Dragons’ Den: Series 12, episode 5

An 18-year-old whizzkid walked away with this week’s only investment as more senior entrepreneurs fell short

Two patented inventions appeared in the Den this week, but just one gained investment, as teenage entrepreneur Jordan Dakin walked into the lift backed by £80,000 of Deborah Meaden’s money to grow his innovative wall fixings business.

Patrick Gavin and Chris Bibby had no such luck after failing to wow the Dragons with their unusual combination of a greeting card and a vase, and a trio of hot chocolate entrepreneurs found out the hard way just how scrupulous the Dragons can be when examining a business.

Jordan Dakin

Company: GripIt Fixings
Proposition: Patented solution for firmly fixing screws into plasterboard
Investment sought: £80,000 for 20% equity
Investment received: £80,000 for 25% equity (Deborah Meaden)

The pitch:

At just 18 years old, entrepreneur Jordan Dakin put many of his elders to shame with a composed, confident and knowledgeable pitch, providing an almost textbook example of how to properly handle an appearance on Dragons’ Den. The teenager was seeking an £80,000 investment for his invention, a small screw-bracket which claimed to eliminate the age-old problem of how to properly secure wall fittings to flimsy plasterboard.

He claimed his GripIt fixing, which had a full UK patent and a patent pending in the US, could hold up to 180kg on its own – with more than 200,000 units sold to date and 500 stockists, it was clear that those in the DIY industry were beginning to recognise its utility.

The DIY entrepreneur’s pitch was delivered confidently, and Dakin never felt the need to resort to the brash showmanship favoured by some on the show. All the Dragons were further impressed when Dakin revealed he was just 18 – Piers Linney was rendered almost speechless and Meaden called the young businessman “extraordinary” for having achieved so much at such a young age. He dealt well with the customary grilling the Dragons levelled at him, revealing a clear five-year plan for business growth and outlining how the £80,000 investment would be used to purchase new equipment and drive the manufacturing cost down to 3p per unit.

However, the pitch hit a snag when Peter Jones decided to intervene – the veteran investor has an almost God-given knack of destabilising entrepreneurs with his interventions, and this was no exception, as he got up without warning and tore a radiator unit off the display wall to demonstrate the product’s apparent flimsiness. Despite this, Dakin remained calm, and concerns over the product’s safety were quickly set aside when he revealed a major upcoming supply deal with UK builder’s merchants Travis Perkins. Four of the five entrepreneurs did depart at this point, citing concerns about the level of debt Dakin had taken on to grow the business and the perils of entering a risky marketplace with a new product.

Just Deborah Meaden was left, and whilst she shared the concerns of the other Dragons, Dakin was clearly an investable entrepreneur. She made the teenager an offer of the whole amount, but for an inflated 30% equity. Dakin shot back with a counter-offer of 25% and, to everyone’s surprise, she accepted in the spirit of a good working relationship, and the 18-year old entered the lift having secured her handshake.

Start-up business lesson: Even if your business itself has flaws, investors may be willing to look past them if you are investable as a person.

Patrick Gavin and Chris Bibby

Company: Blooming Simple
Proposition: A greeting card that can be turned into a vase for flowers
Investment sought: £100,000 for 10% equity
Investment received: None

The pitch:

Slick duo Patrick Gavin and Chris Bibby thought they had come up with the next major development in the gifting industry with their patented invention – a unique greeting card that can be folded out to act as a vase for flowers sent at the same time. Unusually for UK-based entrepreneurs, the pair had started to crack the US market before launching domestically, tying up a number of strategic partnerships with designers and balloon manufacturers on their way to £224,000 turnover and £12,000 net profit. They were seeking £100,000 to facilitate a proper launch in the UK market, offering an amount of equity that valued their business at an ambitious £1m.

The confident pair started well, however, the self-assembly nature of the product was causing concern in the Den – Piers Linney, in particular, was unconvinced by the long-term appeal of the greeting cards, saying it was akin to gifting a picture frame with the glass and picture sent separately. Peter Jones, Kelly Hoppen and Piers Linney all felt unable to invest, with the product clearly lacking that ‘wow’ factor that is so crucial on the show.

So the pair’s chances lay in the hands of the Den’s most scrupulous investors – Deborah Meaden and Duncan Bannatyne. Their hopes were quickly dashed, though, when Bannatyne uncovered the fact that the pair had taken just a £7,000 salary from the business over the year – meaning it would have actually made a loss had they used it to support themselves. Bannatyne tore into their £1m valuation of the business, forcing them to admit that the true value was closer to just £300,000 – a fatal blow. Meaden summed up the prevailing opinion when she bowed out, saying the pair were “miles off” on the equity they demanded.

Start-up business lesson: Value your business at what you can realistically back up with figures – overambitious projections are a major turn-off for investors.

Jim Campbell, Rueben Maltby and Simon Hasslacher

Company: Ozindas Ltd
Concept: Gourment Colombian hot chocolate
Investment sought: £100,000 for 10% equity
Investment received:
None

The pitch:

This ambitious hot chocolate trio’s chastening experience in the Den was perhaps the clearest example of how the Dragons’ piercing insight can undermine a promising pitch in a matter of minutes. The entrepreneurs planned to enter the high end of the hot chocolate market with their offering, a distribution business selling organic Colombian hot chocolate branded in appealing, earthy, chunky packaging. They were no mere upstarts, however; stocked in more than 1,000 Tesco, Waitrose and M&S stores across the UK, the pair had almost reached last year’s turnover of £162,000 in the first financial quarter of this one, with gross profit margins at an impressive 50%.

It was a pitch that seemed destined for a Dragon’s investment, with the three canny businessmen revealing an initially solid grasp of their figures and the product itself drawing widespread praise. However, almost every question from the Dragons proved disastrous for their chances. The first issue they identified was the ‘exclusive’ distribution agreement with their Colombian supplier. A closer look at the fine print revealed the contract was conditional on the parties agreeing performance targets, something which was not done – which meant the contract was not, in fact, legally enforceable. It was a major setback that saw Piers Linney bow out, and more problems were soon to materialise.

Peter Jones’ grilling revealed that despite the three entrepreneurs pledging absolute dedication to the business, none had gone full-time as of yet. The veteran investor places great store on dedication; once this was revealed, it was inevitable he would rule himself out. Hoppen was also out after failing to engage with the white-labelling business model, and Bannatyne bowed out after ridiculing their £1m valuation of the business. Just Meaden remained, and the entrepreneurs were offered a brief glimmer of hope when she told them she had “got over” the issue with the distribution agreement. However, their vague answers to her interrogation over financial projections extinguished the last chance they had, with Meaden expressing amazement that the otherwise impressive trio had given so little thought to such a vital aspect of their business.

Start-up business lesson: Think about how you can justify your business’ weak points in a pitch; any investor worth their salt will identify them right away.

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