Dragon’s Den: a lesson in how not to run a small business – review (S18, ep 9)

Alice Feilden reviews this week's episode of Dragon's Den, including a halt from Deborah Meaden to have her own chat with the wall

This week’s episode of Dragon’s Den featured some promising high-flyers, including a nervous Jack Nyber, who hid his sugar-free sweetener packaging among a bountiful display of luscious watermelons, grapes and pears in desperate hope the judges wouldn’t notice his half-baked branding. Nyber seemed underwhelmed as he relayed impressive sales, bringing in a cool £28,000 a week and on track to turnover almost £1.5m this year. Squirming with nerves, Nyber walked away with a £75,000 investment after some rigorous squabbling between the Dragons.

There was plenty more where that came from. The bickering ramped up a notch when Tim Keaveney and Matt Aubrey, owners of eco-friendly refillable cleaning products company, Homethings, stole the show. All five of the Dragons made an offer to the squeaky-clean duo, and the sharp elbows came out.

Deborah Meaden pulled faces when Sara Davies pronounced infomercials as ‘the key way to recruiting customers’. Davies shouted about Touker Suleyman’s ‘oversight’ when suggesting Homethings go for a deal split three ways between himself, Tej Lalvani and longest-standing Dragon, Peter Jones. Jones himself positively begged to be let in on a deal with Meaden. ‘I’m riding on Deborah’s shirt tails right now,’ said Jones, ‘that was painful to say out loud’. Har har.

>See also: Sara Davies of Dragons’ Den 7 tips for small business

For a touch of drama, Meaden decided she’d lost her infamous killer instinct, and stomped away to ‘have a chat with the wall’. An awkward couple of seconds ensued as the nervous entrepreneurs shuffled out of her way. Evan informs his audience that this moment of high drama is ‘a Den first’. I must be watching BBC One, then.

A couple of good ideas don’t make for a gripping show, however. Though we may remember Dragon’s Den for its successful entrepreneurs – including Levi Roots, Skinny Tan and Trunki (the child-sized play-suitcase all adults want a turn on) – we watch it for its horror stories.

Some contestants just have bad ideas. Vitamin Coffee, run by Leanne Holder and Jacob Leaver, doesn’t hold water. The product, of course, does what it says on the tin: it’s coffee with crushed up vitamins in. Would putting a Berocca in the cafetiere have much the same effect on taste and health?

The Dragons were riled by the company’s business strategy and projected turnover which Ms Holder, conveniently, could not remember. Holder’s valiant boyfriend, who let her sweat for a little too long, swooped in with the numbers. And boy, you wish he hadn’t.

After almost six months, the business has made £5,000. Projected turnover for the year is £100,000. This riled Davies, who accused the couple of being ‘in cookooland’. Fair enough. They leave empty-handed.

Helen Davies from St Helens, a self-confessed ‘workaholic’, eventually garners investment from Sara Davies, but not without a fight. The Dragons are horrified by Helen’s announcement that in 2018, making a turnover of £272,000 on her baby food mats, only £3,000 of that was profit. Since the business began, Helen has paid herself a meagre salary of something like £12,000 a year.

Dragon’s Den rewards the enterprising and ridicules the hopeless. For small business owners, perhaps it can provide a useful lesson, or even a fair warning, for how not to run a company, and the kind of ideas one should try to avoid.

Read more

Deborah Meaden: ‘The shortest pitch I’ve ever seen was 11 minutes. It was just wrong on all counts’

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