How Shoot It Yourself secured and then turned down investment from Dragons’ Den

When Andrea McDowell decided to take her company onto Dragons's Den back in 2011 she was new to the entrepreneurial world, but managed to net an offer.

Shoot It Yourself was set up by two friends, Andrea McDowell and Rebecca Baldwin, as a way for both of them to have a career as well as raise a family.

A year after setting the business up, McDowell and Baldwin took their business onto the BBC’s Dragons’ Den looking for investment.

GrowthBusiness finds out how from McDowell how the experience went, and why she ultimately decided to turn down the offer they got and pursue growth independently.

How did you come up with the idea for the business, and what were the first steps?

I always knew that I wanted to work in television and was fortunate enough to spend ten years working on programmes that I loved. I’d travelled all over the world with my job (I spent two years filming a BBC3 series called The World’s Strictest Parents), but it wasn’t until I had my daughter Mollie in 2009 that I realised it wasn’t a career that I could sustain and be mum at the same time.

I didn’t want to be a full time working mum and have to rely on other people to bring up Mollie. I had filmed too many tear away teenagers to know how easily it could backfire! The business was set up because I wanted to always make sure that I could be home in time to have dinner ready for Mollie and to read her a bed-time story. I didn’t realise that running your own business would mean that once I’d put her to bed, I’d still have another 5 hours of work to get through – but it’s a relatively small sacrifice for being my own boss.

Another aspect was wanting to be able to contribute financially to the running of the house and to relieve the pressure on my husband to earn all of the money to support us. I have always been financially independent and couldn’t bear having to ‘ask’ if I could go shopping for clothes.

In order to set the company up, I used £10,000 of my savings to invest in a stand at the National Wedding Show – the largest exhibition in the wedding industry. I bought two video cameras and a second hand Mac computer with all of the software that I needed to edit and burn DVDs.

I invested in a good website and spent hours working on our branding, which I think is not only unique but very distinctive and instantly recognizable. With no background in marketing or PR, I relied on the things that would appeal to me as I figured that my target market would be just like me, but without the knowledge or experience to edit.

The 20 bookings and enquiries that we took at the National Wedding Show set us up to plough more money into marketing, initially through Google AdWords, and then through national monthly magazines.

We are fortunate in that we ask for 50 per cent of the balance in order to make a booking, and then the remaining 50 per cent three weeks before the wedding date. This means that we can plan our cashflow in advance, and for the first year we spent all of the profit on marketing and establishing ourselves in the market.

We worked from home until the point at which we needed to employ a full time editor, relying on freelance editors who were able to work from home on their own computers. This kept our overheads as low as possible and, whilst it was very time consuming managing the freelancers, we were able to cut our costs when it came to the winter which is naturally our quiet time of year.

How did you finance the company in the early days?

I used a £5,000 interest-free credit card to buy a Mac computer and a video camera in 2010, which has now been paid off. There are two shareholders, myself and Rebecca, and ever since we went from being a soul trader to being a limited company in 2011 we have paid ourselves a £15,000 salary which covers the cost of our childcare. Since starting the company we have also both had babies for which we have been able to claim SMP which has offset our NI contribution for the rest of the staff.

Why did you decide to go on Dragons’ Den?

We decided to go on Dragons Den as the business was moving faster than we could keep up with. We needed help with marketing and deciding how we should manage our growth and were excited about venturing into new markets such as corporate events and Asian weddings, and needed help making those steps.

How did you find the process?

Appearing on Dragons Den was one of the best decisions we ever made. We were confident that we had a good business idea and that our numbers added up (surprising how many people’s don’t). We were over the moon that Hilary Devey wanted to invest £60,000 in return for a 26 per cent share in the business, and we came out of the studio feeling as if we had won the lottery.

More on Dragons in the Den:

What do you think led Devey to make an investment?

Devey is a huge investor in people and whilst I think she could see that the business was never going to be a multi-million pound venture, she liked us and was looking forward to helping us grow and learn.

Why did you initially take it, was it on the terms you wanted?

We took the deal as it was only 6 per cent more equity than we were asking for. That never happens.

Watch the clip here, and see our reactions during the programme here.

How did the deal break down?

It was only once her accountants had done a bit more digging around in our cashflow and balance sheets that we were told she wanted 40 per cent of the business because she saw the huge potential it had to go for. We were also told that we’d need to grow the business from 250 weddings a year to 1500 within three years. We’re all up for growing and making a healthy profit, but we were rushed off our feet working most nights just trying to get 250 weddings produced, how would we cope with 1500?

How have you made sure the failed deal hasn’t held you back?

Appearing on Dragons Den brought our idea to a national audience and we’ve found appearing on the programme alone has been a huge boost for our business.

What advice would you give to anyone going on Dragons’ Den?

Know your numbers, be confident in your product and be passionate. No one is going to back you if you don’t have the energy to sell and love what you do.

What are the plans for the next year?

In the next 12 months we plan to grow the wedding market to include more high-end destination wedding venues. We are in discussions with Thompson holidays about offering our videos as an extra to the services that they offer through their wedding division and Hitched, the largest UK wedding directory, want to co-launch a Real Wedding online video channel featuring cut down versions of our wedding videos. We’re also predicting turnover of £200,000 for the next year.

Alan Dobie

Alan Dobie

Alan Dobie was assistant editor at Vitesse Media Plc before moving on to a content producer role at Reed Business Information. He has over 17 years of experience in the publishing industry and has held...

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Dragons' Den