Interviews

Dragons Den rejection meant nothing to the 2014 success of these 4 companies

8 min read

10 December 2014

With recent research suggesting that SMEs currently have a worse survival rate than before the recession, and with small businesses struggling to find the finance they need from banks time and time again, it comes as no surprise that such companies are increasingly looking toward alternative finance for a chance to make it past their fifth birthday's. One such method is Dragons Den, with entrepreneurs Duncan Bannatyne, Kelly Hoppen, Piers Linney and Peter Jones looking to invest their cash.

Even this method, however, has been known to end with a “no” instead of a “yes”.

But by no means does this mean that success is out of the picture. Just look at Trunki as a case in point! Entrepreneur Rob Law was rejected in 2006, despite Deborah Meadon and Theo Paphitis taking an initial liking to the “suitcase a toddler can pack, sit on and ride”. By the end of 2013, however, he had sold more than 2m suitcases and now turns over £7m a year.

And he is by no means the only one.

More recently, viewers saw the likes of Fat Lad At The Back, Cheeky Chompers and My Lookalike Doll axed from the show.

Fat Lad At The Back (FLAB), which specialises in manufacturing cycling wear in large sizes, was dismissed for its name.

“Fat lad is a term of endearment for the guy at the back of the peloton, which has always been me,” said founder Richard Bye. “They latched on to it being offensive but it’s actually about having equipment that fits you and makes you look good.

“Hardly any cyclists out there are your archetypal ‘skinny whippet’. The rest of us have a different body shape and we don’t want to be stuffed into lycra like a squashed sausage.

“We are fixing a problem and the people that get the brand and buy into it are really pleased we exist now that finally they can find something that is for them,” Bye continued. “But you can’t please everybody in a name. People aren’t just buying because it’s a cycle shirt, they feel empowered as they’re trying to get fit – it’s a shame the Dragons didn’t quite get that.”

Since their rejection, the company won a deal with bike chain Evan Cycles, to which Bye suggests that they are one of “Evans’ most successful product launches ever. They’ve now placed a higher order,” and have gone on to ask for the creation of a Fat Lass brand for females.

“[Dragons Den] was a great little experience though and the reaction was tremendous, our Twitter went mad.”

Although sharing the same success story, Tracey Cannon of My Lookalike Doll explains that “going on Dragon’s Den was simply devastating”. Along with son Keiran, they pitched their 18-inch customisable dolls and came away with nothing.

“We put so much into our business to buy all the dolls. I’ve remortgaged my house, put in personal savings, and taken out a £20,000 loan to fund it. So to be told by every single dragon that the business was doomed to fail was heartbreaking.

“Having remortgaged my house, taken out a loan and sitting with cash tied up in stock would be making me very uncomfortable,” said Meaden after Hoppen explained that My Lookalike Doll was not “ a viable business”. Jones even suggested that she “not spend another pound taking this forward”

“It was hard to keep going after such a public mauling. But we are so glad we stuck with it because Hamleys love our dolls.”

Indeed, the company recently received a £100,00 deal with famous store Hamleys after selling out of their initial 100 dolls. In fact, during a repeat of their Dragon’s Den episode, their website crashed due to the amount of orders being placed.

They now also have an amazing 133 types of doll.

Cheeky Chompers founders Amy Livingston and Julie Wilson, said: “You only see about 12 minutes on the programme but we stood in front of the Dragons for half an hour of gruelling grilling and then they told us we were delusional.”

It was their Neckerchew, a chewy teether and dribble bib moulded into one product, that eventually led to their receiving no investment. It wasn’t the actual product they found fault with, but found that the two mums’ targets were unrealistic.

But they have no regrets about appearing on the show.

“It was a useful experience as we had to really think through how our business was going to grow while preparing for the show,” said Wilson. “And because when the show aired everyone saw the Dragon’s saying how much they loved our product, it was a great endorsement for us.”

They surpassed their targets and sold over 100,000 Neckerchews within 18 months. They can now be found in a majority of UK retailers and distribute to 26 different countries. This has also led to the launch of a new product: the Comfortchew, which is essentially a teething comforter attached to a teddy.

“I’d say Peter Jones gave us the hardest time on the show,” Livingston also added. “But I think that was because he felt we needed the challenge. And after filming, Duncan Bannatyne joked on social media that he’d eat a hundred of our bibs if we made the targets that we set on the show.

“So once we smashed our goals we challenged him to do as he promised, but he said that he had meant if we reached our three year targets.”

When it came to Gordon MacSween and Gonçalo de Vasconcelos’ intriguing urinal game, Captive Media, the concept of the game itself caused quite a scene in the den.

“They just kept going on about how it was a peeing game,” said MacSween. “I was never able to move the conversation on because they were locked into the novelty of it. You don’t get professional investors trying to come up with killer one-liners when you’re pitching, scribbling put-downs while you’re answering a question.”

So the two founders took a different route after their defeat on TV. They ended up discovering the power of crowdfunding, which made it possible for them to reach their £250,000 target in just 27 days.

They sold 9.4 per cent of their play as you pee video game business on equity platform SyndicateRoom in order to come up with the finance.

“The Dragons will rue the day they let this company slip through their fingers,” exclaimed Vasconcelos. “Two years after it launched, Captive Media has demonstrated its enormous potential, and its appeal to both professional and amateur investors seeking good returns.

“For it to reach 100 per cent of its investment target in barely three weeks speaks volumes about Captive Media’s great promise, and the desire of investors large and small to profit from exciting young businesses.”

If you’re dying to found it what a urinal game looks like – here it is for your viewing pleasure: