East Shore business owner shares Dragon’s Den tales
Maria Latouf was breast feeding her one and a half month old son, as she had countless times before when her business was born.
Her son had become obsessed with a Flower of the Life pendant that she wore around her neck.
He would suckle on it, and play with it while she held him in her arms.
One day the leather had worn too thin and the pendant fell off.
“It was really special to me because my mother in-law had give it to me,” said Latouf. “It had become a sort of talisman for me.”
Eager to get it back around her neck, Latouf strung it on a piece of hemp. Noticing that there was two long strands in the back she decided to thread some beads on it rather than cutting the hem.
“Right away as I was wearing it I noticed the beads started coming forward,” said Latouf. “My posture was really shot from breast feeding and carrying a baby around. I started to think 'what if I walk around with a straight back and am more conscious of my posture.'”
What Latouf noticed was when she was mindful of her posture, the beads would lay naturally along her spine, when she would hunch or let her posture go, the beads would fall forward.
She also noticed that while sitting the beads continued to promoted good posture.
It was then the seed for Posture Beads was born.
“We immediately started searching on Google for similar products,” said Latouf. “We knew if nothing else like it existed we had come across something special.”
She began researching patents, marketing and other important business information to move her business forward.
“We did some market and patent research with a couple companies,” she said. “We got a one year provisional patent and we started to market it. I read books on how to cold call. I had dreadlocks and everything; the experience changed me a lot.”
Latouf — who now has short brown hair; no dreadlocks — hadn't worked a full time job in several years after she and her husband (at the time) returned home to Windsor from the Kootenays to care for her ill grandfather.
“We offered to move home, live with him and be his live in caregivers,” she said about her grandfather who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. “He was still alright to live in his home but needed a bit of help.”
Any time she had when she wasn't caring for her son and grandfather was spent working on her blossoming business.
Following the separation from her husband, Latouf thought her dream of making Posture Beads a reality might be dead.
“I had intent from buyers to buy, but I needed stock and inventory,” she said. “I had a one year patent that was about to expire so I needed a full patent.”
Armed with the business plan she had worked tirelessly on, Latouf went to the bank in search of a loan.
Unfortunately, the employee told her she wouldn't get a loan and that she should seek about full-time employment.
“She shattered my whole world. I just sat there crying,” she said. “It was one of the worst moments. I had done all the work, had intent from buyers and I couldn't understand why i couldn't get a loan. I was a single mom with no income.”
Soon after, a glimmer of hope appeared in the form of an email from her local business centre who had helped her with her business plan.
They told Latouf that Dragon's Den would be holding auditions in Windsor and to help potential business owners prepare local angel investors would evaluate 10 lucky winners in a local contest.
“I won one of the spots just by submitting my information and my plan and when for the trial pitch,” she said. “I got some much great feedback from the local investors that I decided to audition for Dragon's Den.”
Latouf made the stand-by list and eventually found out she would be on the show.
In July, she returned to the Kootenays with her now three year old son and her episode of Dragon's Den will be debuting on Wednesday night.
“My friends and family told me not to go on the show and cry like a baby,” she said. “Everyone told me the Dragons were going to rip me to shreds. They told me not go cry or get angry and to keep it together.”
Even though the Dragon's were impressed with Latouf's product, she was unable to get a deal at the den.
“Don't cry don't get angry, keep it together,” she said. “I couldn't be happier. I don't not get along with anyone. I don't make enemies.”
As for one of the Den's most terrifying Dragons.
“I'd probably have a glass of wine with Kevin O'Leary, maybe,” said Latouf. “I'd let him choose. I don't have anything against him that's for sure.”