Member of the Month - Zoe Chapman

Member of the Month - Zoe Chapman

Posted: Wed 29th Mar 2023

Congratulations to our Member of the Month for March, Zoe Chapman, founder of Kiddiwhizz!

We caught up with Zoe about her entrepreneurial journey, starting Kiddiwhizz - the revolutionary portable toilet for kids - and landing a deal from Dragons' Den.

She also chats about her extensive experiences with Enterprise Nation, and how the platform has significantly boosted her fortunes.

Was it always your dream to be an entrepreneur?

I was one of those people that I always used to come up with business ideas. I used to see gaps in markets all the time.

I remember once doing a full business plan all to do with footballers – and how they should invest their money – and it became a whole business model. I remember doing that.

When my son was born, I devised this whole other business called Mason's Boutique – this has been done, it was about 10 years ago - where you sell pre-loved clothes.

Even when I wasn’t working my brain was always whirring, despite not being financially motivated. Before the pandemic and before people really appreciated the value of the NHS, I devised a scheme whereby NHS workers from that hospital would get discounts around the local area.

But again, these were all ideas that were before anyone would take them seriously. So, they never took off. Because it was always just me plugging these ideas, so people didn’t take them seriously.

So even when Kiddiwhizz came around, the biggest challenge was being taken seriously and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. Sometimes it was down to the fact that I look really young, and I'm not, but I look really young, so people have always underestimated what I'm capable of doing and looked down on me.

Anyway, I'm used to that. And sometimes it's to do with the fact that I don't have money, therefore I don't have influence, and I don't have power. As a result, I didn’t have a network - there's a whole range of things. For so many reasons it’s hard to be acknowledged or taken seriously.

In terms of your original question, did I always want to, as my dad ran his own business, which I was heavily involved in as I grew up. As he worked seven days a week, I worked there just so I could see him, and save him stress. I watched him be very stressed all the time, and I know that there were things that I could do to relieve that stress.

I started at about 12 - I just always had that work ethic from seeing my dad grafting for a passion, not making much money, but still pushing it because that's what he wanted to do and knew to do.

I've always enjoyed working and I think everything stems from this. Also, working for other people never really worked for me - I needed something that would fit around me and my health conditions, as well as my son.

The combination of wanting to work and having this experience and knowledge, as well as all the attributes I have as a human being, mixed with knowing that you can run your own business and the fact that I had no choice if I wanted to utilise these talents – my it’s a combination of all of them.

How did the idea of your business come about?

As with any successful invention, it always comes from a need. As was highlighted in both my Enterprise Nation pitch - which I'll touch upon later - and the Dragons' Den pitch, I was at a time when I was potty training my son and caring for my dad. So, I was on the go constantly, and I was always stuck in a car, so my son was always asking for the toilet.

I didn't know at the time he actually had a hormone deficiency, so the frequency remained part of toilet training. But it’s a common thing that kids who need the toilet need it throughout the day, and they need it now - there's no waiting around.

And then with my dad at the same time, taking him out in the wheelchair, there were multiple occasions where we'd be stuck because the toilets would be downstairs or they'd be one step to go into the toilet, or they wouldn't have a disabled toilet - we were just constantly having trouble finding a toilet.

Think as well in terms of the dignity of it all – he doesn’t want his daughter taking him to the toilet, but that's what I had to do. And it was the combination of the two of them that got me thinking about ways I could help, and this was eight years ago, so the solutions weren’t out there at the time.

That’s when I came up with the ideas when I started drawing them out. I have a degree in product design anyway, so that was always my passion. As I said previously, if I see a gap in the market, I want to go with it, so I think it was quite natural.

I did initially attempt to see how viable it would be and if there was any way that I could do it, but I didn't have the money to pay the companies or the few companies that you could contact for support with things like this. I didn't have enough money or a network - or all the other elements that you'd need.

I sent my drawings to factories in China. I actually contacted this company that was on Dragons' Den, funnily enough, and I've still got the letter that they sent me back. I contacted a few different children's brands, I think Tommee Tippee and other big kids’ product brands.

I contacted them with my idea and all the rest of it. And I think one got back to me saying great idea, but no thanks, while the rest didn’t respond. So, I just kind of gave it up. Timing is everything, and just before the pandemic I'd had a major spinal surgery, so I was recovering. And when we were getting ready to come out of the lockdown, I felt like I had nothing to show for it.

After the spinal surgery and how much it had changed my life, it made me think about what it is that I really want to do, and what I would really have missed out doing if I hadn't had that surgery, and bringing my product to life was that thing that I'd always wanted to do.

When I assessed the situation, I thought that there was potential, if I could get a few certain elements in order. The first one being how to manufacture a product. And luckily, during that first lockdown, I had worked on my network, unintentionally. So, I'd already learned how to build a community on Instagram, because I built one through my independent mother support group that I started, so I already had a network of mums.

I also was in a group of product designers that had made products and were successful businesses or starting out with successful products and businesses in the children's sector. So, it was this amazing WhatsApp group of people that have gone on to be incredibly successful, nearly all of us have gone on to do Dragons' Den, funnily enough, so there was something about that group that was just absolutely critical because we’ve all helped one another out on our journeys.

So I had those connections, and I said to one of them - who made her products out of silicone – whether there was any way she could help me figure this out, and she gave me a factory contact! So that in itself was a huge, huge thing, getting a factory that was trusted.

And at the time, she couldn't tell anyone, but she was about to do Dragons' Den. So that meant that everything I knew everything was above board. And that factory went on to really help me and support me, and now we've got a great relationship. So that in itself was a major part of starting to bring that product to life.

Zoe Chapman Whizzer products lined up

How did you manage to achieve such roaring success after going to market?

Apart from the relentless work, it was aided by the community I’d built up on Instagram - I'd use those single mothers from that community and send them all samples of the product to test - and prior to launching in February (the product, the website, and the pre-order), I'd already started my social media campaigns gearing up for it.

And so, I was building this momentum, and letting people come on the journey before the product had been made. So those mums that were following me on Instagram literally could have a say about what my packaging looked like if they liked these colours, and they just saw this graft and this relentless journey.

Also, at the same time as me developing this product for those six months before launching the website, I was doing council-funded programmes. So that in itself was giving me this extra network of people. I had mentors around me constantly. Every week I was in these sessions and totally focused on it, which was then developing the network but in a different way. So then, by the time it came to actually launching the product, I had this support around me, and I think it’s one of the things that really helped massively.

I can’t really use Facebook but one thing I used it for was being on a group called Doing it for the Kids, and everyone in that group was a parent, and they were obviously doing it for their kids, or they were running their business for their kids.

Whatever their business was – mostly product-based businesses - you could find someone that does anything business-related in that group, and everyone was just so incredibly supportive if you needed anything. So, posting in that group about what I was doing, just planted that seed and it kind of just grew and grew and grew from there.

I jumped on anything I could at the time of launch. I was sending out press releases, left, right and centre. I was pounding my social media - it was just absolutely relentless. The time I put into my social media and that digital footprint, I was working around the clock to make sure that my product was known before I even had it made.

At that point of launching the website, I literally didn't have the product – it wasn’t even made, and this was in February. By the time the first orders were sent out in April, I'd already managed to sell out that first batch that I was having sent over, because of that relentless focus on that digital side of things, with no ad spend, by the way, because I had no money.

If you've got money to put behind the ads, that's the easiest and quickest way to do it if you know how to do it. Facebook ads. And that's how generally people do it.

I didn't have a penny to put into Facebook ads, not a penny. So that's why I had to work that bit extra and think outside of the box constantly.

Let's move on to Dragons' Den. How did it feel to have your ideas vindicated by two Dragons? And what has been the impact on your business since your appearance?

The process overall took about a year. I got an email from Dragons' Den, probably about February or March time. I'd just launched in JoJo Maman Bebe, so everything was quite crazy – and I had COVID, and I was moving house.

I got a call from Dragons' Den asking me to apply - I remember literally packing up my flat after living there for nearly 20 years and doing this pitch on my phone as part of the interview process with all these boxes around me, as well as this COVID rash as well.

But they were incredibly supportive, and throughout that time of moving house, the relentless due diligence I had to go through for months and months and months was crazy. And luckily I was moving stuff so I could have access to school reports and newspaper articles, so the depth of the information they needed was quite intense.

Each time you don't know if you're going to pass that stage and then you get a call from your researcher and they say you've passed the next stage. Congratulations. And then they tell you the next stage and what you need to do for that. It got to June and I was actually in Boots doing an Enterprise Nation pop-up, and they said I’m in, and you have just a two-week turnaround.

After that, it was all hands on deck trying to get stocked, trying to figure out how it was going to look visually, and just the whole logistics of it. Funnily enough, just before getting on my train up to Manchester for recording, I did an interview with Emma Jones – I’d been asked to be in this interview about overseas exporting as a business, and I couldn't tell her why I was about to literally run for my train afterwards.

It was quite a whirlwind. I had my friend Helen with me, who had won Dragons' Den the season before – she’s the one who recommended me the factory. Her Dragon was Sara [Davies], and she really wanted me to get Sara, so she helped me write the pitch the night before, based on my pitch from Enterprise Nation and just adapted it.

Going in there, there was a lot of filming before you go in - a lot of backstage bits. I was in there for an hour and a half with them, and literally stood there getting grilled. It was very intense, but for the most part, it was incredibly supportive.

We literally talked through everything, all my achievements. I remember at one point, a Dragon saying, “you've got an answer for everything, haven't you?” Well, I have to if I’m on Dragons' Den!

And then, I literally got back on the train to my son, back to single parenting, and the first thing I did was pack up orders that I'd got while I was away. I just went straight back into it. It was business as normal.

The difference was that I was going home and working from home and running this business in the same relentless way, the same ridiculous hours I'd worked prior. But it just meant that everything was validated from that point on; they have believed in me enough to say “you are a viable business, and we want to be a part of that.”

It just gave me that extra boost all the time to know that I was being backed and then obviously, ever since then, there have been other bits of due diligence in the background. A lot of people probably think that you go on Dragons' Den, you've probably filmed it a few weeks before it's aired, and then you leave and you get this cheque of £50,000 and then you crack on and then your business's success.

That's not the case at all. I have not stopped working. I was struggling so much financially before Dragons' Den aired that I tried to get a loan. I went to various places to try and get a loan so that I could have enough money to have the stock ready for Dragons' Den. And I was rejected everywhere.

I only got an application from HSBC approved the day after Dragons' Den, so I'm now catching up, but I haven't stopped since the airing. I am sitting at this desk working constantly. I often finish work at about three, four or five in the morning, and then I get up and do the school run every morning.

The deal is going to close in the next few months for Sara and Steven [Bartlett], and they have their own ideas of what they're going to do with the business. I’ve visited Sara already; she and her team have been absolutely incredible. It was very surreal going up to see her, especially as no one knew!

Social media is the place where I've managed to bring people along on the journey with me, but I couldn't even say a word because it's all top secret. But Sara’s been lovely, and we're really excited to rebrand.

I'm also super excited to see what Steven and his team want to do with my social media because that's been a massive part of my brand considering I built my business on Instagram. I'm desperate to figure out how to pivot over to TikTok because all my friends are doing so well over there, but there are just not enough hours in the day.

As a result of Dragons' Den, I've been able to pay back all the debts I was drowning in before, and that was my only aim. I just wanted to make sure that the business could be financially okay. So, I’ve been able to do that and start fresh now. I've got new stuff coming in.

Removing those worries and pressures that would have been present if not for Dragons' Den has simply accelerated my business to where I needed to be in two years’ time, but now, if that makes sense!

Zoe Chapman Whizzer packaging

Finally, you are Enterprise Nation’s Member of the Month for March. Congratulations! When did you first become aware of the platform? And what part has it played in your entrepreneurial journey?

Enterprise Nation has played a massive part in my journey. I first came across it when someone submitted me for the Festival of Female Entrepreneurs, and they sent me this link and said they’re part of Enterprise Nation, which nobody had ever done for me. I was just so humbled that she put me forward for this award, and it was very early on in my business.

I didn't make that first line-up, but then I got put in as this wildcard because people had seen how dedicated I was to my story. So I went and pitched - it was like the first in-person event since lockdown – and it was incredible. I met such amazing women and the day was fantastic.

At that time, I had no idea a year later I’d be asked to do Dragons' Den, but that was the first time standing up and pitching in front of people. Funnily enough, one of the people I had to pitch to then was on Dragons' Den herself, but she didn't get the investment

I remember watching and thinking, how weird, I had to pitch to you, and you had to decide my fate, and now I'm watching Dragons' Den, and I'm watching your fate, it was very surreal!

I didn't win it, but the feedback after was just incredible. Following that, I just took any opportunity; the Enterprise Nation newsletters are so good because they showcase Lunch and Learns, for example – which are just brilliant sources of bite-sized information.

I ended up doing a Lunch and Learn myself about inventing a product, and I loved doing that. What then really helped as well was Enterprise Nation’s partnership with Google and its Digital Garage.

I really would grab anything that was free. I think it's absolutely vital for businesses like mine that have no money to spend time on figuring out a digital marketing strategy, knowing what SEO is, working out Google Analytics, all of that kind of stuff, and you're doing that with these lovely mentors for free.

Fast-forward and I was sitting at a table with Rishi Sunak and Levi Roots, talking about being an entrepreneur, and that all came from Enterprise Nation and the opportunities it put in front of me. The same can be said for StartUp Show – it’s so amazing that you've got all these people experts in one place.

Basically, I think I'm a true fan. There's so much you can get from Enterprise Nation, and I probably only access about 5% of it! Enterprise Nation has been there, as you can see from this interview, at very significant points throughout my journey, the whole time. To then get to this point, as I sit here as Member of the Month, that's an almost full circle.

Coming to Enterprise Nation as this really fresh start-up, not winning anything at the Festival of Female Entrepreneurs, but instead getting this value and networking opportunities has catapulted my journey, all culminating in Dragons' Den. That's amazing, really, isn't it?

Looking to follow in Zoe's footsteps? Sign up to become an Enterprise Nation member for free today.

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