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I’d never realised how cut-throat business could be
The founder of Destination games lost her business and her home, only to bounce back with She Who Dares perfumes.
I had the board game idea while working as a taxi driver in Portsmouth. My cab would be a piece on a board, trying to pick up fares. I never imagined I’d make anything of it, but it wouldn’t go away. A year later, there was an enterprise challenge at Portsmouth University, where I was doing a law degree. I didn’t know if a board game counted as a business idea, but the R54 000 prize money was a lot for a student so I entered and called it Destination London.
When I won the competition I went to local sponsors for funding. My first meeting was straight out of Bridget Jones. I was so nervous. The smartest thing I did was not to ask for a specific sum. They offered me about R36 000, when I’d have been satisfied with R3 600. I then found more sponsors, factories and illustrators. In 2004, I met the chief buyer for a popular store in London. He loved the game and gave me ground-floor space before Christmas.
Encouraged, I decided to appear on a new reality TV show called Dragons’ Den. They humiliated me to make good TV and I thought I was ruined. But by the time the show aired, I had proved them wrong: the first six weeks’ stock at the store ran out on the first day and by November, Destination London was its best-selling game.
The next few years were a whirlwind. With two daughters in tow, I finished my degree and adapted the game to different cities. In 2008, I made a deal to make Destination Hogwarts to coincide with the latest Harry Potter film; however it was postponed as I couldn’t cover my bills and the bank wouldn’t bail me out.
I’d never realised how cut-throat business could be. Before-hand, everyone loved me. Soon after, I was being threatened on my doorstep. In 2009, I called in the administrators. Our house was repossessed and I had to beg the bailiffs to drive my car round the corner to tow it so my neighbours wouldn’t see. I had a personal breakdown, spending days on the couch and barely eating.
That year, I was told I’d been awarded a Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) for services to business, a prestigious award in the United Kingdom. I spent hours on the phone with my dad, crying hysterically. Was this a joke? I didn’t even have a business anymore. He told me that the Queen doesn’t just dish them out at random and convinced me to accept it. I’m glad I did. It felt good being acknowledged for something I’d achieved.
There was some media coverage and that’s how investor Simon Dolan found me. I laid out all my games for him; but something else caught his eye: a badge saying She Who Dares – my business motto. He thought it would be great as a perfume brand, so I got to work developing one. I wanted to bottle how valued I felt receiving the MBE.
In 2010, we took Destination London out of administration. Four weeks later, we signed contracts for a London 2012 edition and a resurrected Destination Hogwarts. Our Downton Abbey edition was a big success last year and She Who Dares is now on the shelves. I had some dark times but what lifted me was that despite everything, people were still willing to work with me. I’m a lot less naive now, but that really restored my hope.
By Rachel Lowe