Neil Westwood (25 February 2015)

While working as a trainer in the NHS, Neil Westwood became frustrated with the chore of setting up whiteboards and thought, “surely there must be a better way of doing this”. That became the catalyst of his invention of the Magic Whiteboard, leading him to resign from the NHS to pursue an entrepreneurial venture in an industry he had no idea about.  His first lesson came quickly: he thought the world would buy the product and turn him into a millionaire overnight. Reality struck when only a handful of purchases were made. Determined to succeed, Neil was still convinced that his product would be a success and decided to seek expert help.

His second lesson came when he appeared on the Dragons’ Den. He was seeking a £100 000 cash investment and finally secured a deal that saw him give away 40% of his company to investors Deborah Mead and Theo Paphitis. This had a twofold effect: on the one hand, he received the much needed cash injection, vast amounts of free PR and marketing, and expert advice from experienced investors who had great influence in the industry. But on the other hand, he had just lost 40% of his business, a transaction which later cost him nearly £620 000 to regain his shares.

Neil is a lean thinker and uses the lean approach for his business. Defined by his uncompromising focus on process and profits, he is particularly keen on “doing the process once” – subsequently reducing costs and maximising profits. His approach has helped him develop a better understanding of his customer. He explained how many of his recent ideas have evolved from listening to the customer and acting quickly. He also said that the best way to develop an idea was to “adapt a product that people are familiar with”.

Neil’s story was truly inspirational. Though he has been through a rollercoaster experience in developing his business, he has become more “aware” of the industry he trades in. The naïve Neil Westwood who left the NHS several years ago has been somewhat replaced by a tenacious and astute businessman who has a much clearer hold on “the way to do business”.

Based on a report by Marc Muzuva