Dragons’ Den: Series 13, Episode 15

The series finale saw just one investment for a second hand sale franchise, while an ice cream start-up and back garden football venture failed to score

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In the final episode of Dragons’ Den Series 13, a mum of three overcame her phobia of public speaking to win investment from Deborah Meaden for her children’s second hand sales franchise, while three other businesses left empty-handed.

One of the “failed” pitch attempts came from superfood ice cream start-up Oppo Ice Cream whose founders never actually intended to take the money but saw the show as more of a marketing opportunity.

While Oppo was left unfazed by its time in the den, for the other businesses there were lessons to be learnt on unrealistic valuations, un-rehearsed pitches, and growth potential.

Read on for the final business lessons of the series…

Jonathan and Tabitha Cowan

Company: Open Goaaal!
Concept: Back garden football rebounder
Investment sought: £150,000 for 15% equity
Investment received: None

First into the den were father and daughter team Jonathon and Tabitha Cowan,with a product that they said would “revolutionise back garden football”.

Inspired by Tabitha, who had played for Arsenal Ladies and for Watford, and has a habit of “hoofing” the ball and losing it – and frustrated with the poorly made white plastic goals on offer – Jonathon created Open Goaaal! The concept beinga  standard size goal surrounded by a 10 foot high wall of black netting which bounces the ball right back.

The goal can be closed like a curtain when not in use and adjusted in size for smaller gardens. UK patent granted, the entrepreneur also revealed he’d signed a deal with the world’s largest manufacturer of trampolines.

Sarah Willingham was impressed with the product but warned that the pitch was “tending towards verbose” and wanted to understand the market potential. While Jonathan Cowan laid out some impressive financial projections – £3.5m by year four – “financially forensic” Peter Jones spotted a weakness in his defense.

The dragon pointed out that selling 5,000 units at £20 profit over year one would only equate to £100,000 gross profit. “You’re coming in here trying to value this product at £1m – I find that insulting”, asserted a ruthless Jones: “It doesn’t stack up… you are trying to sell a business out of poles and a back net”.

Touker Suleyman had other concerns: “Your £149 retail price will not give the retailer a margin”. After talking Suleyman through the sums, a “flabbergasted” Cowan had to admit the dragon was right and lost his first chance of investment.

With doubts over the size of the market and the products potential to be undercut, Nick Jenkins and Willingham also exited the deal. “You’ve lost site of what an investor has to hear” summarised Meaden, “I won’t be investing”.

This left the goal open for Jones to deliver the final blow. “I think you’ve created something that’s really good”, he admitted, but said he couldn’t forgive the unrealistic valuation and put an end to the Cowans chances of business investment

Start-up business lesson: An overinflated valuation is transparent to serious investors – even if your figures aren’t that impressive – realistic estimations are far more likely to keep investors on side.

Harry and Charlie Thuillier

Company: Oppo
Concept: Superfood ice cream
Investment sought: £60,000 for 7% equity
Investment received: None

Next into the den was a business that might be familiar to some Startups readers – Oppo ice cream. Founded by polar “oppo-site” brothers Harry and Charlie Thuillier,  Oppo produces healthy, low calorie, superfood ice cream.

After running out of food in Brazil while trying to break the “unofficial world record” for the longest distance travelled by kite, the brothers found sustenance in local, naturally growing fruits and were inspired to launch their own superfood product. Made using virgin coconut oil and stevia leaf, the duo claimed that a scoop of their ice cream had fewer calories and less sugar than an apple.

Although Meaden had to immediately count herself out of the deal on the grounds that she already owned an ice cream business, the dragons all seemed to genuinely enjoy the tasters, with Willingham declaring: “I’m actually quite shocked by how good it is”.

However, Willingham was unimpressed with the pair’s projected £1m turnover and £35,000 net profit for 2017: “I expected them to be much higher than that with what you’ve come in and asked for”.Suleyman then raises that the Thuilliers were currently operating at a loss and may continue to, becoming the second dragon to exit the deal.

To the brother’s surprise and despite initially singing its praises, Willingham then criticised the aftertaste of the stevia-flavoured ice cream and went on to say it was a “dealbreaker” that would “impact repeat purchase” and declined to make an offer.

Jenkins highlighted the difficulties of breaking into the food sector, admitting that, for him, “the reward doesn’t justify the risk” – and while self-confessed “ice cream fiend” Jones thought they were “incredibly ‘investable’ guys” he too couldn’t get past the aftertaste, becoming the final dragon to exit the deal.

Start-up business lesson: The food sector is a notoriously difficult sector to enter and, while your product may be delicious, your figures and projections could leave investors with a nasty aftertaste. 

James Talbot

Company: Damson Ltd
Concept: Vibration technology headphones
Investment sought: £250,000 for 12.5% equity
Investment received: None

“I never have game plans, I never have scripts, I never rehearse anything; I will walk in and deliver my pitch as it comes”, declared the next hopeful entrepreneur entering the den; James Talbot.

Having initially developed a portable speaker that uses vibration technology to play when pressed down onto a surface, Talbot had adapted this technology to headphones – allowing the wearer to listen to music while still being able to hear what’s going on around them. The entrepreneur went on to claim that the headset had enabled the hearing-impaired to “hear stereo sound for the very first time”.

Jones initial responses was that the market was too small but Talbot said that he would be targeted the sports, athletics and hearing impaired market too.

However, this comment left Jenkins confused: “Is this [product] for people who are unable to hear music normally or is there another purpose for it?” Despite repeat requests, Talbot seemed unable to pin himself down to one market which frustrated the dragons but was able to impress with revenues of £3m to date, and profit of £250,000.

The news that Talbot was making 50% profit on every unit sold caught the dragons attention, but left Jenkins suspicious and Meaden didn’t understand why Talbot hadn’t mentioned that “really chunky piece of information” at the beginning of the pitch.

It then transpired that the true figure was 20%, not 50%, and there had been some confusion about gross and net profit. Faith in the entrepreneur seemed to crumble from then on, with revelations about the reality of his sales casting doubt on the potential of the product.

Meaden took Talbot to task on his inconsistent pitching style and exited the deal: “I’ve got a horrible feeling that’s what life with you would be like”. Jenkins didn’t believe Talbot had proved market potential and followed suit.

“You could sell ice to the Eskimos but you can’t sell this to me today. For that reason James, I’m out”, announced Suleyman. Willingham was clearly frustrated that the entrepreneur had failed to convince her, but ultimately declined to make an offer leaving Jones, once again, to make the final call. But Jones wasn’t a fan and told Talbot that he couldn’t invest.

Start-up business lesson: An ad-libbed pitch is a very risky strategy. When presenting to investors, make sure you know your business inside out -particularly revenue and profit figures – or you’ll leave yourself vulnerable to difficult questions.

Kath Harrop

Company: Mum2mum market
Concept: Babies and children’s “nearly-new” sales
Investment sought:£35,000 for 20%
Investment received:£35,000 for 25% (Deborah Meaden)

The final pitch of then den was from mum of three Kath Harrop, who despite a lifetime phobia of public speaking, explained she was in the den to win investment for her event franchise.

The franchise brand; Mum2mum market, organises sales events of used “nearly new” babies and children’s clothing and toys. With 35 franchises across the UK, the entrepreneur asserted that she wanted to hit a target of 100 franchises in two years.

Willingham, who is mother to four young children, was keen to understand the franchise model. Harrop explained that the stalls are sold though the website for £1,000, with her taking 30% of the stall booking fee and ongoing royalties – resulting in £140 per franchisee, per sale for the business.

Suleyman wasn’t sure if she was making the most of the opportunity and suggested a parallel eBay style marketplace for second hand children’s toys and clothes. But Harrop was quick to espouse the benefits of offline selling and responded that “Your 99p bargain’s not such a bargain when you’ve got to pay £3.99 postage on it”/

Jones was unimpressed by the growth potential of the business and admitted it wasn’t enough money for an investor while Jenkins, Suleyman also cited the lack of reward for their investment as they exited the deal.

Willingham was clearly very passionate about the sector, but admitted she was looking for an opportunity that would create a bigger value for her and regretfully declined to make an offer.

Meaden said she understood her fellow dragons’ concerns but exclaimed that “Two years return on my money isn’t bad going”, and made an offer of £35,000 for 25%. Following an attempt to negotiate where Meaden said she reluctant to amend her offer, Harrop accepted the deal.

Start-up business lesson: Even if the potential for your business to scale exponentially is limited, investors can still be won round by genuine passion and business acumen. While investors are looking to back a business, they’re also looking for “investable” entrepreneurs. 

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