Simon Woodroffe: Yotel and YO! Sushi

Startups catches up with the YO! Sushi founder to talk Yotel, branding and big bank balances

YO! Sushi founder and original dragon Simon Woodroffe is one of our favourite entrepreneurs. We took the opportunity to catch-up with Simon as he launched Yotel at Heathrow.

Hello Simon. You’ve just launched the second Yotel and have plans for further brand extensions. What’s so addictive about being an entrepreneur? The trouble with doing anything exciting in life is that once you’ve tried it, it’s very hard to let go. Life is about finding what you enjoy doing then spending as much time doing it as possible.

There’s a lot of satisfaction in living out your dream even if it doesn’t work. True entrepreneurs overcome their genuine insecurities to have a go instead of looking back with regret on the big idea they never did anything about.

Tell us about Yotel and how it fits the YO! brand.

It’s got the potential to totally transform the hotel industry offering aspirational luxury at affordable prices. The holy grail of retailing is to deliver to everybody what rich people have.

That’s what we’re doing with Yotel, and YO! is all about creating high profile innovative businesses that are fun.

So what does the YO! brand stand for?

Like a lot of brands nowadays it’s cheeky, honest, offers value, delivers directly to its customers, but foremost, it’s about innovation.

It’s about creating that ‘wow, you’ve got to see this’ reaction.

Because Yotel is offering a product, albeit it luxury, at affordable prices, are you worried people will group it together with other budget offerings such as easyHotel?

Look, there are lots of hamburger joints but there’s quite a difference between your Hard Rocks and your McDonalds… Good luck to everybody, there’s enough to go around.

How do you measure personal success? It’s an inner feeling and a knowledge I’ve done things ‘my way’. I’m proud to have formed all sorts of great relationships with lots of different people; but mostly that I had a dream that came true.

Looking back at YO! Sushi, was there a single moment when you knew you’d made it?

Simply opening the first YO! Sushi was wonderful because it realised a dream, regardless of what happened after. Going on to do well and earn real money makes you feel safe; and winning awards and respect from your peers feels great.

When I sold I was convinced all along the deal would fall through and hadn’t really prepared what to do with the money, so they wired it into my personal account. Twenty minutes later I passed an ATM machine on my home, checked my balance and seeing that figure was amazing.

I don’t believe it’s money that makes you happy but that day it certainly felt like it!

Who inspired you?

It has to be Branson. He was more like a pop star. He was the first not to wear a tie; had long hair – he made being an entrepreneur interesting and moved it away from the dull cufflinks and boardroom connotations. He started it and increasingly business is more exciting. Kids now want to be Beckham, a film star or an entrepreneur – and that’s brilliant.

Have you any regrets?

None! I only found my forte at 40 but who’s to say I would have ever found it had things been different? Enjoyment is now. I’ve been close to the edge and made mistakes, but most of America’s billionaires have been bust once. Branson’s a big one for not being scared to make mistakes and for not taking failure personally. Je ne regrette rien! Isn’t that a song?

Fair enough, but don’t you wish you’d stayed for another series of Dragons’ Den?

I couldn’t do the second series because of timings. I loved it but I wanted the BBC to make it more positive, get more investments on. I’m a positive person and didn’t want the role of the nasty dragon and pantomime villain.  A lot of it gets left on the cutting room floor but I maintain I made more money than any of the others from the first series – and that was zero.   You’re a busy man so how do strike the right work/life balance?

I always say work work, live live. I’ve always done a lot but friends are a great way of keeping you in check. It’s important I get on with my ex-wife, my friends, my girlfriends, it’s about being happy.

I always say my left shoulder is very serious and work-orientated, but with exact equal measure my right doesn’t think YO! Sushi or anything else success-related is that important at all – if one starts to weigh more than the other then I know it needs looking at.

What have you got planned for 2008? I’m launching YO! Zone, a spa concept, and YO! Home a radical inner city housing project that I shouldn’t tell you anymore about! I’m working on two TV projects and have another book in mind, so there’s lots going on. Oh, and I’m writing bits of poetry.

What will be the hot growth sectors to look out for in 2008?Luxury budget hotels and sushi! Thanks, Simon!



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