One year ago, almost to the day, Paul and I took our business into the Dragon’s Den.
First things first... no we didn’t end up getting on the TV sadly, but it was still a pretty mad experience. Although we didn’t get any offers from the Dragons, the reason it didn’t go out (officially “editorial” reasons) was, reading between the lines, because they were actually quite nice to us and we didn’t really get torn apart like a lot of people do on there (which obviously makes for really good TV!)
The day itself was bizarre and surreal to say the least, but the reason “we” applied in the first place was Paul being a massive fan of the show and dreaming of getting an investment from a Dragon! I believe he actually sent in the initial application to the show before the business even officially started trading! We had to wait over a year to receive a response - a phone call out of the blue in which we were asked to go to an audition at the BBC in Manchester. This was about 4-5 months before what was to become our eventual filming day, but absolutely nothing was guaranteed at this point, and we were warned throughout the whole process that each step was just that - another step - and jumping through each hoop was no guarantee of getting on the show and going on air (as we found out).
The audition actually went well and (humblebrag) we sort of nailed it in one take, but they made us do two or three more takes just to see if we could improve anything.
The next few months we worked incredibly hard to provide all the information they wanted for the show. I have a newfound respect for TV researchers, because our Dragons' Den experience taught us how incredibly diligent the process was for the show. We spent hours upon hours pulling together pages of information about ourselves and the business so they could make sure we were legit and ready to go on the show. I wish I’d taken a photo of the dossier of information we sent them, it was like a book in the end!
The filming was actually meant to be about a month before it happened. We were due to go to Manchester for filming on a Tuesday, but we received a call on the Sunday before to unexpectedly postpone. When the day eventually did come round, we had to get to Manchester the evening before filming to drop off our “props” (products) at the studios. The rules were such that we were forbidden to come into contact with or speak to any of the Dragons up until the moment the cameras started rolling, but as we drove into the car park the day before filming to drop our products off, Peter Jones was chilling outside the studio on a phone call, leading to a bit of panic as we were ushered away in a different direction.
Staying over the night before was a necessity because we had to be at the studio for around 6:30am the next morning. Basically everyone who was involved in the filming that day had to be in the green room first thing in the morning, and from there it was simply a waiting game to be called up for filming, without ever knowing who would be next. It certainly added to the tension of the day, because you could be called upon at a moments' notice and be on the set within twenty minutes of your warning. As it turned out, we ended up being in there in the green room for about eleven hours waiting to go into the Den, as we were one of the last to film that day. The whole thing was a surreal experience. There was one tiny window in a door to the green room, which didn't look out on to much at all, so you felt completely detached from the world, and runners had to be present at all times to keep an eye on everyone to make sure you didn’t sneak off and bump into a Dragon! It was like being in school again asking for permission to go to use the toilets!
It was a torturous eleven hours for me in all honesty. I was unbelievably nervous all day so to be kept there waiting all that time was not enjoyable at the time, although I can look back at it now as all part of the experience! Having said that, I would hate for this to come across as a negative against the show or anyone at the BBC. Despite the strict rules on the day, and the tension of being kept waiting (a necessity, it has to be said), we were incredibly well looked after, fed and watered all day long, and all the crew that worked on the show, as well as the other businesses cooped up in that green room with us, were all incredibly nice people and certainly made the day easier!
One of the first things we actually did on the day was film our “walk on” shots, which are filmed in advance to make sure they’ve got sufficient takes in case the "real" walk-on footage isn't usable.
Unfortunately the BBC were not able to share any footage or stills with us from our filming, which is a shame because I would be interested to see myself at the most terrified I have ever been in my life when getting in the lift! (It’s not a real lift by the way). Paul was trying to chat to me in the moments prior to stepping into the Den, but I had such nerves and adrenaline running through my body, and was so "in the zone" that I could barely open my mouth to respond. My legs have never felt so much like jelly and my main thought was getting through the first few minutes without falling over, or just completely forgetting what I was doing there and messing up the whole thing.
As someone who is not really a fan of the limelight, I think the reason I was so nervous was in part due to the prospect of facing up to five famous Dragons, but also the idea that it could be going out on TV to be watched by five million people, ready to cast their judgement on any small mishap that may occur.
Once we were in front of the Dragons, it was like an out of body experience. Luckily (for me), Paul started off our pitch which gave me a couple of minutes to get my head together and think about the first line of my part of the pitch, which I kept going over and over in my head in anticipation. We had rehearsed so much in advance of going on that I need not have worried. We rattled our pitch off word perfect. For me, it was like I wasn't even saying the words, they were just coming out before I even had chance to think about them, such was the level of rehearsal we had put into it beforehand. The Dragons certainly did ask some tough questions after our pitch, but mostly they were quite complimentary to us, and told us our business had potential. On the day, they concluded that it just wasn't for them. Touker Suleyman was particularly nice and was still dishing out pointers to us as we were leaving to get back in the lift.
Waking out in front of those famous faces that you're so used to seeing on your TV was an utterly surreal moment, and it took a few minutes to adjust, but once they started asking questions it was like having a meeting with five normal business people rather than huge TV stars, and you kind of lose sense of the fact there were a big line of TV cameras at the side of the set filming everything. The Dragons all seemed quite calm and relaxed people overall so maybe we caught them on a good day (or we didn’t say anything to anger them!)
We ended up being in the Den for around ninety minutes, but the whole experience seemed to fly by. I remember asking what time it was after we'd finished, and I expected it to be half an hour that had passed rather than an hour and a half.
The last thing on the agenda was to film our post-Den interviews. I think the adrenaline of the day caused us to make some quite confident and bombastic predictions about our business, so part of me is pleased that nobody got to see that part!
It was a mentally draining day on the whole, and although it was a big deal at the time, we feel that we can look back on it as one of those crazy experiences. In the year that has passed, we have exceeded even our own expectations, and have managed to achieve the business growth that we wanted organically, so we don’t have any real regrets about not getting a Dragon on board. It’s now just a story to tell!
Thanks for reading!