But despite the amount of due diligence done on the show, there is always a chance that a deal might fall through after being made on camera. Kelly Hoppen, who quit the show after two series, claimed the main reason came down to Dragons having to make the decision to invest in an hour or two, when in real time they would take much longer. “In their excitement some entrepreneurs, many of whom are in the early stages of their business and startups, can miss vital facts and figures when pitching,” she said. “Once the cameras are off, the Dragons may not find they have, for example, the rights to sole use of the brand name or the IP is not within the company. These are important points to consider with any investments, whether on the show or outside.” Not actually receiving investment was the case for Take The Wand Company – hailed as one of the show’s great success stories. The company was chosen by the BBC to create a “sonic screwdriver” remote control under a Doctor Who brand licence. “The investment didn’t go through,” admitted founder Chris Barnardo. “It never even got as far as seeing the paperwork.” It was not due to the Dragons reneging on the deal, Barnardo stressed. “We went with Duncan Bannatyne on the show but we made £50,000-worth of sales after it aired, so we didn’t need the investment.” This was also cited by Hoppen as one of the key reasons why deals fell through after being aired on TV.
What happens after the handshakes and celebration that come with a deal done in the Den is crucially where the real work begins, it seems. Further highlighting the point made by Linney that we see only a snippet of footage from a pitch that could take hours, new Dragon Sarah Willingham said: “On the show, the viewer gets a very short edited highlight of the pitches we Dragons see in real-time, but sometimes they can go on for hours. Despite that extended time to see the pitch, and because we have no advance warning or information about who is coming up next, you do not have all the information at your fingertips, so instinct kicks in and you need to ask the right questions and watch the body language with the answers. “In the real world of business investment, the after-show activity really comes under the heading of due diligence, where we have a chance to check out that what what was said about the business is actually true and can be evidenced,” Willingham explained. She claimed the Dragons had access to the original filmed footage relating to the investments they make so as to check accurately what claims, if any, were made – and then it is simply about following a process, ideally finding time to develop a rapport and the beginnings of a relationship with the people you will be working with. Willingham said that not all of her investments have been completed yet and it may be that not all of them do. “The disappointment if a Den investment doesn’t go through is even greater than outside of the Den,” she said. “There’s an emotional connection and commitment that takes place inside the Den and a very early ‘handshake’ that you don’t find outside, so it’s even more disappointing when, for many reasons, a deal doesn’t look like it will proceed. It was a big learning curve for me to realise that some people come into the Den looking for the exceptional marketing opportunity rather than the help and investment. “It can be very hard to judge a person in the time frame we have with all those lights shining on us. We just go with our instinct and make the best decision we can in the timeframe.” By far the toughest thing about the show, Willingham suggested, was being away from her family and own businesses. She said she worked from the office at home, did as many school runs as life would allow and had a day or two out and about meeting with her businesses. “The filming is all consuming, and it’s possible to get to the end of a day and not manage to catch the kids between coming home from school and bed time, and it’s possible to go a week and only communicate via email with my businesses,” she said. “But I wasn’t alone – Peter Jones has five kids and Touker Suleyman has two daughters.”
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