Rachel Elnaugh: Red Letter Days, Rachel Elnaugh Ltd, and Dragons’ Den
The Red Letter Days founder and former Dragon on business failures, and finding her feet again
Back in 2005, the press gleefully reported Rachel Elnaugh’s gift experience firm Red Letter Days had gone bust. At the time, Rachel occupied a chair on Dragons’ Den and the headlines proved too hard for the papers to resist. ‘Entrepreneurial guru goes belly up’. ‘TV Dragon gets burned’. Little wonder then she spent nearly three years out of the media spotlight before publishing her new book Business Nightmares.
As well as documenting the business woes of high profile entrepreneurs including Donald Trump, Gerald Ratner and James Dyson, the book gives an inside account of her own business failure. Rachel details the story of the company she set up back in 1989, right through to it going in to administration in 2005 before being bought by fellow Dragons Peter Jones and Theo Paphitis.
“I wanted to write a book that demonstrated firstly that problems are the norm in business, and secondly there’s often a fine line between success and failure,” she explains.
Rachel describes the process of writing the book as cathartic and admits it offered her some closure on the Red Letter Days debacle.
“After the meltdown of the business I started getting emails from other entrepreneurs confiding their own stories of adversity in their businesses. Researching the book, I started to notice real parallels between my experiences and the crisis points in other entrepreneurs’ journeys.”
One particular parallel, Rachel is keen to point out, is the attitude of the banks and their role in business failures.
“Quite often the banks just want to get off the hook. Provided they can get clear of the situation they’ll drop companies like a stone, pushing them through an unnecessary administration process if cuts their risk liability.
“When your business is ill, you need a doctor not an undertaker. What goes on in the corporate recovery sector is outrageous. It’s the area of business most open to corruption, greed and abuse of power.”
Having applied the brakes to her business career, today Rachel’s entrepreneurial cravings are satisfied with her mentoring and consultancy business Rachel Elnaugh Ltd. However, she insists there’s ‘bigger things to do than just running a business’ right now, and further books are in the pipeline.
Despite her own entrepreneurial pit stop, Rachel is still keen to encourage more women to start their own businesses, claiming they have a huge advantage in today’s climate.
“The business landscape is massively stacked in favour of feminine businesses. Customers now want to buy from companies run with passion, ethics and integrity. These are the qualities women can bring to business naturally.”