Rachel Lowe is a mum to two children who took up cab driving to make ends meet while studying as a law student – a decision which led to her first entrepreneurial success as a board game developer.
Her board game, Destination London, was derided on Dragons' Den, (see the video below for a full description) but as with so many of the inventors who are turned away, it was Lowe who had the last laugh.
Since appearing on the show, Rachel has expanded her board game empire and has also launched a fragrance and gifting brand called She Who Dares.
What's your current role?
I am the Managing Director of Destination board games and She Who Dares UK. I am involved in everything from the development of new products to the design and marketing of them. Over the past 12 months, I have also been working to secure retail partnerships for Destination and SWD whilst juggling my commitments as a mother to my two beautiful daughters.
Describe a day in your life
Pretty ordinary! I get up after snoozing my alarm several times, shower, change, do breakfast for the girls and then I’m out of the door for the school run. Once I’ve dropped the girls off I head into work which will either be at my Lakeside offices in Portsmouth or a business meeting somewhere else in the UK.
I travel a lot with my job and my work days are usually quite intense. When I get home the girls like to tell me about their day, my youngest has dancing lessons 3 times a week so I drive her to her dance class and collect her when she is finished. I then cook dinner, put some washing on, clean the kitchen and then reward myself with a cup of tea.
We like to watch a bit of telly, Broadchurch is our favourite show at the minute. Once we’ve relaxed, I try to be in bed for around 10pm and read a book. Some evenings I will be required to attend an event but if not, I just love relaxing at home with my girls.
My day to day routine is much the same as every other working Mums I suspect. I do work really hard and find it hard to switch off but I try to be the best mum I can be. As long as my girls are happy and healthy that's the most important thing to me.
Do you have any rules re: work/life balance?
I try really hard to keep a balance. When I am at home I don't tend to check my emails in the evening, unless something is troubling me. I also try not to check them before I leave in the morning, as if I get caught up in stuff I end up being late! Balancing is definitely something I am still trying to get right but it’s not easy when you have so many commitments.
I am also trying to focus more on the personal goals I am working towards, as without these your life becomes all about the job. It is so easy to get consumed with work and lose sight of what your job should ultimately be and that is to provide for you and your family.
I enjoy security and stability in my home life, so I work hard to provide this for my children.
How did you start your entrepreneurial adventure?
My first entrepreneurial adventure was the Destination board games. Before creating the games I worked as a cab driver and met some fascinating characters. I had the idea for the board game when I was out on a shift one evening.
I had stopped at a red light and thought 'red light miss a turn' and that’s where the idea came from. I then made notes from my shift every time I went out in my cab, so everything within the game is drawn on my own experience as a cab driver.
I carried on driving at weekends whilst I was a student and right up until I had launched the game.
How did you secure funding for your first start up?
The funding to get started actually came from sponsorship. Attractions paid to have their venue listed as a Destination within the game. I had entered the game into an Enterprise Challenge at University and I won some money, which I used to set up my company.
When I had the idea to raise sponsorship, the first company I had a meeting with was Wightlink, the ferry that goes from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight, as I was developing the Destination Portsmouth edition alongside Destination London.
Wightlink sent me a letter saying they would sponsor £2,000 in exchange for being featured within the game and on the box. I took this to Aqua Cars, the cab firm I worked for and they gave me a letter sponsoring the game for £1,000. I then took those two letters to Portsmouth University and they sponsored another £1000.
I also sent three letters to Portsmouth football club, and carried on approaching local businesses until eventually I had raised about £12,000 in sponsorship. This was then was match funded by a local firm who give loans to small businesses.
Destination London eventually went on to become the number one selling game at world-famous toy store Hamleys, out-selling Monopoly and Twister.
I then negotiated deals with The Walt Disney Corporation for Destination Animation and Warner Bros for the Harry Potter-inspired Destination Hogwarts.
To capitalise on the Olympic fever pitch, I then created Destination London 2012 and Destination London 2012 Sports – editions of the board game that take players on an adventure around the venues of our great capital city.
Most recently, we launched Destination Downton Abbey and that has sold extremely well because of the programme's popularity on ITV.
Tell us about your new brand, She Who Dares UK
She Who Dares UK is a premium fragrance and accessories gift brand which aims to recognise inspirational women. There are so many amazing women out there striving to achieve success and not being acknowledged for it. I wanted to create a lifestyle brand that would give women the same sense of acknowledgement, worth and pride that I felt when I was given my MBE.
When we set up SWD, I really wanted a challenge to keep me focused, and something that I could really have a shot at. The fragrance market is one of the most competitive and so this was the perfect challenge.
It has taken two years from conception to final production and I am very proud of the finished product, brand and message that we are communicating. There are now two fragrances in the range called 'Eminence' and 'Dalliance'. We have also recently launched candles, body lotion, handbags and scarves.
So if there is someone in your life who you wish to acknowledge and recognise, then honour her with an SWD gift and show her that you noticed!
How have you found the past five years have treated your business?
Business is such a rollercoaster, there is never a dull moment. The recession was a tough time, but everything is on the up and all moving in the right direction.
In 2014, I negotiated a deal with John Lewis to stock the 10th anniversary edition of Destination which is absolutely amazing. John Lewis is one of my favourite stores and it's an honour to be working with them. I am also in really exciting discussions with another major retailer for She Who Dares. It's still too early to mention any names but all being well, my products will launch in store this summer. Watch this space...
As a woman in business, have you faced any obstacles relating to your gender?
I have been very lucky. I have not really had any negative experiences as a result of being a woman in business. If anything I think sometimes being a woman in business has its advantages as I have a very strong 'woman's intuition' and this has served me well. I trust my gut instinct.
How do you give back to the community?
I have done a lot of work over the years promoting Enterprise in Education doing talks at schools, colleges and Universities. It is something I am passionate about and enjoy doing. If I can inspire others and teach others based on my personal experience then I feel I am doing my bit for our community.
What advice do you have for other women starting their own business?
I think the most important thing for women starting out in business is to value yourself and your time. Believe in yourself. Be brave. Work hard. Never give up and remember that nothing is impossible.
What advice would you give to people who want to start their own business today? Where should they look for funding?
Investment funding is always good as you also get the added bonus of an experienced person to help with the business. Bank funding bears the burden of the monthly repayments and interest, but if this is right for your business, then you get to keep more of your equity.
What do you consider to be your greatest success?
This is always a hard one for me to define because as a mother, my greatest success is my children.
Career wise, my greatest success was picking myself up from rock bottom. I'd just been rejected for investment on Dragon's Den and was on the verge of losing everything; the business, my home, my dreams, everything.
I was struggling as a single mother and the stress of the situation caused me to become ill. I was a shadow of former self but somehow I found the strength to pick myself back up. That took more guts and courage than anything I have ever done, and now I know that whatever happens to me, I will always get back up again, so nothing can phase me nor intimidate me.
I feel stronger than ever before and I truly believe that 'Nothing is impossible', which is the message behind She Who Dares.
What was the biggest lesson you've learned?
Never give up! Challenges are sent to try us and life is full of surprises. You never know what’s around the corner but stay strong and keep fighting.