WHEN Levi Roots sang his way onto the set of Dragons’ Den in 2007 with “put some music in your food for me, I’ve got some Reggae Reggae Sauce, Reggae Reggae Sauce, It’s so good I named it twice”, I didn’t think he was an entrepreneur. Along with the other dragons, I tasted his spicy “jerk” sauce, and didn’t have a clue if it could sell. Sure, he’d been “marketing” it for 15 years at the Notting Hill carnival, but he’d never really sold any. Besides, to give the sauce a real test, you’d need 20 similar sauces in front of you, so you could do a blind tasting (like people do with wine).
Levi was fun though, and his serenading was a nice break from the tedium of long, drawn-out, boring presentations on the Den, only a tenth of which gets inflicted onto the viewer via the telly. However, his nonchalance when asked how he got such a cool name, with the response that it’s really “Keith Graham” was soon put to the test when I challenged him about his numbers. He thought the order he had was for 2.5m litres, but I spotted that he was out by a factor of 1,000 to one. Rather than making the business a no-brainer, the order was insignificant, and Levi, can’t you even count? So the usual reality TV moment arrived: okay, you’re a cool Rasta Jamaican with dreadlocks Levi, but now perspire, mumble, and shake for the cameras, and get off our set. But Levi didn’t do the normal thing. Instead, his response was: “Fair enough. Any other questions?” I was amazed.
Theo “there’s no business in this” and Deborah “not big enough scale for me” joined Duncan in going out. Peter stayed in with me, but had doubts too. “This is a hugely complex, difficult business to get into major supermarkets”. As I found out later, before filming, Levi’s string had broken on his guitar, so the BBC had wanted him to go on set without singing. Like his string, Levi too was broke, financially. But he had the nerve to hold out untill the Beeb found a new string and his song could be part of his presentation. Now he felt his “spirit hovered over [his] own body on the BBC floor” as we two remaining Dragons pondered.
Then it finally dawned on me: the sauce was not the product, Levi was the product. Invest.
The rest is jerk sauce history. Peter and I gave £50,000 for 40 per cent of Levi’s company (double the 20 per cent he first offered). With our help the sauce was Sainsbury’s fastest ever product launch and became one of the biggest sellers in the UK. Levi has become a celebrity and speaks at business conferences. He found his strengths and wasn’t embarrassed about his weaknesses. That’s what investors want to back.
Since the mid-1990s Richard Farleigh has operated as a business angel, backing more early-stage companies than anyone else in the United Kingdom.