Sarah Willingham

Wonderful Women Interview with Entrepreneur & Dragon on BBC2’s Dragons’ Den Sarah Willingham

Sarah Willingham

Wonderful Women Interview with Entrepreneur & Dragon on BBC2’s Dragons’ Den Sarah Willingham.

Sarah Willingham is the creator of restaurant chain The Bombay Bicycle Club and co-founder of The London Cocktail Club.

A serial entrepreneur and leading consumer expert who began working in the restaurant industry at the age of 13, Sarah has managed to combine her passion for business, food and drink into a multi-million pound business empire.

In 2003 Sarah spotted an opportunity to create a chain of Indian restaurants but her business plan was rejected so she struck out on her own and raised finance to buy The Bombay Bicycle Club, turning it into the biggest and most successful Indian restaurant chain in the UK.

In the same year, at the age of 31, Sarah sat on two plc boards and successfully floated a nutraceutical business on the London Stock Exchange.

A few years later, Sarah sold her shares in The Bombay Bicycle Club for a seven figure sum.
Sarah co-founded and invested in The London Cocktail Club and Craft Cocktail Company and has helped grow these two concepts into award-winning businesses.

Today, Sarah runs her business portfolio from her home office alongside her entrepreneur husband Michael and together they jointly invest and support more than 10 business ventures, from start-ups to established and growing brands in the food and drink, consumer finance, health food, banking, mining, technology, lead generation and entertainment sectors in the UK, Middle East and North America.

Sarah has recently partnered with Experian to develop Jangle, an iPad app that teaches children the value of money through the creation of savings pots for the things they really want. Quality marked by pfeg (Part of Young Enterprise), the suggested activities are designed to teach children a range of money management capabilities such as saving, budgeting, the value of money and being a savvy consumer.

Sarah lives in Oxfordshire with her husband Michael and their four young children: Minnie (9), Monti (8), Nelly (6) and Marly (4).


Describe a typical day for you?

There’s no such thing as a typical day – I think that’s what I love about what I do: no two days are the same. There are some things that happen every day – like getting my 4 kids ready for school and doing the school run which I share with my husband Michael.

Then I could be working from our home office, doing media interviews, meeting with some of the companies I invest in or filming Dragons’ Den up in Manchester.


What do you feel are your biggest achievements?

My biggest personal achievement, without doubt, is my four children, in fact my family.  They are the reason I do what I do!  We are a unit and I look at them and my awesome husband and have to pinch myself that this is my true story. They are even bigger than any dream I could ever have had.

Since we started having kids both Michael and I have shaped our career and our life to make sure that we are able to be present emotionally and physically in our family life – be parents but still do what we LOVE to do – business.

That’s why we have sold anything that we ran and now we invest and work with brilliant entrepreneurs. It’s been VERY hard work getting here but when I was working for Pizza Express in Japan, I was given a traditional Japanese Daruma doll as a gift-the doll’s eyes are blank and the idea is that you colour them in when you’ve achieved all you want to achieve – I coloured in my Daruma Doll’s other eye when I met Michael, had my first child and sold my first business.  It’s all a bonus now.


What’s in your handbag?

My phone – I can’t live without it – it has my diary on it and without my diary I would be totally lost. My book of ‘Princess Notes’- a little notebook I carry with me all the time where I write down ideas and thoughts, A LOT of lip gloss and usually about 100 pens… I don’t know why but I really accumulate pens.


What advice would you give your pre-baby self, that you now know, having had children?

You can’t do it all, so don’t even try!  Work out what’s really important to you and focus on that, whether that’s going back to work or choosing to be a full time mum.

Once you’ve worked out what’s really important to you,  give that 100% of your energy and focus rather than trying to do lots of things only half right.  Also – don’t feel guilty about your choices and don’t listen to other people – do what’s right for you and your family.  Mama ALWAYS knows best – trust your instinct.


Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

I hope to be continuing the great life and career I’m having now.  I’m so fortunate to be in a place now where I love my career and have got the balance right between work and family.  I’d like to see my investments continue to fly, including The London Cocktail Club which is one of my favourite investments – we’re raising money on right now, it’s really exiting.


What advice would you give a budding entrepreneur?

Ask yourself ‘Why’? WHY are you doing this business?  Why is it important to you?  Why does it matter?  Why does it make you happy?  So many people get caught up in running a business they forget to really examine their motivations.  Asking yourself Why? It helps you focus and keeps you focused on your goals when things get tough.


Finally, happiness is….

Family, sunshine, a cold glass of wine and some great food.


…Recognising the importance of helping children learn essential money management skills early in life, Sarah Willingham has partnered with Experian to develop Jangle, a free app which has been quality marked by pfeg (part of Young Enterprise).

Research by Experian revealed that most (58%) parents are trying to take an active role teaching their children how to manage money well.

Encouragingly, over half (51%) of parents who give pocket money do so to help their children learn how to manage money independently. H

owever their good intentions are being undermined by a number of factors.

 67% do not take a consistent approach in ensuring their children earn their pocket money; only ‘sometimes’ aligning it to doing chores.

 42% of those surveyed (parents of children aged between 5-18years) admitted they did not try or were not managing to take as active a role as they would like.

 Of these parents, 36% struggled to find the time to take a more active role.

 A further 30% cite a lack of confidence, knowledge or suitable resources as factors that are holding them back.

Jangle is for children aged 7 -11 and is a fun and easy way to help teach children essential skills about how to manage money well while helping them save for the things they want.

Further details of the app are available here:

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