Dragons’ Den: Series 11, episode 12
The final episode of the series saw an entrepreneur stand his ground in the toughest negotiation the Den has ever seen
As the latest series of the BBC Two show draws to a close, we can reflect upon memorable contributions from new Dragons Piers Linney and Kelly Hoppen, as well as a plethora of pitches – both good and bad – which have provided invaluable start-up business lessons.
Arguably, though, the very last pitch of the series was one of the most fascinating the Den has ever seen. Poker-faced entrepreneur James Rupell sensed a shift in power when all five Dragons vied for a share of his children’s travel toy business and took full advantage, pitting investors against each other in a heated five-way tussle. This unique situation provided viewers with a fascinating insight into just how far the Dragons will go to secure a promising investment.
Other entrepreneurs this week were not as lucky. Both John Macleod and enterprising duo Julie Wilson and Amy Livingstone impressed the Dragons with promising, well-designed products – but overvalued pitches left the Dragons with no room to invest and both companies left the Den with nothing.
Company: Bobo Buddies
Concept: Four-in-one plush travel toys for children
Investment sought: £50,000 for 15% equity
Investment received: £50,000 for 40% equity – dropping to 30% when investors’ stake returned (Peter Jones and Deborah Meaden)
Children’s travel toys might seem like a niche sector outside the Den, but on the show viewers have been treated to numerous companies with the latest all-in-one solution, from ‘the one that got away’ luggage company Trunki to last episode’s Jo Kerley, who walked away with £60,000 investment from Duncan Bannatyne.
Viewers could be forgiven, then, for thinking they had seen it all before when young entrepreneur James Roupell walked into the Den with his ‘Bobo Buddies’ – animal-shaped backpacks that served as a multi-faceted travel companion for children, also serving as a pillow and containing a blanket.
But it soon became clear that even if the idea was derivative, the execution was not. Sold at a lower price point than competitor products, the Dragons were impressed by the comfort and design of Roupell’s toys, as well as promising financials – he had sold 3,500 units in five months of trading and had already made back £25,000 of his £35,000 initial capital, with no debt.
Show hopefuls are normally subjected to a vigorous grilling from the Dragons before an offer is forthcoming, but Peter Jones kicked off negotiations early – offering all the money, for 40% of the business. Having both invested in the sector previously, Deborah Meaden agreed to split the offer with Jones, so Roupell would be getting two of the most experienced investors in the Den for the price of one.
This was by no means the end of the story. A taciturn Duncan Bannatyne sensed that the equity demanded by Meaden and Jones would be less than appetising for the ambitious Roupell, and wasted no time in undercutting the pair with a competing offer of all the money for a reduced 35% of the business. Hot on his heels were Hoppen and Linney, who tried to repeat their Skinny-Tan success by making a joint offer of all the money – for a further improved 30%.
Generating such obvious interest from the Dragons is the stuff of dreams for most entrepreneurs, but Roupell was determined to keep his head, telling the assembled investors they would need to take less than 25% of his company if they were to come on board. He followed this hard-line stance up by turning the tables on the Dragons, asking them to prove their credentials and outline what value they would add to the business.
What followed was an invaluable insight into the Dragons’ own pitching skills, as each talked up their pedigree and credentials in an effort to win over the poker-faced Roupell. It soon became clear, however, that he had set his sights on Deborah Meaden and Peter Jones from the outset. The pair were clearly just as keen to work with him as he was, and Jones offered to drop their equity down from 40% to 30% once the company had hit required milestones and the Dragons had made their stake back – in investment terms this is referred to as a ‘ratchet’.
Roupell wasn’t finished, making a final counter-offer to Jones and Meaden of a 35% stake, dropping to 25% when financial targets were met. This did prove a bridge too far in the end, with the experienced pair refusing to budge, and after some deliberation Roupell finally accepted their offer.
Subsequently, having left the Den with a deal in place Roupell sought guidance from a retail industry mentor and opted to pursue another path to secure the £50,000 he required in the short term to invest in stock. His retail contacts stumped up the money as a loan with Roupell not relinquishing any equity.
So, enviably, Roupell gained the extensive exposure, had his credibility enhanced through tough negotiation and product approval, retained all of his equity, and is now milking the appearance with PR stories in the nationals around ‘Why I turned down the Dragons’. Brilliant!
Start-up business lesson: Experienced investors will respect smart negotiation, so don’t shy away from pushing back to secure the best investment terms. And if you’re still not comfortable after the event, it’s still possible for either party to pull out
Company: LUX Creations (Clear Notes)
Concept: See-through sticky notes with specially designed quick-drying ink
Investment sought: £50,000 for 10% equity
Investment received: None
- Scottish entrepreneur John Macleod initially impressed the Dragons with his pitch, which showed off how consumers could use his ‘Clear Note’ creation – essentially a see-through Post-It note – to annotate text and media without obscuring it.
- He talked up a contract with the largest business-to-business stationer in the UK in addition to one of the largest buying groups in the UK, and Jones in particular was impressed by the design and potential of his product.
- However, the pitch hit an early snag when Meaden dramatically ruled herself out, declaring a conflict of interest with a similar Den product she had backed in the past – Neil and Laura Westwood’s Magic Whiteboard product.
- This was not the end of Macleod’s problems. Bannatyne echoed other investors’ concerns when he picked up on the young entrepreneur’s £500,000 business valuation – which was revealed to be hugely optimistic when the supply contract boasted of turned out to be no more than an expression of interest.
- This, coupled with Macleod’s lack of proper patent protection (he had only obtained protection for the adhesive used on the notes), was enough to put all remaining Dragons off the pitch. A £500,000 valuation was simply too far-fetched for investors to find a way in.
Start-up business lesson: Even if you’re convinced your product is going to be the next big thing, be conservative with your valuation – especially in light of any weaknesses your business has
Julie Wilson and Amy Livingstone
Company: Cheeky Chompers
Concept: Specially designed bibs for teething babies to chew on
Investment sought: £70,000 for 10%
Investment received: None
- Young mothers Julie Wilson and Amy Livingstone walked into the Den with high hopes for their business, which sold specially-designed bibs allowing babies to chew on a rubber bit whilst teething. In 11 weeks of trading they had already sold 1,800 bibs, with purported supply contracts with 14 independent retailers and eight national retailers.
- All very impressive, and the Dragons agreed that their product would sell as it represented a convenient alternative to teething toys, which can be dropped and become dirty and unsanitary.
- However, it was another highly optimistic evaluation that put the Dragons off investing. The pair argued the £700,000 valuation was based on their experience of selling over 11 weeks, but the experienced Dragons delivered a hard-hitting business lesson when they informed the pair sales would inevitably plateau.
- Linney and Hoppen were the first to bow out – both offered warm words of encouragement, with Hoppen urging them to build their business organically, but neither saw an investment opportunity.
- Meaden spoke for the remaining investors when she ruefully observed that £700,000 was such a high valuation that it, again, left investors with no room to negotiate.
Start-up business lesson: Don’t get carried away by an initial surge in interest when valuing your business – sit back and look at the bigger picture or you risk putting investors off