Rachel Lowe: Proving That She Who Dares, Wins!

Rachel Lowe is the creator of the Destination brand and has won many awards for enterprise and business, including the prestigious NatWest Everywoman Award and an MBE from Buckingham Palace.

Rachel's entrepreneurial journey began when she was working as a cab driver, putting herself through university as a mature student with two children. During a shift, Rachel had the idea for a taxi board game called Destination, with the unique selling point that it could be tailored to reflect any place in the world. 

Rachel took her Destination London board game to the investors on BBC 2’s Dragon’s Den, but went home empty handed after one of the harshest roastings the show has seen.

Rachel had the last laugh, however, when Destination London eventually went on to become the number one selling game at world-famous toy store Hamleys. Working independently, Rachel continued to develop the game, negotiating deals with The Walt Disney Corporation (Destination Animation) and Warner Bros (Harry Potter inspired Destination Hogwarts).  The Destination brand now comprises 21 editions. 

But the dream was not destined to last. As reported on BBC Panorama, Rachel wanted to launch Destination Hogwarts to coincide with the release of the Harry Potter movie. But delays in film production impacted on the launch of Rachel’s board game, debts were incurred, the banking crisis and the recession erupted, the bankers called in their overdrafts and Rachel couldn’t pay. These factors ultimately sparked the demise of her business.

The company went into administration in 2009 and Rachel lost everything. Her house was repossessed, she had to take her children of out of private education and she suffered a nervous breakdown.

A year later, Rachel tried to free herself from the void she had fallen into. She’d heard about angel investor, author of How To Make Millions Without A Degree and World’s First Twitter Dragon, Simon Dolan. Frustrated by the lack of investment opportunities coming through from the normal channels, Simon had launched a competition, giving away £5 million of his own capital to aspiring entrepreneurs who could wow him with a 140-character business pitch via Twitter.

Rachel seized the opportunity and reached out to him. Simon was immediately struck by her tenacity, incredible story and raw talent: how someone like her, despite all the odds, could successfully crack such a competitive gaming market. He made the visit to Rachel’s 2-bedroom council house and came across a logo for a brand that Rachel had been developing: She Who Dares. A gifting brand comprised of fragrances, cosmetics and jewellery designed to “celebrate women for their achievements and aspirations and for being all that they are”.

Simon loved the idea and decided to invest in Rachel. The pair have now spent 18 months together developing the brand and the story has come full circle.

Rachel has created a brand that symbolises the kind of woman she is: motivated, tireless and determined. The fragrance line, entitled ‘Eminence’, is the first component of the She Who Dares brand that is set to launch later this summer, part of a product range that includes body lotions, cosmetics and bath elixirs

Rachel says: “It has been an unbelievable journey with incredible highs and unthinkable lows. Business is personal to those who sacrifice everything and take the risk. Things don’t always work out as you expect them to and dealing with the setbacks is something you can never fully prepare for unless you have been through it.

Business is very much like life itself – unpredictable. Success is achieved in stages. No one can ever take away the successes you achieve on your journey. Just getting a product to market is an achievement, even if break-even is a couple of years away. The realisation that nothing is impossible is surreal. Once you open your mind to the possibilities, life will never be the same.”

We spoke to Rachel about her amazing entrepreneurial journey; the highs, lows and lessons learned along the way.

TNW: How did you come up with the idea for Destination, and then arrive at the decision to turn your idea into reality? 

RL: I came up with the idea for Destination when I worked as a cab driver whilst I was at university.  I imagined my cab as a playing piece on a board and the destinations I was traveling to being in the game and having to collect hazard cards when you land on traffic lights. The player with the most money at the end of the shift wins. 

I did nothing with the idea until and Enterprise Challenge at university, which I went on to win.  From the research I had to do for the competition I realized I had a viable business idea and went on to set up my own company and have prototypes made of the game.   I was in the first series of Dragons Den, but walked away empty handed and bruised from my experience.  I didn’t give up and secured a launch in Hamleys Toy Store.  Destination London went on to be their best selling product that Christmas.  

When Dragons Den was screened I could hold my head up high knowing that I’d had a successful Christmas.  The game was soon stocked by most of the national chain stores such as Debenhams and Toys R Us and it was a very exciting time.

TNW: What is your business model?

RL: We have regional, national and licensed editions of the games.  With 26 editons and counting, the regional games provide the bread and butter for the business, as the model for these works consistently.  Then the national and licensed lines give us the volume sales.  I enjoy working with licensed products such as our Harry Potter edition and out two Olympic Games editions, although the initial outlay on licensed editions is usually very high.

TNW: What is your top tip for balancing motherhood with a career?

Being a single mum and juggling a career is certainly a challenge in itself but I always put my girls first.  Nothing is more important than family. In the past, especially early on in my career, I definitely spent too much time on the business, and you cant get those years back when your children are growing up. 

I am very lucky to have a wonderful business partner who allows me to juggle my day in the way that I need to, so I always take my children to school every morning and I am always there to collect them at the gates to take them home. 

The only exception is when I have a trade show, which is usually twice a year.

TNW: Do you lie awake at night thinking about the company?  What aspects specifically keep you awake? 

Yes!  Usually if something isn’t quite right, I will dream about it, then wake up feeling anxious!  I know it is my gut feeling telling me to fix it, so I always do!  Currently the only thing keeping me awake is the new brand we are launching later this summer called SHE WHO DARES.  I have had a fragrance made with a bespoke bottle and cap, and the cap is stunning, but the material we originally used would break if the cap were dropped.  We had to try several different materials and do lots of testing to make sure the cap is nice and strong, which it is now and I am pleased with the high quality.  Once the colour match has been done, so that it is compatible with the new material, the new can go into the final stage of production.  I can’t wait to have the finished product! 

TNW: If you hadn’t chosen entrepreneurship, what alternative career path might you have pursued?

Well, I was at university studying Law with Business.  I originally wanted to be a barrister and get paid to argue!  I have found my law degree useful though, especially with Intellectual Property.

TNW: Is there a moment in the history of your company, which you remember as the highlight so far? 

Yes, I think going to Buckingham Palace with my children and my mum to receive an MBE for Services to Business was the proudest moment.   It is an experience to be on the other side of those gates!

TNW: Do you have any plans to expand internationally?

Yes we do.  The Destination brand already has editions such as Destination Paris and Destination New York and later this year we are releasing Destination South Africa.  The SHE WHO DARES brand has been trade marked in most parts of the globe, so this is also very exciting for us, we intend to take the brand global.  I think the concept for the SHE WHO DARES brand will do very well in the United States.

TNW: Do you envision an exit, how and when?

For now we are focusing on building both brands and working as hard as possible to build the brand profiles.  I love the idea of building a long-running business that gets passed down through generations and is still trading in 100 years!  But if we were made an offer on either brand for a buy-out, I think it would depend on the offer and whether we are ready to let it go.

TNW: Briefly describe your history of raising investment for your company.

Historically I have had a mixture of both bank funding and investment funding.  When the recession hit, having bank loans and creditors proved to be a very dark place to be. 

Now, with She Who Dares UK Ltd, my business partner Simon Dolan funds everything, and I would recommend this over any bank loans.  Better to have half of something than all of nothing.  Entrepreneurs can often be equity precious, not wanting to give away or sell shares in their company, but end up going under through lack of funding.  I love my job and I love having a business partner who not only provides the financial support that the company needs, but also is a wonderful person to work with and always helps me if I am stuck with an important decision.  He has a way of looking at things differently.

TNW: Do you think that attitudes towards women entrepreneurs are changing?

I think women entrepreneurs gain a lot of respect, as quite often they are entering industries, which previously would have been dominated by men.  I know that I have a huge amount of respect for women entrepreneurs, I know first hand all the juggling we have to do with family life and keeping everybody happy whilst running a business at the same time. 

TNW: How would you describe your leadership style?

I think in terms of being a leader this is very much something I am still growing with.  I started out in business quite young, so have always had people around me who know better, or think I should do things differently. 

Sometimes it takes a lot of courage for me to stick to my gut instinct and go with my own decisions. I am definitely stronger than I used to be. 

TNW: What is one lesson about leadership you have learned from you boss or a mentor?

Delegation!   This is the best thing ever when you learn to finally let go of things and trust other people with things that you can do, but also they can do them equally well.  It is hard as an entrepreneur to entrust your hard work to someone else, but once you do, your time is freed up to work on other aspects of your project.

Eminence by SHE WHO DARES will be available later this summer

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