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In this exclusive Q&A, the hard-nosed investors of CBC-TV’s Dragons’ Den identify what too many entrepreneurs get wrong — and why they have trouble getting it right.
Laurence Lewin, President & COO, La Senza Corp., Montreal
In 1990, while working for apparel retailer Suzy Shier in Montreal, accountant-turned-computer programmer Laurence Lewin co-founded La Senza, a lingerie retailer that today boasts more than 700 stores around the world. Although the company was acquired in January by Columbus, Ohio-based Limited Brands — the parent company of Victoria’s Secret — Lewin remains its president and COO.
What’s the best business mistake you’ve ever made?
Trying to own and operate La Senza in the U.K. My team and I are very much micro-managers, so it was very hard to operate our business from 3,000 miles away in what is a different culture — even though I was born there, and they speak the same language. But that mistake generated the idea of licensing the corporation and La Senza’s brand in countries other than Canada, and that has been brilliantly successful.
Complete the following sentence: You can tell I’m interested in your opportunity when…
I keep quiet, because it means I’m listening.
What’s the fastest way to turn you off a pitch?
Be arrogant. A person pointing their finger at you and telling you what are facts in their mind but with no substance to support it.
What’s the most common fundraising flaw you see in entrepreneurs?
They don’t have enough facts. You can have a good gut feel that a business would be exciting, but if you can’t substantiate it, then you’re dead before you start.
What element is most commonly missing from entrepreneurs’ pitches?
An understanding of their true costs. We might ask, “How much will this product cost you to manufacture?” And so many don’t know.
Which Dragon would you least like present to?
Me, because I’m a numbers person. I see numbers in my head as people are talking, and if they don’t add up, I get turned off very quickly.
What’s the key to startup success?
You have to have an unshakable passion in what you’re doing. If you don’t have that drive, if you don’t give all your time to it, you’ll fail.