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The all-singing, all cooking, Dragons’ Den winner on the rise of Reggae Sauce, growing up poor in Brixton and the secrets to his success.
Have you been surprised at the success of your Reggae Sauce since you appeared on Dragons’ Den?
I believed it would be big, I really did believe that, but not in the space of time which it has. We were outselling Heinz Tomato Ketchup within its first three weeks of being on the shelf. In just a week we set up the whole business, got it into Sainsbury's and sold 250,000. There hasn’t been anything like that ever in food manufacturing – it is the fastest selling product in Sainsbury’s history!
You haven’t always been so successful though...What were the worst jobs you ever did and what made them so bad? Were there any benefits?
That was when I was delivery driving for Parcel Force. It was bad because I had to wake up at 5.00am every morning and the pay was shit. The benefit was I managed to write some good songs and melodies for my album Redhot (released in 2009) whilst on the road with my head phones listening to my backing tracks.
What were your digs like back then? Any interesting flatmates we should know about?
I always had a single man/babes magnet-type flat although once, four of us friends lived together in a squat in Brixton. We partied every night!
What was your favourite budget meal? Do you still enjoy it?
Corn beef and boiled white rice. Now I hate the stuff!
Any interesting money saving/making tips you picked up back then?
I used to buy packs of biscuits then sell them one by one to my flatmates at nights when we are all broke and hungry. I made a fortune but should have thought of baking the biscuits myself. I missed out there!
When were you most skint?
I was a rollercoaster of good and bad growing up in the 70s being a black man in Brixton. In the early days it wasn`t really good because I grew up in the days of the SUS law [Search Under Suspicion] when you didn’t really have to do anything but be black and you got in trouble - especially if you were young and wanted to have fun. If you were young and quiet then it was ok, but if you wanted to have fun, a lifestyle and an identity then you had a lot of problems.
What was your lowest point?
When I was younger I was a bit wayward. I found myself foul of the law and ended up in prison. When I was in there I met a fantastic lady called Theresa, she taught me the right books to read and I think it was meeting her that actually turned my life around.
What was the worst thing about being skint? Were there any upsides?
Whether I had money or not, we still found time to laugh and have fun.
Did you ever do something that you regret like borrow money with intending to pay it back or drink lighter fluid Withnail style just to keep warm?
Me do all that? Never, I’m a clean living Rastaman... Not!
How did you manage to keep your dreams alive?
I had a plan and stayed focused throughout. Some people think that the Dragons' Den people do the main running of my business, and that I'm not a hard worker because of my past mistakes. But once people get to know me they see I'm an ordinary guy who does work hard, and it just happens that my business is going from strength to strength. I'm a turn-around.
What was the defining moment that turned your fortunes around?
My appearance on BBC’s Dragons' Den programme and winning investment from two of the Dragons, in particular Peter Jones. For me, I never knew Dragons' Den before. I’m probably the only person that’s gone on there that’s never seen the show. I don’t think anyone else would dare enough to do that. For me, I just thought I was going to a gig and that’s all it was. I’m going to do a performance to some guys who say they have a lot of money and they can change my life. I didn’t see them as 5 guys, I saw them as 5,000 guys as I normally perform at festivals!
How important is cash to your business?
Cash is the second most important thing after the team or the people that helps me to run my business.
What's your latest project and what plans do you have for the future?
We have recently launched a soft drinks range and looking to start to expand our brand this year 2011 to the West Indies, Canada and USA.
What one piece of advice can you give young people with ambitions of being successful?
I think being yourself is one of the best pieces of advice I could say to anybody who has got some plans, just be you. At the end of the day, it’s easy being you. Only you can play you the best way. You don’t want to go and pretend then get caught out later on, so it’s best to be yourself. Also, get a good mentor/adviser to help with your business planning like I did with Peter Jones.
YOU CAN GET IT IF YOU REALLY WANT By Levi Roots, Published by Mitchell Beazley
Levi's recipe app for iphone called Sunshine Food retails at £3.99 and is available from the iTunes App Store. For further information, visit www.leviapp.com.
Monday, 18th April 2011