Levi Roots: Why personality matters in business
“Levi Root is a household name in the UK and was once in the Dragon’s Den where he secured an investor for his popular reggae reggae sauce when he dazzled the dragons with his guitar playing ability. He talks about how personality matters in business.”
The sauce entrepreneur and Dragon’s Den veteran on how he stays grounded and why he thinks being a good salesman is key to his success.
Although the company, Levi Roots Reggae Reggae Foods Ltd, has done “fantastically” well for him and his success has been “out of this world,” he says he’s keeping his “feet on the ground and staying focused”.
The business has grown from selling just his trademark Reggae Reggae table sauce into ready-meals, snacks and drinks.
“The brand is still very young,” said Levi. “As a person I’m sitting in the same seat I’ve sat in for 20-odd years. I’m still in Brixton, still looking out on my same garden and I’m in the block of flats where there are kids playing and making noise.
Levi grew his business from the kitchen in his flat with the help of TV entrepreneurs Peter Jones and Richard Farleigh who invested in his idea after he appeared on BBC 2 show Dragon’s Den with his sauce and guitar. After being charmed by his singing and tasting his product, between them, the investors gave him £50,000 for a 40 per cent stake in the business.
He had been selling food coated with the sauce on a stall called the ‘Rasta’raunt’ at the Notting Hill Carnival for 20 years. “The sauce was originally an accompaniment to the food,” he explained. “And for years I never thought about bottling the sauce. It didn’t really jump out on me that this could be marketable until much later in life.”
He and his children started making and bottling the sauce to sell at food festivals and exhibitions. While manning his stall with his guitar, Levi would often burst into song.
“At every exhibition I went to, I was the coolest guy there,” he recalled. “I was the only black Rasta man in the crowd singing a song about the sauce. I wasn’t making any money at the time as I was trying to build the business.
“The sauce was selling a bit, but it wasn’t enough to feed seven kids and do everything else that I’ve got to do. But I was enjoying it and felt one day that something would happen.”
Before Dragon’s Den, Levi initially approached banks and investors to invest in his business but says he was always given the same feedback that the brand was “too black, too Jamaican and too Rasta,” He said: “I got that wherever I went. I was always told to change it and I refused to do that. I wanted the British public to buy into what I had.”
One day he was spotted at a food festival by producers from Dragon’s Den and asked to appear on the show. The rest is history.
Levi, whose real name is Keith, believes his personality has contributed significantly to the success of his brand.
“Investors are looking for personality,” he said. “It’s great if you have a fantastic product but if you don’t have a good salesman to go along with that, then no one’s going to know about it. It really is about the passion. It’s the most important thing. If I hadn’t gone on Dragon’s Den with my guitar it wouldn’t have mattered how fantastic the sauce was, I don’t think I’d be speaking to you right now.”
Meanwhile, he feels he’s learned a lot about business since he famously got his sums a little confused on Dragon’s Den and says he feeds off his team’s experience.
“I managed to build a great team around the brand which has helped to put Levi Roots up there amongst any Caribbean brand that is around now,” he said.
“You can picture it like a duck on the water. Like a duck, I look like this smooth bit on the top, but the engine which is really working underneath, like the legs, is the team around me. I’m the guy with the cool suits and nice smile but there’s much more to it than that.”
Levi says he’s also learnt to be more patient, take his time over decisions and “protect ideas from a very early stage”.
Now his priorities are about building his brand with his sights set on America. He’s also looking into opening Levi Roots ‘Rasta’raunts’.
Wherever his business goes however, Levi is keen to remember his Brixton roots. “I have a duty to be here,” he said. “I don’t think that five to six years after going on Dragon’s Den you got to leave the people who were supporting you before that. If one of these kids is inspired, then it’s job done.”
By Nermin Oomer