Bloomtown on Dragons' Den
One rather cool Sunday evening in early March of 2018, I was sitting by the fire when my husband (and business partner), Med, switched on Dragons' Den (UK version of Shark Tank), possibly my least favourite show on television. I cringed and decided to go in the other room to read instead, but Med pleaded with me to just watch. I agreed, but I remember feeling so sorry for the poor entrepreneurs whose businesses were being ripped to shreds in front of a national audience.
"Think we should apply?" Med asked, half-jokingly. "Hell no!" was my unequivocal response. I knew rationally that getting onto Dragons’ Den was an amazing opportunity and had helped launch many successful businesses (famously, Tangle Teezer, who walked away without an offer from the dragons, but went on to become a household name in the UK). Still, this was one opportunity I decided I would not seek out. It turned out, I wouldn't have to.
The very next morning (not kidding!), there was an email in my inbox from a BBC researcher saying she had been browsing for suitable businesses to apply for the new season of Dragons' Den and would we like to give it a go? At first I thought it was spam and almost deleted the message! Despite my (severe) reservations, I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I'd regret not taking (and that look on Med’s face!); besides, what were the chances of getting past the application stage? Well, we had heard that thousands of people apply every season, and only around 60 businesses end up being aired, so we figured our chances were probably less than 1%. We filled out the application and sent it back to the researcher.
Within a few days, she called back and told us we had passed the first stage, and we were invited up to London for a taped audition at BBC headquarters! Our pitch for the audition had to encapsulate our entire business in under 3 minutes. It felt like an impossible task, but over the next two weeks, Med and I pored over every aspect of our business and came up with something we were proud of. And off to London we went! The audition itself wasn’t as scary as we had imagined because it took place in a conference room in front of just two BBC researchers. We drove back to Cornwall, buzzing with excitement, analysing their every comment and facial expression, but we knew not to get our hopes up; after all, our chances might depend on things out of our control, such as how many other married couples or similar businesses they already had on board.
A few days later, the researcher called again to say that the producers loved our audition, and we were through to the next stage: due diligence. If we had known what this stage would entail, we might never have replied to that first email! The BBC required volumes of documentation about our business, products, and intellectual property. After many, many late nights and brain-melting sessions with our accountant, we were finally able to send off all the documents to the researcher. I’m really glad I did everything by the book from the very beginning, as I can imagine this stage proves to be a major stumbling block for many small businesses, especially due to the compressed time-frame involved.
A few days later, she called us with the news we had been waiting for: we had passed due diligence! This was really happening. We would be pitching in front of the dragons in Manchester at the end of May. That gave us a little over a month to prepare for our final pitch and the gruelling Q & A session that would follow it. The audience only sees a few minutes of heavily edited footage of the actual session, which really lasts from 45 minutes up to several hours. After sharing the news with my father, he offered to come to Cornwall to help us prepare. It was really fun having him here to play dragon - he was truly instrumental in helping us fine-tune our pitch, get our numbers straight in our heads and answer a huge variety of questions that might come up. I went from someone who never watched Dragons' Den to watching and analysing entire seasons!
May 26th arrived quickly. The drive up to Manchester was surreal. We had a car full of products and our display that we'd be setting up in the den. We had our gift boxes made up to present to each Dragon. As much as we tried to get comfortable in our hotel sheets that night, sleep was elusive, and before we knew it, it was 5 am, time to get ready and head over to the studios. Upon arrival, we were informed that we could be called into the den to pitch in front of the dragons at any time. We met the 5 other businesses who would be pitching that day and spent a bit of time setting up our display, doing some pre-interviews, getting our makeup done and then just nervously waiting on sofas.
One by one the other hopeful entrepreneurs were called in to pitch, and that was the last we saw of them. As it was getting quite late in the afternoon, we were warned that sometimes filming is rolled over to the next day.
The prospect of having to do this all over again tomorrow was gutting, but luck was on our side, and at 5 pm we were finally given the green light to enter the den. It was the scariest and most exciting moment of my life. I pictured myself just two years earlier, sitting on my kitchen floor, stirring a batch of sugar scrubs, and now here I was, gripping Med's hand as the fake elevator doors opened and we walked in to face the infamous dragons…
All in all, our time in the den amounted to almost an hour. We ended up not getting investment, but what we did get was honest feedback from some of the UK’s greatest business minds, and we soaked up every minute of it!
Are we sad? Hell no! Of course it’s disappointing to not get what you came for...all that build-up and preparation and adrenaline. It completely took over our lives for a few months! However, you have to understand our reality at the time. We were a 3-person team operating out of a few rickety port-cabins, still hand-labelling our bottles and filling our jars with ice-cream scoops!. So, with Dragons’ Den, we were riding a serendipitous wave of opportunity beyond our wildest dreams. We knew that no matter what happened, this was a massive win-win for our little business! Our main concern was whether or not our pitch would make it to air…
According to a website that tracks all den investments, only 45% of offers made in the den actually go through; most of the deals fall apart after the initial filming for various reasons. However, even if you "just want the publicity" and don't really want to sell such a huge chunk of your company, it would be foolish not to at least aim for an offer. Why? Because it’s likely that getting an offer drastically increases your chances of making it into the final edit. From what we gathered, it seems that 100% of pitches that get offers are aired, whereas perhaps only as few as 1 in 4 non-offers make the cut. We had to wait 8 agonising months to find out our fate!
The BBC had informed us that we would receive 2-4 weeks’ notice if our pitch was going to be included, and as the season neared completion, we feared that all of our blood, sweat and tears had been for nothing. Then a few weeks ago, we got the email: our pitch was going to be included in the very last episode of the season! Hallelujah!
We have no regrets about our experience in the den because we were absolutely as prepared as we could have been. We walked out of the den safe in the knowledge that we had given it our best shot. We didn’t mess up our numbers. We didn’t come in with a crazy valuation. Our margins were good. And we were presenting an ethical business that, albeit modest, was actually in profit and showing good growth.
During our hour-long interrogation, we received a lot of valuable criticism from the dragons, as well as many words of praise and encouragement. Although none of them had felt that it was the right investment for them at the time, we walked away feeling incredibly proud of ourselves and the little company we had built on a shoestring budget and a great deal of hard work. Don’t quit your daydream, guys!
Interestingly, the edit left out our impressive figures in the 2 years since launching (probably because we didn't mess them up, so not great television!) .
Just getting aired is really what it’s all about. The “Den Effect” or “Shark Tank Effect” is real. The cost of advertising equivalent to being aired on Dragons’ Den would be prohibitively expensive for most companies, even well established ones, and then there’s the repeats (re-runs), youtube presence, and the knock-on effect which is immeasurable. (As I write this paragraph, we are still working our way through the 600 orders we received in just 4 days, not to mention the hundreds of emails and dozens of new stockist enquiries! All in all, we received 15,000 new website visitors on the night and thousands more since.)
Today, Medwin and I still own 100% of Bloomtown, and in the year since Dragons’ Den, we have nearly doubled turnover and taken on several more high profile stockists, such as Monsoon and RHS - all without investment or publicity. We are now super excited to take all of this amazing media attention and make the most of it. Watch this space!
Given the immense value of getting aired on Dragons’ Den, I highly recommend that any business under 4 years old, no matter how “small”, give it a go. It’s television, so you may get through for demographic reasons beyond your business or product. You never know! Yes, we were extremely lucky to get a very favourable edit from the producers, but many businesses that have left the den with more egg on their faces have still gone on to make it big - very big.
I am considering offering a coaching service - if you are interested, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org so I can gauge interest level!
Link to Press Kit / Release: https://bloomtown.co.uk/a/press-kit