Kelly Hoppen MBE: “You can't be fearful of failure”


The entrepreneur and Dragons’ Den star talks to LondonlovesBusiness.com

Entrepreneur and designer Kelly Hoppen counts many of the world’s elite, including the Beckhams, as her clients.

She’s been an interior designer since the age of 16 and founded Kelly Hoppen Interiors but her business interests keep evolving and, a year ago, she launched kellyhoppen.com – her first e-commerce business.

But the 55-year old businesswoman is famous in her own right, making up a fifth of the intimidating panel on BBC Two’s Dragons’ Den which returns this month.

We grabbed 10 minutes out of her busy schedule for a quick catch-up.

You’re a huge advocate of exporting – so why should businesses export?

The truth is I’ve exported from day one because we build houses all over the world, so we ship entire properties overseas.

In the last 10 months with the new .com business, it’s essential for us to be able to export goods all over the world.

Has it changed the business? Yes, it’s helped it grow.

Exportingfor me is very important because we export a lot but at the same time, a lot of our clients then invest in Great Britain, so it works both ways.

Why don’t more businesses export? Is it fear?

Often when I got to do talks with budding entrepreneurs, a lot of it is not being educated enough to know how and what it entails.

It’s quite daunting for people when they start off – if we’re talking about start-ups – to know what is possible. That’s why I think education is important.

Export is essential for growing a business internationally, if that’s what you want to do.

The world is getting much smaller. Thirty or 40 years ago you’d go somewhere else in the world and you’d find something you couldn’t find in Great Britain, or vice versa, but today brands are everywhere and I think that showcases the fact that export is important.

Is the lack of improvement in the gender pay gap a sign we’re going backwards?

I would hope not. I meet some pretty incredible businesswomen.

I think the press make a huge big deal out of it. I think women are definitely earning more than they did years ago, but is the gap as big as everybody says it is? I think we’ve got to do a lot of catching up if that’s the case. I don’t think it’s right.

I think there should be equal rights for men and women, one hundred percent. If a man can do something better than a woman then that’s one thing – I wouldn’t for one minute try and do plumbing or engineering or run a bank – but it doesn’t mean it has anything to do with me being a woman and not a man, it’s just that’s not my field.

I hope we’re not going back, and I will do everything in my power to ensure we go forward.

What does it take to be a successful entrepreneur?

I’ve often been asked the question ‘are you born with some gene that makes you an entrepreneur?’.

I’ve watched a lot of young people doing Dragons’ Den and you get an insight into people and you just feel like, ‘God, they’ve got it – there’s something that person has got that makes them an entrepreneur that’s going to succeed’.

I think it’s a mindset, I think you have to one hundred percent believe in yourself, otherwise no-one else is going to.

You can’t be fearful of failure. You have to look to failure as something that you learn from and I think all great entrepreneurs I’ve ever met all have a similar mindset – that if something doesn’t work, you don’t waste a minute on it, you’ve already got another 10 ideas stacked in your brain that will work.

It’s really about the confidence and belief that you can make a difference and that you’re not frightened with things that don’t work out.

If that’s a gene that’s in you, can you learn that? Possibly. But I mentor a lot of people and there are some people who you just can’t get that through to them. I do think there’s an element of that you’re born with it or you’re brought up in an environment where people are like that.

They often say your children are often a sort of mirror image of you because they’ve been around you and listen to you and they have the same beliefs and tenacity. It takes a lot of tenacity to be a good entrepreneur, so I think you’re kind of born with it, or born with a feeling you really want something and you want to learn about it, then I think you can be taught it.

What does 2015 have in store for business?

Politically, there’s a lot of unrest at the moment and that will always have an effect on business.

Sadly, politicians are always in the press. You’re focused on business and you’re focused on building business and new avenues and ways of communicating with people to build a business, and suddenly in the papers the whole time are all the different parties trying to get in the forefront to win the next election. That will always be a very unsettling time for people in business.

And I know myself, my business is moving into larger offices; we’re expanding; we’re constantly, always getting bigger… but in the back of my mind I’m conscious the whole time that there could be unsettled times ahead, and therefore you have to be prepared for it.

I think the economy has taken huge strides and leaps and I think the government has done a phenomenal job at that. It always takes many years for it to really have effect, and everybody feels very insecure and nobody really knows which way to turn. That will definitely have an effect on everything.

Small things affect business – the weather for example. Retail and fashion has been suffering because it’s been too warm. There’s always going to be something.

So I think today we have to possibly look at how we run businesses and how we run retail in a different way. Everything today in retail is driven by discount. It’s very different to how it was 25 years ago.

I think as a businessperson you have to be constantly thinking about how the world is changing, and adapt your business to it.

Thanks for your time Kelly.

Kelly Hoppen MBE is an ambassador of Heathrow