‘I survived cancer and went on Dragons’ Den – I never dreamed I’d make show history’

Lucy Rout impressed on Dragons’ Den this week, with the panel describing her as "phenomenal" and "inspirational".

Overcoming her crippling nerves, the 28 year old Londoner was able to deliver a smooth pitch about her business Tabuu, which sells stylish pill cases and led to a triple investment from Peter Jones, Touker Suleyman and Sara Davies – as well as a job offer.

The origin of her idea is due to a very personal experience and here, Lucy reveals how after surviving cancer, she went on to develop a life-changing business…

"As I stood in the elevator waiting to meet the dragons I felt incredibly nervous. I’d only been running my business Tabuu for around three months, and had never done a pitch for investment.

I felt complete imposter syndrome. In fact, I came close to pulling out six times in the week prior. I didn’t feel good enough and feared failure. I had to give myself a serious talking to, and remind myself what I’d done so far in my journey, in order to get through the doors.

This business all began in December 2019. I had a bit of a tummy ache. It wasn’t horrendous pain at all, but I went to the doctors to just check it out. They arranged for an abdominal scan, and they found pancreatic cancer. I was really not expecting that result. I couldn’t really handle the information so I started to view it as a project plan with individual steps to get through that period of time.

A month later, I had surgery to reconstruct my digestive system. Afterwards, the doctor handed me my tablets and I asked, “How long do I take these for?” They explained it would be forever.

It felt like my life was going to be defined by medicine. I felt so completely out of control of my own body, as it had new limitations and a scar. I felt quite anxious even getting out my pills in social settings. I had to have a pill every time I ate, and I was required to have little and often. It may sound silly, but I wanted to at least have a container that reflected who I was. If I’m going to be taking nine pills per day I want to be able to get them from something pretty! I decided I was just going to solve the problem myself.

I spent a lot of time on YouTube and Google learning how to design a product and I’d invest any spare income I had from my full time job as a start-up development manager into the business. Soon enough, I designed the stylish pill case and founded the company.

Fast forward to my three months, and there I was telling the dragons about my beloved product.

Steven Bartlett called the pitch ‘phenomenal’ and that’s the moment I felt like I could finally breathe. I know we shouldn’t rely on external validation, but it was so nice to have that reassurance. My eyes widened in reaction as I was so shocked at the compliment from someone I admire so much.

After about two hours of negotiations we came to a final deal. Peter Jones was worried about me burning out doing the business on top of my 9-5 so offered me a position in his company – which is something that hasn’t been done on the show before alongside an investment.

Then he, along with Sara Davies and Touker Suleyman took 40% of my company for £50,000. Some viewers on called it “the best Dragons’ Den offer in the history of the show”, which was pretty incredible to hear.

I never in a million years thought I was going to get the outcome that I did. I feared seeing people say nasty things about me, but I’ve had thousands of lovely messages. Some people have said they now feel inspired to start a business, while others have said they want to start talking about their own medication like me. One dad got in touch to say he’d made his young daughters watch the pitch in order to encourage them to believe in themselves. I cried at that one.

Perhaps most importantly, people feel represented. These messages fuel me. I care about those, much more than sales and profits.

Now, Tabuu is being taken to the next level with the dragons behind it. We’re working on international development and new products with different compartments, styles and colours. I’m so looking forward to what the future holds for me and Tabuu. It’s not just a TV show, it really does change small businesses.

I want to continue to drive the conversation around medication, and for people to talk about it whether it’s for depression, menopause, or a life-threatening disease. I’m not planning on stopping with my mission anytime soon.

I'm loving getting to spend time with other Dragons' Den success stories too like the women behind March Muses, who design diverse Christmas decorations. They've been so supportive of me."

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