Rejected Dragons’ Den inventor on track for £ 3million turnover this year
Tom de Pelet is proof the Dragons don’t always get it right after finding his Hornit bike horn idea rejected by Deborah Meaden, Duncan Bannatyne, Piers Linney, Peter Jones and Kelly Hoppen
A cyclist who invented ‘the loudest bicycle horn in the world’ is now a multi-million pound business owner – though he was dismissed from Dragons’ Den.
Tom de Pelet, 43, filmed the reality show in 2013 where he introduced his Hornit product to Deborah Meaden, Duncan Bannatyne, Piers Linney, Peter Jones and Kelly Hoppen.
But despite leaving without an offer, Tom, who lives in Exeter, has seen his business grow more and more and is now expected to hit Â£ 3million in sales this year.
Tom said he was inspired to design the Hornit horn after spending seven years commuting to London while working as a lawyer.
The first product launched in 2011 was the dB140 – the world’s loudest bicycle horn that allows cyclists to alert distracted drivers.
At 140 decibels, the Hornit can be heard by drivers over the noise of a radio and city sounds.
However, the business got off to a bumpy start after the first production of 3,000 horns was delayed by 11 months and was immediately found to be 80% defective.
âThis was despite going to China and signing golden samples after years of sampling and development,â said Tom, who had used Â£ 51,000 of his own savings to fund the business.
âIt took the plant an additional seven months to deliver replacement units.
âBy the time the replacement units arrived in July 2012, I was on my knees mentally and there was hardly any money left.
âI had important orders to fill, so I was able to continue. “
Tom took Hornit to Dragons’ Den in 2013 and spent a grueling hour and a half having his idea questioned by business moguls – despite only being shown on TV for 10 minutes.
He said his biggest fear was tripping during the opening speech or being ridiculed on national television while his friends watched.
He added: âThis part was the most scary. One minute they ask you an easy generic question and then suddenly you have to remember one of the, in my case, 53 digits in my head.
âIf you’re wrong you know that’s what they’ll show because it’s good for ratings.
âIn the end the pitch went well and despite the best efforts of Peter Jones and Deborah Meaden to catch up with me on the numbers, it all stacked up.
âBy the time I was in the den I had an order for Â£ 80,000 from Walmart for the Hornit Mini, a second product I had created which is a lighting and sound effects accessory for bicycles. and children’s scooters.
âI also had several international distributors. It gave me the confidence to believe in what I was doing. “
Although he left the lair with no investment, Tom said he was congratulated by the Dragons and left the set “more or less unscathed”.
Two of the Dragons also asked to keep the samples he presented during the show, he said.
Before Tom appeared on the show, he had spoken to an angel investor who then invested Â£ 100,000 in the business after Dragons’ Den.
âIt was disappointing that we didn’t get an offer, but other than that it went as well as I could have hoped,â said Tom.
“I had planned to continue regardless of the outcome at The Den.
“I really believe riding a bicycle horn is a lifeline and with the controls I had I was hoping I could make it work financially.”
Fortunately, things turned out well for Tom – despite the consecutive bankruptcy of several vendors he worked with in 2015.
This cost him tens of thousands of pounds and meant the Â£ 1.2million he was on track to making a turnover several years ago was not possible.
But Hornit has slowly recovered over the years.
The lockdown in particular has given a huge boost due to the increased number of people biking locked out, and the company has expanded its product line to include helmets, racks and lights.
International success has also helped.
Global export sales alone hit Â£ 1million after Tom broke into the Australian market.
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Hornit expects to reach just over Â£ 3million in revenue this year, followed by Â£ 4.5million in 2022 and Â£ 6.3million in 2023.
âIn 2019, our website and Amazon combined sales were less than 4% of the business, now they are 57%,â Tom said.
âIt’s a virtuous circle because we are able to take better care of our customers than if they were buying from a third party and this is valuable for long-term growth.
“When your customers like you, they come back and tell everyone they know.”
But Tom is still grateful for his time on Dragons Den and says it gave him the launch pad to market his company name.
âThe show gave my business the boost I was hoping for,â he said.
Hornit’s success comes as Australia and the UK struck a free trade deal in June 2020, which is expected to boost industries that employ 3.5 million people in the UK.
Paul Shand, Head of Trade at the South West Department of International Trade, said: âHornit’s success in Australia demonstrates the strong demand for high quality British products overseas.
âIt’s great to see them thrive at a time when cycling and other physical activities have become so important to our mental health. “