The beginning of a career comes in different packages. Usually, it goes according to plan but for some, they had to adapt and thrive in a rather untoward situation presented to them. For Kelly Hoppen CBE, her career started early in her life because of a tragic event in her family. However, with relentless passion and creativity, Kelly’s career in design was born.
With 45 years of experience at the forefront of the design industry, Kelly Hoppen CBE is one of the most celebrated and sought-after interior designers in the world. Kelly’s first commission, to design a family friend’s kitchen, has led to multiple awards and numerous publishers and businesses continuously seeking her unparalleled expertise.
In this episode, Kelly Hoppen CBE talks about her journey from a young designer to the business icon that she is today. Success doesn’t come on a silver platter, it does not happen overnight, and it involves the ability to rise from failure and the heart to move on. She shares how leadership should be reflected in your company and why authenticity is so important not only to your client but to your people as well. Kelly also shared how she developed a brand that’s recognizable on a global scale.
Kelly’s career has expanded into TV and film, as she appeared in a cameo role in the Absolutely Fabulous movie alongside Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley. In 2013, she became an investor on BBC Two’s hit show Dragon’s Den, has since appeared in BBC Two’s The Great Interior Design Challenge as a judge on the show, and most recently appeared as a guest judge in Interior Design Masters on BBC Two and Netflix. In 2019 she launched her first podcast series, The Kelly Hoppen Show, where she interviewed a range of successful women about their career and life journeys. Kelly regularly features on ITV’s This Morning where she shares her tips and expertise with members of the public.
- How a tragedy in her family prompted her to start a business
- Where Kelly got her love for design
- Understanding how to value yourself for the work that you do
- Kelly’s journey into television and her stint at Dragon’s Den
- How to have effective leadership in a company
- Talking about the Great Campaign
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Please note this is a verbatim transcription from the original audio and therefore may include some minor grammatical errors.
Adam Stott: Today I’ve got an amazing guest. In Kelly Hoppen, who is an entrepreneur, author, has a CBE and an MBE. She’s a designer, has written 13 books and also starred in the BBC’s Dragon’s Den. Somebody that has really had some major accomplishments throughout her life, does lots of great work and has got a campaign that she’s, uh, got her CBE for as well, the great campaign.
So I’m really looking forward to. Digging in, finding out about Kelly’s journey, going all the way back to the start and really getting to know how we’ve gone on to accomplish so many things. Kelly, so welcome to the show. How are you? You good?
Kelly Hoppen: I’m good. Thank you. I feel very good cause I just had a week off, first week off in a long time, so feel ready to go.
Adam Stott: Relaxed and ready to go. Fabulous. So look, we’ve, you’ve obviously had a an ultra successful career and achieved some amazing things. What I love to do, because of, as we mentioned earlier, the audience is really business owners aspiring to accomplish things. And I think with all the things that you’ve accomplished, it really does show anything is possible. But I wanted to kind of go back all the way to the start of your career and talk about how did you get started in business. Obviously conquered the design world much more, and I wanted to kind of really understand where you started from and what were maybe some of the challenges when you were getting started.
Kelly Hoppen: I mean, I think it’s fair to say that, you know, when I look back at my career, which is sort of 45 years, I started at a very early age of 16 and a half, and it just proves that anything’s possible. But you can have a dream and you can have a passion. I started my business really young because my father had been killed, and I wanted to leave school and defend for myself. And so, Through something tragic like that, it really gave me this kind of fearless inner feeling that I wanted to accomplish something and not really rely on anyone else. But I’d also always loved interior design from an early age, you know, when kids were going out and. Doing things with their friends. My mom would say, what do you wanna do? And I’d say, look at show flats. You know, I, I knew from a very early age that that’s what I wanted to do. So when I had the opportunity to do a kitchen of a friend of a friend, very early on, at the age of 17, I was just, yeah, I’m gonna do it. And I think with all business, if you can just, you know, put your toe into the water and not worry about failing and do it and accomplish something, it doesn’t have to be perfect.
My God, that job wasn’t perfect. But through that and the, the buzz and the feeling that I got from doing it, I knew that whatever it was that I just did. Absolutely made me want to do it again. And I think with all business, that passion, that burning passion inside that a lot of people go, you know, it’s all hoo-ha. I don’t, I think it’s real. And I think if you can find something that you really, really love to do, you’ll probably succeed a lot better because you are very upbeat, you are positive. And part of what I did at an early age, because I’m much older than the people who are probably gonna listen to this. Is that we had to communicate and communication can be very scary. You know, now people hide behind laptops and iPhones and I’m very, very pro people actually picking up a phone or meeting someone because you get more done in those few moments that you communicate with somebody than you do over an email. So I built my business up, basically going around talking to people, and I was quite introverted and shy, but I pushed myself. And every time I got that next job and I got that feeling in my belly, it just spurred me on to do more and more, and I suppose, being an interior designer, I was also born with the entrepreneur business side of the brain. Even though I was very dyslexic, I loved the idea of building something and learning from people, and I was very sort of unaware of the fact that my design business became a brand. And I remember reading the first article it said, this is very Kelly Hoppen, and I thought, That’s a much bigger statement than it’s just Kelly Hoppen. That means it’s now part of a brand. And from that, my brain started going into how do I then create product and create licensing? And so I learned all about Martha Stewart and read up on that.
And. So my business has really grown, and I would say to your listeners, think of your business like a mind map. You have one solid idea in the middle, and it goes off in lots of different tangents, and those can be crossed out. A new one can add to that, and you’d be amazed at how every single thing you do, If your core values and philosophies always are imprinted into the ground as your, as your soul, you can grow in every direction as long as it all comes back to whatever it is that you believe in. Do you know what I mean?
Adam Stott: I totally know what you mean. And, and one thing that I found really fascinating when I was sort of doing a bit of research prior to our conversation is it talked about your philosophy. It talked about your philosophy of in interior designer. It’s actually something that I wanted to ask you about is how that came about because like we said, we had this first job. And I think that you, your philosophy then went on to be, I want to create calm, balanced environments and I thought that that was interesting that you tuned into that. And obviously I know a lot of interior designers, I’ve helped a lot. I’ve worked with and coached interior designers. And I think that not many people actually get that thing where they say, this is my thing, and, and then drive it home. And that’s exactly what you just talked about. How did that come about? How did you find your philosophy?
Kelly Hoppen: I think because my parents’ home was and my grandparents’ home, which is where my love of design came from, which was the complete antithesis of what my design is. But it was more about the feeling that I felt growing up when I used to go to my grandparents’ home. There was that kind of calm, that safety, that nurturing, the smell of the coffee and the cedar chest, all of those things that made me happy. I think I sort of turned that into. A feeling, which ended up being a look. And then I became obsessed with the east and then east meets west, and I just slowly started finding things that I loved.
And when I first started, I couldn’t afford to go and get really like expensive fabrics and I, so I would use calicos and linens and all the, the base fabrics. And that’s how I then decided, oh, I love that. And so my style kind of was very organic and I think again, Anything that you do in business should be organic and it should make you feel okay and it just grew. And you know, when you do your first job and somebody loves it, then you think, okay, that works. You know, it’s like the first time often young kids say to me how do you charge the first time? And I said, you charge for the value of your time. And then a year later you put your fees up and it only takes one person to pay that. And that’s for me and that’s how you grow. You know? So you’ve gotta value yourself. You’ve got to understand what your brand is and what you do. I suppose mine just sort of came from a very organic thing that just happened and I’m really glad it did because we didn’t have Pinterest or Instagram. I used to have to go out and and use my brain to be inspired, and I did that by travel. And again, I would say to people, take your heads out of your laptops and look out there and go and find things and go to museums or whatever business that you are in because it’s there. We just don’t use it enough.
Adam Stott: It was interesting because the, the way you said is you, you kind of had that feeling of your, your parents’ home, your grandparents’ home, and you knew what you liked and you knew how you felt, and then you kind of knew that you wanted to deliver that feeling to the clients. That’s probably what made it very unique and then you built upon that, which is absolutely awesome. So as you grew, you obviously tapped into the fact that you were building a brand and you started to grow. What was it like as you started to grow the business? Why did you start getting into writing books, having written 13 books and and tv? What kind of steered you in that direction? What kind of happened next?
Kelly Hoppen: Well, it was interesting. I met a life coach through a friend of mine and I was going to New York for business and I got on really well with him, and he said, I’d love to give you a session. And I talked to him and I’d said to him like, you know, I think I’ve kind of reached my peak. And he looked at me and laughed and said, you never reach your peak. He said, come and meet me in New York. I’ll give you a session. And I remember sitting in this incredible corner office in New York, which again was like the first experience of that kind of moment in New York high up, you know, like you see in the movies. And he don’t, you step down from where you are standing. And I went, what do you mean? He said, step down from where you are standing. I said, I don’t understand. He said, because if you did, you’d fall a very long way. I said, what do you mean? He said, you’ve reached much more than you think.
Adam Stott: Threshold.
Kelly Hoppen: Yeah. But it, the sky is your limit. Now you’ve just got to look at where you want your business to go now. Like you can, you never stop. You are always gonna grow, but your, your mind has gotta be open to all of those possibilities and be conscious. In the moment, and I’ve always held onto that. And the other thing he said to me is, you’ve grown an extraordinary business and it’s like an umbrella.
You are at the top and then you have all the layers below you. He said, but every single layer below you has to be an umbrella too. They’re also striving to get to the top. And that remained in my mind. He said, you have to be a good leader, but everyone has to breathe. If you suffocate people in your company, you can’t grow. And that was a huge turning point for me. And he also said to me, the more you share your knowledge, because I would always be going into people’s homes and talking, the more your business grew. So I said, well, shall I write a book and tell everybody how to do what I do? He said, great idea. A week later, Conrad called up and said, we’d like to do a book with you. Boom. Done. And from that moment on, I’ve always shared everything that I do. For everyone to be able to do, and that grew my business because the more you share, the more you give, the more you get back.
Adam Stott: I love that and I, I think that’s so great and I love the fact that it came from coaching, especially when you were at a successful point already, because sometimes we can get, you know, it just takes somebody to look at somebody really talented and say, Hey, you can do more and give you that challenge to wanna do more and go up, which is, you know, incredible. And obviously that then that, that kind of was the catalyst for the. The first book and how did that impact things? Now you are on a new path and you’re building that brand. You obviously went on to do a, a few TV shows, didn’t you? But how did the first TV show come up? Because that was around interior design, wasn’t it initially?
Kelly Hoppen: Yeah. I mean, you know, I’m always approached even now to do something and I’m working on a new TV show, but it just, I think with things that come to you in, in your business, you kind of know whether it fits into where you are at this point. The problem with me is I get offered so many things and I wanna say yes to everything, but I’ve got much better at actually sitting down and thinking about it and thinking how does this work within what my plan is for the next year or two years and will I enjoy it?
And you know, I don’t wanna do anything. That I don’t really enjoy because I think the more you enjoy it, the better you are at it, and therefore it’s better digested by the people that you work with. So a lot of things started coming to me and then obviously Dragon’s Den later on came to me and I was petrified. I mean, I was like, there’s no way I’m dyslexic. I can’t add up in my head how am I gonna do this? You know, it’s not live tv. And right up until the very last minute about to go and film, I was like freaking out thinking I can’t do this. But it was so brilliant and I would still be doing it if it didn’t take up so much time because it did. The more you invested in people, the more it took me away from my core business than everything else. But I still watch it avidly and Shark Tank, you know, I think for a lot of people out there in business, Shark Tank and Dragon’s Den is a great thing to watch, to learn because you will learn a lot from it.
But I’m somebody that loves challenges. I don’t like to do the same thing all the time. I like, I often love things coming in left wing, right wing, you know, from all sides. And then you find that kind of, I don’t know, that balance if you like, in your life, that works for you with work and at the same time that you have time off because you need both. Everything’s a balance in life. And then obviously building the brand with licensing and product. That was a whole new world. But I just wanna say to your listeners, not everything went right. You know. I’ve had lots of failures in my career, but the one thing that I’ve learned an entrepreneur has intrinsically in them, and you’ll know this, if it doesn’t work, move on to the next. You’ve always got something else you can move on to. Don’t waste time you know, dissecting it and getting upset about it, it just didn’t work.
Adam Stott: Yeah, absolutely. And it happens, doesn’t it? And it’s like exactly like you said, you know, people go through ups and downs and actually people that succeed the most, uh, usually have the most kind of failures, but they’re the things that don’t really get looked at, you know? And it’s really interesting. So we, with Dragons Den, I think it’s a really topical thing, especially for the listeners. What did you do with some of the businesses you invested in? What did you see? Did you see some typical mistakes or did you see some typical things that you thought, Hey, you know, they just need to tweak this. They just need to do this differently. Were there some things that you saw commonly that could transpire to the audience where they could maybe change some of the things that they were doing?
Kelly Hoppen: I mean, you know, first of all, the contacts that we have as dragons are numerous. The years probably. That that we have done business are numerous but the key thing that I found and I invested in people that were passionate about something. If you take for example Skinny Tan, which was one of the top most successful investments in in Dragons Den, they bounced on, you know, the stage they had, I like the two mums from Australia. They had a product that I would use myself because I’m fair-skinned.
It was a fake tan that was organic and they called it skinny tan. It’s, you know, great what? But they had no idea how to grow the business. You know, for me, I redid the packaging for them. Had they not come onto Dragon’s Den, they would’ve been fairly successful. They would’ve chugged along. But when you have a fresh pair of eyes on something, which is a really important thing, you look at it from every different angle and you bring your expertise and you know, there’s that forum of talking. If you have something that you want to sell, you need to know your competitors. But the most important thing that I invested in was drive people that really wanted it. Because today there is so much out there, there is so much competition. You have to stand out in a crowd. And I suppose the bit that I loved about Dragons Den was finding that. You know, there was a young boy that I invested called Revive phone, and at the time there wasn’t something where you could fix a phone that had dropped in water. And there was this young guy, Oliver, who was just so young and so sweet, and I just knew the minute he walked in your mine, you know, and Peter Jones tried. And we had a great time together, but he was always listening. He was always like eager to learn something. I learned something new every single day still in my business and my world that I’m involved in. And I think that’s a good thing. So you, you know, you’ve gotta be open to suggestion, newness, and most importantly, with the world changing so rapidly, you’ve got to see what’s happening.
You’ve got to watch the news, you’ve got to adapt. And see how you can move. Like, you know, think of your business as a river. It’s constantly gonna take different bends and bumps, whatever. Because if you are too focused on one way of doing something, you’ll crash and burn.
Adam Stott: I love that. I love the analogy of, think of your business as a river. You know, we often say how you change is how you succeed because when businesses get stuck, usually it’s because they’ve had some success and they just don’t want to change to get their next, you know, next corner on the river. You know, because change things up in order to sort of grow and succeed, you know?
So, yeah. Amazing. So we had a great experience on, on Dragons then. Where, where are you now? What’s been happening now, Kelly? What is your, you know, the, the future look like for you? Where are you going on your river?
Kelly Hoppen: I’ve got a lot of amazing projects all over the world. I’ve just come back from Miami where we’ve got several projects just working on with great people that really want you to design their home. So when you’ve got that marriage, it’s, it’s a mutual feeling and so there’s a kind of joy attached to it. On top of that, we’ve got lots of new product coming out this year and we’ve gone into different territories to work because again, I was watching the news and adapting my business. So, you know, we’ve kind of maneuvered things a bit. So we’re working in new countries, working on a TV thing. I’m loving doing my work on this morning where I kind of go into people’s homes and within two minutes can tell them how to change it. We’ve got some exciting things I can’t talk about yet, which kind of involved with that. But there’s just lots of fun things. But it’s all creative and you know, I’m the businesswoman but it’s the creative side that I love and I’ve just got the best team. You know, I nurture the people that work here and looked after them through Covid cause we never shut. And there’s just a good feeling out there now. You know, there’s a positive, I think, Post Covid, that’s much, much stronger than I’ve ever felt before in the workspace, so that’s a nice thing.
Adam Stott: I thought that, you know, what you said about the creative side, I think that’s really, really clear is that, you know, your success has come through creativity, isn’t it? You know, and when, when you talk about being dyslexic and you talk about those challenges, I think actually for entrepreneurs who succeed, that creativity’s a big thing as a leader. And to go out there and make that happen, which is great. And I met one of the team as well. What would you say on team building? I’d love to hear your, uh, you just mentioned about having a great team and having great support. What are the critical elements for a business owner to really zone in on when building a team? And has that been something that you’ve been good at or is that.
Kelly Hoppen: I think so. I, first of all, you should say hello to every single person in your company every day when you walk through the door. And you know, that’s a lot of people here, but you go and you talk to them and we do lunches here. And you know what I say that my, I call them my children, you know, they’re all friends up that show. We’ve got a good team of people and they need to be happy. They need to be appreciated. You know, they need to know the standards that we expect here for our clients, but they all want to please me as well. I want to please my clients, but my team want to please me as much as they do the clients. But I think it’s communication and, and having that openness to be able to talk about everything. Listen, you know, you can’t run a business and not listen and hear what people have to say. You know, my creative director is a young guy who came and worked for me 15 years ago. Walked up to me at Grand Designs and came in as literally a junior, and he’s now creative director. I like people to grow in a business, but I love to see how he thinks of all of the stuff that we can do in the company.
Things that I might not have thought of because I’m older and he’s younger, or vice versa. You know, I think you can learn from each other every single day. The key factor is communicate, be kind, listen, and have all the channels open and support for people because post covid, a lot of people need that now. So I think it’s an awareness that maybe wasn’t there before for a lot of people.
Adam Stott: And you mentioned standards there. And I love everything that you just said was brilliant and some really good. Practical tips there that people can use. You talked about standards you’ve dealt with and looked after some seriously high profile clients . I read that you did Victoria and David Beckham’s house, for example, and you’ve got very high standards in terms of the, the work you’re doing. How do you communicate the standards to the team, and how do you make sure that they kind of live up to that? Cause that must be a challenge, right? When you’re dealing with super high profile people and, yeah.
Kelly Hoppen: I suppose so I haven’t really thought about it. It’s just a given here. Like I suppose the people that I have employed here are very like me in a way. So I think maybe you mirror image, you know, I, I feel like my company attracts a certain type of person in, when I say that, I mean, we are the most diverse company.
I’ve got people from all over the world working here, but. They can see the standard of project that we produce down to the flower in the vase and what color it is to the way the drawings are done. So I think it’s a common. Anomaly that we just know that’s how we produce it. That’s how we install it. And by the way, we do it on time within budget.
It’s kind of, those are the rules. That’s the tick list. Like if you book a holiday, what do you need? You want seaview, you want a white beach, you want sea, you want cocktail. You know, it’s like these are our tick lists. And in a business, if you’ve got your box, what your values are, what you produce, what you provide, and what you deliver. You can add to those things because you are always gonna be learning from other people. But those, that, that’s your basics. You know, to drive a car, you need petrol. You know, we know what we need to put in to make it work.
Adam Stott: And I think that is the basics. That’s kind of what I wanted to, that where we were going because I think it’s really important that you have those ba, A lot of business owners don’t have that, so they, they struggle to get their team, you know, they feel like they’re the top person and their ideas and not getting followed through. But it was really interesting you said, we’ve got our basics. We know what we’re gonna do, we’ve got our values, we follow it through. And I think that’s awesome. So, you know, a lot, a lot to learn there for business owners and, and of course I think we, you know, we, we’ve been brilliant conversations so far.
I think we should mention the Great campaign and, and the work that you’ve done there. And I know that you’ve, you’ve got a CBE correct? For, for the work there. Yeah. So why don’t we mention, how did that come about and what’s that been and how did you manage to fit that in?
Kelly Hoppen: Well, the, you know, the great campaign is not, it’s not a political campaign, but it’s part of government and they approached me. I mean, it’s gotta be 12 years ago to get involved in it. And I loved the whole concept of saying, Britain is great, you know, I’m British, I love Great Britain, and it is great, and how can we support business, small and large, export, import around the world and pass that message. I was at Downing Street last week with Rishi and a whole load of people and we were sat there talking about the great campaign. And it was really interesting that Rishi turned around to me and said, you know, when this all started, obviously under another Prime Minister, it was a brand, if you like, that we tried to create for Great Britain, but. I didn’t really think about it like that. And in those days we would go to companies to say, you know, can we be a part of, you know, put our logo on to support, you know, creativity, science, medicine, sport.
You know, you see them in the airports, you know, the big campaign. Britain’s great. Science is great. Creativity is great. Business is great today. People come to the Great campaign and ask to be involved in it. So we’ve created a brand that is great for Great Britain, and we want to strive more. We want to support young, youthful business. And I think it’s, it’s just grown in the right way and it’s now really, really strong. And I think it’s really imperative that as the world gets bigger, if you like, and more dissipated, that we bring it all together. And as a campaign, it’s been very successful and we’ve got some amazing things lined up for the next year.
And because I’ve exported a huge amount from Great Britain, so when I would export a home, say to China or America, I would use as much British as I could. I’m exporting millions of pounds worth of business to other countries. So it’s about talking about that, but now it’s more inward about Great Britain itself and how we can support that.
Adam Stott: Brilliant. And, and how can people find out more about that? Or is there any way people could support that campaign in any way?
Kelly Hoppen: I mean, it’s on Instagram and it’s got a webpage and Absolutely, you know, take a look at it that, and one of the other great businesses or charities that I’ve been involved in is, is King Charles’s, the Prince’s Trust.
So I’ve also been involved in that. So for small businesses or people that are really struggling, there’s another great charity there. Where you know if you are the right person to be helped, they do help you.
Adam Stott: Brilliant. Awesome. So look I’d love the conversation. You know, last question. We’re on Business Growth Secrets podcast. What would you say if you were taking a business owner, starting out, what is the secret or in your mind, or some of the secret formula to creating success? I think you’ve given some of that way as we’ve been talking, but I’d love for you to, if you could pinpoint two or three things that could really help someone building a company, what would those two or three things be?
Kelly Hoppen: I think the basic one is to believe in what you are doing and be passionate about it, and, but also to be honest enough that if it doesn’t work, you’ll move on to something else, but believe in yourself because no one will believe in you unless you can. I would say the other thing is authenticity. Be really authentic about the business that you create and who you are and the team that you are.
And I would say the third thing to add on to everything that I’ve said is, you know, the world is your is there for you. Like there are no restrictions. So don’t go into a business fearing you are going to fail or that you can’t get to where you want to go. Go into a business with a positive mind knowing that you are going to be able to succeed. And with those small thought processes, it really helps the whole process of being able to open up whatever it is that you need.
Adam Stott: Brilliant. Well, look, thank you very much, uh, Kelly for coming on Business Growth Secrets. It’s been amazing. I’ve loved the, uh, conversation. Where could people go and get in touch with you? Do you have a Instagram profile?
Kelly Hoppen: Instagram and we’ve got a website and we’re starting a newsletter soon so they can sign up on, I think it’s Link Tree and yeah, so it’s all there.