This is for you business owners who are curious about how Dragons Den works but also for all the fans of the show out there who’d like to know more about an entrepreneurs experience during and after the episode aired. I hope you’ll find this insightful, happy reading!
I guess if I’m honest to myself, going on Dragons’ Den was subconsciously always a dream of mine, but I never thought it would actually ever happen. Especially not back in 2005, when I was in my second year of Manchester uni and living in a house of 5 girls (meaning that I was often forced to watch Desperate Housewives!) but we also all often watched Dragon’s Den (which I always absolutely loved and always looked forward to seeing the next episode of). I remember it really catching my attention back then, and I loved talking to everyone around me about the ideas I’d seen on it. So, I guess it was then- 15 years ago- that subconsciously my unspoken desire to go to the Den must have developed!
When setting up Stroodles initially, I again have to admit, that while I was sure that Crowdfunding would be my preferred fundraising mean, deep down and even in conversations in the early days, I was always half-joking about presenting my idea to the Dragons. I always admitted that “yes, when I am more progressed with the business, I‘ll go to the Den eventually.”
I guess with manifestation and serendipity in perfect play here (as it is one of those thoughts that you joke around and let go!) I remember the day I got the initial email like it was just yesterday. I couldn’t believe my eyes when, literally less than 3 months after launching Stroodles, I got an email titled “Dragons Den 2019”. The email was from one of the Assistant Producers of the show saying that he had come across Stroodles, and invited me to fill out the forms and apply for the series. I remember having to read the email twice, as at first I thought it might have been a scam! Once I did some googling and realised that it was all definitely legit, it finally all sank in, and I really couldn't believe it. I remember being so shocked that my business, that at the time was less than 3 months old, was even found by someone from Dragons’ Den, especially because at that time Stroodles had no advertising or press coverage (and with a negligible number of Instagram Followers!)
Once it had all properly sunk in and I had managed to digest what had just happened, the thought that I might be too early in my development of the business crossed my mind (especially that I knew from after watching the show for 15 years, what it takes to go there!). At the same time I knew that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I knew that if I didn’t do it, I would have massively regretted it, and would have been asking myself “what if?” for the rest of my life. I knew that I wouldn’t have been able to live with that personal guilt, and guilt to Stroodles of course! ;-) And yes obviously I thought that maybe I should just wait til next year to go on the show, when the business would have been 1 year old and had gained much more traction, but in hindsight I’m SO glad I didn’t. (as with the current lockdown situation there would be no filming in 2020 and so then it would be 2021 and by that time I would be too old as a business for the show!) Looking at it retrospectively, I knew it definitely was the right decision to do it and definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Before I went on the show I said to myself that even if I didn’t get the investment, I will still be SO happy to have the opportunity to go on the show, and share the movement to fight against single-use plastic that I want to create (as with Stroodles it’s not just a business I am creating - it’s a movement!) With Stroodles I am trying to make an impact and inspire change. Creating awareness for the apparent plastic problem is my goal, along with providing you with easy solutions - like a pasta straw. So I owed it to the bigger mission I am fighting for to go out there and take this platform as an opportunity to create awareness among millions and millions of people. I wanted to share my story, which is the world’s story concerning us all and I knew that even despite investment, I might have reached the minds of some people, and make them think and get excited, I would have achieved what I wanted. Even if I got through to just 1% of people. and subconsciously managed to trigger or change something in them in their attitude to plastic, it was definitely worth it.
Thus it was with this bigger picture in mind that I decided to accept the challenge and I knew that it is not just a business that I go out to pitch for funding for, it was the big idea, bigger than me and even bigger than the Dragons, which is actually what gave me the confidence to go out there and face the Dragons.
With the above in mind, that’s why, while I dearly enjoyed the whole Dragons’ Den experience, the only thing that was unfortunate was that in the edit for the show that was initially aired, they unfortunately cut out all my references to the story and bigger picture. And thus not enabling me to spread the idea of the Stroodles Movement and what it entails, as Stroodles is not just a straw company (as edited), but so, so much more than that.
And on that note, I guess it makes sense to speak about the 2 learnings: edit and mindset. With Dragons’ Den being my first TV experience ( I never thought I would ever do anything like it because up until Stroodles, I always kept a low profile), after filming for the show, the main thing I have respect for is the final “Edit of the programme”. But I guess, that’s one of those things you have to accept, when you go on TV- and to be honest I knew what I had signed up for, and after all the show needs to entertain the masses. On the other hand, as with all TV shows made to entertain, after all, they had to cut down my pitch from over 1 hour in the actual Den, facing all the questions, to 12 min for the actual show, and a 3min edit most recently on the BBC Instagram page. Not an easy job, but also a very powerful tool to mold the pitch. But as I said, all this is part of the game you need to be prepared for, when going on such a popular show, including them editing your responses and cutting and pasting out parts and answers together completely (as done on Deborah’s question), as they see fit. But all this aside, the only thing I would have really liked is for my bigger message to have been more prominent and for not cutting out any reference to the bigger picture and ripping me from the opportunity to inspire people behind the screens to make a difference and take a stand, independent of the investment side.
One last thing I wanted to mention about the editing of the show is that I was surprised that they actually kept in the fact that I unconsciously showed Peter Jones the “V hand gesture” 3 times :-)! I guess I will go down in Dragons’ Den history as the first person, who flipped off a Dragon 3 times in one show! I will also take it as a huge compliment that the editor decided to show me drinking twice (if not three times!) to portray I am apparently nervous - from all the times I have watched Dragons’ Den, they never show anyone drinking. I guess I am flattered that even my drinking is TV-Material ;-)
So what’s the learning on the back of that for all of those who plan to go on any TV show? As my Pitch Coach (who I will speak about in a sec) and other people taught me, the main thing is to constantly repeat the points you are passionate about and want to get across as much as possible. Because this is what is going to make an editor’s job hell, and they end up not having much choice, but keep those parts in eventually, without it looking weird. That strategy seemed to have worked for better or worse, as I had a chance to practice it on what would have been my second TV appearance, in late 2019, I got invited for another show. This time being smarter, I thus made sure, I am always confident and smiling and repeat and get across what Stroodles is about as much as possible- sometimes 2-3 times within a 1-2 min answer. And I guess it must have worked, as they didn’t end up showing it in the end - I guess this time too much work to edit to make it entertaining. So while I would have loved to have the coverage, I guess I take it as a compliment :-)
This brings me to the second point that I have touched upon above - your mindset, confidence and attitude. Just to be clear, I don’t mean preparation, as in knowing your stuff and numbers and answers to questions - let’s take that as a given, and in any case, subject to edit, as I mentioned previously. No, I mean your mental attitude and appearance, as this will dictate everything. And to make the link to the above point about the edit - while they can edit anything about your content, no one can edit out your personality.
I want to use this opportunity to give a big thank you to Amy Tez at https://www.amytez.com/ who is an excellent communications and pitching coach. Without her, I wouldn't have mastered the Den as well as I did. Because obviously I was nervous, as up until this point I was leading a non-media lifestyle and was one of those who didn't even ever post anything on social media, but I was just watching closely what other people did :-) and now here I am, about to go onto TV in front of millions of people. While I am very grateful for the training around speech, intonation, pauses/speed (the ones who know me, know I normally rattle down my ideas very fast), posture and many more powerful things that boost confidence, there are three things that stood out and helped me on the day.
Exercises to create awareness of the body mentally and through stretches and above all exercises for the voice. This is a list from tongue twister, to funny sounds, etc. So imagine me standing there backstage and at the top of my voice making sounds of a siren and saying things like ka-ka-ka ka-ka kaaaaaaaaaa and ga-ga-ga-gaaaaa. People might have thought I was crazy, but I didn't care, as this gave me the necessary confidence to face the Dragon’s!
Breathing. Especially when nervous, we tend to speak really fast. What breathing does, is it grounds you and gives you a moment to “calm down”, gather your thoughts and then go. This is so powerful and this is what helped me overcome my obvious nervousness. I remember so well that the last thing I did, before the lift door opened, was that I took a deep breath. Throughout the pitch I gave myself time to constantly allow for breathing, thereby countering my nature of wanting to speak quickly and shoot out answers like a machine gun. Only in the situation you appreciate the power of those small tiny pauses at the end of each sentence!
Finally and possibly the most powerful point is your (mental) attitude and state of mind. There were two thoughts that gave me the confidence to face the Dragons - one, which I have mentioned above, was my determination to secure finance, but actually even more so, my belief that there is a bigger picture, and therefore actually so much more than just the money that I was asking the Dragons for. The second thing was something I clearly have to credit Amy for, and she probably didn't even realise the power of the statement (that I believe she just said at some point as part of the conversation). She successfully managed to frame my mind to the extent that all I am doing is speaking and facing 5 normal people. That’s it, it’s just a conversation- nothing else. And believe me this thought, as simple as it is, is what gave me a huge bunch of confidence. Obviously my legs were shaking, right before the lift door opened, but the combination of a deep breath and the awareness and realization that I am just going out there to have a conversation with 5 normal people and the opportunity to secure finance for my business, while being able to inspire and impact so many people, was the “secret formula”, if you want. And that’s what kept me going throughout and kept my smile on my face.
So overall, it was an amazing and life shaping experience, and probably one of the best things that has ever happened to me, and I would do it over and over again. I can safely say that after going to the Den, I’m definitely not scared of any public speaking anymore. I remember presenting at an event to a room of executives from a big stage just a few weeks after filming for the show, and everyone was clapping and smiling at me and in relation to Dragons’ Den, I guess it all felt very easy and straightforward :-) no questions and lots of happy people!
Yes obviously I am gutted that I didn’t get the money, but a few months later I managed to get it through crowdfunding, and at a better valuation. But the show is definitely not just about the money, and I got so, so much more from the experience. I definitely grew from it all as a person and it made me so much more confident on so many levels, and it gave me even more drive (not that I didn't have enough before :-)) and confidence to succeed and get the world stroodling, and pursue my mission.
I want to be able to prove the Dragon’s wrong one day, and show them what they have missed out on (their track record on that level is not great). I think we are already doing successfully with all the amazing traction we have had so far, and all the people who are stroodling globally across trade and retail. I am confident that one day, I will get a chance to meet some of the Dragon’s again and stroodle a drink with them.
And on this note, I would like to thank all the amazing people that flooded me with positive messages after the initial airing last year, and re-airing a few weeks ago. It is exactly those messages that keep me going and show me that I am on the right track in inspiring the world to make small sustainable changes “one stroodle at a time.”!
Maxim, Chief Stroodle & Founder