How Rachel Lowe survived a Dragons' Den mauling

Despite a humbling experience on national television, entrepreneur Rachel Lowe of RTL Games went on to make a success of her taxi driving-inspired board game.

As a single mother and a law student, you'd think Rachel Lowe wouldn't need the added stress of a job driving cabs. But with the bailiffs knocking, the 22-year-old had little choice. "I never had more money coming in than I had going out. I was in constant debt. It really was an awful time." She eventually dropped out of her course in 2000 and started driving full time. It brought her enough money to keep her head above water, and one day, the idea for a business too a boardgame based on driving a cab.

Stuck at traffic lights in Portsmouth, "I was irritated that I'd been stopped. Then something in my head said Red light miss a turn'. That thought triggered the idea for the game," she says. "I imagined my taxi being a playing piece on a board." A small business loan of £10,000 and a further £3,000 won in two design competitions helped her to do the market research, source production in India, and even find a launch platform in Hamleys. "I thought I'd done OK."

Then it all went wrong. Lowe appeared on the BBC's Dragons' Den, looking for extra funding. The dragons', six multi-millionaires looking to invest their money in a business start-up, devoured her. Lowe got mixed up between gross and net profit, and ultimately looked rather muddled. It wasn't a good experience. "Although I appreciate that the programme is very much for entertain­ment purposes, it made me quite ill because I had five months between the filming and the screening, wondering what on earth they were going to show. It was quite distressing."

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Yet "at the same time I was glad because from that stage on, I was the underdog. I was on a mission to prove them wrong." Lowe recruited friends to demonstrate her game in various stores across the UK. She then struck a deal with Madame Tussauds, offering two kids-go-free' vouchers with each game. "Madame Tussauds is very expensive to get into so that was a very good deal."

The game was selling so well that in the run up to Christmas 2004, ITN and BBC News began covering her progress. "By midday on Christmas Eve I got a phone call from Hamleys' head buyer saying we'd completely sold out. It was an amazing feeling. We'd hit number one, We'd outsold Monopoly." Dragons' Den had yet to screen, but when it finally aired that January, it coincided with the toy industry's largest trade fair. Buyers from stores came to her stand saying: "I saw you on TV last night being slated by those dragons oh, you've proved them wrong. Good for you."

That first year, Lowe sold £30,000-worth of games. In the second, she sold £180,000. Then last year as she signed deals with major outlets, such as Toys R Us, she sold £300,000. This year, after a deal with Walt Disney and another major brand to sell themed versions of the game, her order book stands at £5m. Not bad for someone who says she was the shyest person in the world before driving a cab. "I had no business acumen, all I had on my side really was the fact that I could talk to people You can be the best business person in the world, but if you can't communicate that to someone else, you're not going to make a sale."

Jody Clarke

Jody studied at the University of Limerick and she has been a senior writer for MoneyWeek for more than 15 years. Jody is experienced in interviewing, for example in her time she has dug into the lives of an ex-M15 agent and quirky business owners who have made millions. Jody’s other areas of expertise include advice on funds, stocks and house prices.