Carol Savage: How I slayed the Dragons

Facing the dragons may have been one of the scariest moments in life for one Hertfordshire mum but slaying them was worth its weight in gold. Carol Savage, founder of MyDish.co.uk, talks to Caroline Foster

Facing the experts on Dragons' Den may have been one of the scariest moments in life for one Hertfordshire mum but slaying them was worth its weight in gold. Carol Savage, founder of MyDish.co.uk, talks to Caroline Foster

BANANA bread and lemon meringue pie may not seem to be the inspiration on which to launch a new business but that’s exactly what led Carol Savage, from Elstree, to set up a website to encourage people to share their family recipes. On the death of his mother, Carol’s husband Ken returned home with scraps of paper, on which were some of his mother’s recipes. This led Carol to thinking about how many other people have family, favourite or nostalgic recipes and how sad it is when they are lost.MyDish.co.uk was launched in January 2008 after many long months of building and creating a website that would be user friendly, interactive and fun to use, and on which people could share, create, upload and download recipes. From the outset Carol knew it needed a high volume of users and members in order to make the project viable and attract partnerships, sponsorship and advertising revenue to maintain and grow the site.Having spent a considerable amount of time and money on research, Carol very quickly realised the site had huge business potential, and although she had a working background in marketing she knew it would take more than her own experience to get MyDish to the masses.

‘I froze when I first went up the steps to the den but I kept thinking about my children and how they all relied on me’

On St George’s Day 2009, Carol entered BBC2's Dragons' Den to face dragons, Peter Jones, Deborah Meaden, Theo Paphitis, Duncan Bannatyne and James Caan. After a two-hour grilling Peter, Duncan and James had declared themselves out but both Deborah and Theo were interested. After being offered twice the amount of investment she originally asked for from the two dragons, Carol settled with Deborah’s offer, giving away 15 per cent of her company for �100,000 investment.Carol, 44, says, ‘I froze when I first went up the stairs to the den. Although I’d been used to presentations in my role as a marketer so much depending on this. I was thinking about my children and how they all relied on me.‘I felt it was the worst pitch of my life but I soon came into my own when they started grilling me and trying to trip me up with questions. I would have liked to have worked with both Deborah and Theo but I didn’t want to give away 30 per cent of the business so I chose Deborah because she was quite focused and strategic.‘It took from April to the September for the deal to go through’ says Carol, ‘and a bit longer before I really had the chance of working with Deborah but she is more hands on with some businesses than others.’

‘Deborah is nothing like the person you see on the TV and is exactly the sort of person you want as a director’

Carol says that Deborah treats her like a grown-up and doesn’t act like she knows everything. She attends most of the company’s board meetings and gives her advice and thoughts if something needs challenging. Deborah is really good at the marketing and uses her contacts. ‘She is nothing like the person you see on the TV and is exactly the sort of person you want as a non-executive director,’ says Carol.One of the turning points for the success of MyDish was securing a partnership contract with Tesco. Carol wanted a major player in the grocery home shopping market as the idea was that members could choose a recipe from the MyDish site and an instant list of ingredients could be placed in the home shopping basket, while also being able to calculate quantities for multiple recipes, all of which could be delivered to the customer’s door. Members could create a menu planner for the whole week, choose recipes for a dinner party and everything could be available at the click of the button.MyDish is also supported by the likes of Heinz, Clover, Twining’s, Pataks and more recently Coca Cola. For Carol the support of such brands has helped bring her more than 10,000 visitors a day and there are now more than 12,000 recipes on the site. ‘The recipes are so diverse,’ says Carol, ‘we have a wide range of ethnic food, cultural food, curries, puddings and so many more, it’s fantastic.’Although Carol says MyDish hasn’t changed her life, she is a working mum and has never worked so hard in her life. She is juggling time with her three boys – Oliver, 14, Tom, 12, and Jamie,  seven – and trying to keep up with the running of the business. It is so important to Carol that MyDish succeeds but equally that her family is happy.But that’s not all, the MyDish.co.uk site has a quirky charity calendar which can be bought for �15 of which �5 goes straight to Great Ormond Street Hospital, a charity close to Carol’s heart since it helped Carol’s eldest son Oli, overcome a serious kidney illness when he was nine.Members can buy the calendar as it is, or can select their own recipes for each month of the year from the MyDish site and include foodie images or download their own. And the next step? From here Carol plans to continue to develop the site and encourage members to add their recipes, and hopes that more sponsorship and partnership deals will be forthcoming to keep the site going and growing. As she adds, ‘I want this phenomenon to go global.  It’s hugely exciting as you can imagine.’

FIND FABULOUS RECIPES AT http://www.mydish.co.uk

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