You may remember Rachel Lowe as the founder of Destination, the board game that was the Christmas hit back in 2008. It outsold every other board game in Hamley's that year, even Monopoly. Yet, just a few short months later, Lowe's company was in administration, she lost her car, her home, and ended up having a nervous breakdown. Here's what went wrong, how she brought her company back from the brink and why failure can be the best business lesson an entrepreneur can learn.
MT: So, how does a cab driver become a games magnate then?
Rachel Lowe: I had my first child quite young and started driving a cab because I could choose my own hours. That job was a turning point in my life. If I hadn't driven a taxi, I would never have picked up a lecturer from Portsmouth university who persuaded me to enrol as a mature student. And I would never have had the original idea for Destination.
When I was in the cab, I would imagine I was a piece on a board game, travelling around the local landmarks. I thought, 'Wouldn't it be great if there was a game that represented every city, not just London?' Being a cabbie also taught me a lot about confidence. You have to talk to people when you are driving a cab. When I had my first meeting with Hamley's in London, I pretended that the buyer was a fare.
How did you turn the idea into reality?
While I was studying law at university, I took part in an enterprise challenge. You had to come up with a business concept, write the business plan, and research the market. Except I didn't stop there, I actually started up the business, and ran it between my lectures, juggling childcare and driving my cab in the evenings. I didn't have much cash, but I managed to secure sponsorship funding from one of the featured attractions, and it went from there.
And then you decided to pitch for some angel investment from a certain panel of Dragons..?
If I had known what the show would be like, I never would have had the guts to apply. I thought we'd sit down and have a chat about the business, see if they liked it, and then set up a futher meeting to discuss investment. I had no idea I would get completely slated. It was humiliating. I cried the whole way home. But I had already secured a deal with Hamley's, so at least by the time the show aired in January, I could hold my head up high.
Indeed, the game was hugely successful
It was. I spent six years growing the company. We made regional variations of the game, international editions, signed licensing agreements with Disney Pixar and Harry Potter to make Destination Animation and Destination Hogwarts. We had orders coming out of our ears. Journalists would always say that Dragons' Den launched my business. It didn't. The show had nothing to do with it; I did it all by myself.
What went wrong?
In November 2008, things started to unravel. Retailers had placed some really big orders based on the marketing around the new Harry Potter film, but then the movie's release date was suddenly moved to the following July. We had already invested a lot of money manufacturing the game and had a lot of creditors to pay. But, because the film wasn't coming out till after Christmas, the orders were shelved.
I tried to get a bridging loan from the bank but it refused and the company went into administration. It was a huge scandal - the bank should have helped us. The orders was just on hold, not cancelled. The whole thing was covered in a Panorama programme called Banks Behaving Badly. But the media coverage couldn't save the company. My house and car were repossessed, I lost everything I had spent six years building, and I had a nervous breakdown.
But Twitter was your salvation, is that right?
In a way, yes. Simon Dolan, the so-called 'Twitter Dragon' was asking for 140-character pitches. I got in touch with him and it turned out he'd heard of me and seen the Panorama show. He came with me to meet the administrators and was one of the bidders for the brand. It's taken two years to win back the rights, but it's ours again, and we've already got a new deal with Warner Brothers for the Hogwarts the Destinsation board game, and we're also making the official London 2012 game too.
And you weren't twiddling your thumbs during the past two years either?
When Simon came to my flat to have a look at all the paperwork for Destination, he saw some of my rough sketches for another brand idea, She Who Dares. He loved the concept: a fragrance and line of accessories celebrating women. We're bringing out the perfume, a handbag, a necklace, and a clutch bag this summer.
So you've not only bounced back from bankruptcy with your original business, you now have two?
I thought that bankruptcy would be the end of my entrepreneurial career. I believed that there would be a stigma attached to me, and that I could never recover. But I've since learned that some of the most successful people in the world have lost everything and come back from it.
Part of my head mess was thinking that no one would want to work with me, that my creditbility had been crushed but it wasn’t. When we got all the orders for the new editions of the Destination game, I realised there was noting wrong with the game or me as a business women. That gave me back my confidence, and now I have the courage to run not one, but two ventures.
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