Shouting down the Dragons
How an eco-entrepreneur is enjoying the last laugh after a bruising encounter on Dragons’ Den
For all the numerous silly conceits of Dragons' Den – a set that resembles a scene from a rubbish gangster movie, the intelligence-insulting ludicrousness of the big piles of fake cash, the amount of equity the Dragons ask for – you normally get the feeling that they at least know what they're talking about when they belittle someone's business idea.
When they do get it wrong, it's hardly surprising if it attracts column inches and a touch of schadenfreude, especially if the entrepreneur who has enjoyed the last laugh had been on the receiving end of one of their more brutal attacks.
When Peter Hopton took Very-PC, a start-up that specialises in energy-efficient computers, on the show, he asked for £250,000 of investment, valuing the company at £5m. It was a calculation that was to draw a level of opprobrium remarkable even for a show renowned for scathing and humiliating attacks.
Peter Jones called it an “averagely crap business,” and when Hopton told him that external investors were interested, he asked: “Are they in this country, or do they live on another planet? Are they human?”
Duncan Bannatyne was typically direct, saying “I've never heard such rubbish in my life”, while Theo Paphitis said Hopton had “insulted [his] intelligence” and was “seething with rage”.
In the context of Very-PC's subsequent success, the clip is well worth a look. Last year, the company made a profit of over £300,000 on a turnover of £763,000, and sales are forecast to hit £1.5m this year.
The company hand-picks energy efficient computer components from around the world, assembles them in a tailor-made box, and runs them with its own software, which they say optimises power supply. Every part of a Very-PC computer is chosen first on its energy performance. This makes their products 10% to 15% more expensive than average computers, but Hopton emphasises that this is quickly paid for by reduced electricity bills.
To be fair to Jones, he probably had a point when he raised concerns about the lack of a unique, defendable proposition. Whether Very-PC can defend its niche and pricing policy once the likes of Dell and HP start taking energy efficiency more seriously is questionable, but you can only admire Hopton's entrepreneurial spirit and sheer bloody mindedness in snatching a personal triumph from the jaws of a degrading mauling in the Den. And there was me thinking it was the Dragons who were inspiring British entrepreneurs.