I’m Helen Davies, a forty-plus entrepreneur and parent to two lovely girls aged ten and six.
I am also the owner and founder of EasyTots, a UK brand of baby weaning products. My role within the business is to accelerate its growth across e-Commerce platforms, retail, and international distribution channels, so that one day our products are recognised everywhere. My vision is for EasyTots products to be a parents’ ‘must-have’ item as their babies start solids stages and beyond.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
Over two decades ago, fresh out of university, I definitely had my sight set on a career in education. I loved the roles I had and was quite happy for the first 6 years of my working life in this career. However, by my mid-twenties I developed an idea that I wanted to start my own business, so I took a huge leap of faith and left my career behind to start my entrepreneurial journey.
I spent the next twelve years growing a national commercial window cleaning company, which over that time grew to a good size employing twenty people while holding some significant sizeable contracts. The turning point came when my second daughter, just a baby at the time, started to learn to feed and an idea came to me. Seeing the gap in the market, I set off to develop my very first product, the EasyMat: a portable, silicon plate that uses section points to prevent slippages or tantrum-trouble.
In March 2016, the product was ready and I launched the business on Amazon, which was a natural choice for its strong global distribution network. It was so well received that it quickly became the category best seller. We honestly would not be here today if it wasn’t for the opportunities Amazon provides for micro-businesses to get their products out there and reach such a wide audience.
With the positive reception from customers on Amazon, I knew the business had so much potential for success. I knew at this point that it needed my full attention, so I made the decision to sell my window cleaning company to focus completely developing new products and grow EasyTots as a brand.
I didn’t ‘plan’ to move from services to products, I made a choice that some would say was a risk, and after much hard work that risk paid off. I do tend to get immersed in the excitement and vision of working on something new, and six years on, we now have a range of over thirty products for babies and toddlers selling online with Amazon, directly through our own website and distributing globally to over fifteen countries so far.
You won our Rising Star Award in 2018 – what has happened since then?
Winning the rising star award in 2018 in the female entrepreneur’s category is one of my all-time proudest moments. I was extremely humbled to be part of something so amazing and surrounded by such talented women and be selected as one of the winners. That was a great year for us as we also won Merseyside Retailer of the Year, the first ever e-Commerce company to win the category.
At that time, my business was still running from home and I was a ‘one-woman’ band doing everything. Since then, we have expanded our operations, moved into a warehouse and I’ve taken on a wonderful small team as we continue on our growth mission. Our products have won multiple top awards and I have developed five new designs. Our biggest monumental moment was passing the audition and due diligence stage for BBC’S Dragons’ Den. My episode was aired on May 21st, where I gained investment from Dragon Sara Davies.
You recently appeared on the BBC’s Dragon’s Den – talk us through the process?
I got ‘The Call’ from a producer in January last year. Dragons’ Den had received my application and I had been provisionally shortlisted with the first interview taking place on the spot over the phone. It had been over six months since I filled in the forms at the end of the last series. I had forgotten all about it, but when opportunity knocks, you go for it! Luckily, they liked my phone interview and invited me to audition in the studios. It was getting real! I had one week to prepare a pitch for the producers – pretending they were the Dragons. They said it would be a good idea to bring a baby, so I scouted around friends. Luckily, Mandy agreed to come along with her son, Cameron.
A long period of due diligence followed. Everything I had written on my application had to be verified – from my finances and customer numbers to our intellectual property. It wasn’t until March 2020 that I got the final go-ahead. I was supposed to be pitching in May, but filming was stopped due to the Covid restrictions.
I practised my two-minute pitch over Zoom with friends and family. Nearer to the time, I set up a display in my living room as I imagined it would be in the Den and I would practise 20-30 times a day. I don’t like public speaking and I was petrified of losing my thread and going under. It was so important to me to nail it.
On film day, I arrived at the studios at midday, but it wasn’t until 7pm that I got to pitch to the Dragons. In the meantime, due to Covid, we all had to stay in separate dressing rooms – including the twins with their mummy and daddy.
I was in and out all day – doing little bits of filming and having my makeup touched up.
I walked into the Den, stood on my predefined spot and launched into my pitch whilst Lyndsey sat Ollie in his highchair near Peter Jones. It is as real as you see on TV. There’s no stopping and no second chances. Get through it, get through it, get through it… I kept telling myself.
Due to his existing business interests, I thought Touker Suleyman was the Dragon for me. If anything, he was rather brutal and the first to say: “I’m out”. Peter and Deborah were next to declare themselves out after Peter picked over my financials and profitability. That left Tej Lalvani and Sara Davies, who was super-smiley and my go-to person for eye contact.
Sara said: “Sell this to me,” which was the lifeline I needed. I told her: “You need to invest in me, and this is why.” Sara offered me an £80,000 investment in return for a 30% equity stake. I accepted her offer and afterwards, I was in a daze. Had all that really just happened? With no time to process anything, I had to go straight through to the post-pitch interview to capture my reaction.
Since filming, things are moving forward in a very positive direction! The legal and due diligence work is nearly complete and, with Sara’s support and leveraging Amazon’s global distribution network, we launched EasyTots in the United States. I feel so lucky that she is my Dragon.
For this series, Dragons’ Den has moved to BBC1 – broadcasting to a mainstream audience on Thursday evenings, which is amazing! With only three weeks’ notice to the programme airing, I booked a room at our local social club for friends and family to watch the show on the big screen.
What has it been like for your business to have Sara Davies on board? What do you hope to achieve with her help?
Sara has been incredibly supportive throughout this whole experience and messaged me personally the day after Dragons’ Den was broadcast. She’s definitely the best Dragon for me. She gets it and she’s a mum herself, and I couldn’t have asked for a better result.
Within a week, I got to meet Sara in person at the Crafter’s Companion – Sara’s HQ in the Northeast. We had time in her studio to do a filmed interview. This was a fantastic experience where Sara and I answered questions from our social media followers. Sara also demonstrated the strength of the EasyMat Mini Max™ with a pull-tester.
Having now met Sara with her extended team, I can see what a phenomenal leader in business she is, as well as being well-liked and down to earth. Sara is so easy to get along with. We are on exactly the same page and I am so excited to see where, together, we can take EasyTots in the longer term. Look out for new products that are in the pipeline, new colour ways and a gifting set – all part of a complete revamp ahead of Christmas 2021!
What surprised you the most about your experience of being on Dragons’ Den?
I was genuinely surprised by the number of people who went out of their way to contact us and say: ‘Well done’. It is really rewarding to have the support of total strangers and it truly demonstrates the impact of primetime TV shows like Dragons’ Den on brand visibility. We had so many direct messages of support on social media – and more emails and voicemails than I can count! Our brilliant team were straight on it – picking and packing the flood of orders that had come in overnight.
Amazon has been and will continue to be a crucial part of our omnichannel strategy as product discovery for new customers. Most of our first purchases come from Amazon and we are able to leverage the exposure to convert these customers moving forward and direct them to our website: www.easytots.com.
Thanks to the strong foundation we have, now compounded by the Dragon’s Den effect, we saw a huge uplift with a 900% increase in the total number of sales! Naturally, that’s levelled off now, but we are still 100% up compared with before the show aired.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
That’s a difficult question as I do think it can sometimes be an element of right time, right place. I think it is important to seize opportunities when they arise, ideas can truly turn in to reality. I also think its important to be resilient, growing a business takes it out of you sometimes and there have been times it felt easier to consider walking away rather than fighting. I’m glad I never lost sight of my vision and belief.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I believe in the importance of peer-to-peer mentoring. Especially as female entrepreneurs in the world of start-ups that is still very much dominated by men, we need to leverage the female-led business communities and support each other to reach success. I am a very active networker and love surrounding myself with like-minded inspirational people, both receiving help and advice from others and giving it back. For example, I’ve met many fellow female entrepreneurs through the Amazon community of sellers and small businesses, who have shared valuable experiences in the critical early stages of setting up my business. I also have a business coach who helps me stay focused, plan strategically and combat challenges.
What advice would you give anyone looking to start their own business?
If you have an idea, and you know there’s a market for it and you are sure that the demand for your service or product will be enough, then do everything you can to make it happen. The hardest thing is taking that leap of faith and leaving behind something that is secure and venturing into the unknown. I’d also advise to learn, being an entrepreneur is a mindset, a choice you make and it requires a continual commitment to self-improve.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
To learn about money. Understanding finance in my business earlier would have given me a stronger foothold to accelerate growth. I would say you need to understand profitability and basic cash flow to survive.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
My next challenge is scaling this business over the next 3 years to a point where I could sit back and take a more hands-off approach. It’s on the right trajectory and I’m looking forward to reaching that pinnacle both on a business and personal level.