Kelly Hoppen talks Dragons' Den and ambition

JAMES CROOT
Last updated 05:00 04/07/2014
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HERE BE DRAGONS: The investors of Dragons' Den are looking for passion and innovative thinking.

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NEW DRAGON: Interior designer and new Dragons' Den judge Kelly Hoppen.

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Two new entrepreneurs join the judging panel when Dragons' Den season 11 makes its New Zealand debut tonight on Sky's BBC Knowledge channel. James Croot caught up with one of them - interior designer Kelly Hoppen.

When and how did you first discover your skills as an interior decorator? And as an entrepreneur?

I have always wanted to be a designer. My mother always tells me that as a child I was constantly shifting furniture around our home, displaying everything at its best. I am sure it drove her crazy! Then when I was 16 and a half, a friend of my father asked me to design his kitchen. That was my first assignment and how my business started and I haven’t looked back since – the passion to do what I do just grew stronger with time. I suppose I have always been determined and wanted to work hard.

What are the most important business lessons you learned in your youth?

Once when I was working with a life coach, one of the things he told me when I wanted to build the business was: 1) Your business never reaches the top, you can always take the next step. 2) If you step down from where you are standing, you can fall a lot further than you think. Also remember, success is not a day job, you have to work hard.

Who was your inspiration or mentor in business?

In terms of individuals who inspired me, there have been so many throughout my life and many for different reasons but a few that stand out include Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren and Nelson Mandela – people who have a voice and are not frightened of speaking and are true to their thoughts are always an inspiration. My mother is also a great inspiration, she is a successful businesswoman, even to this day.

How important was your education in assisting in your business career?

Education is key, however having a creative mind and the determination to succeed is also majorly important. An even balance of both is what you need. I struggled at school due to dyslexia, but it also helped to push me harder in order to succeed.

When did you first encounter Dragons’ Den? How were you approached about appearing on it and what persuaded you to become a part of it?

I was approached by the programme and asked if I was interested. I did a screen test and shortly afterwards they confirmed they wanted me on the show. I have always been a fan of the show from the beginning and it has been an amazing experience! I have loved learning and listening to so many different ideas.

Why do you think the show has been such a hit around the world?

Entrepreneurs from anywhere in the world are able to see others go on the show with interesting ideas and it helps them believe in themselves. It is therefore easy to relate to, no matter where you are. We are not there to pretend when something is not a good investment or, as often happens, the valuation is ridiculous and therefore you have no choice but to not invest.

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Which of the other Dragons have you found yourself most aligned to in your interests and attitudes to investing? And why?

I frequently find myself in line with Deborah Meaden and we often go after the same pitches. We both invest in the person who is pitching and not just the business. However I find myself aligned with each dragon in a different way throughout each series.

What's the biggest secret of the show you think audiences don't know about?

The viewer only sees about two minutes of the pitches, however each one goes on for hours and hours and there are so many questions that the audience never sees. 

What are the keys to a successful pitch?

I look for an entrepreneur who is passionate about their product and brand and can think outside of the box. I like someone who will take chances and be brave to succeed. A successful pitch has passion, empirical product knowledge, clarity, enthusiasm and a smile. I always say that I am not just investing in the product but also the person behind the creation. You have to believe in them just as much as the brand otherwise it is impossible to succeed.

What instantly turns you off an idea or the person pitching it?

A lack of research immediately puts me off a pitch as it is the first thing you must do, and it must be done thoroughly. Without broadening your knowledge on your product and brand you should not even consider putting pen to paper to write a business plan. Also, lack of passion in an entrepreneur is a real put off! You always need to be behind your product 100 per cent and be sure to have an answer to any question someone may throw at you, especially in the Den. Passion is key to success – if you don’t believe in your product how do you expect others to?

What's the best investment you've made through Dragons' Den?

My investments are doing really well. Skinny Tan, which features in episode one of this season, hit more than £200,000 (NZ$391,000) in sales in the first five weeks after Dragon’s Den, which was amazing! Revivaphone is also doing amazingly, we have had purchases from all over the world and are starting on new projects which is all very exciting at our end.

What are the keys to turning an idea into a successful business?

You need to put in a lot of hard work, be determined and not be afraid of taking the next step to achieve more.

New episodes of Dragons' Den air at 8.30pm on Fridays, BBC Knowledge.

- Stuff

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