The entrepreneur who turned down the Dragons twice

Cally Russell never dreamed he would turn down an offer in the Dragon’s Den – but he has now done it twice.

The Edinburgh businessman appears in the latest episode of the BBC series, eight years after he refused an investment offer from Dragon Peter Jones on a previous appearance in the den.

Mr Russell is one of just a handful of people who have appeared on the programme more than once.

However, it is understood nobody has ever turned the potential investors down on both occasions.

The 35-year-old entrepreneur said he was disappointed at how low their offers were.

“I’ve been left feeling anxious and a little stressed about it as it takes a lot to turn down a Dragon,” Mr Russell says.

“But I know it was the right decision, I just have to prove it now.”

Mr Russell first appeared in front of the Dragons in 2015 with his idea for a fashion app called Mallzee that used the data generated to help retailers make better decisions about what clothes to buy.

Back then he turned down an offer from Dragon Peter Jones because he wanted too much of a stake in his business.

The company grew but it was hit badly when retailers stopped buying stock during the Covid pandemic.

He closed it down in 2021 to focus on his new project – This is Unfolded.

It claims to make clothes without the waste normally generated by big brands.

Mr Russell says about 30% of clothes that are made are never sold – 26 billion items of clothing per annum.

His company only starts making the clothes once they have been ordered, to reduce waste. It then takes between four to six weeks to reach the customer.

He has about 3,000 women on social media who vote on their favourite designs before the most popular ones go up for sale on his website.

Mr Russell says he also wants to pay bonuses to garment workers at the factories he uses in India and fund children living near them to learn to read and write.

During his latest meeting with the Dragons, he was asking for £75,000 in exchange for 2% of his company.

Steven Bartlett failed to make Mr Russell an offer but three of the Dragons offered all of the £75,000.

Deborah Meaden wanted 12% of the company, Peter Jones 15% and Touker Suleyman wanted 30%, which Steven called a “Dracula offer” – meaning it was bloodsucking.

Mr Russell reject Touker’s offer, saying he didn’t think it would be good for either of them to work together and certainly not good for his mental health.

The entrepreneur then tried to negotiate Peter Jones down from 15% to 4% or 5%, which made the Dragon ask if he was joking.

Mr Russell explained he “simply couldn’t go lower”.

Deborah Meaden said they were so far apart she did not think a compromise could be reached but she wished him all the best.

And Peter Jones said he hoped Mr Russell would not regret saying no to him twice.

Mr Russell told BBC Scotland: “Peter and Deborah would have been great partners for This is Unfolded and I’m still cut up we weren’t able to do a deal to get them both on board but it just wasn’t possible with the percentage they wanted.”

He said he would need to raise further money in the future and if he gave away too much of the company at such an early point then that wouldn’t be possible.

Mr Russell said: “Saying no to Peter Jones the first time round felt like one of the biggest decisions I had ever made.

“I had waves of fear all the way back to Edinburgh that potentially I could have made the wrong decision.

“However this time round I feel I have made the right decision in saying no to him.”

He added: “That’s not to say I haven’t had a number of sleepless nights since.”

His latest appearance in the den was recorded in Manchester in July.

At that time he had £600,000 in investment for his company.

He has since secured another £600,000.

Mr Russell said: “Going up in front of the Dragons is a very scary experience. Your adrenaline is going all day and you are in front of them for two hours without a break.

“They ask a lot of questions and you have to make investment decisions in a short space of time. It’s an intense environment.

“I really didn’t want to say no to them and I am very sad about it but I just couldn’t structure a deal with them that worked for everyone.”

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