The Entrepreneur: Neil Westwood, Magic Whiteboard

A Dragons' Den success story, the co-founder of the "whiteboard from a roll" discusses exports, SEO, and buying back shares from Theo Paphitis

Co-founder: Neil Westwood
Company: Magic Whiteboard Limited
Website: www.magicwhiteboard.co.uk
Description in one line: Magic Whiteboard allows you to create a whiteboard from a roll
Turnover: £1.2m
12 month target: £1.5m

Business growth 

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

  •   We produce innovative static cling products that are better than existing solutions
  •   We market online, in retail stores and supermarkets and export to 20 countries
  •   We focus on keeping costs low and making healthy profits

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

Going on BBC Dragons’ Den, receiving £100,000 from Deborah Meaden and Theo Paphitis and then buying back their shares for £800,000 in 2014. We now have a very successful and profitable businesses that continues to develop new products and grow.

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

Sales in £ and number of orders received. I also look at how much we are spending on a daily basis.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

We export to 20 countries, including the USA, Australia, France, Germany, Spain, Finland, Iceland, Egypt – 20% of our sales are from exports.

We have recently translated our website into French, German and Spanish and optimised SEO in all these languages so that we appear on the first page of Google.

Describe your growth funding path:

We started Magic Whiteboard with £1000 in 2006, in 2007 I sold some Alliance and Leicester shares for £5000 and reinvested that into the business. In 2008, my wife Laura Westwood and I went on BBC Dragons’ Den and received £100,000 investment. We have since funded our growth from profits generated by Magic Whiteboard and have no debts.

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

When we started in 2006 we optimised our website to appear in organic searches in Google and this made a big difference to sales. In 2014 we made the site mobile friendly across mobile phones and tablets – our sales have increase by £500 a day on mobile.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

At Magic Whiteboard we always strive to do better and to develop new products like our new reusable whiteboard notebooks that we recently launched. This a new category in the UK market and we aim to give four million free reusable notebooks to every primary school child in the UK.

In three years, we expect revenue to be £3m and we want all 26,000 schools in the UK to use Magic Whiteboard and our reusable Magic Notebooks. We’re looking to introduce two to three new products a year (these must be market leaders and mass market products) to keep ahead of any competition.

We also expect to be exporting to 50 countries and our online sales will be substantial in France, Germany and Spain because we are marketing proactively in these countries. We have also been on a market visit to Japan and will start exporting to Japan this year.

Growth challenges

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

Buying back 40% of Magic Whiteboard [from Theo Paphitis and Deborah Meaden) was a difficult thing to do in one go. One year on, we have rebuilt our cash reserves and are introducing new products and expanding into new markets.

What was your biggest business mistake?

Over ordering for supermarkets (they usually don’t sell as much as you expect them to sell).

Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:

When exporting it can be time consuming to get Certificates of Origin and EUR1 forms from the Chambers of Commerce. I also don’t understand why we have to pay VAT on goods we import and then claim it back three months later as it ties up our cash flow for three months.

What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?

Spending too much money, not getting enough sales and getting distracted by doing too many things.

How will your market look in three years?

We focus on developing innovative products that customers have not seen before. Stationery is a very traditional market and more sales will be online, via Twitter and Facebook. There will be fewer trade customers and more competition due to changes in technology. Same day delivery will be common in three years, especially in London and major cities.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

You need to keep focused and disciplined and you must also remember to make a profit!

Personal growth

Biggest luxury:

My Range Rover Sport

Executive education or learn it on the job?

I think learning on the job is better but we actively employ young people from college and university. Members of our team come from Worcester Technology College, Aston University and Swansea University.

What would make you a better leader?

Being more patient and taking slightly more time to make decisions. I would save more money if I did this.

Business book:

How to Get Rich by Felix Dennis. Anyone Can Do It by Duncan Bannatyne is also inspiring.
Find out more about Magic Whiteboard’s success since featuring on Dragons’ Den here.

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