“It’s all about trusting yourself”, advises Cecily Mills, the founder of dairy-free ice cream brand, Coconuts Naturally. The former M&S store manager turned ice-cream entrepreneur received investment offers from two Dragons - Jenny Campbell and Tej Lalvani – in Sunday’s episode of BBC Two’s Dragons’ Den series, so she knows a bit about backing your own capabilities and trusting your gut instinct. Cecily chose to accept Jenny Campbell’s offer, while also winning universal praise for her delicious ice cream.
Cornwall-based Cecily launched Coconuts Naturally in 2015, due to her frustration over the lack of tasty and natural ice creams in the market. Having turned vegan to increase her energy levels, Cecily found that she really missed ice cream. So she decided to make her own - one that had all the health credentials she desired, including organic and all-natural ingredients, but with no compromise on taste and texture.
Declining a Dragon
Fast-forward three years and Cecily has exchanged her career in retail management for the life of an entrepreneur. Her ice cream has won several awards and is sold in Ocado and shops across the UK, as well as being exported to Dubai. And her latest milestone is Sunday’s Dragons’ Den appearance. “Featuring on the show was an amazing experience”, says Cecily - “Of course it was tough, but I’m extremely grateful for all I learnt. And it was a major confidence boost to see the Dragons’ belief in me and my product.”
Shortly after filming, some key developments in Cecily’s business meant that ultimately she wasn’t able to take up Jenny’s offer. “Turning down the mentorship and exposure to a phenomenal business woman like Jenny Campbell was a very difficult decision. But again, I followed my instinct and it was the right thing to do for the company.”
Despite having to decline input from a Dragon, Cecily still stresses how important mentors are for a start-up - “I’m fortunate to have other people I can turn to for advice.” But overcoming daily challenges to get a business going can still be a lonely business. “Times can be tough, especially in the beginning. In April 2015 I received my first big order with no premises, a need to develop a fourth ice cream flavour - and a four-month-old baby. Then the recipes all went wrong when I put them through the new pasteurising machine!”
Coconuts Naturally is now expanding its domestic and export business. It’s about to ship its first order to Hong Kong, and has also struck a deal with a major UK retailer. Meanwhile two new flavours are in development. “I’m constantly facing new challenges, but I love being kept on my toes. It’s what drives the business forward. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else,” says Cecily.