Children’s storybook entrepreneurs win the hearts of all five Dragons
The latest entrepreneurs to pitch to BBC’s Dragons’ Den have made TV history by asking for just £1 in return for a 1% stake in their company – winning over all five Dragons.
Simon Hood and Charlene Mitchell-Hood, married cofounders of Sooper Books, appeared on episode five of the new series of the show, which aired on 1 February 2024, with their mission to be the world’s best storybook streaming service making reading exciting for children and effortless for parents.
The author-illustrator couple from Stratford-upon-Avon pitched in rhyme to the formidable team of Peter Jones, Touker Suleyman, Deborah Meaden, Steven Bartlett, and Sara Davies, before revealing an original story featuring the Dragons.
The Dragons were instantly drawn to their ambition and drive, with all five immediately expressing interest in the business.
But there was clear interest from all the Dragons from the get-go. Suleyman, known as the Dragon who ‘won’t get out of bed for 1%’ stunned his colleagues by agreeing to the offer of £1 for 1%. Shortly after, in another Dragons’ Den first, all five Dragons got up from their chairs and headed to the back wall to discuss the opportunity before all separately offering £1 for a 1% stake in Sooper Books.
Charlene said: “We knew offering the Dragons such a small stake might backfire on us – they could mistakenly think we weren’t serious about the business or their investment. Luckily, they saw the commitment and ambition we have for Sooper Books and our drive to support other parents in tackling growing literacy issues around the world.”
Every year in the UK it is estimated that 200,000 children leave primary school at 11 unable to read or write to the required level, leading to the UK having the lowest rates of literacy of any developed nation. While over in the US, where Sooper Books is fast becoming the go-to site for children’s stories, approximately 40% of American students cannot read at a basic level.
When they fell pregnant with their first child in late 2019, Simon and Charlene discussed the countless mental health and development benefits reading to children has and started an online library of bespoke curated and narrated books for their daughter, Goldie (now Chief Story Officer aged three).
The five-10-minute bedtime stories consist of short digital and audible stories to multiple story episodes in series collections, featuring wibbly-wobbly aliens, a flying sheepdog, gouda trees, a posh rat and a one-leg-one-wheeled alligator monster to name but a few.
When lockdown hit in 2020, the couple realised they wanted to truly make a difference to families all around the country who were either struggling to read with or to their children, or just wanted access to more unique stories. And so, they began offering their stories for free online to all UK primary schools.
Simon said: “Just six weeks after offering our content for free to primary schools we jumped to number one in Google for ‘bedtime stories’ in over 50 countries. We went from zero page views to over a million in weeks and we’ve now surpassed 25 million views, with the UK and the US being our largest audiences. We’ve hired a world-class team, published over 200 exclusive stories and audiobooks and kept to our ‘read free’ promise by always having 100 stories and audiobooks completely free for all families to enjoy.”
The grand total of £5 from Suleyman, Meaden, Jones, Bartlett, and Davies will now join Sooper Books’ investment pot of just over £1 million from 50 of the world’s best investors including HRH Princess Beatrice, Monzo’s Tom Bloomfield, Go Cardless’ Matt Robinson, Lord Agnew, and Lord Nash, plus two influential venture capital funds Concept Ventures and Ada Ventures.
Currently valued at over £5 million, Sooper Books boasts an impressive team of critically acclaimed creative minds – who are also parents – including double Emmy award winning children’s TV scriptwriter and playwright Glen Berger and coveted voice actor Philip Hurd-Wood.