s what keeps you mentally active, and that’s what keeps you on the ball.’

Working has never been a chore for Deborah, who left school after taking her O-levels and, following a brief stint at business college, set up her first venture at 19, importing Italian glass and ceramics and selling them on to the likes of Harvey Nichols.

DEBORAH’S TOP TIPS 

  • A great business idea does not have to be a new one. You can look for existing inventions or services you think you could do better.
  • Research your chosen market thoroughly, so you know who the other providers are, their strengths and weaknesses, and what they are failing to provide.
  • Whether you’re planning to make an appearance on Dragons’ Den or approach a bank for a loan, a jargon-free pitch with accurate facts and figures will help you get the investment you need.
  • Mix with a wide range of people. If you spend all your time surrounded by the same small circle of friends and family, your views may become insular and self-proving.
  • Timing is everything. You might come up with a great idea, but the mood isn’t quite right at the time. Don’t just do it when you think of it, do it when the market is going to be receptive.

But she started learning about business even earlier in life, when she used to help her mother, Sonia, by counting change in the amusement arcades and bingo halls of Essex holiday parks.

Sonia, who now has an MBE and is arguably a Dragon in her own right, was a single mother and couldn’t afford a childminder, so used to take Deborah to work with her and get her to help out.

Some years after, Sonia met Brian — who, while not Deborah’s biological father, is the man she calls ‘Dad’ — the pair went into business together and set up Weststar Holiday Parks in 1988. Deborah became increasingly involved in the business and helped it become a household name, eventually taking full ownership of the company.

After years of knocking back takeover bids, she sold the firm to Phoenix Equity Partners in 2005 — retaining a 23 pc stake and an active role in the company — in a deal worth £33 million.

A year later, Deborah joined Dragons’ Den and has since poured nearly £4 million into more than 30 different ventures, from swing-dancing schools to quick-drying beach towels.

Some of Deborah’s most successful investments have not been the most glamourous. GripIt, for example, a gadget that allows you to fix heavy objects to plasterboard, secured £80,000 of investment from Deborah for a 25 pc stake in 2014, and claims it’s set to turn over £3.2 million this year.

The company was set up by Jordan Daykin, who dreamed up the idea at the age of 13 after struggling to hang a curtain rail with his grandfather. Jordan became the youngest entrepreneur to secure backing from the Dragons in 2014, when he was 19.

Deborah splits her time between London and her home in Somerset, which she shares with her husband, Paul, and their two cats, three dogs, three pigs, three geese, four sheep and six horses.

‘They don’t care whether I’m on TV, they don’t care whether I’m a Dragon. They just want to be cared for and respected, and that is very grounding,’ says Deborah, who is passionate about wildlife conservation and supports charities including Tusk Trust, WWF and World Animal Protection.

Her investments in plucky entrepreneurs and the sale of her stake in Weststar in 2007 mean she is now estimated to be worth more than £40 million. But she doesn’t take her success for granted. 

‘I feel like the luckiest person alive. I spend my life doing the stuff I love,’ she says. ‘I’m surrounded by inventive people who are full of energy and life. But it must be terrible to go through life doing the wrong thing.

‘If you are going to be working longer, you really should be doing something that you enjoy — and you have earned that right. Starting your own business could be the thing that reignites your energy and enthusiasm.’

While ageism in the workplace is a worry for many, we might find our own attitudes and insecurities are holding us back, she warns.

‘You must never think you are too old or that you are past it. That never crosses my mind and it must not get in your way.

‘People who buy your product or use your service don’t care how tall or short you are, or what gender you are, or your age. It is irrelevant. That is not the basis on which your product is judged.’ 



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