I’m glad I got rejected from Dragon’s Den

Business failures aren’t always what they seem, says Katherine Swift, whose failed pitch on BBC’s Dragons’ Den has led to future success.

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Early on in my business journey, as the founder of OMGTea, I was invited to apply for the BBC TV programme Dragons’ Den. It felt like a wonderful, albeit very scary, opportunity.

It was 2018. The global matcha market was already valued at £2 billion and it was expected to increase rapidly. I was hopeful that the Dragons would be excited to get on the trend early, and provide me with the angel investment I needed to grow the brand.

But what seems obvious to me now, and did all those years ago, was somehow lost on the millionaires in the room that day at BBC Studios. When it came to the end of the questioning, not one of the Dragons said yes. 

As I walked to the lift, I remember my knees were shaking. But I do believe that being rejected by the Dragons was an important step in OMGTea’s journey.

The Matc-aha moment

The business idea for OMG Tea came in 2009, following my mum’s breast cancer diagnosis. It came as a huge shock to the family. More than 14 years since that day, I can still remember the feeling of disbelief, quickly followed by fear, when she told me. 

When someone you love is diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, you feel powerless. My own way of coping was to take a job at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, and begin running their charity appeal. It was there that  the research director, Professor Michael Lisanti, introduced me to some fascinating research on the power of antioxidants.

I knew green tea was high in antioxidants, so I wanted Mum to drink the type with the most powerful percentage. As I discovered, this was matcha. 

After sourcing a high grade matcha directly from Japan, Mum and I started drinking it together every day. We felt great. Not only because of the physical benefits, but because we were taking some control back and doing something positive. 

I became so passionate about matcha that, in 2014, I founded OMGTea. A year later, I founded The Healthy Life Foundation, a charity that funds research into age related disease. 

I am committed to spreading the word about matcha and its many benefits. So much so, I signed up to – and was accepted to appear on – Dragon’s Den in 2018.

Entering the Den

The process of filming with the Dragons was exhausting. I went head-to-head with the panel to try to secure a £50,000 investment for 7% of my company. I fought my way through over an hour of challenges and thorny questions during the pitch meeting.

Deborah Meaden questioned me about the links between matcha’s health benefits and my personal experience, and I was delighted to expand on that in lots of detail. 

It was a tough process but also extremely valuable to be able to talk about our OMGTea products and a target market that felt like it was about to take off.

But as it turned out, matcha tea was still a relatively unknown product in the UK. Three of the five dragons weren’t aware of what it was. So it was a tall order to expect them to invest in a business that specialised in a product they were unfamiliar with. 

While I may not have walked away with the investment, I was still confident in OMGTea. Funnily enough, having survived the den, I felt I could do anything and was even more excited about the future.

Every lesson counts

If the Dragons didn’t know matcha then, they will now. Since that programme aired, OMGTea has really taken off. We sell online and in stores including Selfridges, Ocado, Harvey Nichols and Holland & Barrett and sales are expected to exceed £1m this financial year.

In 2022, our AAA+ Organic Matcha was awarded the highly coveted 3-Star Great Taste Award. Most recently, in late 2023, we gained investment from global Japanese tea company Aiya. It was the first time the company has invested in another brand in its 136 year history. 

We have worked extremely hard over the last ten years and feel honoured that Aiya sees not only how far we have come but also the potential for the brand in the future. 

Today, OMGTea sources the highest quality Japanese matcha green tea. It is packed with nutrients and provides ‘clean’ energy with no jitters. 

To all the entrepreneurs out there I’d say, welcome opportunities when they arise. Even if they don’t work out, you will learn from the experience and come out wiser on the other side.

Katherine Swift, founder of OMGTeas

Katherine Swift is the CEO and founder of Brighton-based OMGTea which sells online and in stores including Selfridges and Holland & Barrett.

Visit OMGTeas
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