In 2007 Imran Hakim went on Dragons’ Den and wowed two of the panellists into giving him enough money to launch iTeddy. Two years on and Imran is one of the show’s biggest success stories. He talks to Nadeem Badshah about the benefits of recession and breaking into India
Imran Hakim’s rise to fame reads like a Hollywood film script. Think of an ingenious idea, go on a popular TV show with your brother, who is dressed as a teddy bear, and then watch your idea fly off the shelves and net you millions. Hakim’s ‘eureka’ moment came in 2006 when he thought up a gift idea while playing with his nine-month-old niece Aaminah. His plan was to bring the teddy bear into the 21st century. His idea took a teddy bear with a built-in MP4 player in its tummy that can play and download videos, music and nursery rhymes from an iTeddy website, and store photos.
He pitched his invention on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den show, where prospective entrepreneurs present their business idea to a panel of fearsome investors. The British Pakistani convinced the panel’s Theo Paphitis and Peter Jones to jointly invest £140,000 in his iTeddy company in exchange for a 20 per cent stake each. Since his appearance on the hit show, the toy has become one of the best selling Christmas toys in Argos and is now sold in major retailers, including Hamleys and Harrods, for around £40. The iTeddy is now available in 45 countries after Imran agreed a worldwide distribution deal with Vivid Imagination, all of which has earned him over £10m in revenue.
So what next for the 31-year-old optician who can seemingly do no wrong? He told Asian Enterprise he has his eye on cracking the holy grail of the Indian market.“The big challenge in India is that it’s a country of 12 million retail outlets, of which four per cent is organised retail. It is very fragmented therefore to have the traditional manufacturing, distribution and retail model that you have here is difficult.“The cost of reaching some of the population is a lot more challenging and expensive so it’s not been one of the groups we aimed for initially. But because of the rising size of its middle class and their spending power it’s definitely something on our radar that we need to make sure we’ve tapped into as we go along.“iTeddy is already available in 18 different languages but the great thing about India is English is the main business language.”
Hakim is focusing on ambitious projects like India despite the credit crunch devastating the retail market. The demise of giants such as Woolworths has forced companies like iTeddy to rethink its plans on price and manufacturing costs.Despite his youth, or perhaps because of it, Hakim sees the financial turmoil as a great opportunity and refuses to be a doom-and-gloom merchant.“Right now it’s an exciting time for an entrepreneur, because when we come out of this in two years, there will have been a lot of very successful people because of the downturn, and I want to ensure we’re one of them.
“We’ve got a new strategy which is very different to where we were this time last year. If you look at the consumer products out there, retailers have shifted their focus from expensive high valued items to lower priced and value added products. “With big box items, there is a lower price because that is the point at which consumers are spending their money. If they can keep their child happy with a £20 toy, they’ll do so rather than going for a £50 toy which will so the same job.“Manufacturing in the Far East has become a hell of a lot more difficult because of currency fluctuation and double-digit price [factory cost] increases. We’re making sure we can trade through the difficult times and kick-off again with these opportunities as the economy picks up.”
But one plan that Hakim has been forced to shelve is a potentially lucrative tie-up with Disney to sell the American giants’ cartoons from the iTeddy website.“We are living in a very different world now and as a result we’ve had to take a step back and look at fundamentals and core business rather than some of the exciting deals we were looking at. So that is on the backburner at the moment.”With the Disney deal currently on hold, Hakim is planning to launch himself into the world of TV. But the Bolton-based tycoon insists he will not be joining Paphitis and Jones as dragons and sit on the other side of the fence.“I’m very focussed on the business stuff we’re doing. We’ve got regular exposure, but if it is the right kind of opportunity and its enterprise related. I don’t I ever want to be a Dragon, but I want to be in the enterprise space, if any opportunities arise then possibly.”
Hakim’s pearls of wisdom to budding entrepreneurs on a TV show will not be just about striking gold with the iTeddy. He started his business career aged just 16 by arranging trips for his schoolmates to the Alton Towers theme park for a profit.Then while studying Optometry and Vision Science at The University of Manchester, he sold computers and bought a photocopy machine, which he charged students to use.
Hakim also owns a business empire in England’s north west with 18 optometry practises along with IT and property companies. He puts his entrepreneurial talent down to having a host of role models who inspired him as a teenager.“My father ran restaurants and takeaways and inspired me to take control of my destiny. I admire Richard Branson for the way he has reinvented himself and his stamina. Also Peter and Theo for their entrepreneurial wisdom and knowledge.“They’re busy men, so very quickly you have to prove that you’re capable of running the business. I am purely driven by the sense of achievement and the challenge of making something happen.”