I love Dragons’ Den. There, I said it. I know some business folk are a dismissive of the show because it can glamourise the investment process and potentially mislead around the rigor involved in securing funding – but I just love it! You can also accuse the show of sensationalising some of the issues which could literally make or break a young business but we’re all adults here so surely we know what we’re letting ourselves in for?
There are many reasons to love The Den and if it is used correctly it can be the perfect platform to propel a small business to the next level which is a fantastic gift to the small business world. However, I love it for one reason: the business lessons. It’s a marvellous microcosm for the business world and emphasises some of the amazing abilities and frustrating failings of the entrepreneurial world.
I have watched the show all the way through but this series I decided not to be a passive observer and get stuck in to offer my thoughts on any foodie that makes their way passed Evan’s lair in the basement and through those ominous sliding elevator doors. So this series I’m going to pull out some of the business lessons gleaned from any brave foodie to enter The Den. I’d also like to point out that what follows is not a criticism but a critique; even if it goes badly wrong, anyone that demonstrates the stones to go on TV to bare all has my respect!
Season 15: episode 1
Entrepreneur(s): Julianne Ponan and Matthew Ford
Company: Creative Nature Superfoods
Elevator Pitch: ranges of free-from snack bars, innovative baking mixes and creative superfoods designed to cater for top 14 allergies
Asking For: £75k in exchange for 5% equity
What Went Well?
Preparation: fail to prepare and all that is key for any business pitch but it is absolutely fundamental when you’re asking someone to believe in you and to part with their money. The entrepreneurs demonstrated a strong knowledge of their own business and also the marketplace which might sound like a basic requirement but is often found wanting.
The business idea: the product ranges couldn’t be more on trend; it’s on-the-go, it’s home baking and it’s superfoods. Winning. Deborah Meaden identified that the freefrom shopper has developed into a shopper that no longer surfs packaging but wants product confidence and assurance and these guys have got it.
Distribution: there’s nothing better for a potential investor to hear than people are already buying your products and there are lots of retailers supporting it. Creative Nature was able to successfully demonstrate that its turnover is generated from a wide range of distribution with some very credible retailers. Although I’m not too sure how Christine Tacon would feel about the confession that the distribution was bought through ‘listing fees’; nevertheless from the entrepreneurs’ point of view this is a very savvy use of seed money.
What Could Have Gone Better?
Owner’s Relationship: the fact that Matthew holds no shares in the business may have come across as a bit of a tongue-in-cheek comment from Peter Jones but the reality is this information did cast a shadow of doubt in The Den. Family businesses are fantastic and there’s nothing more heart-warming than seeing a family business succeed however it does raise some questions from a business perspective. Who really owns the business? Who really runs the business? How integral is Matthew? What happens if he leaves and what’s his incentive to stay? These queries were well handled but these issues will ultimately need clearing up.
Rose-Tinted Forecasting: the ‘£1M contract’ in Co-Op was a bit of a faux pas that the Dragons were bound to pick apart. I completely understand where the numbers have come from, it’s simple science. However, we’re dealing with an art form and forecasting is not that simple. Assuming that a Co-Op store will achieve the same rate of sale as an ASDA is a little naïve; in some product categories ASDA will dwarf Co-Op and vice-versa in others. I do sympathise but a big bold headline like this will get scrutinised and criticised by any savvy investor.
What Other Lessons Can We Learn?
Profit is KING: there’s a cliché in business that sales in vanity and profit is sanity and everyone in the room recognised that Creative Nature’s margins were too tight for comfort. Every business needs to account for scalability and assume some benefits as you scale up however if margins are tight at the early stage of a business that’s a real concern. It’s not unfixable but if you can’t sustain profitability you’re in for a rough ride!
Outcome: Success! 25% equity given to Deborah Meaden with a 5% optional buy back if the business hits 2018 targets.
Would Munkee invest? Yes! Who am I to argue with the Meaden?! Creative Nature has the makings of a great brand and business. It appears like a sound investment and I’m sure there’ll be more than just Co-Op placing new orders.