Stories of Growth

Dom & Ali Beaven, Prezola: “It was the best-smelling shipping container of all time”

As part of our Stories of Growth series, hear from the childhood sweethearts turned co-founders.

12 October 2022

In 2017, BGF invested £3 million into wedding gift list business Prezola, to support the development of its mobile technology. We later provided follow-on funding to help it launch new technology platforms and expand internationally. We exited our investment the same year, when the company was acquired and merged with another wedding list provider. Read our interview with Prezola’s co-founders, Ali and Dom Beaven, below.

Prezola co-founders Dom & Ali Beaven

Dom: Ali had the idea. She felt you should be able to add anything from any shop to a single gift list. In the gifting market at the time – this was 2011 – there were limited options. You had John Lewis, House of Fraser and Debenhams, that was about it.

We used our savings to get started and did some begging and borrowing from friends and family. Ali had a nice Land Rover. She came home one day and I’d put it on eBay because we had run out of money. We bootstrapped for the first year to get it off the ground.

We went big on advertising from day one. The first ad we did was a four-pager in Conde Nast’s Brides magazine costing thousands of pounds. We had to look bigger than we were. When you’re online only, you don’t need a showroom on Oxford Street.

“Ali had a nice Land Rover. She came home one day and I’d put it on eBay.”

Ali: As a couple, we had renovated properties together, so I knew we worked well as a team. I was the creative side, he was the business side. Our approach was to combine high street and online brands in one place. That’s what made Prezola special.

Dom: We launched in 2012 with 100 retailers. We had 350 by 2015 and then we stopped inviting people. Brands who wanted to be on Prezola had to pitch to us. When we launched, John Lewis was the market leader. We would say: “John Lewis is nice if you are traditional and want to go into a store, but if you’re style conscious and savvy and like online, we’re the brand.”

Ali: We kept diversifying to stay fresh and keep shoppers coming back. We added honeymoon options, charity donations, new things in the mix.

Dom: In four years, we overtook John Lewis. During that time, Debenhams and House of Fraser closed their wedding gift lists and John Lewis moved to a more generic gift list proposition. Big department stores were slow to react.

Prezola's team in the office

Dom: In 2017, we were growing fast but wanted more development capital, so our bank introduced us to the BGF team in Bristol. We hit it off straight away.

At the time, it was just Ali and me running the company with a small team. BGF felt we could grow the business more quickly by hiring a management team to take some pressure off us. We brought in a new operations director, finance director and a marketing director. It was a success, and we doubled the business in two years to £20 million in revenue.

In 2019, we sold the business to an investment fund that wanted to roll Prezola into another wedding list business. The exit process was complex, but with the right advisers, we made it work. It took six months from our original conversation to popping the champagne.

“We hit it off with the BGF team straight away”

Dom: There have been plenty of challenges – growing fast is difficult. We moved buildings four times in five years. We would take a lease, become nervous about the cost and size of it, and by the end of the year we would have to move to a bigger building.

Ali: There were great moments, though, which helped us leapfrog. I remember when we realised couples would pay for us to take all their products and deliver them in one go. We didn’t know how popular that would be. We had offices full of gifts!

Dom: One year, we had to have shipping containers put in the car park because we ran out of space. We stored all the Jo Malone candles in there over the summer and they melted. That wasn’t great. We had to buy more.

Ali: It was the best smelling shipping container of all time.

Dom: As with most businesses, sleepless nights came down to money and cashflow. Ours was a seasonal business, so we would spend all our money in the winter and the cash would come in over the summer.

Ali and Dom Beaven working at Prezola's office

Ali: I don’t come from an entrepreneurial family. For me, it was always about having a passion for the business. I believed couples would want beautiful products on their gift list and that people would want to buy them. Having a partner like Dom, who I trust and respect, with an eye on cashflow – that was the secret. It helps that we have been married for 26 years. We met at secondary school. We’re childhood sweethearts.

“We’re childhood sweethearts”

Dom: The advice I’d give to other entrepreneurs is ‘don’t look down’. We took that from a book by the founders of Notonthehighstreet. Don’t look down means keep going, try not to get spooked. There are times when you are too far in to stop, and you have to plough on.

Ali: Another bit of advice is to delegate. You can’t be an expert in everything. BGF allowed us to bring in experts in marketing and operations, which made a huge difference. It meant we could concentrate on what we were best at.

As well as that, we had a great team behind us, and a company culture that involved fun. We used to have a big fancy dress party every September. It started as a barbecue in our garden with six people and ended up in a marquee at a cricket ground.

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