Lucky Iron Fish Enterprise sells a simple health innovation to combat iron deficiency. Boiling the Lucky Iron Fish in 1L of water can fortify your meal with your daily required iron intake. It does not change the taste, colour or smell of the liquid it is cooked in and it can be reused by an entire household for 5 years. The following is a first-hand account of Dr. Gavin Armstrong’s involvement with Dragons’ Den.
By Dr. Gavin Armstrong
In the spring of 2018, I was honoured as founder and CEO to represent the social enterprise Lucky Iron Fish Enterprise (LIFE) on CBC’s Dragons’ Den. Dragons' Den is a Canadian television reality show based on the internationally-franchised Dragons’ Den format, which began in Japan. Aspiring Canadian entrepreneurs pitch business and investment ideas to a panel of venture capitalists (called "Dragons") in the hope of securing business financing and partnerships.
My pitch in the Den was made extra special as it was selected to air on the season premiere! Though it was tough, I found the experience to be really fun and I had a fantastic time. When I auditioned to be on the show I thought the minimum we would walk away with was some good PR and exposure. When the Dragons started making offers to invest I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that three out of the six dragons wanted to invest and help scale up the business. [Spoiler alert: I walked away with an amazing deal, having two Dragons invest double what I asked for.]
If you are hoping to appear in the Den, or pitching to a Dragon-like investor, here are 10 tips I’d suggest that can help ensure your pitch is a success:
Do your homework! Before showing up to pitch LIFE, I watched dozens of episodes to learn what to do, and what not to do. I wanted to see what types of questions were asked and what answers worked. I studied how successful entrepreneurs presented themselves and what types of behaviours turned off the audience. You can watch all 13 seasons of Dragons’ Den on the CBC website, so I suggest you pop some popcorn and do your homework.
It’s a marathon not a sprint. When I watched previous episodes I was always stunned that an investment decision could be made in under 10 minutes. It turns out that is not true. My actual pitch to the Dragons was just under an hour, but it was edited down to 8 minutes and 30 seconds. You need to be prepared to stand and speak for a long time. [Pro tip: do not be afraid to take a drink of water if needed. There is no shame in needing to hydrate after speaking for that long.]
Dress for success. When you appear on the show, you need to remember that you are your own brand, and your brand matters. I found it important to dress professionally but still in a way that was comfortable and true to me. The night before I filmed my episode I actually tore my closet apart to find the perfect outfit. What did I land on? Jeans, a dress shirt and blazer, with a comfortable brogue shoe. Remember the point above -- you need to stand under hot lights for an hour, so wear breathable fabrics and a comfortable pair of shoes.
Know what you want and why you want it. The biggest mistake someone pitching to the Dragons can make is not being able to justify their ask and their valuation. What’s driving your valuation (is it logic or greed?), why do you need the capital and what will you do with the funds? LIFE is in a growth stage so our valuation was set with a growth multiplier. Some Dragons pushed back on this while others understood. Ultimately, it is your company and your decision, but make it wisely.
A visual is worth a thousand words. The more you can show your product off to the Dragons, the more engaged they will be. Not only did I bring a Lucky Iron Fish for each Dragon, but I also did a cooking demonstration and handed out lemonade which had been fortified with iron from the Iron Fish. The Dragons fell in love with the simplicity and appreciated that the taste of the lemonade remained unchanged. However, don’t overdo it. I have seen episodes were the entrepreneur wants to go “big” with the demonstration, but under the pressure of the pitch, falls flat.
Practise, practise, practise!!! Say it with me, PRACTISE. This might sound too obvious, but a confident and well-communicated pitch will not only set the tone for the discussion, but also demonstrate you are a serious entrepreneur. Pitch to your friends, coworkers, family, hairdresser and dentist. Pitch to anyone who will listen. But beyond pitching, make sure you also practise Q&A. Have the audience ask you question so you can practise your responses. If you are always asked the same question you can bet they will ask you too.
Know your stuff. If you think the Dragons are not going to grill you on your numbers, you are dead wrong. You will need to confidently go over everything one learns in a first year accounting class: COGS, cash-flow, burn rate, runway, EBITDA, P&L, etc. If these terms look like gibberish to you, you need to study up.
Lost on the cutting room floor. Sydney Pollack compared editing to sculpting. He felt it was the process which perfected the art. As I said earlier, you will pitch for upwards of an hour, but the segment will be under 10 minutes. In my actual pitch, I spent some time discussing the founding directors and the origins of the research, but this did not make the cut. If you want to make sure something gets in, say it as much as you can. I do give a lot of credit to the editors at CBC. They were able to take a long pitch and cut it down to a digestible 8 min segment without impacting the message. I just wish they cut out a few more of my “ummmms”.
Prepare for success. Dragons’ Den attracts an audience of over 900,000 Canadians. It is undeniably one of Canada’s most popular shows. I was honestly not expecting the sales spike we saw once the episode aired. During the first 24 hours after our primetime debut, our online sales jumped over 500%!! We saw increased traffic over the weekend and we expect to see similar boosts every time the episode airs as a rerun. I was also touched by the amount of supportive messages I received. I heard from family, friends, and complete strangers from all over the world. The most touching was hearing from other entrepreneurs who were inspired by the pitch and the social impact of the company.
Have fun and remember to celebrate. It sounds cliche, but appearing on Dragons’ Den is a major accomplishment. Many people apply, a few are chosen to pitch, and even less are chosen to be aired on an episode. No matter what the outcome is, you should take time to celebrate yourself and the team that helped you get there. Our office threw a viewing party, which was a blast. I also need to give a shout-out to my grandfather who had his seniors’ home promote the episode. Talk about adding tears to an already emotional day!
So remember to take time and reflect on your journey. No matter what the Dragons say, you made it, and that is worth celebrating.