Entering the Dragon’s Den

Edited by Admin
Entering the Dragon’s Den

For as long as I can remember, Dragons’ Den has been one of the most beloved shows on television. Every week I would watch as timid, excited and passionate entrepreneurs pitched their ideas to the Dragons. I was always in awe and, sometimes, dismay at the way that the Dragons dealt with contestants. When I had started my company, I had never considered going on Dragons’ Den. At the time, many of the entrepreneurs on the show were people who had products and positive traction. When it came to tech entrepreneurs, it always seemed less likely they would get any funding because their valuations would be extremely low. Most people don't understand that since tech companies need a lot of funding to maintain their technology, their valuations start much higher than other product companies. As all those expenses layer on, owners gradually lose part of their share. When this happens, especially during difficult times, these owners end up bowing out and no longer run the company. In Silicon Valley, this is “killing the golden goose.” Accordingly, tech companies need to begin their valuation extremely high.


How it All Began


Before we auditioned, I had been running the company for a couple of years, and one of the things I knew about Dragons’ Den is that it would give an entrepreneur great coverage of their company across the country. I was very eager about doing a pitch that would allow us to get ourselves bigger and far more well-known. So, I found out when the next Dragons’ Den audition was, and I noticed that the last leg of their trip across Canada was in Toronto within the next two weeks. Excitedly, I asked a couple of my colleagues to join me, and we slowly put together our pitch.


The Audition


One of the things people can relate to is we all have a lot of stuff. The problem is that most people don't have the space to store all this stuff, but our company provides the solution, we find alternative storage spots. For our pitch, we wanted to take a whole bunch of things, like a Christmas tree and sports gear, and dump them in front of the Dragons. We wanted to give them an interesting perspective on how SpaceiShare can be helpful for people.


On the day of the audition, we didn’t need to sign up. We just walked straight into the main hallway of the CBC building. In that hallway, there was a stage with headshots of the Dragons and hundreds of people waiting to pitch. The pitch was done in front of two judges alongside other tables of judges and people, so it was hectic. Despite many people being buzzing around, we were still able to get our message across. We had spent a lot of time practicing our pitch, so when all was said and done, it was difficult to know whether we had a good shot. There were so many other companies that did well too. Not two weeks later, I got the call saying, “You've been selected to go on Dragon's Den.” I was over the moon. I couldn't believe how lucky we were to have this opportunity.


Preparing for the Dragons


Since we auditioned at the end of the tour, the tapping of the show was going to start soon. We only had another two weeks to prepare. For those two weeks, one of the judges worked on our pitch with us. We would rehearse regularly. When it came to pitching, I had previously spent many weeks learning how to pitch at a tech accelerator in Boulder, Colorado. Now, accelerators are usually 12-week programs where start-ups will be educated and groomed. Part of this process is “demo day.” This event was held on the last day of the program, where hundreds of potential investors will hear you pitch your company at once. Given this experience, I was very comfortable pitching in a room full of investors. On the day of the show, we made our way in with all our props and waited in the green room, although it was mainly just a big room that would go into the Dragons Den’s set. My two other colleges and I wore heavy winter coats and carried random items, like a Christmas tree and storage bin. It was really hot because I was wearing this heavy coat under these warm lights, and then they said, “OK, you're up.” We gathered our props and went on our way. We walked behind a screen, which showed our shadow coming into the den, and next thing I know, we're in front of Dragons.


Into the Dragons’ Den


That was one of the most surreal moments of my life. It didn't feel like we were there. I had always dreamed of being on Dragons’ Den, but I never actually thought I would have something to pitch, yet there I was, in front of them pitching my idea. One thing I can say with certainty is that the air in the room was extremely serious. As I mentioned before, I have pitched in front of 600 investors at once, but never have I experienced such an intense moment where I had to be completely on. Not only that, but part of our story revolved around the challenges our company had faced early.


A lot of people don't realize, but building a tech company is quite challenging. If you don't have the right people on your team, if you don't have the funds, your product will not turn out like Airbnb but instead like Craigslist. So, it's critical to have a great tech team by your side, especially in the early stages. When we first started, our challenge was our payment system. The system had broken down, which caused issues with payment collection. Ultimately, people were moving off-platform to process payments, and we lost a lot of money. Many potential clients and partners wanted us to have a complete and running site, yet it's hard to have a perfect site when we didn’t have the funds to pay people to do it. Basically, we were caught in this complicated stage where we didn't have the money nor the tech, but we had the idea, and we wanted to put it forward across Canada. Dragons are always interested in things like company traction, and ours wasn't good. Though we had since taken steps to fix the issue, we needed to explain that process to the Dragons. Nonetheless, on stage, at that moment, my biggest challenge was letting the whole world know that we had not made all that much money, and, honestly, it was hard to talk about. At the same time, I felt confident that we were going in the right direction to do something big. I didn't want fear to stop me and my plans. Ultimately, half the Dragons did not like our pitch based on our concept or traction, but a couple of them were interested. For about 40 minutes, questions were being fired at me, and I wanted to answer them as best as I could, yet I was overwhelmed. I was thinking, “OK, I'm done.”


Michelle Romanow made the first offer of $125,000 for 15% of the company. After that, Lane Merrifield had made an offer of $125,000 but for 20% of the company. When it came down to picking between the two, it seemed like Lane was just being friendly by offering it up and felt Michelle was going to get the deal. In any case, it didn't seem that he was all that interested in the idea. When we went to discuss, we had definitively said we wouldn't give away more than 10%. However, if Michelle worked with us, we would have a great mentor. When we went back out. I started the conversation by thanking Lane, but that we decided to go with Michelle’s deal. Funny enough, the way they edited that clip made it seem like I just dissed a Dragon. I thought that was quite funny, and many people were impressed that I did it that way, yet that’s not how I delivered it. Regardless, it all worked out, and we had hugs all around. We were happy with our decision, and that was it. After about 45 minutes of shooting the show, I had completed the most intense experience of my life.


Leaving the Dragon’s Nest


A lot of people ask me about funding and working with Michelle. Long story short,  we did not get the funding. I did meet with Michelle, and we communicated on a couple of occasions. However, we did not extend the conversation to reach a deal. A lot of people don't realize that most of the time, contestants do not get funding on these shows. These shows are done more for PR, which was the main reason we did it. Though, when I did meet with Michelle, she had some excellent advice for us. To this day, we're still in touch. Overall, if you're an entrepreneur and looking for great PR, this is the way to do it. 


By December of that year and I had not heard from anybody about getting an air date. 70% of the pitches make it on air, but 30% do not. Even if you do get a deal, it doesn't mean that it's compelling enough for producers to televise it. By mid-December, I got a call about our air date. It was going to be aired in late January, season 13, episode 13. As you can imagine, 13 has become my favourite number. Again, it was another moment of being totally ecstatic, since I didn’t think we were going to make it on to the show. Though we were thrilled, we had a lot of work to get done in terms of our technology. That year, I brought on some new team members. We were just looking to improve the platform as much as possible, which is always something that we're undergoing. All in all, it was a great experience. It was a fantastic opportunity to get our business out there.