By Denis Mikhailov
In fairy tales, when a knight ventures into a dragon’s den there’s a chance he’ll be eaten alive. Entering into CBC’s, hit tv show Dragons’ Den, and you could be devoured by humiliation, intimidation and shattered dreams. However I believe that obstacles, no matter how 'scary' are meant to be overcome, and dragons are meant to be slain - metaphorically speaking.
Dragons Den or not, you need to know your elevator pitch, your financial ratios, competitive advantage, market trends and your valuation formula by heart. This is not negotiable.
Watch the show, practice your pitch and get friends to ask dragons style questions. Mathematically speaking, there are only a finite of possible questions the dragons can ask, if you can answer at least 90% of the most common questions, you're in good shape. The dragons will always throw curve balls, so be prepared to think on the spot.
We must have watched close to 50-80 episodes, everything from the very good, to the very bad and all in between. This gave us a really good idea of what type of questions the dragons ask, and how can we position our company ripe for an offer.
Dragons Den holds auditions in almost every major city across the country. Follow DD on social and check the website regularly for when the auditions are in your town. You can register online ahead of time.
The auditions are madness and a lot of waiting around, we were there for 6 hours. But make no mistake, although the people interviewing you are not Dragons, they hold all the keys to the den. Impress them and you have a shot. During the auditions they asked all the same questions as the dragons, so make sure you got Tip #1 & 2 down. During the audition we laughed and joked with the people in front of us, we were personable, they liked that.
If you’re thinking of auditioning, remember the odds. Producer Richard Maerov, a six-year veteran of the show, expects they’ll audition 6,000 people last year for just 250 slots on camera. And just a handful of those appearances will result in being televised and even smaller portion will get a deal. Be bold, be daring, but know your odds.
A few months went by, and I completely forgot about DD. There were other pressing issues with the business and there is no point worrying about something that is out of your hands. Then I got the call. I actually missed the call, and got a VM! then an email, then I called back. Niall Collins answered and said: "Hi I'm Niall, you're going to pitch in a month on Dragons Den!" WHAAAT! I screamed, then I clarified, did you say in a month!? Niall: yes, is that a problem? Me: Not a problem at all, we're ready now..... we were far from ready, and the work began.
Our producer walked us through everything from where to stand, how to pitch, what to bring, all the details of being on television. The pitches are filmed for 9-10 hours a day for 2 weeks straight. So there is very little room for coordination errors. By the time we flew out for the filming, we felt prepared .... but we didn't know what was in store for us from the dragons.
Not only do you need to have a business plan and how you are going to speak to the dragons, but you also need to have a plan if something goes wrong, if something is missing, etc. A solid business plan should help you articulate the key metrics, the opportunity, your competitors and the industry as a whole. A plan for whom is responsible for what type of question goes a long way, identifying roles is key. and a backup plan in case all goes to shit is also good to have.
Know their interests, business and experience. Consider who is the most likely to be interested in your pitch. Tailor your pitch to a specific dragon, it will be easier at the end during the deal making.
We arrived at 6am, we've been up since 4am and got a few practice rounds in. We practiced at least 4 times every day leading up to the filming. I was cool and calm and joked around with the producers. then just outside that big black door I heard 5, 4, 3, 2 ,1 , I walked through the door and my heart went all the way up into my throat and my mouth dried up. I felt disoriented and felt panic. But you didn't see any of that. Because hard work pays off, the pitch went smoothly, we knew what we were doing by heart.
Being in the den is like a boxing match, the dragons down play your wins, and overplay your short comings. Everything is a bit over the top, and I had to remind myself they are doing it for the cameras, don't take it personally. Despite what you see on screen, its eerily quiet in the den and the cameras are not visible at all to the eye. Which for a minute felt distracting as I spent a millisecond scanning the den for cameras.
We were in there for 45 minutes and the questions kept coming in at rapid fire. It definitely felt like I was being punched and the dragons tried to strip layers off the business. But we held on and I think we did a decent job of explaining what Nomad Nutrition is all about.
Dragons can smell vague answers and they pounce. Even a little hesitation can cost you. So have a very detailed plan on how you intend spending the capital the dragons would invest. Nebulous answers such as we'll spend it on 'marketing, sales, or inventory' is not going to work.
Out of the six dragons we received three offers. Lane, Michelle and Jim all gave us offers of various valuations. The offers i'll admit were not great, we were hoping for a better valuation.
Since we had a strategy in place (see tip #5) we knew that Lane would be the best person to deal with. Since Lane hikes, and generally is an avid outdoorsman. It was naturally a good fit.
Just because you get offers, does not mean they are great. Negotiate with the dragons, it makes for good tv.
We ended up going with Lane as he negotiated with us and got a DEAL! The biggest takeaway from the whole experience and our pitch is that there is a lot of value of having complete strangers rip your business apart. It made us think through our purpose and our vision and what we aim to achieve in the future.