Dragon’s Den 4th Nov 2018 – what you don’t see on TV! Hello everybody, and thanks for watching. What an amazing journey! Scroll down to watch my appearance in the den or carry on reading. It all began with a Dragon application form last October looking for investment in the BrighterBike indicator system. We’re already in the truck safety industry with TrafficAngel but I could see a real gap in the cycle market. The BrighterBike project has taken six years so far and I could write a book on this whole process. If I did write that book, I think I’d call it ‘From Concept to Completion – what every budding design team needs to know in advance.’ The call from the Beeb came in February this year, and after a long telephone interview, I was invited to Shepherd’s Bush for a two hour screening audition, and within a month, I was given a filming date – May 23rd. And that’s when the battles really begin. And talking with the other pitchers, everybody chosen for the Den has their own unique series of battles to tell just to make it to filming date. Here’s a glimpse into mine.
The week before filming, I developed raging toothache. I was getting no sleep and I made an emergency appointment for an extraction. Whilst yanking out my bottom back tooth, the dentist’s pliers slipped and slammed into one of my top teeth! It was agony! Another sleepless night passed, and with only two days until filming, I knew this tooth had to come out too. Another emergency appointment and the second tooth took about 45 minutes to leave my head! Just as I was leaving the dentist, my phone rang, it was Georgia, my BBC mentor, “Hi Steve, everything still OK for Wednesday?” With my mouth full of cotton wool, my jaw still swollen from the first extraction, and still spitting blood (quite literally), I replied, “Yef Georgia, everyfing’s good. Shee you shoon.” Where’s the Dragon support group when you need it, I wondered. My train to Manchester was early next morning and I reached the studios around 5pm. We immediately had to set up our presentation table which is wheeled in to the Den just before each pitch. An eagle-eyed production team swooped down on me out of nowhere, encircling the table and asked me to present my pitch.
They weren’t interested in anything I was saying, only in where I stood and how the display would react to the studio lights. We’d also been given a list of colours and patterns NOT to wear in the Den due to light and colour behaviour on camera.
I got to the hotel around 9.30 where I spent the next hour or so walking up and down outside practicing my pitch and rehearsing facts and figures – £90,000 investment for 20% equity, last 3 years of trading, turnover, gross profit and net, projected growth etc etc. The ‘pre-pitch head space’ is a wholly consuming affair and the whole experience quite surreal. The hotel staff however, didn’t bat an eyelid at the sight of this apparent lunatic muttering to himself until midnight. They’d seen it all before. Finally, around half past midnight, I was in bed and I had a read of my Bible. My life has been wonderfully transformed since discovering there’s a God Who loves us all dearly and there are some wonderful passages in the Bible that bring peace to a tired, jittery mind. I got to sleep around 1.30am. The studio taxi was due in 5 hours. That night was my longest sleep in about a week!
We arrived at the studios around 6.30ish to begin checking and double-checking our tables. After a cup of tea and a bacon roll, it was then into make-up. Not that I needed much, of course! And then finally, a chance to chat with the other pitchers. But always, there was this underlying pressure – runners carrying out clothing checks, mentors whisking us off for pre-pitch interviews, and other people of varying importance popping in and out. There was no let-up. The order of appearance had now been decided and we would be told around 8.30 who was first into the Den. I certainly did not want to be hanging around all day, getting more nervous by the minute. At around 9am, Georgia appeared and said, “Steve, the producers have decided they want to start the morning with something snappy and interesting. You’re on first.” Wow! The sound lady then appeared to mic me up. “You’re on in 30 minutes, Steve.” And if anybody from the Beeb is reading this Georgia Keating was a star!
I was then whisked off to rehearse the lift sequence – where to stand and for how long, what buttons to push and when etc., etc.. Getting even the little things right was now becoming a pressurised affair, and all the time I was praying, Lord let Your peace be with me. The lift rehearsal was over, and I was on in 15 minutes. And then suddenly, a bombshell! A BBC employee appeared and said, “Steve, I’ve read your pitch. It says you’re asking for £90,000? I just thought you should know the golden window is between £60-75,000 and you may want to consider asking for less?” And he then just stood there looking at me. I was utterly thrown. I remember putting my hand on his shoulder and in all earnestness saying, “Please my friend, I’m on in 10 minutes and I need to get this straight. Are you seriously telling me if I ask for £90,000 that I probably won’t get the investment?” To which he replied, “All I’m saying Steve, and I’ve been a Den team member for a number of years now, the golden window is the £60-75,000 mark.” And with that he simply vanished back into the studio.
Who was this guy? And what on earth possessed him to do that to me? And to do that to me right this second! I was in front of the Dragons in only 10 minutes! A pitcher’s worst nightmare. Was this some kind of mind game? An attempt to tip me into free-fall and capture my meltdown in glorious techni-colour? His advice had done nothing but put me into a total spin! There was no way I could recalculate and memorise any new figures in that time.
I remember walking away in a daze and standing with my head pressed against the wall, looking down at my ipad with all my well-rehearsed calculations now just swimming around before me. I was in a chasm of panic and thoroughly deflated. And then suddenly, all I can say is I felt this peace come over me. Stick to your original figures Steve, was what I sensed. And I knew then this interruption to my concentration was not going to phase me. The next second, Georgia appeared, “Steve, you’re on.” The rest as they say, is BBC history!
It’s November 2018 now and Peter and Deborah have since pulled out of the investment. At first, we were shell-shocked. Why did they pull out? All the due diligence was carried out with no issues. So, why the turnaround? There were two reasons it seems. Firstly the BrighterBike indicator was not going to be ready for sale by Nov 4th 2018 transmission date but we had explained this and the viable reasons why, and secondly, and we think the more fundamental reason; we were told the Dragons team had looked at the TrafficAngel equity share the Dragons had asked for in the Den and it was felt they had been given too good a deal out of TrafficAngel. Their £90,000 cash injection for 15% of the business undervalued the company and therefore it could be viewed that Peter and Deborah were taking advantage of an already established business in which they had also made nil contribution.
And that’s an honourable position to take but that was my decision in the Den to have them on board. And the rest of the office was delighted also. However, we understand the Dragons have a brand and reputation to protect and actually, the more we thought about it, the more we asked ourselves, would this really be such a blow? Would Peter and Deborah’s withdrawal really be that harmful? Could it even be a blessing in disguise? And on reflection, we really do think this is the case. Yes, the Dragons can open doors that we could never open and we would have welcomed their evident expertise and partnership. But with no Dragons on board, there are still huge benefits.
We avoid the attendant pressures of being associated with such huge profile names, we retain the equity in the business, we gain national exposure and the icing on the cake – as a result of this whole process, we have put systems in place that have made us much tighter as a business. We have the BrighterBike wireless indicating and brake light system imminent for the huge cycle market. We have a wired system also imminent ideally suited to the disability trike market as well as the up and coming last mile electric cargo delivery bike market plus we have a range of truck and van camera systems that is second to none. And with Direct Vision Standard looming (which you can read about on this site) this vehicle safety legislation is going to affect all major fleets in the UK who deliver into London but also all European truck companies who deliver to the capital city. BrighterBikes and TrafficAngel are ideally poised to sell into some incalculably large markets. It can only be a win win situation.
But investment or not, I wouldn’t have swapped my Dragon experience for anything. From all at TrafficAngel and BrighterBikes, we wish Peter and Deborah all the best in their ventures, and we thank them for their confidence expressed in the business and on national TV!
Advice for budding entrepreneurs. On a personal note, there is no doubt in business, you need that extra edge to get ahead in the game, and for anybody reading this who has a promising business idea, I’d like to offer a few pieces of advice which I’ve learned along the way which I’ve found to be invaluable on my own journey.
1: I will never forget our accountant asking me some 14 years ago now, “Steve, what are you selling to your customers?” I replied with a long list of products. “No Steve,” he said patiently, “you’re NOT selling products to your customers, you’re selling saving money – S-A-V-I-N-G M-O-N-E-Y.” That was a transformative piece of advice which has since shaped our business ethos. Your business idea has to bring a money-saving benefit. Does your idea save your customer money?
2: you will not realise your goals by relying on others. Of course there will be people along the way who will help you but the drive and effort to bring your vision to fruition must always come from you. My loving wife of 33 years is also a rock and a calming influence. Thank you a million times Kathy! You’ve been with me in all the ups as well as all the downs! We are also a family business and our love and respect for each is at the heart of the business. And the same love and respect is extended to those staff who are not blood! Never let the sun go down on a disagreement.
3: if education was never your strong point, do NOT let that deter you. Do NOT undervalue yourself because of any perceived lack in qualifications. There’s a diamond of an idea in everybody just waiting to come out! I was expelled from just about every school I attended, including nursery school! Some people are just not suited to school. What does get you noticed in the workplace however is hard work, courtesy, treating people as you would wish to be treated, an eagerness to learn, being true to your word and completing the tasks you say are going to complete – these are the qualities an employer primarily looks for, they really are!
Thank you for reading my Dragon account.
We’re on this earth once.
Make the most of it.
And all of us TrafficAngel and BrighterBikes just cannot wait to see how our Dragon appearance helps the business and where we are headed to next on our incredible journey so far!