Before the Show
It was 2:00 on a beautiful spring day in March of 2012, only three months after David and I had both decided to leave school and our jobs to pursue our dream of tentree. We were walking home from lunch to our office in the downtown and Dave noticed a sign outside the building next door saying “Dragons Den Tryouts – 8:00 – 3:00”. When we started we had thrown around the idea of going on Dragons Den but had decided against it because we wanted the focus to be on planting trees rather than the business aspect. Dave was more focused on the fact that the show could help us get our name to 1.5 million people and grow our cause, “What can we lose man let’s just go check it out?”
So we walked into the tryouts and saw a number of people practicing pitches and reciting lines, but we had nothing prepared. The guy at the counter approached us quickly, “We have an opening right now, ready? Sign here and here and then go into that room, the producers are waiting for your pitch!” We weren’t sure about going on the show so we felt pretty confident going into talk about our idea…there was no risk. When we got in the room the producers told us to start our presentation. Dave stepped up, “We don’t have one, but we’re young, have good sales, and we help the environment.” From then on they were peppering us with routine questions about our business plan (sales, turnover, days in inventory, plan for expansion, etc).
Two weeks later we received a letter saying we would be flying to Toronto and should have a pitch ready for the Dragons. With 1.5-2 million viewers per show, there was now risk! We were more worried about getting embarrassed than getting a deal. To prepare for the Dragons we studied previous episodes and did mock presentations to local business people.
We got to the CBC studio and had our makeup and hair done, got all mike’d up then went to the waiting room where some people were practicing and others wanted to keep their ideas secret. After 3 hours we were walked through a long maze of hallways then up to the stairs you see people walk down at the start of the show. They handed me a tree and said “If you fall down the stairs you get on for sure but it’s up to you….3…2….1…GO!”
If you ever get selected for the Den, here is what we recommend:
- Pick your roles; nothing looks dumber than interrupting each other.
- Ask yourself the toughest questions, then practice in front of pros. Go to a local private equity shop and get them to try and rip apart your business plan, then go fix the holes.
- Have fun before you present, if your still prepping an hour before then you aren’t prepared.
- Don’t exaggerate or elaborate, get to the point and keep it simple.
- Know your numbers (that includes ratios, projections, growth, etc)
During the Show
We walked down the stairs to a piece of tape on the floor then looked up and started reciting our introduction. You always start with name, business, where you’re from, and what you are asking for. The Dragons all looked smaller in person that they do on TV and under the light their skin seemed like porcelain from all the make-up…..kind of surreal. There are literally 25 cameras all around you, there is no roof, just cameras pointing down.
You are given 1 minute to capture the Dragon’s attention with an elevator pitch. Dave killed it for us and then (something you don’t see on TV), Arlene said “hey Dave run that intro again for me.” After that the flood of questions came in. The more we answered the more we felt comfortable. It was funny we knew every question except one Arlene asked, she said “Hey can you sell and using .org?” The problem was our IT partner was at home in Toronto so we all stood there like dumbasses for about a second until Kevin piped in “this whole environmental thing is crap! I’m out!” Then Jim, who had been quietly sitting there piped in “I’ll give you an offer but I don’t need 20%, how’s $100,000 for 15%?” Having an offer on the table gives you a surprising amount of credibility. All of a sudden Arlene and Bruce were jumping on the offer but realized they needed more to match Jim’s offer so they teamed up to offer us $100,000 for 20% but with both Dragons. They were all pitching us on why they were the best and in the meantime, Derrick, my brother, was trying to explain our evaluation to Kevin but that was ki-boshed when Arlene told Derrick to shut up as he didn’t have to explain the evaluation to Kevin. My personal favourite was when Kevin stuck his hand in Arlene’s face and yelled “SILENCE ARLENE, SILENCE!”
At that point we went into the back room. It was a little weird because there are three camera guys in there, right in your face during a critical and personal discussion…they kept telling us to speak louder and louder but we were trying to keep quiet enough that the Dragons couldn’t hear!
Our final decision was to go with Bruce and Arlene, the reasoning behind that decision was threefold. Firstly, we didn’t need the money so the real decision was Bruce and Arlene or Jim so we thought two Dragons is better than one. Secondly, on the show Jim made it clear his focus was on cutting costs and getting us offshore production where Bruce and Arlene wanted to stay in North America and focus on marketing the environmental aspect -- the latter fit our business plan best. Our third reason was based on what we had read on the Dragons, which was that Arlene was considered the favourite Dragon. As a result, we thought that would help our chances of airing.
While in the back room, we saw it had been about an hour of filming (they cut that down to 10 minutes). We then walked back on stage and let the Dragons know who we chose!
After the Show
After the show we walked out hootin’, hollerin’, and high fiving. Before we could get anywhere Scotia Bank wanted to interview us on our experience. Following the interview we were congratulated by our producer and then met the man who handles deals for both Arlene and Bruce. He was dressed in a suit and had a cool English accent. He took us to a fold out table in the corner of the room and asked us to sign a contract to say the deal was good subject to due diligence. We would not agree to sign anything until we had our lawyer check it out (but we would end up signing it later that week). We said as part of the deal we needed to talk to Arlene and Bruce about helping us immediately with getting into some chains so they (apparently a first) came out to meet with us during lunch break. It was great getting to hear from them and talk to the people who put their money and trust into us.
After a month we started due diligence – a little difficult considering we had only been around for three months so we have been in constant contact with the Dragons since the show. This was great as it forced us to get our financial statements together.
While waiting to hear when our episode would air (this ended up being 7 months later!) we got a call to let us know we were chosen as one of the top ten pitches of the last seven seasons. It was a great feeling to watch this and know we have been selected as a game changer! We are going to continue to grow and together with your help we can create forests all over the world.