Dragons’ Den entrepreneur Chika Russell talks to ME & MY MONEY

Entrepreneur: Chika Russell received offers from all five dragons in BBC show Dragons’ Den in 2015

Snacks entrepreneur Chika Russell would offer tax breaks to women who set up their own businesses if she were made Chancellor of the Exchequer. 

Russell, who in 2015 received offers from all five dragons in BBC show Dragons’ Den – accepting one from Peter Jones only to later turn him down – recently secured a multi-million pound investment for her African-inspired ‘boldly-flavoured’ snacks, Chika’s. 

She donates a penny from every pack sold to charity World Vision which helps young girls in Africa. Russell, 36, talked to Donna Ferguson. 

What did your parents teach you about money? 

I’m of Nigerian descent and my parents believed you should only spend what you have. The Nigerian saying is: adjust your coat according to your size. 

My late father used to run a large Nigerian bank. He was financially astute. My mother was a businesswoman. Our family had homes in Nigeria and the UK. 

By Nigerian standards, we were well off. We had drivers, cooks and cleaners. But in the UK, the naira – the currency of Nigeria – didn’t convert well. By UK standards, I’m definitely not from a wealthy family. I was the youngest of seven children. We made do with what we had and lived within our means. 

Have you ever struggled to make ends meet? 

No, because I have always lived within my means and I have always worked. I got my first part-time job as a hairdresser at my mother’s hair and beauty salon. I was just 14. 

Customers would see my hair and ask me to do theirs. I started quoting ridiculous prices because I didn’t want to work every weekend. It got to the point where I could earn £1,000 for four or five hours’ work. Often I would earn £2,000 a weekend. I had no living expenses and I saved every penny. By the time I was 22, I had managed to build up savings of £140,000.

What was the best financial year of your life? 

Last year. My business, Chika’s Foods, received an investment of £9.8million to expand it. As a result I’ve started paying myself a salary for the first time since I set it up seven years ago. 

Less than 10 per cent of private equity funding goes to female entrepreneurs – and less than one per cent goes to women like myself who are from black, Asian and other ethnic minority backgrounds. 

So it’s a huge deal to secure such a significant investment. Plus, around 70 per cent of my workforce in Nigeria are female, so more women in Nigeria will have jobs as a result of the investment. 

The most expensive thing you bought for fun? 

A black Python sky-high boots with six-inch stiletto heels. They cost £5,500. 

I got them two years ago as a treat because I’d been working so hard. I could afford them because I have always saved. I went from living with my parents to living with my husband who works in a senior role in financial services. So I have never had to spend loads on rent or anything like that.

What is your biggest money mistake? 

It was a few years ago, I was flying to Portugal with my family for my niece’s wedding. I had this craving for a tuna baguette when we were in the airport terminal. So I took my family off to go and buy one. 

Everyone decided they wanted something to eat or drink. As a result, it took a lot longer than it would have done to get a single tuna baguette. Eleven of us missed our flight. I then rebooked and paid for everybody’s tickets which is why buying that baguette was the biggest mistake I ever made. It ended up costing me £3,800. 

The best money decision you have made? 

Giving a penny of every product that we sell to charity World Vision. It helps empower girls and women through education. It makes me feel good because when I sell a product I am not just making money for myself, but helping make the world a better place. 

One little luxury you treat yourself to? 

Macaroons from Harrods. Each costs £3. I usually get them in boxes of 24, one box every six months. 

Do you save into a pension? 

No, but now that I am earning a salary I am planning to start this year. 

Treat: Chika Russell appearing on Dragons’ Den with her African inspired snacks in 2015

Treat: Chika Russell appearing on Dragons’ Den with her African inspired snacks in 2015

Do you own any property? 

I own three properties in South London which I bought when I was in my early-20s. I didn’t get any help from my parents, I used the £140,000 I had saved from my part-time work as a hairdresser. 

That was about 15 years ago, just before the sub-prime mortgage crisis and the 2008 global financial meltdown. I only had to put down a 10 per cent deposit on each property. Nowadays, I don’t think a person my age would be allowed to take on so much risk. 

I bought a three-bedroom house in Norbury for £249,000, a two-bed flat in Clapham for £229,000 and a four-bed house in Mitcham for £349,000. I still own them and benefited from the rental income they generated when I wasn’t taking a salary from my business. 

I also own three other properties with my husband, one of which is our home. It’s an eight-bedroom house in London’s Notting Hill that we bought six years ago and moved into three years ago after renovating it. 

It cost several million pounds and we bought it outright, after selling another property we owned. I think it’s risen in value by a couple of million pounds since we bought it.

Do you invest directly in the stock market? 

Yes. I have an Isa which is invested in technology funds and I also invest through Hargreaves Lansdown into various opportunities I come across. 

In addition, I’m interested in cryptocurrency. I have quite a large amount invested. So far I’ve seen a 12 per cent return on the technology funds I’m invested in and a 100 per cent return on my cryptocurrency investments.

If you were Chancellor what would you do? 

I would offer tax breaks to female entrepreneurs that males could not qualify for. I think some investors have an unconscious bias towards men while others do it on purpose. For whatever reason, both private investors and venture capital firms decide to back male founders more often. 

I think the Chancellor should level the playing field and make it easier for female entrepreneurs to succeed and become role models for other women. 

What is your number one financial priority? 

T0 achieve financial independence and make a success of my business. I want to give back to all the incredible people who believed in me and put their hard-earned cash into my business. 

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