'You can't match the PR that comes with Dragon's Den' - Scott Cupit, Swing Patrol

20 QUESTIONS: The founder of the swing dance class startup talks about performing at Buckingham Palace and why his pitch to Deborah Meaden almost failed.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 16 Dec 2014

1. IF YOU HAD DONE SOMETHING ELSE WHAT WOULD IT HAVE BEEN?

I think I would have run some sort of tourist company. Every day outside my door, I run into tourists who ask, ‘Can you give me a hand?’ Now I offer to help people. I always get a real buzz out of it. Mostly people appreciate it, otherwise they run away - they think they’d get mugged.

2. WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU NAME YOUR BUSINESS?

It has to have the word swing in it - other dances like the Lindy Hop are too obscure. So I would probably name it after a classic swing song - Pearly Shell Swing or Madam Dynamite Swing.

3. IF YOU COULD BE BASED IN ANOTHER CITY WHERE WOULD IT BE?

Berlin. It’s just so uber cool. It’s got a bigger swing culture even than east London. We’ve got Swing Patrol Berlin and every time I come back I’m like, ‘I’ve got to live here one day.’

4. WHEN YOU STARTED, HOW DID YOU RAISE MONEY?

When we started Swing Patrol five years ago, I put about £3,000 in and had to do it on the cheap. I did everything manually - spent all Saturdays printing cheap flyers and putting them in letterboxes.
My brother works in venture capital and could have easily given me £65,000, but I could have never got the PR that comes along with Dragon’s Den. No one’s heard of my brother; everyone’s heard of Deborah Meaden. You could never match that.

5. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST IMPORTANT DECISION SO FAR?

To take on a new staff member. It’s one thing to take on all this attention, but I left banking as a lifestyle decision. At the end of the day, I just love dancing.

6. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST MISTAKE?

I was really nervous on Dragon’s Den. I got backing, but the actual pitch was a disaster. The whole thing almost went belly up. I think about that a lot and I feel mad at myself that I didn’t pitch it correctly.

7. WHAT IDEA DO YOU WISH YOU HAD COME UP WITH?

If I could actually change the world, I’d come up with a way to have horrible weather at night and sunshine during day.

8. HOW DO YOU HANDLE STRESS?

I need downtime. It’s so easy to be immersed 24-7 with a business like mine – it’s very hands-on. You need absolute distraction, very immersive things like playing golf or squash. I also have a rule that I can’t talk work after 9pm.

9. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB?

I worked in a steel foundry that made coat hangers. I would carry the steel all summer - I got very strong. It was after good being sent to a private school; working really hard was a good experience.

10. WHAT WAS YOUR WORST JOB?

The hardest was corporate property management, where I got screamed at every day. I’d chair these big meetings and I was good at it, but because you had 10 people trying to make decision on a property it was really difficult. Just so full-on brutal. It equipped me well, though.

11. WHAT WAS YOUR BEST JOB?

Driving Swing Patrol. I’ve danced at Buckingham Palace and on Blue Peter. I’ve been to Fiji, Japan, Finland, New Zealand, all over the world, thanks to swing dancing. I get to run a whole community and I genuinely love the art form.

12. IF YOU WERE ON THE APPRENTICE WOULD YOUR TEAM BE NAMED?

Team Bounce. It’s a really positive word for me - I like the idea of a word that has a spring in its step, like a dance rhythm.

13. WHAT COMPANY WOULD YOU INVEST IN RIGHT NOW?

There was a teepee business that Deborah Meaden invested in [Just For Tiny People]. The whole concept and design was brilliant.

14. APART FROM PROPERTY, WHAT IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE THING YOU’VE BOUGHT?

Olympics tickets in 2012. I was amazed at how expensive it was, but it was a one off opportunity. I have bought cars of course, but £500 for one night – I was like, ‘Never again.’

15. SUIT OR JEANS?

Vintage suits – it’s just the nature of the fashion that I love.

16. FLEXIBLE WORKING OR OFFICE HOURS?

Absolutely flexible. Last night I was up until 4am. That’s the great thing about having your own business - you can control your time, pull all-nighter. It’s just how I roll -sometimes I need to work really hard; sometimes I can take time off.

17. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE THING ABOUT THE OFFICE?

We share it with 100 other small businesses in Dalston. We enjoy being part of a really creative environment, with really inspirational people around us.

18. WHAT APP CAN’T YOU LIVE WITHOUT?

Citymapper. When I moved here five years ago I was just constantly lost. Now I have no fear of getting anywhere. It’s the best app ever.

19. WHO IS YOUR BUSINESS IDOL?

Richard Branson, only because he was the guy that inspired me to move to London [from Australia]. He always talked about risks. My leadership is inspired by the film Invictus. If ever I’m tempted to lash out at somebody or be slightly less than the person I want to be, I just think of how he [Nelson Mandela] conducted himself. Everybody should watch it.

20. IF YOU WERE PRIME MINSTER FOR THE DAY, WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?

I’m from the Commonwealth and I’m a huge fan of Great Britain. Sometimes when I walk around London I don’t get a sense of what Britain is. It’s sad if it loses its identity. You don’t have to offend people, but I’d say, ‘This is what it means to be British.’ I’d instill some pride in the flag again. Plenty of good stuff comes from pride.

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