It’s become a TV institution since it first arrived on our screens over 17 years ago, although for every success story on Dragons Den, there are many dozens more that have stood before the business giants in the Den and secured not a farthing of investment for their budding ventures.
In some cases, it’s been an obvious and right decision by those business leaders to not back these ambitious entrepreneurs – I mean, let’s face it, some of the ideas have been….well weird, to say the least!
However, there are many examples of entrepreneurs who’ve pitched their businesses to the Dragons over the years, looking to take their products to the next level and who’ve been unfairly dismissed, outrightly rejected &/or shooed away by the likes of Peter Jones, Deborah Meaden and Sara Davies…
Yet rather than accept defeat after missing out on investment, they’ve defied expectations and become huge success stories in their own right, after walking away from the den empty-handed. I remember meeting Deborah Meaden at an EC Event a few years ago, when she was asked whether she had any regrets about any of the businesses she had rejected in the Den, to which she replied: “one should never look back with regret, only forward with optimism.”
Although, she confided later that there were one or two that had got her ‘in the gut’ since dismissing the budding entrepreneurs’ ideas as “not unique enough” and one or two of those are listed here!
These are some of the greatest success stories that have slipped past and through the Dragons’ Den’s doors over the last 17 series….
It was back in 2007 when Hungry House, an online takeaway order service, was pitched to the Dragons by Shane Lake and Tony Charles. After asking for £100,000 for 11% of the business, the pair managed to secure a deal with James Caan and Duncan Bannatyne, although the investment fell through shortly after the show was aired.
It was a big loss for the Dragons – Hungry House went on to be sold to online takeaway giant Just Eat in 2018, for an estimated £240 million – a mouth-watering result, if ever there was one!
Oppo Ice Cream
The Dragons sure missed the scoop on Oppo back in 2016, when brothers Harry and Charlie Thuillier got an icy reception in the Den, after pitching for a £60,000 investment for their luxury and health-focused dessert brand. The then Dragon panel – Peter, Deborah, Touker Suleyman, Jenny Campbell and Tej Lalvani all lived to regret that decision, with the ice cream now on sale in hundreds of stores across the country, including Holland & Barrett and Waitrose.
Oppo’s estimated annual revenue is 12 million and the company is now valued at an impressive 86 million.
Automotive engineers Ian Worton and Peter Neath impressed the Dragons back in 2009 with their Grillstream barbecue tray, which was designed to prevent dripping fats and oils.
Despite coming close to striking a deal, the success really came after the show aired, with multiple investors getting in touch straight away, after their demonstration racked up more than 10 minutes of air-time. Strangely, the Dragons all decided to pass on the opportunity to invest in the patented grill and the aspiring entrepreneurs went into business with British company, LeisureGrow after the episode aired.
Since then, the product has been stocked in retail store giant John Lewis, as well as selling more than 50,000 units through the North American home store brand, Canadian Tire.
Now one of the most recognisable beer companies in the UK, BrewDog was relatively unknown when they applied to appear on Dragons’ Den back in 2009. The founders reached out to the show, asking for a £100,000 investment for 20% of the company. They never made it on air, although they came very close. Apparently, founders James Watt and Martin Dickie said that while they were in touch with the show, TV bosses decided not to invite them on at the last minute, and their business was dismissed as being “not unique enough.”
“We got through the initial application process and were selected for a screen trial in Manchester. They thought our business wasn’t a good-enough investment proposition for the Dragons and that BrewDog was not unique enough, special enough or with enough growth potential to make the grade and appear on the show”
It’s a shame for the Dragons, as Brewdog has grown exponentially since 2009 and the pair’s owners claim the £100,000 investment would now be worth a whopping £360 million!
Cup-a-Wine was a quirky idea pitched to the Dragons in 2009 by Wine Innovations founder, James Nash, promoting the concept of plastic, single-use cups filled with wine, which customers would be able to enjoy on the go, anytime, any place, anywhere!
Nash was asking for a £250,000 investment in exchange for a 25% stake in his business, which was rejected by the Dragons with Peter Jones saying “no one wants to buy wine in plastic glasses like that” yet sure enough, many people did – James soon teamed up with Marks & Spencer and commuters have been picking them up from the shelf for their train journey home ever since!
You may recall a FIT Matters blog dedicated to the genius inventor of Trunki, Rob Law, who I had the privilege of meeting at another EC event a few years back – and boy oh boy, does he have a success story to tell, after his design of the fun & practical kids’ suitcase was knocked by the Dragons when the show aired in 2006.
However, it didn’t take long after the episode aired for Rob to secure investment elsewhere and it’s turned out to be one of the biggest success stories in the show’s history, with Trunki reportedly being worth over £10 million pounds now!
Shaun Pulfrey entered the Den in 2007, seeking an investment of £80,000 for 15% of his hairbrush business, Tangle Teezer. However, the product was mocked by the Dragons’ Den panel with Peter Jones branding it a “hair-brained waste of time” while Deborah Meaden likened it to “a horse brush.”
Hence, none of the Dragons invested in Pulfrey’s hairdressing tool, designed to get rid of knots and tangles dreaded by hairdressers and consumers alike, being told the business idea wouldn’t make any money – how wrong they were!
Tangle Teezer is now worth £70 million and to this day, has been labelled “the one that got away” as it became one of the best-selling hairbrush brands in the world, earning a Queen’s Award for Innovation in 2012 and for International Trade in 2014.
And as a matter of balance, let’s also remember some of the greatest success stories which didn’t get away from the Dragons’ Den and have gone on to become household legends in their own right, all thanks to the backing of some of our all-time favourite Dragons….
Back in 2007, Reggae singer and chef, Levi Roots pitched his spicy Reggae Reggae Sauce to the Dragons and successfully managed to secure £50,000 to manufacture his grandmother’s secret recipe. In return, Levi Roots was offering 20% of the equity in his business.
Duncan Bannatyne told Roots there was “no future for this business” however, Peter Jones and Richard Farleigh saw something else and invested £50,000 for 40% equity in the company and the rest, as they say, is history!
Reggae Reggae sauces are now stocked in all major UK supermarkets, taking London-based Roots’ worth to an estimated £30 million according to the Sunday Times Rich List. Peter Jones remains a shareholder and advocate for the brand, claiming “it’s one of my most successful investments from the show”.
Dragons Deborah Meaden and Theo Paphitis invested £100,000 for a 40% share of Magic Whiteboard, the company founded by husband-and-wife team Neil and Laura Westwood back in 2006. The brilliantly designed roll of A1 whiteboard sheets which statically stick to anything, are now stocked in all major office supply stores and have a global customer base. The product is said to have been Deborah & Theo’s most successful investment of all time, when in 2014, the Westwood’s bought back their shares from the two Dragons, giving them a healthy £800,000 return on their £100k investment.
Dragons Kelly Hoppen and Piers Linney invested £60,000 for a 10% stake in the company Skinny Tan, who went from start-up to global success after its founders Louise Ferguson and Kate Cotton pitched to the Dragons in 2013. It didn’t take long until Skinny Tan became one of the fastest-selling self-tanning products in the UK, which had originally launched in Australia the year before, boasting profits of £600,000 in its first year.
After hearing about this success, all 5 Dragons showed interest in investing in the founders’ business, with Kelly Hoppen and Piers Linney sealing the deal. The company was sold for an undisclosed sum in June 2015, although both co-founders and Hoppen and Linney remain shareholders. In April 2020, Kate and Louise revealed that they plan to extend their business into Spain and South Africa next.
Founded by dads Asi Sharabi, David Cadji-Newby, Tal Oron and Pedro Serapicos in 2012, the creative fiction books for kids were pitched to the Dragons back in 2014. Originally named Lost My Name, Wonderbly creates personalised children’s books that feature its readers in the stories.
The idea really impressed the then Dragon, Piers Linney, who invested the full £100,000 requested for a 4% stake in the business. The London-based company has gone on to sell more than two million books worldwide, with Linney reporting it as “the most successful business to have ever passed through the Den’s walls” in 2015.
Razzamataz Theatre Schools
Founder Denise Hutton-Gosney pitched her dance schools to the Dragons’ back in 2007. She secured an investment of £50,000 from Duncan Bannatyne and with the Dragon’s support, the Cumbria-based company was able to launch all over the UK and abroad. In 2014, Hutton-Gosney was able to buy back Bannatyne’s stake in the company for £70,000 and now owns 90% of the company.
Hertfordshire entrepreneur Peter Moule invented a plastic cable device as a way to store electrical wires safely and pitched his idea to the Dragons in 2007, securing the support of Duncan Bannatyne and James Caan, who invested £150,000 in return for a 36% stake in his business.
Peter’s gadget went on to net £25 million in global sales since first appearing on the show.
In an interview with North East Exclusive magazine in 2013, Bannatyne described Chocbox as one of his best personal investments from his time on Dragons’ Den.
Founded in 2011 by young entrepreneurs Rob Tominey and Aden Levin, Startups 100-listed Mainstage Travel offers “once in a lifetime” low-cost clubbing holidays for the 18-24 market and is responsible for package holidays such as Croatia Rocks; Outlook Festival; Magaluf Takeover and Snowboxx, Europe’s second largest ski festival.
When Tominey and Levin pitched to the Dragons, the business had already hit revenue figures of £1.6m and profits of £257,000, with projections of £3.5m and £500,000 profit, so it was unsurprising that Meaden, Jones, Bannatyne and Linney all made offers of investment of £100,000 for a 15% equity in Mainstage.
The clubbing travel brand achieved the highest Den valuation since 2007 and has been on a growth ascent ever since, with revenues in the millions and continuing to soar, despite the plight of the industry over the last 2 years. Named as ‘ones to watch out for’ in the prestigious Young Guns Awards, Linney’s successful bid to the award-winners has earned him a handsome return since their pitch on the Den (well above those pitched in the show) so it’s no surprise he remains a keen shareholder to this day!
Well, you or I may not have featured on Dragons Den in our quest to be the very best in our field, though I’m fairly sure we’d give them all a good run for their money when it comes to showing up & standing out from our competition – backing or no backing, right!?
So, this week’s lessons from FIT Matters are well worthy of note if/when you ever face your own Dragons’ Den in the future..….
Lesson #1: Do that which you fear most and the death of fear is guaranteed!
Lesson #2: To have what you’ve never had, you must do what you’ve never done!
Lesson #3: The journey to success is NEVER a linear line, because a bend in the road is only the end of the road if you fail to make the turn!
Lesson #4: Challenges & obstacles are sent to instruct NOT obstruct, so if or when you face them, ask yourself the question “what LESSON is there for me to learn here?”
Lesson #5: Imperfect action will always outweigh perfect inaction, because ideas DON’T work……unless and until YOU do!
Lesson #6: The ONLY thing failure cannot tolerate is persistence!
Lesson #7: Remember – those on top of the mountain didn’t just fall there!
Until next time – stay safe & keep FIT!