13/01/2010

By Modwenna Rees-Mogg, AngelNews

Where are they now?

The story of Keith Graham aka Levi Roots of Dragons’ Den fame is not so much a story of where is he now, but where is he going.

Watching and listening to Levi Roots speak and sing at the launch of the RAC Cirencester Grand Awards a few days ago, prompted the following thoughts about the twists and turns someone’s life can take.

Levi Roots — before Dragons’ Den

To many the life of Levi Roots would seem to fall into two parts — before Dragons’ Den and after, but from the way he spoke it is clear that for Levi the real break point was meeting a lady called Teresa during his five year stretch in prison who in his own words “taught me how to live life through drama and art. She told me that I was on a path to greatness. I don't know where she got that from, but she was right.”

We all think of Levi as the famous entrepreneur but he is also a well known Reggae singer who performed live in front of Nelson Mandela.

Dragons’ Den — fame

There are 466,000 references to Levi Roots on google, and most of them are due to his TV appearance on the ubiquitous TV show, but the showman in him was always there. In 1998 he was nominated for Best Reggae performer at the MOBO awards.

Ever the entrepreneur

The idea that Roots is an accidental musician turned fabulously successful business person is a bit of a myth. Long before the TV show he had founded a record label, Conqueror Records and in however small a way was involved in various food business activities around Brixton. It seems that the big difference between then and after the show was the his entrepreneurial zeal has been focused on growing the Reggae Reggae sauce business. Roots attributes much of his subsequent success to the mentoring given to him by Peter Jones one of the two dragons who backed him. Interestingly whilst he understood the other investor’s (Richard Farleigh) “temporary investment” (Farleigh sold his shares back to Roots within a shortish period for 10x what he paid for them) he is less complimentary — describing him just as a “financial investor”!

Reggae Reggae sauce — a brand not a food manufacturer

According to Roots, Reggae Reggae worth around £30m today. It is solely a licensing business with third parties doing all the manufacturing, distribution and selling of products. Not surprisingly Roots has great respect for his lawyer, whom he sees as one of the most important people in his life. He knows that whilst the sauce may taste good, it is the packaging, including his own image, which maintains the value of everything. He has just won the Best Packaging Award at the World Food Awards and has launched a recipe app, Sunshine Food, for the iPhone. The app features recipes using ReggaeReggae Sauce, eleven of Levi’s music tracks and five bespoke videos, including Levi singing the Reggae Reggae Sauce song and demonstrating how to smash open a coconut.

Giving back all the way through

In our new socially conscious world, Roots is clearly a role model to be followed. He obviously spends a lot of time telling his story to inspire others, especially those who are on an earlier stage of their own journey. This may be entrepreneurs, but it is also young people in the black community. News reports suggest that he is well known and popular in his local Brixton community where he has continued to live throughout his life.

Where is he going?

Having reached market leadership in the UK in table sauces, (he is outselling Heinz Tomato sauce), Roots is heading off to conquer North America next year. He will start in Canada and then head south into the United States. It will be fascinating to see how he succeeds in a land where many British businesses have come a cropper before.

And who is he going with?

One of the most charming things about Roots’ story is that today 6 of his 7 children (I think) work in his business. No doubt his lawyer and other advisers will be going too, but I suspect that Peter Jones will remain behind, and be on the end of a phoneline if needed.

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