“You can’t care about people without caring about the planet:” Deborah Meaden reveals secrets to her success

·4-min read
Deborah Meaden at SME XPO (Annabel Moeller)
Deborah Meaden at SME XPO (Annabel Moeller)

“You can’t care about people without caring about the planet,” declared Dragons’ Den star investor Deborah Meaden, warning London’s entrepreneurs: “when the biodiversity tsunami hits and you haven’t addressed it, you’re in trouble. If you have, then you can have the leading edge.”

That was the message from the sustainability-focused entrepreneur at SME XPO,  the Evening Standard’s annual event for start-ups and scale-ups. Talking about building a planet-friendly business, Meaden said: “I wanted to end my business life knowing I’d done a good job.

“Think about environmental considerations: the customer has come to the same place, sustainability matters to consumers. Greenwashing doesn’t work anymore; you never get trust back.”

Meaden told a packed audience of executives and entrepreneurs at London’s ExCeL that entrepreneurs “have an amazing opportunity with a clean sheet to look at what your best is, and to deliver it in an honest way. Now is your moment! The customer is getting more concerned about the planet and [embracing sustainability] has the power to enrich our lives, enrich business, enrich people within the business- and send a fantastic message to customers, particularly if you get in early and tell your story. If you get it right, you will win against your competitors.”

The TV star and backer of sustainable businesses including children’s clothing rental thelittleloop, refillable deodorants Fussy and fast-drying towels Dock & Bay was one of 60 big names talking at SME XPO.

Krept, the rapper and entrepreneur behind bestselling skincare range Nala’s Baby, told a packed audience about the need to “pitch, pitch, pitch,” explaining how he and his co-founder, Sascha saw their first range of Nala’s Baby products sell out within hours of hitting Boots shelves. “It came about because we weren’t scared to go up to people and just pitch, pitch, pitch,” he said.

“We spent two months pitching to about 300 people [for investment and support] - we knew the business was a lot bigger than us - we couldn’t just post on socials and say, ‘support the brand’ - parents aren’t going to buy a baby product because I rap good on a beat.

“If anything [my music career] was a hindrance - the brand became successful because people liked the products and started saying, ‘oh, actually it’s good- he’s not just an influencer and a rapper just teaming up - it’s a genuine brand.’”

Krept was quizzed on how he juggled his various business interests alongside family life and his music career, responding that he has the opposite of the stereotypical music star’s lifestyle: “I’m up early: if you wake late, half your day has gone. I’m always available, I respond to everything as quick as I can, I’m really good at time management - I’m a businessman who raps, not a rapper who [dabbles in] business.”

Founders collectively worth hundreds of millions shared advice from their failures and successes. The Black Farmer founder Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones told his audience: “To hell with all this playing it safe - you’ve got to go for it. Everyone has the capacity to do the thing they want to do.”

He turned his back on a very successful career in marketing to set up successful meat brand The Black Farmer. “A lot of people meet a terrifying situation and stand still, or go backwards into the comfort zone of their miserable job. But that’s not the way to be.”

The entrepreneur shared that when he first opened his farm in Devon, “I was the only black guy on a farm and people called the police on me because they saw my polytunnel and thought I was growing ganja.

“That’s where my brand name came from - all my neighbours used to call me ‘the black farmer’. I thought, ‘that’s a pretty good name, with a good edge to it.’

“Now everybody’s woke, and uncomfortable about what language to use, but in marketing you need that slight nervousness, that sense of - ‘are you allowed to say that?’

“All the classic research came back saying ‘do not call it ‘the black farmer’, it’ll upset people. But research can’t tell you what people are thinking tomorrow. You’ve got to go with your strength and conviction.”