Dragons’ Den Series 14 mid-season review: More money, less equity

Dragons' Den
BBC
Alastair Campbell
Founder
Company Check
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With season 14 of Dragons’ Den now on a break until the end of the year, it’s the perfect time to look back over the highlights and the major lessons that can be learnt from the last seven episodes. We’ll also take a look at some of the series’ stats and see how it compares to the show’s long history.

How Does the Series Compare to Others?

In the run up to series 14, Company Check pulled together data from the previous 13 series. The big question was whether or not these seven episodes would continue the trend set by the hundreds before them or whether they would start new trends.

Deborah Meaden leads the pack

The previous series’ data showed that Meaden and Peter Jones were the most likely to make an investment, and Meaden is still going strong in the fourteenth series. She and Touker Suleyman are tied at the front, with four investments each, whilst the other three Dragons all have two to their names.

Food and drink still on top

With three of the 10 investments so far this season going to food and drink businesses, the industry is still the best way to gain investment in the Den. The tone was set in the first episode, when John Hulme and John Burke received £77,000 from Sarah Willingham, in exchange for just 12.5% of their gin subscription business.

Following Hulme and Burke to culinary success in the Den were Andrew Allan and Nick Coleman with their pork company, Snaffling Pig (£70,000 for 20% with Nick Jenkins) and Jacob Thundil, who secured £75,000 for 20% split between both Jenkins and Willingham thanks to his excellent coconut-product brand, Cocofina.

If you’re thinking about going on the show with your food and drink business, you stand a good chance of succeeding, especially if you target Willingham and Jenkins.

More money, less equity

You could argue that the stats show that the successful entrepreneurs from this series are getting more out of the Den than their predecessors. Whilst past series showed that the most common investment was £40,000 and 40% was the most common amount of equity handed over the entrepreneurs did even better this time round.

The most common investment was split evenly across £70,000, £50,000 and £40,000 (2 each), with an average of £61,000, whilst the most common share of equity was 30%. It is hard to say whether this is simply because the sample size is too small from the current series to get a complete picture or whether the more favourable numbers are due to a higher quality of products in the Den (then again, Kidsflush did still get investment…).

Highlights

As usual on Dragons’ Den, the entrepreneurs pitching to the five Dragons brought a variety of products to our screens and entertained us with some excellent pitches and some that fell apart. I’ve picked out a few of my favourite moments to revisit.

The Den’s youngest entrepreneur

15-year-old Arminder Dhillon became the youngest entrepreneur to secure investment in the Den this series when he, along with his mother, Rashpal, and brother, Gurminder, received £60,000 for his invention, the Boot Buddy.

The time-saving device, inspired by all the hours Arminder had spent cleaning his football boots, caught the attention of the Dragons, and the Dhillon family gave away 30% of the company in exchange for £60,000 split three ways between Meaden, Suleyman and Jones. It’s onwards and upwards for bright young inventor!

The best product ever to fail in the Den?

In my opinion, the most recent episode in the series was one of the most interesting, not least because Dan Hubert failed to secure the £200,000 he was asking for his city parking app, AppyParking. Despite appearing to have done everything right in the development of his fledgling business, Hubert’s equity offer of just 2% was too low for the Dragons, and he couldn’t afford to compromise when Jones and Jenkins made an offer of 15% shared between them.

The situation left me wondering what went wrong for Hubert and it seems in hindsight that he was never going to be successful on the show. The amount of investment that he needed to do everything he wanted was simply more than the Dragons were ever going to agree with on the show. He would have perhaps been better served by going down a more traditional investment route, which he may be doing already. I expect that this is not the last we will hear of AppyParking.

And, the worst product ever to succeed?

I was stunned when Jamie Lawlor’s Kidsflush product - a ‘button for a button’ designed to encourage kids to flush the toilet - earned him £40,000 from Suleyman. Despite handing over 40% of the business in return, Lawlor seemed happy to have come away with anything in the Den.

Most of the Dragons scoffed at the idea, but Suleyman sensed the opportunity for a quick win, and was won over by the entrepreneur’s imagination and vision for the future. I personally think the button is pretty ridiculous, and apart from the sales spike that it will get from the show itself, probably won’t last long. Suleyman will have a big job on his hands if he wants to make any cash out of it!

Lessons Learnt

If you go back through my reviews of each episode, you’ll see that I picked out about three lessons from each show to help you in your own business, particularly if you’re considering going on Dragons’ Den or pitching to an investor. I’ve boiled all of those down to two critical lessons that we should all bear in mind.

Understand your business

Throughout the series I’ve talked about how important it is to know the details about your business, including your numbers, your market and your USPs. Knowing these details is not only essential if you want to make a successful pitch, but they’re essential if you want to run your business well.

It all comes to down to understanding why you’re doing what you do and how good you are at doing it. You need to know your position in the marketplace in order to plan how you’re going to improve in the future. As always, too many entrepreneurs went into the Den without understanding these things, and the Dragons tore them apart. Some came through with a good presentation (as we’ll discuss in a second), but most left the Den with nothing but a lot to think about on the train home.

Work on your pitch

It seems obvious if you’re going on Dragons’ Den, but many of the series’ entrepreneurs could have been much more successful if they had thought through their pitches a bit more. One of my key lessons for the series was that you need to know what you want, but retain some flexibility.

It’s good to have an ideal Dragon in mind and to try and win them over (as Hulme and Burke did, winning Willingham over with their gin business), but it is also good to be able to adapt. Suleyman made an offer to Beth Chilton and Sarah Sleightholm that they couldn’t accept, but they adapted and walked away with a joint deal from Jones and Meaden, which was much closer to what they had in mind for their fashion brands.

The other key points are that you need to tell a good story and fight for your pitch. Faheem Badur’s pitch for his Perios restaurant and sauce company was too complicated, and the Dragons all exited from the deal scratching their heads. In contrast, Martin Chard and Jenny David admirably defended their Marxman against everything the Dragons could throw at them and walked away with an investment from Deborah.

Bring on the rest of the series!

Series 14 has got off to a strong start, with some entertaining episodes that show that the long-running program has not run out of ideas quite yet. I will continue watching with interest when the show resumes later in the year.

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