How Dragons Behave In a Lion's Den

3 June 2014

Industry magazine Management Today recently published an article entitled The Dark Reality of Dragon’s Den, which eschewed the popularised belief that all budding entrepreneurs who appear on the hit BBC series leave with battered business plans and bludgeoned self-belief after facing the camera-savvy and ratings-aware panel of supposedly genuine investors. Although many past ‘contestants’ have left the show spouting tales of woe, what of the kudos that comes with the badge of honour left by the most famous investors operating in a challenging economy?

A visit to the website of any previous business featured on the show boasts ‘as appeared on Dragon’s Den’ – whether the company secured investment or not. Both past dragons Rachel Elnaugh and Doug Richard have emblazed their Twitter profiles with the distinction – surely the badge of honour carries weight in a market where securing attention is half the battle for success.

The main complaint from survivors of the Den is that although contestants are primarily seeking investment, most also need advice and the mentorship of some of the most celebrated business figures in the UK. But how is it possible to establish a trusting relationship with someone who has spent the entirety of your first meeting behaving in a disparaging, derogatory and even offensive manner, all for the amusement of TV viewers.

But it seems it’s possible to appreciate the reality of entertainment and to put the insults aside for the sake of business, as successful Dragon’s Den entrepreneurs have proved, including Levi Roots and his Reggae Reggae sauce – now stocked in all major UK supermarkets.

Appearing on the show, even leaving empty-handed, is often enough to pave a path to success, for example Rob Law, founder of the Trunki brand, now turning over £7 million a year, was dismissed by the Dragons, and Julie Wilson and Amy Livingstone, of Cheeky Chompers, ridiculed on the show, are now enjoying the fact that their product is on sale in eight national retailers, including John Lewis.

Undeniably worth the trip to the studio previously, has the Dragon’s Den bubble finally burst? MT’s research shows that more than a third of businesses funded by the Dragons, later fell through for various reasons, and start-ups are increasingly rejecting offers in the Den for bank funding or other sources of investment.

Crowdfunding is the main source of rivalry. Who needs five minutes of fame on TV when a crowdfunding video can go viral in hours, beating Dragon’s Den’s 1.5 million viewers with the 9.9 million hits websites such as Kickstarter see a month?

The prospect of jumping into the lion’s den and throwing a few dragons into the mix may be fading in appeal as the world of business funding evolves, but there’s no doubt that the hit show can be credited with raising the profile of business across the UK and with creating successful businesses who would probably have failed without their Dragon investors.

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