Businesswoman whose idea branded 'pathetic' on Dragons' Den now making £10 million a year

  • ITV Meridian's Megan Samrai met Tiny Box Company founder Rachel Watkyn at her warehouse in Uckfield, Sussex. Credit: Dragons' Den / BBC

A businesswoman from Sussex whose idea was called "pathetic" on Dragons' Den 15 years ago has gone on to become one of the most successful women from the show.

Eco-Entrepreneur Rachel Watkyn is turning over £10million a year from 'Tiny Box Company' which makes environmentally-friendly and recycled packaging.

On the BBC show, she was told by Duncan Bannatyne that Rachel had produced a box which his "8-year-old daughter Emily could make better at school" and called the idea pathetic.

But Rachel is having the last laugh now, as she was awarded an OBE this year for her work in sustainability, ethical business growth and exports.

Speaking with ITV Meridian about her experience on Dragons' Den, she said: "They were brutal, they were absolutely brutal. On the show, I didn’t have any confidence. Off camera, I just knew that 'Etsy' was becoming more and more popular and 'Not on the High Street.'

"There was a movement of a lot of start up companies and I knew that they would all need packing like I did."

Rachel Watkyn says she was told that environmentally friendly packaging would never be mainstream. Credit: Dragons' Den / BBC

Although not all of the Dragons were on board with Rachel’s idea, a £60,000 investment from Theo Paphitis and Peter Jones meant that Tiny Box Company was able to grow into what it is today.

The company now makes over 1,500 products for nearly 200,000 customers. 

But Rachel's path has been fraught with challenges, which she says has been a "lesson in resilience."

She said: "It has been the toughest journey of my life. I’ve had cancer three times in the last five years.

"On the scale of unluckiness we’ve had a few incidents. My first warehouse caught fire, it burnt down, we lost quite a lot of stock. We’ve had two severe floods, we’ve had a hacking of our website, our bank accounts hacked into. Quite a few business disasters.

"I think what made me resilient as a person is you have two choices. When you get hit with issue after issue, you can either back away and hide in a corner - or you can say ‘okay that’s happened, how can I make the best out of this situation?’"

15 years after her Dragons' Den experience, Rachel says it's "hilarious" that not everyone understands the concept of her business.

"It’s really funny when people come into the warehouse and don’t know why they’re here, or are coming for something else, they’ll say 'what do you sell then?' And we’ll say ‘boxes’.

She says she's then asked 'what sort of boxes' and replies 'empty boxes' but that people "just don't get it at all."

"One of the dragons said that eco-friendly packaging would never be mainstream.

"But everything people buy comes in a bag or a box or some kind of packaging, and if we can help business switch from plastic or less environmentally friendly solutions to more environmentally friendly, then the job’s done.

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"I think that more and more people are trying to be more sustainable and are taking it more seriously."

Adam Herriott, Senior Specialist for charity Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) said there's always more that businesses can do to be sustainable.

He said: "There’s been some fantastic work happening over the last five years. I think it’s certainly on its way to being mainstream."

"There are things like if your product is recyclable, if you can recycle it at home or if you have to go out somewhere else and recycle it.

"Reusable or refillable is becoming more and more popular now, as well, and that’s where more things need to happen.

"It needs to happen at a greater pace so reuse and refill in supermarkets, or more options for people to be able to access those sorts of services." 

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