My Dragons Den Experience — The 3 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Went On It
This is for you business owners who are curious about how Dragons Den works but also for all the fans of the show who would like to know more about an entrepreneurs experience. I hope you will find this insightful and interesting — happy reading.
I guess if I’m being honest to myself, going on Dragons’ Den was subconsciously always a dream of mine. But I never thought it would actually ever happen. Especially not back in 2005, when I was in my second year at Manchester University and living in a house of 5 girls (meaning that I was regularly forced to watch Desperate Housewives, which I now view with a kind of love/hate relationship). In addition, we would often watch Dragon’s Den, which I absolutely loved. I always looked forward to seeing next week’s episode and I loved discussing the ideas and business proposals that were pitched with my peers. This led to a seed being sown of being on the show and throughout the next 15 years my unspoken desire to be one of those brave entrepreneurs entering the Den developed, along with of course my experience and knowledge of business and strategy consulting.
When setting up Stroodles initially, I again have to admit, that while I was sure that Crowdfunding would be my preferred fundraising approach, deep down and even in conversations in those early days, I was always half — joking about presenting my idea to the Dragons . I admitted that “yes, when I am further along with my business, I’ll go to the Den eventually.”
It must have been the power of manifestation and the beauty of serendipity in twine that led to me receiving that initial email titled “Dragon’s Den 2019”. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was looking at… Bear in mind I had only launched my company, Stroodles, 3 months prior so opening up this email from one of the assistant producers of the show saying he had come across my product and wanted me to apply for the series was jaw-dropping and thrilling! Although elated, part of me thought this could be a scam so I read the email twice and double checked the sender. Once I did some intensive Googling and realised it all checked out and was legitimate, it finally sank in. My little company that was just at the beginning of its journey could be on Dragon’s Den!
Stroodles at the time did not have any advertising or press coverage and our Instagram follower count was neglible so the fact that my sustainable pasta straw company had been discovered was kind of shocking.
Being so early in the development of my business did cross my mind as an issue that could arise when chatting with the Dragons(especially as I knew from having watched the show for so long what it takes to get there). At the same time I knew that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and if I didn’t do it the lingering “What If?” question would crop up for the rest of my life. Sure, I could have maybe waited until the next year to go on the show when the business would be older and maybe a bit wiser, having gained more traction perhaps, but in hindsight I’m SO glad I didn’t. Especially as with the current lockdown situation there would be no filming in 2020 and so then it would be 2021 and by that time I would be too old as a business for the show! In retrospect it was the right decision and the right time for me to take my shot.
Before going on the show I said to myself that even if I didn’t get the investment, I will still be so delighted just to have the opportunity to be part of Dragon’s Den, such a revered and loved show. By appearing on this I could relay my thoughts and ideas about how to fight against single — use plastic through my Stroodles product and I could inform the public that Stroodles is more than a company, it is a movement. My ethos is that I am trying to make a real-world impact and inspire change for the better of the planet. Creating awareness for the plastic problem was and remains my goal, so I owed it to the bigger mission of sustainable eco-initiatives to go out there and take this platform as an opportunity to create awareness among millions and millions of people. By sharing my story I was also sharing the world’s story, as plastic pollution concerns us all and in parallel eco-solutions should concern us all too. Investment or not I knew that even if I could get through to 1% of the viewers at home, by subtly influencing a change in their mindset and attitude towards plastic, then it would definitely be worth it. And if I could also get the Dragon’s on board that would be a wonderful added bonus!
With all this in mind, and my intentions for spreading some eco-facts and information for the public it is unfortunate that in the final edit for the show all my references and points relating to the bigger picture and the sustainability focus were cut. Nethertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole Dragons’ Den experience even though I didn’t feel I was able to fully spread the idea of the Stroodles Movement and what it entails.
Here are two key things that I took away from this experience: think about the edit and consider your mindset going in.
Dragon’s Den was my first TV experience and given my lack of knowledge in this department I didn’t have an awareness about what really goes into the final edit of the programme. You have to accept that if you are going on TV chances are you cannot control what makes it through to the viewers. But you can control what you say and what you emphasise. Bear in mind TV is about entertaining the masses so entertain! I spent about an hour with the Dragon’s in reality but only about 12 minutes made it into the actual show and on the BBC Instagram page they showcased a 3-minute clip. Your responses will be edited, altered, and cut and paste as they see fit so just make sure you are prepared for any and every question they could throw at you. Have a good mindset in which you are open to criticism, willing to negotiate and feel confident in the product you are pitching. You have to believe in it before others do.
One last thing I wanted to mention about the editing of the show is that I was surprised that the editors kept in the fact that I unconsciously showed Peter Jones the “V hand gesture” 3 times! I guess I will go down in Dragons’ Den history as the first person, who flipped off a Dragon 3 times in one show…
I will also take it as a huge compliment that the editor decided to show me drinking twice (if not three times) to portray my apparent nervousness — they must have telepathically known I used to binge watch Dragon’s Den episodes… Either way, I am flattered that even my drinking is TV-worthy material!
Other take home messages for those wanting to go on a TV show:
As my pitch coach and other people taught me, the main thing is to constantly and emphatically repeat the points you are passionate about and want to get across. By doing this you are signalling to the editor that those are the parts you really want in the show and chances are it will be easier to include this rather than cut it so the show flows well. I used this strategy on my second TV show appearance in late 2019. That time being a little smarter and more savvy as to how to carry myself I ensured that the message of Stroodles was delivered clearly, confidently and often. Sometimes I would repeat my key points 2–3 times within a 1–2 min answer.
Returning to my earlier point about mindset this I feel should be repeated twice (remember repeat your most important points!). Confidence, a good attitude and an optimistic outlook will take you far. Sure you need to know your stuff; what are your numbers like, what are your stats, who is your target audience etc. Having this info at hand and being mentally prepared is a given. But having a good attitude and appearance in which you are calm but not cocky is the thing that will set you apart and will dictate how you are perceived by others. Remember in TV people can easily edit out or tweak your content but no one can edit out your personality!
I want to use this opportunity to give a big thank you to Amy Tez at https://www.amytez.com/ who is an excellent communications and pitching coach. Without her, I would not have mastered the Den as well as I did. I was pretty nervous about talking to the Dragons, as up until this point I was leading a totally non — media lifestyle and was one of those who almost never posted on social media, let alone thought of making an appearance on National TV! So Amy’s words of encouragement and practical guidance really assuaged my worries.
As well as the training around speech, intonation, pauses/speed (those who know me know I normally rattle down my ideas at light speed), posture and many more powerful things that boost confidence, there are three things that stood out and helped me on the day:
- Exercises to get in touch with the body mentally. Bringing more awareness to your physical self is a great tool in grounding. Also stretching and practicing voice exercises are crucial. Try out tongue twisters, making funny sounds and getting your voice and mouth warmed up. Backstage at the Den at the top of my voice I made sounds like a siren and kept making noises like ka — ka — ka ka -ka kaaaaaaaaaa and ga — ga — ga — gaaaaa to help get my voice TV-ready. People might have thought I was crazy, but look, when you’re about to face the Dragon’s sometimes you have to do crazy things.
- Remember to breathe! Especially when nervous, we tend to speak really fast. Breathing, as with the exercises above, works to ground you and allows your body and mind to calm down. This simple yet powerful reminder is what helped me overcome my nerves. I remember so distinctly that the last thing I did, before the lift door opened, was that I took a deep breath, took a moment, and then walked through. Throughout my pitch I gave myself time to breathe and slow down, thereby countering my nature of wanting to speak quickly and shoot out answers like a machine gun. Only when you are faced with this kind of situation you appreciate the power of those small tiny pauses at the end of each sentence. Don’t forget slow and steady wins the race!
- Finally and possibly the most powerful point is your (mental) attitude and state of mind as I have mentioned before. There were two important thoughts that gave me the confidence to face the Dragons. The first was my determination to secure finance. However, my belief and dreams of a bigger picture actually pushed my confidence to that next level. What I was trying to convey through my messaging was more important ultimately than the money I was asking the Dragons for. The second thing was something I must credit Amy for, and she probably didn’t even realise the power of her comment. She suggested that I just regard the dragons as 5 normal people, just 5 other humans who I am having a conversation with. This thought, as simple as it is, gave me an enormous amount of confidence.
Although my legs were shaking and I was about to go into the deep end of a business interrogation I knew it would be okay. Right before the lift door opened, I took a deep breath, returned to the realization that I was just going out there to have a conversation with 5 normal people to chat about my business. All of these tips and those mentioned earlier in the article helped me to keep a smile on my face!
Overall, it was an amazing and life shaping experience, and probably one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I would do it over and over again (with new and improved products every time of course). I can safely say that after going to the Den, I am definitely not scared of any public speaking anymore. I remember presenting at an event to a room of executives from a big stage just a few weeks after filming for the show. I felt really well received during the presentation and at the end people clapped and smiled and non-verbally and after verbally assured me it went well. Having been on Dragon’s Den I could now easily and with more ease convey my points without fear.
Sure, I am gutted that I did not secure finances from the Dragons, but a few short months later I managed to raise this through crowdfunding, and at a better valuation. But the show, as is fairly obvious by now, is not just about the money. I got so much out of the experience and I definitely grew from it as a person. Thanks to Dragon’s Den I developed a new wave of confidence and even more drive to succeed and get the world joining me on my eco-journey, one Stroodle at a time!
One day I want to prove the Dragon’s wrong and show them what they have missed out on. We are already making strides in the sustainability world and have gained amazing traction so far. Many people are Stroodling globally across trade and retail and I am confident that one day I will get a chance to meet some of the Dragon’s again and Stroodle a drink with them.
On this note, I would like to thank all the brilliant people that flooded me with positive messages after the initial airing last year and the re — airing of the show more recently. It is exactly those messages that keep me going on this mission and remind me that I am on the right track in inspiring the world to make small sustainable changes through the power of Stroodles!
Maxim, Chief Stroodle & Founder