How to deliver the perfect pitch to win in the Den
How he overcame bullying as a teenager to build a £20m business
Why schools have got it wrong by obsessing over academic results
“Breathe. You’ve got to remember to breathe,” says 22-year-old Jordan Daykin, when we ask for his advice on pitching. He’s well qualified in this area. In 2014, at the tender age of 18, he became the youngest contestant to secure investment on BBC2’s Dragons’ Den. He continues: “I walked out of the lift and saw the five Dragons and around 30 people working behind the cameras. I knew millions would be watching too, so it was pretty damn hard to breathe normally. But you’ve got to make the effort. Breathing steadily and slowing your speech down stops you from just rattling on. I was bricking it but everyone said I looked calm!”
Jordan’s pitch won over fiery Dragon Deborah Meaden, who, after some determined negotiation by him, took a 25% stake in his business GripIt Fixings for £80,000 (he rejected her initial request for 30%). Since then he’s continued to breathe calmly and deeply, and today GripIt Fixings is valued at £20m.
When someone appears on TV and enjoys astonishing success like Jordan has, it’s easy to assume it’s just a lucky break – five minutes of fame when all the stars align. But to see Jordan’s Dragons’ Den experience like that is entirely wrong. There was no luck involved. There never has been.
Before we look at his story, Jordan has a few more tips for perfect pitches. “Number one,” he says, “keep it simple. The more complex, the more chance you have of getting confused. Number two: don’t over-practice. Stay focused but don’t obsess and get worked up. At the end of day, what’s the worst that can happen? And number three: answer the questions clearly and directly. Don’t waffle. If you don’t know the answer, say so. Don’t try to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes – particularly battle-hardened entrepreneurs”
This is fantastic advice. And it’s advice he’s had to learn the hard way because Jordan, who comes from Trowbridge in Wiltshire, certainly didn’t get much help at school. He was forced to quit at the age of 13, after being bullied by a teacher. When Jordan decided to leave, the cruel individual who’d caused him such problems told him he was making the biggest mistake of his life. This final dig was not only incorrect, but it has also stuck with him, spurring him on.
At about the same time he left school, Jordan moved into his grandparents’ bungalow, where, for a time, he was home-schooled. It was a tumultuous time for the young teenager and he developed a close bond with his grandfather. But incredibly he still found the energy to set up a business – Tutor Magnet – a website that has grown into a nationwide tutoring agency. If Tutor Magnet was the only business Jordan had built, it would still have been an inspirationally positive response to a challenging time in his life. But it was just the beginning.
GripIt Fixings came about while converting his grandparents’ garage into his bedroom. Jordan and his granddad were trying to hang a curtain rail and a blind. After drilling holes in the plasterboard, Jordan inserted some fixings but they wouldn’t hold. “I remember thinking: we need a fixing with wings that lock in,” he says. “So we went to the garden shed, got some scrap plastic, mocked a new fixing up and tried it. The rail and blind held. Two weeks later, I wanted to hang a TV on the plasterboard wall – a bit heavier than a rail. I looked at the online DIY forums and everyone was saying: ‘I don’t know what to use – I can’t find anything.’ So I thought: if we can make a bigger fixing with larger wings to spread the load, it should work. So we went back to the shed, built a larger fixing and it held the TV. At that point I remember saying to Granddad: ‘We could be onto something. This could become a business.’”
If you’re wondering how a 13-year-old can be so entrepreneurially driven, Jordan thinks he has the answer. “Dad and Granddad have always been in business and I grew up seeing Dad’s little retail shop selling car accessories. That probably gave me the buzz. It made me think entrepreneurially. For example, at school during the swine flu epidemic I bought bottles of antibacterial gel in bulk and sold them for £1 each.”
In the months following their successful TV-hanging project, Jordan and his grandfather honed their design and ran some stringent tests. In one, they affixed a shelf to plasterboard, piled bricks on top and discovered their prototype was three times stronger than anything else on the market. Next step was to secure a patent. After receiving eye-watering quotes from professional firms, they ended up taking – rather fittingly – the DIY route. Over several months, they wrote their own patent and later found someone to tidy it up. Doing this saved thousands. Eventually – three years after coming up with their invention in the garden shed – a patent was granted.
Meanwhile, Jordan hunted down some suppliers. “It was a nightmare because people would write us off when they realised it was just me and Granddad,” he says. But he stuck at it and produced 400 sample bags, which he sent to major British retailers. “Four days later I took a call at Nan’s house,” says Jordan. “‘It was a buyer from Screwfix who said he’d received the sample pack and was interested. Could I come in for a meeting? I nearly fell off my chair! I was 16.”
Screwfix’s buyer, to his credit, didn’t blink when a teenager turned up to the meeting and, suitably impressed, put in an order for 19,000 units. “No problem,” said Jordan. But on the way home, his initial confidence at being able to deliver the order turned into: “Oh God. How am I going to do that?”
He took a deep breath, racked his brains and recruited some sixth-former mates who came to his grandparents’ house after school to assemble the fixings around the dining-room table. “I’d get Nan to drop my friends home, pack the fixings overnight, and send them out in the morning. Then I’d do the same the next day. We had a tight deadline and I was getting other orders from the sample packs I’d sent out too. It just exploded.”
From the age of 13, Jordan has shown an inspirational ability to overcome hurdles and to win against all odds. That’s why Dragons’ Den was no lucky break but the deserved result after years of determined hard work and resilient self-belief. And since Deborah’s £80,000 investment, Jordan has needed all his pluck to grow GripIt Fixings. “It hasn’t been easy,” he says. “After the Den, retailers demanded we manufacture our own products to mitigate the risk of our suppliers going bust. So we had to find £500,000 to set up a manufacturing plant. Just as we’d done that, I landed a deal with US DIY chain The Home Depot – but they wouldn’t sign until we proved we had the capacity to meet their third-year forecasts. That needed a further £2m investment. Growing and meeting new demand is a constant battle. In my new book [called ‘Gripped: My Story’] I’m totally honest and show just how tough it can be. People only see the success at the tip of the iceberg – they don’t realise all the work that goes on underneath.”
Despite the perpetual battle to keep one step ahead, Jordan’s feet remain firmly on the ground. He well remembers his struggles at school and wants to inspire other youngsters who find themselves in the same rocky boat that he was once in. “There’s far too much emphasis on academic results in schools,” he says. “Too many youngsters are told they’ll be a nobody if they don’t get the right grades. That’s rubbish. You can achieve anything if you put your mind to it. I now do lots of talks in schools to underachieving kids to try to show them that anything is possible with self-belief.” He has also launched the Jordan Daykin Enterprise Scheme – a business-ideas competition for under-16s, offering a prize of £30,000 and personal mentoring.
Whoever wins the competition will need a great business idea, a willingness to keep going in adversity and the ability to stay calm under pressure. If you’re 16 or under – or know someone who is – why not take a deep breath and enter? When it gets hairy, as entrepreneurial journeys inevitably do, remember to breathe calmly and deeply. Just like Jordan did.
Enter the Jordan Daykin Enterprise Scheme competition here
‘Gripped: My Story’ is available now from all good books stores