In the latest issue of the Great British Entrepreneurs Magazine, Hannah Richards sat down with Damien Lee, the founder of Mr. Lee’s Noodles and Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year at the Great British Entrepreneur Awards in 2019.
Although Blighty isn’t quite his own private island, Damien has found his home-away-from-home in Bournemouth, the closest seaside city to London and reminiscent of his home in Australia. The move from Chelsea was driven by his desire to launch a gadget design start-up. Things were going very well, almost a year into the business Damien had 20 people working for him and had just secured his biggest round of outside funding. In the same week, he was diagnosed with late stage 4 cancer.
“I was told I only had a few weeks left to live. It started in my chest and had moved into my stomach. They knew I was a single dad, they offered me two options. They said ‘someone at your stage may not choose to have treatment as you may want to see it out with a better quality of life, rather than starting chemo.’
“I said, ‘are you kidding me?! I have two kids and don’t intend on going anywhere, throw whatever you’ve got at me, I’ll take it.’”
After the diagnosis, Damien took steps to eradicate everything in his life that could have a detriment to his health. This included assessing his diet, and taking out any ‘nasties.’ As a time-poor entrepreneur, he knew it was going to be hard to swap convenience for healthier alternatives, however, it was a necessity to help aid his recovery. He took all the salt, sugars, saturated fat and junk food out of his diet and went ‘raw’.
Almost a year later, he was in remission.
A turbulent time
During that period of time, Damien lost his company.
“I was the driving force in the business, the funding didn’t come in from the investors as for them it was game over. The team had to get on with their lives, nobody thought I was going to make it. People moved on,” he says.
Unsure what to do next, he reflected on a business trip to China where he met with two brothers who owned China’s fifth-largest instant noodles factory. Whilst there, he learnt that they make five billion instant noodles a year (just for China). The brothers propositioned Damien about being their European importer.
“I was busy with Designed Gadgets at the time and said ‘I’m flattered and thank you very much for the offer, but I know nothing about noodles outside of eating them. And I don’t know anything about the retail market, but I’m also busy with my own stuff. Thanks but no thanks’.
“I was standing on the factory floor, surrounded by mountains of instant noodles. It was an awkward moment, so I asked them what their favourite flavour was. He looked at me and smiled at me and said, ‘Damien, we don’t eat our own noodles’. I asked why? and he said, ‘if you knew what we put in them, you wouldn’t either.’”
You can read the full feature in the latest issue of the Great British Entrepreneurs Magazine.