How we grew our business with venture capital investment

Magic Whiteboard with Theo Paphitis and Deborah MeadenIt started with a portable whiteboard on a roll, and now Magic Whiteboard has a raft of products including a roll of blackout blind material and reusable notepads. Rachel Miller discovers how the company expanded with the help of two Dragons

The company may be called Magic Whiteboard, but its success is no trick - it's down to innovation and sheer graft, not to mention the support of two well-respected venture capitalists - Theo Paphitis and Deborah Meaden.

"We went on Dragons' Den because we wanted to show people how our product works," says Neil Westwood, managing director of Magic Whiteboard. That approach certainly paid off, as Deborah Meaden and Theo Paphitis invested £100,000 in the business. And being able to market themselves with the line "as seen on Dragon's Den" has certainly helped.

The company's core product is Magic Whiteboards. "It is a replacement for a flipchart. You can tear it off and put it on the wall - it sticks to any flat surface - and you can use it as a whiteboard, writing on it, erasing and reusing it," explains Neil.

With Theo Paphitis on board, it's not surprising that the product is sold in Rymans. However, it is also available in many other retail outlets including Staples, Amazon and Tesco.

The company has also launched Magic Blackout Blinds based on the same technology. "It's a sheet on the window that parents can use to stop their kids waking up so early," says Neil.

Branching out

While the Magic Whiteboards and Magic Blackout Blinds are still the "cash cows" of the business, says Neil, he and Laura have introduced new products and extensions to the brand that are really taking off. These include A4 Magic Whiteboard sheets and reusable magic Cling Notes. "The A4 sheets, for instance, allow people to buy our product for just under £10," says Neil.

They have also developed a Magic Drawing Pad app for the iPhone and the iPad - a clever extension of their core product.

Seeing is believing

Because the Magic products have a "wow" factor when they are demonstrated, exhibitions are at the heart of the company's marketing strategy. For example, the blackout blinds are aimed at parents, so consumer events such as the NEC Baby Show provide a good platform to demonstrate the product. Meanwhile, training and office supplies exhibitions are best place to show off what the Magic Whiteboard technology can do.

A relatively new market for the company is schools. "There are 26,000 primary schools in the UK," says Neil. "We're finding that schools install Magic Whiteboards in one classroom to test them out. They can create a working space really fast without any hassle. We usually find that schools then order Magic Whiteboards for all of their classrooms."

Marketing lessons learned

Neil has learned a lot about marketing over the past four years. "We have learned that PR is more effective than advertising," he says. "We had 50 words in Good Housekeeping and sold thousands of rolls of black-out blinds as a result. Lots of grandparents read the magazine and they bought it for their grandchildren."

He has also learned that spending a lot on marketing does not always deliver results. But he's not short of creative ideas to help spread the word. Those ideas include everything from advertising on sandwich bags in London's Canary Wharf to sponsoring a play, Pitch Perfect, set in a design agency. Magic Whiteboards featured prominently on stage.

Neil has even designed a superhero to represent the brand and uses an eight-foot cut out to attract visitors to the Magic Whiteboard stand at exhibitions. "It helps to start conversations," he says. "The cut-out only cost £100. You don't have to spend a lot of money to get noticed."

Neil and Laura's three key tips

  • "It's all about lean thinking, we don't waste resources. Our model is low cost. We haven't wasted money but we have spent money building up the brand."
  • "Exhibitions are a very good way of interacting with our customers. As soon as people see the products, there is the wow factor and it's sold then and there."
  • "Use entry-level products to tempt people in. What we find is that people are trying our lower priced A4 Magic Whiteboard sheets, and then going on to buy the larger roll - so it has been good for sales."