One year ago the Times reported on the success of Tunbridge Wells entrepreneur Caner Veli in his bid to secure funding on the BBC’s Dragon’s Den for his product Liquiproof and a lot has changed since then. Adam Hignett catches up with the young businessman to see how the company is faring today.
JUST over one year has passed since local entrepreneur Caner Veli appeared on Dragons Den to pitch his product Liquiproof to some of the most successful business people in the UK.
Described at the time by Mr Veli as ‘one of the most stressful’ days of his life, the former Hayesbrook pupil and Tunbridge Wells resident came under some intense scrutiny from the panel.
Longstanding Dragon Peter Jones berated the then 28-year-old over the valuation of his company –which Mr Veli claimed was £2 million – saying he would be luckily if it was worth ‘tens of thousands.’
Deborah Meaden then picked apart aspects of Liqiproof’s contract with the R&D lab that manufactures the product.
They were quickly joined by Nick Jenkins and Sarah Willingham, leaving Mr Veli perilously close to going home empty handed.
However, fashion and textile magnate Touker Suleyman saw much promise in the product, which utilises nanotechnology to form an invisible water-resistant and oil-repellent barrier when sprayed on fabrics and materials.
For £100,000 of investment, alongside access to the Dragon’s extensive business network and expertise, Mr Veli agreed to hand over half of his company.
Since then, business has been booming, with Mr Veli believing his business is roughly ‘ten times’ larger than a year ago, with a turnover of around £1.2million.
“It has been really good working with Touker,” said Mr Veli, who only finalised his tie up with the tycoon last summer.
“We have hugely benefitted from his advice and substantial network. We now sell to roughly 350 stores worldwide, including Japan, Hong Kong and America, although the primary focus is still the UK.”
“I wanted to create a cool place so that the team is firing on all cylinders”
On average, the company is shifting 10,000 units per month across its product range.
Staffing levels have jumped from what as effectively a solo effort to seven people, with the businesses’ headquarters currently situated in a unit underneath Union House.
This ‘pop up’ office reflects the vibrancy of his fledgling business and has been opened up to other micro-firms to hot desk and rent space of their own.
Operating amidst other creative companies ensures his own firm benefits from a more innovative environment, Mr Veli believes.
In addition, the office contains a small retail section, open to the general public, that stocks local clothing brands as well as music and photography studios.
“I wanted to create a cool place so that the team is firing on all cylinders. I don’t think you can be particularly productive if you are in an office with nothing but four white walls.
“We like to display art from local artists which is displayed for free and we collaborate with projects from Hospice in the Weald.”
However, in what will be a loss to the town, the pending demolition of Union House means the company will soon be relocating to London.
Initially the business will be housed in premises owned by 50 per cent investor Mr Suleyman in Edgware, although other locations such as trendy Shoreditch or Soho are also being considered. Warehousing is also moving up into London.
The move, which is scheduled to begin within the next three to five weeks, has had less pleasant implications for Mr Veli.
“Unfortunately I have had to let a couple of staff go because they were unable to move with the business. It is one of the hardest things I have done.”
On a more positive note, the relocation to London will ensure not just a higher profile and better access to his partner’s expertise, but also ensure a closer proximity to the sort of clients the company needs to attract.
“We have been in talks with Burberry, Paul Smith and Ted Baker, as well as some of the best hotels and restaurants in the country.”
Although originally aimed at the individual consumer who would use the spray to waterproof footwear and clothing, Liquiproof has proven to be a very versatile product with numerous applications.
This is why, Mr Veli explains, he has found his commodity is in demand at establishments such as hotels and restaurants.
“We now do more than just fabric protection. We can apply it to glassware, ceramics and plastics. It also has anti-graffiti properties. So as a supplementary business we now have teams go into places that want to be protected from spills, such as wine on a sofa, and apply Liquiproof to large parts of the premises.”
Liquiproof’s success has not gone unnoticed, with attempts to emulate its success sometimes causing friction, Mr Veli admits.
One such example was a company he says tried to ‘rip us off’ by replicating the product in a way that caused a bit of a clash over copyright.
“The legal team got very excitable about it,” he said, before confirming the issue was now resolved, and adding he welcomed any ‘genuine competition’.
But Mr Veli is confident that Liquiproof will prove a very lucrative commercial success.
“At the end of the day growing the business is a series of small steps. I just have to stay focused, keep positive and keep winning.”
What is Liquiproof?
LIQUIPROOF was founded by Caner Veli in 2011 with the financial support of family and friends.
Mr Caner believed there was a lack of any well-known waterproofing brand on the market, especially as admitted he was prone to ‘clumsy’ spills.
With a degree in pharmaceutical science from Greenwich University, and with a set of A-levels based around the sciences, Mr Caner had a reasonable grounding when it came to picking the right formula for his product.
While still working in London as a recruitment head-hunter, Mr Veli spent 18 months researching the industry, testing ‘every single product in the field.’
After finding the right R&D lab with the right product, Mr Veli left work in January 2014 to focus solely on building up the brand, which originally focused solely on protection for footwear, but has since branched into clothing.
Liquiproof works by utilising nanotechnology to apply an invisible hydrophobic barrier when sprayed on to the surface of fabric.
By bonding with the individual fibres of the fabric at a nanometre level – roughly 500 times thinner than a human hair – the particles of Silicone Dioxide found in Liquiproof form permanently bonded layers.
These build up an invisible barrier that renders water and oil unable to touch the fibres of the fabric.
This effectively means water and other liquids bead up and roll off the fabric, ensuring there are no stains or damage to the item of clothing itself.