The Dragons’ Den star chronicles his remarkable career…

Do what you enjoy
There’s a test: if you can’t bore your mates in the pub about what your job is then you’re not doing it right. You have to be so passionate that you make them go, “Will you shut the hell up about work?”

Don’t fear the unknown
A lot of people are just carrying on doing what they’ve been doing all their lives because they’re frightened of what’s out there. Don’t be scared of doing something new, otherwise you’ll end up doing the same thing forever, and then you’ll retire and you’ll never have been happy. The simple truth is that other people are out there doing what you want to do, and the fact that they’re doing it means that it’s possible.

Keep it simple
Or KISS as I like to say – keep it simple, stupid. People complicate things, and you’re always in danger of doing so yourself. Sometimes people come to see me and I haven’t understood a word they’re on about, and they’ve complicated something that is the simplest thing in the world.

The trick is to aim to make yourself redundant. I promise you, you won’t actually be made redundant, because everybody looks for people who’ve got time on their hands. Make yourself redundant and you’ll get more work and, because of that, you’ll progress. People panic – they think that if they’re not being seen to be working hard, their boss will get rid of them.

Work smart
This kind of goes back to my last point – don’t just think working hard until 9pm every night means you’re good at your job, it doesn’t. If you want to work hard, go and work in a coal mine – what you want to do is work smart, by not being a busy fool. Look at what you’re doing and make sure it has a practical, meaningful end.

This is a very special one because you have to give people incentives. However generous you may feel you are by giving them a job and having your lovely guidance, you still have to give them something to aim for. People work through fear and greed. Do not use fear, because after a while it doesn’t work, but greed is good; greed works. And what they really want is money.

Break everything into bite-sized chunks
Very important – whatever you’ve got to do, break it down into manageable pieces: no one ever got to the top of a mountain in one leap, you have to establish base camps.

Problem solve
The way to solve problems is to look at your bite-sized chunks and remember that in the vast majority of cases it’s never really one thing that’s causing a problem. It’s usually a combination of things, so don’t just look for the silver bullet that’s going to solve everything.

Make decisions
Never be scared of getting a decision wrong – the simple trick is to get more right than wrong. The person who’s never got a decision wrong is the person who’s never made a decision. Trust me, I’ve made many wrong decisions.

It’s all about cash-flow
This runs through the whole core of everything I do. Having no profit is like a cancer, you die very slowly. You can run businesses without a profit, but you’ll slowly perish, and having no cash-flow is like a heart attack. You’re dead. If you can’t pay staff at the end of the month, the business is bust. If you can’t pay your business rent, the business is bust.

Remember why you work
You should always remind yourself of the three reasons you go to work: One: to make money. Two: to have fun. And three: not to forget to make money.

Theo Paphitis’ autobiography Enter The Dragon is out now



Limassol, Cyprus, September 24, 1959

1965 Moved to UK
“We had a quiet house in Manchester and then on our first Saturday the world descended on our street: we were 100 yards from Old Trafford.”

1971-1976 Woodberry Down Senior school, Manor House, North London, Qualifications: CSE in Geography
“That was it – I was dyslexic, but I was just put down as being damn stupid, although I do have that trait as well…”

1976 Filing clerk at Lloyds Of London
“I was assistant to the tea stirrer.”

1978 First retail job, working for Watches Of Switzerland in Bond Street

1983 Set up on his own
“My first venture was called Surrey And Kent Associates, which was in finance broking.”

1985 Set up Druce Commercial Finance

1987 Became chairman of Astra Industrial Group
“That’s where I made many millions, but I lost most of them in the collapse of the stock market in the early ’90s.”

1995 Bought Ryman The Stationer
“It was more than the token one pound, but it wasn’t much.”

1996 Bought Contessa lingerie

1998 Bought La Senza lingerie
“That did cost me a quid – and two packets of Benson & Hedges.”

2002 Bought Partners The Stationer

2005 Started as a Dragon on BBC’s Dragons’ Den
“I love it. It’s amazing how successful it is. And really, I’m a cuddly pussycat”

2006 Sold La Senza and Contessa
“I made over £100 million between them.”

2007 Bought Stationary Box
“And I’ve done nothing since!”