Dragons completely missed the mark with this Skincare business!

Last Thursday, I sat down with my daughters for our usual weekly fix of Dragon’s Den, (series 19, episode 12 if you’re reading this blog sometime later or fancy watching it on iPlayer!). We love watching the dragons and their knowledge of business!

About 27 minutes into the programme, we were introduced to a lady called Zara Saleem who was pitching for a £50,000 investment in exchange for a 15% share of her beauty business, Delhicious.

Zara gave a great pitch. She explained how, in 2018, she developed an intensely dry, painful and problematic skin condition when pregnant with her second baby. Wanting to find a natural, chemical-free solution, Zara turned to her South-Asian heritage. From the knowledge shared by her mother and grandmother, she developed a range of skincare products using Ayurvedic (a natural healing system from India) recipes, one of the main ingredients being black Assam tea. Her skin was transformed within a week.

Dragon's Den playing on a laptop screen on a desk

An amazing first year in business!

While on maternity leave and raising two children then under the age of two, Zara set about developing the recipe she was using into the Delhicious brand.

Within six months, Delhicious had been featured extensively in the press and Zara landed a deal with The Hut Group as well as producing 100,000 units of her body scrub to be featured in the Glossybox beauty subscription box. Several videos from Delhicious on TikTok went viral. She soon had a waiting list of 50,000 orders. This enabled Zara to expand the range to three body scrubs, all 100% natural, vegan and plastic-free.

Delhicious turned over £64,000 in its first year! This is an incredible achievement by anyone’s standards for a business run from the family kitchen.

Then COVID and the first lockdown struck

When the first COVID lockdown was announced, Zara was hand-making every product herself.

She found herself without childcare and caring for two young children under the age of four. Her turnover dropped to £25,000. However, as COVID restrictions relaxed, Zara worked hard to regain momentum. She ended up turning over £45,000 in the first five months of 2021 and being on track to end the year at £150,000.

And this was where Zara’s pitch hit a wall. How could her turnover have plummeted in 2020, at the height on COVID, when some beauty brands saw their online sales increase by 20-30% during the same time period? The Dragon’s couldn’t get beyond this question.

Steven Bartlett, in particular, said that “the unpredicted chaos of COVID perfectly represents the journey of an entrepreneur”. So he saw the fall in turnover between years one and two of the business as a red flag about Zara’s commitment or ability to pivot under pressure.

This is when my hackles really started to go up. Were the Dragons being serious?!

How could they compare the turnover of a mother making products in her kitchen at home while home schooling and entertaining a four-year-old child and caring for a toddler with that of established beauty brands?

The pandemic disproportionately affected women, especially working mums

Most people with children of that age rely heavily on their support network. Let alone if they’re working or running a business at the same time. I know I did when mine were that young! But the COVID lockdowns left many families without their usual options for childcare, practical and emotional support.

All things being equal, I’m not sure whether any of the Dragons would have been able to make and fulfil thousands of orders per week in their home kitchen without extensive financial backing or practical support while caring 24/7 for two young children. mean, who could?!

If I look back, I’m reminded of a few key stats:

The group points out that self-employed women were often a forgotten casualty of the COVID pandemic, especially in the following five key ways:

These are just a handful of stats and observations! They show how much pressure women all over the country were under during COVID. So many people had to close their businesses. So many had to leave their workplaces or wind back how much they could commit to. They were juggling their own health and wellbeing with that of their families (children or older relatives, for example).

Perhaps the Dragons should have been reminded of these facts and how their own experiences during the pandemic may not reflect the average experience.

Success in business without the Dragons

Zara with one of her employees discussing something and smiling at a computer screen at Delhicious, her business.

I think Zara Saleem bloody well deserves a round of applause for keeping her business up and running in 2020.  The fact that she was able to regroup and bounce back even stronger in 2021 is a testament to her resilience and the appeal of her products, which attract rave reviews and a strong social media following.

I had to look up the business after the programme and was delighted to read that Delhicious has gone from strength to strength without the Dragons’ backing. No doubt due to the obvious fire in Zara’s belly about her products.

I honestly believe that the Dragons were completely off the mark in this instance. In turn, that leads me to wonder how many other business leaders also missed the mark during the last two years. Something tells me it would have been a lot. 

How many women have been underestimated or overlooked – or, even worse, judged – due to the pressures they faced during the pandemic?

Encouraging women to put themselves higher up their list of priorities

Why did this particular episode strike such a nerve for me? After all, the Dragons often refuse to invest. I think it’s because the Dragons chose to focus on the wrong details. It could be a reminder, perhaps, that even seasoned business owners can get things wrong. They chose to see Zara’s business performance during COVID as a failure, whereas I think it was a triumph.

It’s an issue close to my heart. One of the reasons I wanted to write my book No Longer Last on the List was because I could see women everywhere being underestimated, judged, pulled in a million different directions and putting themselves last.

And that was before the pandemic! COVID just put a spotlight on things and turned up the pressure. This is what inspired me to take action and get writing. As a busy working mum with three businesses, I experienced the rigours of trying to keep everything afloat first-hand. Even with my businesses being established and my children older and more independent than Zara’s!

No Longer Last on the List was about sharing the activities and thoughts that helped me to keep going. It will continue to help me for the rest of my life. It’s a book about rising above other people’s expectations and building life on your own terms. A bit like Zara went on to do when she left the Dragons’ Den.

If you haven’t read No Longer Last on the List yet, now’s your chance! Buy your copy here.

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