Which Dragons' Den investors are most likely to back your business?

12 min read

12 February 2015

Arguably, Dragons' Den is all about pitching. Each pitch can take as long as necessary to seal a deal, or as quickly as possible for the Dragons to say “I'm out”. But wouldn't it help if you knew which dragon you had the most chances of impressing? Merchant Money tried to answer that question by analysing the investment patterns of Dragons both past and present.

So far, the Dragons’ total investment is £15,700,069. That’s a hefty sum! 

According to Merchant Money: “The Dragon who invested the most times per episode was Theo Paphitis, with 42 investments over 78 episodes. He was closely followed by Peter Jones, James Caan and Deborah Meaden, who all invested, on average, once in every two episodes. Meaden is often slammed for being among the stingiest business celebs on the panel, but our data shows the reverse.”

In a 2007 Guardian interview, Meaden suggested that despite being “criticised all the time for not investing”, she was “one of the highest investors”.

“I come over as quite blunt, and I wonder if that is why people miss the point when I am saying, ‘You are very good, I like you’. I’m very direct, I don’t believe in wasting time, in wasting words.”

But it seems that key to winning Meaden over lies on, you guessed it, knowing your stuff.

“Stand in front of me and ask me for a quarter of a million pounds when you can’t be bothered to tell me what your turnover numbers are and I am that person,” she explained after being asked whether she was just as mean in real life as she was as a Dragon.

In fact, there are only two series in which she didn’t make than two deals. Per average, she’ll put her money on the line four times in every season.

Read more about getting a Dragon to invest:

On the other side of the scale, the Dragon who invested the least amount of times was Doug Richard, with Simon Woodroffe and Kelly Hoppen close behind.

“You need to have a great idea first and foremost,” said Hoppen, the Dragon about to leave the Den. “Something that will capture people’s attention and draw them in. There has to be some form of business plan which can prove or show that there is some form of profit to be made at some point along the way.

“You need to have done thorough research into everything to do with your product or brand. Ask questions you wouldn’t normally ask, think outside the box a little and be bold.” 

That being said, along side colleague Piers Linney, they made the highest combined investment of the season. Jennifer Duthie, who pitched a line of children’s shoes that could be scribbled on, convinced Hoppen and Linney to contribute £30,000 each for  a combined 25 per cent stake in the business.

But analysis has shown that 52 per cent of total investments on the show are individual contributions, with the highest individual investment made by Paphitis in October 2012.

“He shelled out £258,253 for a stake in internet-based trading hub Zapper, which allows people to get cash for unwanted books, CDs and DVDs,” explained Merchant Money. 

“The investment came as something of a surprise after company owner Ben Hardyment was forced to admit that three existing investors each had a ten per cent share in the company that had cost them just over £16,000 each – a fraction of the £250,000 that Hardyment wanted from the Dragons for a smaller stake of just 7.5 per cent. When Peter Jones declared himself ‘insulted’, Paphitis smelt opportunity to negotiate a 30 per cent share for his wonga.”

He previously did the same back in 2007. Initially Emmie a Ed Stevens offered a ten per cent stake in their company Gaming Alerts. They walk away with £200,000 of Paphitis‘ money in exchange for 30 per cent of their business. 

But no Dragon has spent as much individually in a single series than Jones in series ten. His investments totalled a whopping £656,035. He invested in seven companies, including Megaflatables, myBunjee, A Turner & Sons Sausage and Skinnydip. In that same season, Jones co-invested three times.

He is also the only Dragon to have made a minimum of three deals every season.

In a This Is Money article he said: “Presentation for me is really important. So that is why I really hanker on the way someone dresses, it shows how [much] they care. When they wake up in the morning and can’t be bothered to have a wash or a shave and put their ripped jeans on like they have just come in from the night out before. There is no preparation there is no drive or enthusiasm. I want people to care.

“It is a very small part, like a little tick in the box for me. When they pitch their idea to me, I am thinking about the market – will the consumer want buy, do they want it, how good is their pitch and how good is the return on investment. In other words if I give him or her my money how much am I likely to get back.

“There are so many things to think about – but the bigger picture is – could this product or service become a big company. We don’t just want investments and how do we use our influence to add value to the business.”

Continue to read about super duo Meaden and Pahpitis and the only two investments to garner £250,000.

It’s Caan, however, who reigns supreme in splurging in a single episode, reaching an average of £26,371.

But when it comes to the smallest investment, Duncan Bannatyne takes the crown.

“Taking into account the effect of inflation, the smallest investment ever was made by Duncan Bannatyne in series 12 episode three, when he invested £40k in a product that allows buyers to make their own cider in just ten days,” Merchant Money explained. “Victor’s Drinks was the brainchild of home-brewers Ralph Broadbent and Alex Dixon, who offered 15 per cent equity in return for investment. Clearly Duncan was thirsty for a more significant stake in the bevvy business, however, and he finally won out. The deal closed with him securing a 25 per cent bite of the apple.”

But one of the greatest things in the show is that you don’t need just one Dragon to invest in you. And research shows that 48 per cent of Dragons’ Den investments are group efforts.

“Deborah Meaden and Theo Paphitis are the most likely to couple – and cough up,” Merchant Monkey suggested.

And they supposedly hold a joint record. 

In series six episode three Michael Cotton got the Dragons all revved up with his ingenious Fuel Angel. The product allows you to replace the fuel filler cap on virtually every model of diesel car, van and light commercial vehicle to prevent the nozzle of unleaded petrol pumps being slotted into the wide-bore neck of diesel tanks. 

Paphitis and Meaden jointly agreed to invest £250,000 in return for 25 per cent of the business. This is only the second time throughout Dragons’ Den history that such a sum was presented – Zapper being the other one.

But as the team was only prepared to hand over 20 per cent, they decided to go it alone.

Together, Meaden and Paphitis have racked up another 15 deals over nine series as well.

“Paphitis also holds the crown for the most money spent in joint investments in a single series, as well as per episode,” said Merchant Money. “He splurged £403,792 in series two and reached an average of £28,844 per episode in group deals. That’s an average of 3.78 group investment deals per series.

Duncan Bannatyne and James Caan are similarly faithful when it comes to joint financing. However, it seems that there are certain people on the show that Bannatyne doesn’t like to make deals with. This is perhaps something that you should keep in mind.

As a rule of thumb, he tends to avoid long-serving dragons. According to Merchant Money, “he’s only invested with Meaden once in 90 episodes. It’s telling then that his favourite partner, Caan, only took part in four series.”

As already noted, Paphitis has the best group investment record and has also made, on average, the most deals per season. He does, however, share that title with Meaden in series three.

“Having served three seasons more than Paphitis, it’s Jones who has made the greatest total number of investments on the show,” explained Merchant Money. “On average, he makes 4.5 deals per season. He also boasts the highest accumulated individual investment. Significantly, when Theo left the show at the end of series ten the number of investments overall dropped. He’s expended more than anyone else in five out of the 12 series, and is also the dragon who’s splurged the most money in a single series – a whopping £759,423 in series ten. This was the first series, however, to stretch to 12 episodes, which might also have contributed to the spike in spending.”

Most interestingly, the top investors are also the longest-serving on the show. And Paphitis and Meaden are the best couple to solicit for shared investment.