TEJ LALVANI is the new Dragon on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den, the hit show that recently entered its 15th series. His day job is CEO of Vitabiotics, the largest vitamin company in the UK by value sales, with a current group turnover of more than £300million a year. The company was founded in 1971 by his scientist father Professor Kartar Lalvani, the company’s chairman, but has grown over the last 20 years under Tej’s leadership to become one of the UK’s leading vitamin companies.
What was your first job?
My first job was at a drive-through McDonald’s, I remember doing the cleaning at the back of house while looking up to those serving at the till! I did finally work my way up to the kitchen and then the till before leaving. With the money I earned I bought myself a music keyboard as I was really into making my own music at the time. I still do enjoy playing and composing music, and I play the drums and guitar when I get some spare time.
How did you start out in the business you are in now?
Vitabiotics was founded in the early 1970s by my father. I’ve always been involved in the business from a young age. In fact, when I was eight years old I was obsessed with being a scientist myself, frequently making my own concoctions of potions and vitamins from anything I could find in the pantry and garden. After a few weeks of me pleading with him, my father came home with my first business card which said ‘Tej Lalvani, Aged 8, Scientist’. My first position in the business was a junior role sticking labels on boxes in the warehouse. After my studies, I did a placement at a business consultancy firm and then went on to join the business.
What makes it worthwhile?
One of my coolest memories was meeting the Queen at Buckingham Palace when my business was awarded with the Queen’s Award for Enterprise. The other is when I hear the genuine success stories of the people whose lives have changed because of our products. We recently heard from a couple who had struggled to conceive and were told IVF may not even work, to later find out they were pregnant with triplets after taking Pregnacare, our formulated supplement for women trying for a baby, for some time. These kinds of stories really drive me.
What have been your best investments?
In this last series of Dragons’ Den, I invested in a product called ShakeSphere, a hemisphere shaker bottle with Deborah Meaden. While it’s too early to see the returns, this is the one I’m most excited about.What advice would you have for budding entrepreneurs?
Focus on creating a niche, it’s important not to try to be everything to everyone. I believe in doing one thing and doing it really well. My other tip is don’t be afraid of hard work as building anything good and meaningful takes time and dedication. These days kids are growing up in a digital environment where everything is instantaneous, from streaming movies and TV shows to getting food delivered to your door in the hour.
What’s your biggest financial regret?
Not buying Facebook stocks when it hit $19 a share despite telling everyone else all the reasons why it would be a $200billion company. That’s the last time I made the mistake of not acting on my gut.
Are you a saver or spender?
Most of the time I am a saver, but I’ll splurge if there is a great opportunity or if I think it’s an investment worth making. A few years ago I bought something people thought was ridiculously overpriced but three years later I sold it for double what I paid.
Cash or card?
Definitely card. Contactless makes payments much more convenient. I love tech that makes life easier.