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Posted by James Talbot

Given the recent airing of our pitch on Dragon’s Den, and having written this blog before I’ve seen how it has been edited by the BBC I thought I would give you a an opinion from the “entrepreneurs” side.

W were contacted by the BBC Dragons’ Den (dd) team as they felt that following the successful Kickstarter campaign for Headbones that we would be a great candidate for the show – Damson did not contact the BBC. They asked me to attend an interview and screening at Media City, which I duly did. This didn’t really last long but consisted of several recordings in a normal meeting room of the pitch we would present, the BBC were insistent upon receiving a copy of the written pitch to which I said I would not release this and I would speak from memory. After the pitch a series of dragon style questions were asked, apparently this was to ascertain how I would handle similar questions being put to me by the dragon’s.

The “application” was successful and resulted in us being picked for the show. I had to complete various elements of “due diligence” including sending financial reports, management information, forecasts, copies of trademark and patent application certificates etc.

On the eve of filming the BBC put me up in a hotel in Manchester, on the morning of the filming we were collected at around 7am and driven in a convoy to the studio. Once in the studio I set up our presentation of products and had the opportunity to see others pitching on the day. The entire crew and producers came along, I was introduced to the producers and asked to talk through my pitch and demonstrate the products. I was told I would be first up (good thing as I would have hated waiting around all day in the end!), we were all ushered up to a waiting room where coffees and pastries were laid out. At no point were you allowed to roam the building alone. I had my make up applied and shirt pressed.

I was then escorted to a very small holding room, similar to a cell! Where I sat alone with some magazines. I was allowed to keep my phone, as it was part of my presentation, although in the briefing we were told to leave phones in the waiting room. After some time I was escorted to a small filming room. Here I was given a pre-interview and told to “work the question into the answer” they made a BIG thing on the lack of written script and confidence. I have no doubt this is the part that will be made to make me look stupid – full of confidence so let’s bring him down a peg or two. I also have my other thoughts on this that I will come to in my summary.

After another spell in the cell I was escorted to the studio and briefed on how to walk into the set and enter/exit the “lift” it was reinforced to me that I should remember what hand I held my product in for the actual entry as different shots would be used. The person then with me asked to keep the Twist. I was a little surprised at this and was told I’d get it back before filming. This is a fairly important element.

Back to the cell. Another wait and finally called to go through( by now it’s 11.45am and I’ve been at the studio for over 4 hours). Back in the studio I was told to keep very quiet and wait in certain places until directed to go forward to my starting position. I was given my Twist. In hindsight it was most foolish of me not to test it, but given all the lights are on and that you’ve been told not to make a noise I didn’t and I’d tested and checked it so many times in the cell that I was concerned I would lose the position I wanted the track to be at.

More waiting. This waiting was the worse. You’re in a section around the corner from the “lift” it’s full studio lights, you can see the cameras, you know the cameras are there, you don’t know if they are filming you. You can hear whispers, some chairs moving (are the dragon’s being seated?) There’s a jug of water to drink and I am pleased I did. The waiting went on for around 30 minutes. You go from curious, to frustrated, to nervous, to very frustrated, to leg wiggling. All you are told to do is watch for the Red light to come on and then walk when it changes green. So you have to keep your eye on that sodding light. After at least 20 minutes, and probably more realistically 30 minutes. However long it is it’s a fairly long time to be waiting in silence in a pen under lights with cameras all around you but nothing else.

Then the light goes green. Walk through to the lift, press the fake button, wait for the fake floor indicator to be wound down to 1, doors open, in you go, doors close, wait. Doors open. Behold the dragons!!!!! The first thing you notice is Deborah Meadon. She’s like the Mother of dragon’s. I was instructed to walk over to the table and remove the table cloth which I duly did. Then to find the x on the floor. Now this X is like looking for a f*cking needle in a haystack whilst 1000 watt lights are burning down on you, oh and it’s about 2 shades lighter than the floor. Peter Jones guided me in.

I start my pitch, 15 seconds in and the producers interrupts to ask me to reposition a box that had fallen over during my unveiling. Don’t worry about it he shouts out, we’ll edit this part. So I start again, but now I’ve been thrown off a little (possibly not the producers fault) so I begin and the Twist doesn’t play. Now, knowing my products better than I do my children, I know when something isn’t right. Naturally I couldn’t say it, but giving a basic understanding of Twist and connections it will automatically connect and play to the last device it was connected to. I had naturally assumed this would be my phone, it wasn’t which is why I had to reconnect it. No doubt this is where I will begin to be made to look stupid for all the confidence. Because I had to connect and I was under pressure I also chose the wrong track as I was now out of my comfort zone, so instead of David Guetta’s Titanium I played Milli Vannilli’s “girl you know it’s true” which is a great track for Jet, Vulcan and Headbones because it has great stereo effects, but not so good for Twist. Anyhow, I made my demo and then got back to my position.

During what was approximately a minute of my “actual” pitch Peter Jones interjects and asks me to get to the point. This is the start of what I think the point of DD is; throw people off. Perhaps this is the new feature for the coming series after all when the BBC sold it to me they said they had freshened it up not only in terms of the new dragons but also the format.

I politely inform Peter I’m building up to it. I finish my pitch and open myself to take questions from the dragon’s. I believe the actual “pitch” (excluding the false start and repositioning of the packaging) was around 2 minutes. I believe it is likely to be edited in a way that portrays me waffling on for around 10 minutes or more!

The questions. Wow, these guys seriously are smart. I now understand how they can be worth so much money. They are just super smart and can analyse (and destroy) any individual, company and products in seconds. So I hand them a set of Headbones each to wear, some engage but Touker doesn’t. Much fun as they mock being able to set them up (just turn them on and press play) and then stop the music, this is again designed to make the product look poor. Turning it off is simple, we’ve sold several thousand now and no one complains about this. Perhaps they’re not so clever after all, or maybe their butlers and maids all do this.

Back to the questions. This is where the fun starts, they each start firing questions at you and you are expected to instantaneously have the answers. In any other business meeting you would be allowed to refer to notes, here you are expected to know everything. But more importantly is the way the questions are put. I can only liken this to being in front of a firing squad, but instead of bullets it is questions that they rapidly fire at you. Throughout this I remember to ensure I remain cool and do not react in anyway aggressively as I am convinced they are trying to get you to rise to this. 

Peter Jones decides to continue to play with Headbones, as he is usually the one who will do this in my experience of the show, he plays them and announces that they leak sound – sound leakage is very important for bone conduction and we have reduced it. Why then can we all hear it? A. Because it’s right next to his microphone, b, it’s turned up to full volume and C, we are in a near silent studio. This is not representative of a real life situation, in real life you would be wearing the product which reduces the leakage as the contact with your head direct sounds through the skull, additionally in a quiet environment you wouldn’t’ have the music at full volume because the point is that you want to hear what’s going on around you. 

The manner in which they question you is very hostile and aggressive. They all seem to be playing off against each other with a view to who can ask the most irrelevant yet aggressive question and it is presented in such a way as to make you look stupid when you answer. The most aggressive is Touker. He peppers a number of questions, probably designed with the knowledge of how it will be edited and all the time cutting across you when you answer so you cannot given the answer you want. They ask what market I am after and I explain that we are looking at two markets – sports activities and hard of hearing. When I’m told that I can only choose one, which one would it be I say that the hard of hearing will be a great opportunity at this point I’m made to look as though I’ve gone full circle from saying that Headbones are a sports product to a hearing enhancement product. The simple answer is that the Headbones are great for both, but that is not an answer they want to hear.

There’s a lot of interjection around the finances, with multiple questions being fired at me that knock me off my stride a little where the answers become confused due to the nature of the presentation of the questions, gross and net become confused. Are the dragon's actually asking about gross or net or what? Ultimately this leads to Peter Jones to tell me that “you’re not very good with numbers are you?” to which I reply that normally I am, yes. He asks why I’m not today then, to which I answer probably because of the pressure of the environment, the set, the lights (I doubt this will be shown in edit). Touker claims he doesn’t understand why banks aren’t throwing money at us (is he that removed from SME’s and banks?). Deborah says that if she can give me one lesson it would be that taking equity today could be the most expensive mistake I could possibly make. Again, get all that but why then do so many SME’s have to give equity to angels/crowd funding or VC’s if bank money was so readily available?

I’m asked a question relating to patents and give a short answer that we do have patents (we have design patents) but when I drill into this in response to a product patent question my reply is honest in that we have applied for a patent but advised not to present it and keep it as a trade secret so as to reduce the threat of reverse engineering. At this point Deborah declares herself out, we are only 10 minutes in so she has gone out very quickly. Again I’m interested to see how this will be edited. In summarising she refers to design rights – I am convinced I never actually mention design rights so why is she referring to these…? But most of all she says it’s all about me.

Sarah Willingham who, despite one particularly dumb statement about only having 600 orders, comes across to me as fairly friendly. She says she really wants to invest but is struggling to know what she is investing in and then says she has even considered giving me a loan although she declares herself out mainly due to the lack of orders of the product – this is a new product, so we’re in the early stages and don’t have the budget like Beats to buy our way into stores – which is why we’re pitching on Dragon’s Den, duh.

Then onto the others and back to Touker and his aggressiveness. He hones in on one particular sale of 15,000 of one of our speakers that we made. This deal was a one off deal, it was never intended to be a repeat order yet he drills and drills and drills until he gets me to say yes to his question of if a product was hot selling you would expect a repeat order. He then cuts across me to declare himself out. When I try to answer his final statement as it is blatantly wrong and is designed to make me look stupid. When I try to challenge this – which is ultimately relevant to the other dragons left in as well as my own integrity – I am cut across by Deborah who asks if I now want to concentrate on the two remaining dragons, so I ultimately have to pass on answering (I don’t want to rise to the aggression). In fairness to Touker he does pay me a compliment saying that I could sell ice cream to eskimos – to which I say “clearly not” and he replies we’re not eskimos. At which I reply with Ok, I can’t sell fire to dragon’s! 

So I am presented with Nick and Peter. Peter leads this part basically saying that anyone could do what I’ve done and that I’ve copied beats on the branding and that he can’t see this being a fit for him, when I ask whether other parts of his business would fit he does agree that he has a couple of areas that would fit he still decides to declare himself out citing the valuation – at which point I give him the opportunity to negotiate. After all, we all know that whatever percentage you offer these guys they’re going to negotiate. However, he declares himself out.

Finally it is down to Nick. I actually thought Nick was going to make an offer, he would have made a good fit and I genuinely respect him. He states he doesn’t have an issue with the valuation but that ultimately he feels (and remember he’s made this judgement in around 1 hour of questions, and with no due diligence) that the products core market will be the hard of hearing and that this is too niche. A market of around 1bn people is too niche?

So they’re all out. I turn to leave can’t find the fake lift button to which Peter shouts out where it is and I get one laugh from Deborah when I say I’ve heard him say that a few times before. It’s then straight off to a post interview room, you’re brain is totally overloaded at this stage and you’re trying to think about what has just happened. I’m ushered back to the first film room where the same producer asks for a debrief and “what went wrong” several short questions later and my BBC DD experience is over as I’m escorted back to my car all within around 10 minutes of leaving the set.

To summarise. Dragon’s den is an entertainment show, not a business investment opportunity show. Everything is engineered to make the entrepreneur look stupid, from the dissection of the products to the dissection of the individual to the peppering of the questions in the wholly random presentation to the lack of ability to call upon notes. As an entrepreneur you are expected to have the answer to every single question pertaining to your business, it’s market, it’s finances, it’s forecasts at the front of your head. Nowhere else. All this in a pressure pot situation under lights where you feel extremely exposed.

Do I regret going on the programme? No, because I have exposed my brand to circa 3 – 4 million views and, depending upon how the final cut is edited, then I don’t believe my company, it’s product or indeed myself come out of it too negatively.

Now here is the contentious bit. The BBC claims that the dragons’ do not have any prior knowledge of entrepreneurs and their businesses. Bullshit. I strongly believe they are shown the presentation, are probably given an executive summary based on the “due diligence” and they have seen the products. They are then informed of what I’m like as a person – I’m confident so what better way to unsettle and disrupt his “ad-lib” presentation by throwing him of his game early on (on two occasions in my opinion). Why do I think this? Three main reasons; Firstly Touker drills into the 15k sale with a little too much interest, too much interest for someone who is only just being told about it. Secondly, Deborah mentions design rights. Why? I didn’t’ mention anything to do with design rights so why mention them if you didn’t know about them and finally their questions were structured in too much of a way to not have had prior knowledge of the business or me, unless they are truly special business people, and if they were they’d be as wealthy as Mark Zuckerberg or Sergey Brin.

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