Theo Paphitis is one of the UK’s most recognisable serial entrepreneurs offering huge amounts of investment to help small businesses realise their potential. For seven years he appeared on the BBC business programme Dragons’ Den.
Making the majority of his fortune in the retail sector, Paphitis is the owner of stationery chain Ryman, the homewares specialist Robert Dyas and lingerie retailer Boux Avenue.
BLM spoke with Paphitis as he offered advice to budding entrepreneurs, explained the importance of PR and marketing for businesses and his thoughts on what it takes to be a success.
What inspired you to go into business in the first place?
It’s fair to say that I wasn’t a model pupil at school, and the teachers weren’t interested as they thought I was thick. I wasn’t. I was actually dyslexic and although it made school harder, it also gave me the tools to create alternative solutions. However, I did always have my eye on making money and working in business, particularly as I came from a background where we had very little.
Mum worked, and my brother and I were latchkey kids in the late 60s, early 70s. There was no extra money so I was always looking for the next opportunity. I have always been good with numbers and launching a school tuck shop when I was around 14, gave me a fantastic insight into supply and demand and the doors that earning your own money could open for you.
When I was 16 I started a job at Lloyds of London Brokerage, as a filing clerk. But as a dyslexic filer, my future clearly wasn’t paved in gold there, so I applied for a job at Watches of Switzerland, thanks to my girlfriend, the future Mrs P, who spotted the advert in the local paper. I realised very early on that there was something very special about retail.
I made the most of every opportunity. The thrill of business is in my bones and my inspiration at that point was to make money, have fun….but most importantly, to make money. Nowadays work doesn’t feel like work, as I live and breathe my businesses. Over the years the inspiration changes but my love of business, and retail, has remained a constant.
How important is the role marketing and PR plays to your business success over the years?
PR and marketing are important to any business success, because you want consumers to know about you and love what you’re doing. As the business landscape adapts, you use these tools to show how you’re adapting too, and the rise of digital technology has been a fantastic marketing tool for all my businesses. It is much easier for entrepreneurs to launch new ventures today than when I started out, as the likes of social media give you immediate routes to customers and markets. For example, we didn’t use a formal press release when we launched my lingerie business Boux Avenue, I used my twitter following to shout it from the rooftops.
What does it take to be a success?
I don’t say the harder I work, the luckier I get for no reason. Success doesn’t just appear you have to earn it and many entrepreneurs I know live and breathe their businesses, so it doesn’t really feel like work, it’s just what you do. The two pillars I can hand on heart say have been a constant in my career have been, passion for what I do, and common sense!
What has been behind the success of you in business?
There have been many factors, but I suspect I wouldn’t be where I was today without being dyslexic. When people ask whether I wish I didn’t have dyslexia, I think…I haven’t done that badly with it! Dyslexia has made me create a whole new world for myself in finding alternative solutions from the norm for processing and analysing information, particularly in business. I know I’m not alone here. Buckets full of hard work, passion and a competitive nature have all certainly helped too.
Any advice to entrepreneurs?
Yes, most importantly use your common sense. Too many entrepreneurs get ahead of themselves, and forget the basics of keeping it simple. Being entrepreneurial is about taking calculated risks, not stupid ones, and those that think before they leap are already in a better place than those that are kamikaze in their approach.
Theo Paphitis owns retailers Boux Avenue, Robert Dyas, Ryman and the London Graphic Centre. Follow him @theopaphitis on twitter.