Reggae Reggae Sauce boss shares business secrets with students

19 Nov 2018

Dragons’ Den star Levi Roots told an audience of student entrepreneurs that the key to business success was ‘willingness to change and adapt’ – as well as having a good lawyer.

The BBC show winner who secured life-changing investment by pitching his Reggae Reggae Sauce, was speaking at the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week.

Levi, a judge on the University’s annual Grand Idea competition for students, revealed the key quality for an entrepreneur was ‘willingness to change and adapt’.

He said: “Young people I come across regularly can find it hard to adapt to change; to make a complete change. You have so many entities coming at you - the TV, the internet. In my day it was easier to make that change. You didn’t have stuff pulling at you saying ‘come on, stay here’.

“As an entrepreneur you need to be up at all times. The deal is out there somewhere. If you are not ready for every eventuality you are not the entrepreneur.”

He added that at the height of his fame he found himself involved in well-publicised litigation over his sauce – which he went on to win. It was at that point he saw the benefits of getting legal expertise on his team from the start.

“My first signing was a lawyer – get a lawyer involved and get a really good accountant involved. It may be expensive but at some time they will pay you back 100 times more.”

The audience of students - many taking business and management degrees at the RAU - also asked him to predict future trends in his industry. Street food would be the next big thing in dining, he felt.

“If you are a niche you will be able to survive – you are not just another fish in a massive market. Street food is a good market – people are thinking more healthily and not just spending time on cheap chicken. They want to be able to stand and eat; people are having fun going for street food and being able to stand with their friends.”

Asked about the hardest stage of his journey to the top he answered: “The most difficult part was the transformation from doing it in my kitchen.

“We made 65 to 67 bottles [of Reggae Reggae Sauce] with my kids in in Brixton. Per batch.”

So when Sainsbury’s asked him and mentor Peter Jones for 250,000 bottles he had to come up with a plan, and fast.

“Be careful what you pray for! What was I going to tell the kids when I got home? I had to flip the switch and think very quickly. The answer we came up with was licensing. AB World Foods - we just gave them a call.”

He explained how far he had come in his rise to international success with a range of sauces and foods and his own Caribbean Smokehouse restaurant.

“When I came to the UK I couldn’t spell my first name – I couldn’t count to 10,” he explained to the audience which included Dr David Bozward, Head of School of Business and Entrepreneurship at the RAU.

“It’s never easy – be the best ‘you’ that you can be. I was absolutely 100% confident that if I could sing that song [as part of his pitch in 2007] and be me for that minute, I felt I would have won the Dragons Den investment. Peter Jones invested in me, not the product.

“It’s never easy. As long as you are the best of you. You need to find someone that can bring out the Levi in you.”

Katy Duke, the RAU’s Head of Enterprise said: “We’re so proud of Levi’s involvement with our University, because he recognises our commitment to putting enterprise and innovation at the heart of our student experience.

“Even if students aren’t taking a dedicated business degree, we’ll encourage them to develop an entrepreneurial mindset and support them in setting up their own business through our Enterprise Programme. We’ve seen 50 successful projects so far, with guidance from people like Levi who have been there and done it.”

The RAU offers a range of business degrees at foundation, undergraduate and postgraduate level, including a BSc in International Business Management, where student satisfaction has outscored the national average for the past two years (National Student Survey 2018). The University also offers an MSc in Business Management and an MBA in International Food and Agribusiness.