Why I turned down £100,000 on Dragon’s Den for help in my taboo-busting business

Peony Li shocked viewers on Thursday night when she turned down the Dragons’ investment offer – BBC

There aren’t many people who turn the tables on the formidable moguls Dragon’s Nest. That’s why viewers were impressed when Peony Li said: “I’m out”, turning down a £100,000 investment in her company when she appeared on the BBC show on Thursday night. Even more amazing, it looks like her risky call paid off.

Li has since revealed that her company Jude – which raises awareness around the taboo subject of bladder health and provides products such as leak-proof trousers and a bladder management supplement – ​​manages an annual turnover of £5 million. These products are sold out in retail spaces including Boots and QVC.

Eight months after her admission Dragon’s Nest In this episode, the company’s growth quadrupled and marketing costs were halved. That must be a huge relief for Li – and a justification for turning down the money.

While £100,000 may seem like a lot, Peter Jones, Deborah Meaden and special guest Dragon Emma Grede (who co-founded shapewear company Skims with the Kardashians) all wanted a hefty 3 per cent of sales in return – three times Li’s pitch of just 1 per cent.

However, Li had already secured investments from others on better terms than the Dragons had proposed, so after they all rejected her counteroffer of 1.5 percent, she took a bold gamble to move forward without them.

“If they had accepted the offer or something like that, I would have taken it straight away,” she admits. “I definitely had a foundation. The company is not just my company. I also have investors who were there from day zero – I raised my first round of funding with no product, it was literally just an idea. So it was a difficult moment: I really wanted the Dragons to be part of the company and I could see the potential of this exciting offer, but I had to honor and respect the people who believed in me when no one else did.”

Li also says saying no was a blow to gender inequality. “There’s a bigger message here: women in boardrooms, especially when it comes to difficult negotiations faced by truly impressive business people, are easily seduced and persuaded to accept a lower offer. But I thought: what are my principles, what do I want to stand for as an entrepreneur? Is this a sustainable, long-term partnership, will it set me on the path to success?”

But how did Li build so much trust – and build this successful company?

The future entrepreneur was born in Hong Kong and went to boarding school. Her passion for healthcare was instilled by her parents, whose company sells incontinence pads and panty liners.

However, Li had no intention of following in their footsteps. Instead, she moved to Britain alone at the age of 15, barely speaking any English. That experience made her understand what it felt like to be “unseen and unheard,” she has said since. Now she takes pride in standing up for underserved communities.

Li also clearly has a phenomenal work ethic. She went on to study economics at the University of Cambridge, earning her master’s degree there, and then took a job at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

It didn’t quite suit her, but she was inspired by the start-up companies that pitched their plans. “I knew I wanted to be on the other side of these deals,” she explained.

In 2019, Li became head of operations at Daye, a company focused on gynecological health and menstrual care. There she was instrumental in, among other things, helping to market a pain-relieving tampon. She also distributed six million pieces of protective equipment to frontline workers during the pandemic.

Endearingly she tore on Dragon’s Nest as she reflected on how working in healthcare has reconnected her with her parents and her roots. “I was very surprised when I cried. I am a very logical person,” she says. “But when they asked me what drives me and talked about my parents, I got so emotional. I had a picture in my mind of my father and mother, both in their sixties, still running around, working, serving people with incontinence and contributing to women’s health. I now know how hard it is to run a business. When I was younger, I had no idea why they were so busy. They are Asian parents, they would never say they are proud of me! But I know deep down that they are. I will continue the work they do. Hopefully they won’t be too embarrassed when they see me cry!”

Li presents her brand, Jude, to the DragonsLi presents her brand, Jude, to the Dragons

Li presents her brand Jude to the Dragons – BBC

But her biggest success to date is undoubtedly Jude, which she founded in 2022. The company’s most notable product is its clinically proven supplements, made from all-natural ingredients such as pumpkin seeds and soy phytoestrogen, which, Jude claims, can boost people’s health. your pelvic floor in just 12 weeks.

Li got the idea for the company when she realized how little was being done to tackle a widespread but little-discussed health problem: 14 million people in Britain suffer from bladder control problems, including one in three women. It especially limits the lives of the elderly.

Li spent thousands of hours talking to patients and heard the word “embarrassed” all the time. “When I see a problem that needs to be solved, I need to start a conversation,” she said. “It is these people I want to support. I want to play a role in improving their quality of life.”

“When I see a problem that needs to be solved, I have to start a conversation,” she once said; indeed, Li herself had this problem when she was 14 years old. “I got a urinary tract infection that lasted ten years. All doctors thought I was too young for incontinence, but I had a feeling of shame and loss of control. If I put Jude next to Tena and Always, it makes sense. Women think it’s high time we have a solution for our health, and not just deal with it by putting a cushion on it.”

Despite all those noble intentions, the Den was a great equalizer. “There was some concern among the Dragons about how much we were spending on marketing,” Li added. “My response in the Den was that breaking a taboo and long-standing stigma isn’t cheap – it takes a lot of communication and branding. But deep down I know we have to make the company efficient and profitable, so I took over [on board] those valid, legitimate questions. I love the Dragons – I’ve gotten a lot of inspiration and invaluable feedback from them. Deborah Meaden is so honest, she tells it like it is, and I love Emma’s philosophy. It was a unique opportunity to pitch them my baby.

It’s clear that Jude is more of a mission than a business for her. However, many potential investors turned her down – some called her “wee lady” or “pad lady”, others said that taking care of her bladder was simply not “sexy” enough.

But in the end, her passionate pitch paid off. By April 2023, she had £5.2m of investment planned.

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