The Experience on Dragons' Den
When our first application went into the BBC to appear on Dragons’ Den, I don’t think we really believed we would get through to the next stage, let alone appear on the show. It’s a thorough process and the prospect of being asked in for filming seemed distant. Until the email arrived with confirmation - we had a slot on the very first day of filming the new series. Excitement was our first reaction - we have the chance to earn investment and have a Dragon on board. Then after the initial news settles down, you realise that you will actually have to pitch. On camera. To Dragons. Eeek.
First step: watch past episodes of Dragons’ Den. A lot. Given we were potentially appearing on series 19, that’s a lot of episodes. I went back to about series 10 I think by which time we had a good idea of all the potential questions we might get but also which pitches impressed us and why. From there, we could build out the structure of ours and prepare answers to likely questions. The closer we got to the day, I actually found that watching more episodes was having the adverse effect and making me more nervous - I imparted a self-imposed DD ban in the week before filming.
Second step: practice, practice, practice. I practiced to my wife, practiced to my kids (not much helpful feedback from a 3 and 1 year old)...then we upped the stakes and presented to colleagues (who all enjoyed taking on roles of the Dragons). We even replicated the lift entrance, made sure we were the appropriate distance apart and tried to make it as close to the Den as possible. Realistically though, my daughter is no Deborah Meaden.
Our focus was very much on perfecting the pitch. We felt confident that we could answer most if not all questions - we were given great advice that ultimately, nobody knows cheese (and the business) like we do. It’s true.
As well as prepping our pitch, we also needed to organise our display table and screens in advance. Now, if you’re a business that sells suitcases this is pretty easy - you can just bring along your product and give a demo. Cheese is a little more…unpredictable. We had to keep everything chilled right up until the last possible moment, including obviously the samples that we were offering the Dragons. Next time, remind us not to get involved in perishables.
On the day
We travelled up the night before to avoid any last minute travel hiccups, proceeded to get absolutely no sleep and felt anything but refreshed. I tried to eat but it took me 30 minutes for a bowl of corn flakes. Not a good start. We arrived at the studio at 7am as we had a morning slot…and the waiting began. Like waiting for a flight if you hate flying. Or an exam. Or the morning of your wedding. It went on and on. We practiced our pitch to anyone who would listen but given we kept stumbling, it wasn’t helping. I tried and failed to eat again. It wasn’t until early afternoon that we got the call. Pitch time.
Coming out of the lift, I intentionally tried to make eye contact with each of them. From memory, Sara and Deborah were smiling and settled me down (Peter Jones was a little more stern). There are no niceties though, we were straight into our pitch. Three minutes, one opportunity - thankfully we made it through. In fact, it went better than most of our practices - nothing like a bit of pressure and adrenaline to get you through. Edward is a master of the figures so we quickly got them out in the open and the conversion flowed - whilst a stretch to say we enjoyed the questions, it was great to talk about the business with such experienced and well regarded entrepreneurs. Even if we weren’t to get a deal, the experience was great. After some (many) cheese puns we received 3 offers (Peter, then Steven and Touker). We headed to the wall to discuss - given we were socially distanced, I’m the first to admit that I didn’t hear a huge amount of what Edward was saying. I knew the gist and after a short negotiation, we agreed a deal with Steven. Result.
After some awkward, socially distanced first bumps we got back in the lift where I proceeded to curse non stop for about 30 seconds. Very unlike me and unsurprisingly this didn't make the final edit.
What surprised me?
- The Dragons. Less intimidating and more supportive than I imagined.
- The lift. If you know, you know
- Watching yourself on telly is far worse than the pitch itself. I hid behind the sofa for the majority of our segment
If you’re thinking of applying, go for it. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. Even if you don’t get the outcome you want, you’ll learn things about yourself and your business that you never thought you would.