It’s one of the more daunting ways of getting a toy to market, but Dragons’ Den gives toy inventors opportunities for funding, advise and exposure. Billy Langsworthy talks to those who survived the Den.

Inventor focus: Dragons’ Den

Appearing on national television may sound a daunting prospect for a would-be toy inventor, but BBC show Dragons’ Den has been helping bring toys to retail since landing on screens in 2005.

Whether a pitch results in funding or not, inventors have found the exposure, and advise from the Dragons, invaluable.

Simon Booth, MD of Kiddimoto, was a Dragons’ Den success story back in 2011, getting the funding he needed from Dragons Duncan Bannatyne and Hilary Devey.

Kiddimoto had been around prior to the show, but being in the midst of a recession led to ever tightening cashflow. A need for more stock led Booth to apply.

He tells ToyNews: “It was simple. I applied on the BBC website, had a phone call in the next couple of days asking a few questions about the business and then two days later I was up in Manchester to do the screen test. Two weeks later they called to say they’re filming next week, come to Pinewood studios.”

The pitch went well, and Booth won the backing of the two Dragons, securing a £75,000 investment.

Booth and the Dragons soon mutually agreed not to go through with the deal, but he has found that being successful with in the Den helped to open doors to firms that, as an unknown, had been locked shut.

“It gives you credibility,” adds Booth. “It’s a seal of approval, a badge of honour. Pretty much straight after the programme aired, we had contact from the likes of Tesco, John Lewis and Toys R Us. So it was great exposure.
“It opened the doors we had been knocking on. They flung open.”

The toy sector is also responsible for one of the most successful pitches the Den has ever seen, when James Roupell saw all five Dragons fighting to invest in his Bobo Buddies business earlier this year.

Like Booth, Roupell went to the Den for investment to help supply the demand he was finding for his BoBo Buddies, a backpack, pillow and blanket all stored inside of a soft toy.

Although most pitches and negotiations get around 15 minutes of screen time, Roupell believes inventors considering entering the Den should prepare themselves for a lengthier examination.

“I was in there for just under two hours,” Roupell tells ToyNews.

“They are looking to invest real money so they don’t leave any stone unturned. You’re in a studio surrounded by lights and cameras with no notes, so it’s a bizarre environment to be in and pretty nerve-wracking.

“You spend half your time pitching to them, and then I had the unique experience of having them pitching to me.”

With all Dragons desperate for his signature, Roupell eventually went with Peter Jones and Deborah Meaden, but outside of the Den he decided to turn down their investment.

Roupell adds: “Both sides know the agreement you make in the Den is very much a gentlemen’s agreement. I was interested to see what value they could add to my business but at the same time, I was always nervous of giving away a large chunk of my business.

“I felt for the amount of money it was, it wasn’t worth me giving up that much of my business.

“I’d never relied on Dragons’ Den. I’d already arranged meetings with other investors and after the Den I realised there were other options without giving away equity. It wasn’t because of them, it was because I was offered a much better deal.”

Despite this, Roupell firmly believes being on Dragons’ Den helped his business immeasurably.

“I’ve been overwhelmed by just how much it has done for our business. It was filmed a year ago, and being able to say ‘coming soon on Dragons’ Den’ has attracted a huge amount of interest from retailers and customers alike.

“Since the airing, our online sales have gone through the roof. The value it has added to our business is priceless.

“From a brand awareness point of view, millions of people now know about our brand and that’s also priceless.”

While the response in the UK has been invaluable, BoBo Buddies has also benefitted from the global reach of the show.

“We’ve had all sorts of orders from abroad,” continues Roupell.

“I’ve been told by others that have been in the Den, you’ll have a sudden boost in sales from Scandinavia because in a few months time, it’ll be shown there. It’s far reaching.”

Despite failing in getting funding from the Dragons, the Den experience also proved fruitful for Extreme Fliers CEO and founder Vernon Kerswell, who went looking for a £75,000 investment in 2009.

At only 21, the Dragons felt he was still too young to invest in, but Kerswell owes a lot to the show.

“It was an alternative way to start a business. We were just starting out and looking for ways to bootstrap the business, it offered the chance to raise funds, get exposure and get some good advice,” Kerswell tells ToyNews.

“Reality TV such as Dragons’ Den brings the product into a more realistic social environment which allows the product to show off the cool features and makes it more personable, which is what it did for us when Theo picked up the controller and flew it around the room – he loved it.”

Five years down the line, Kerswell has no regrets in how his experience in the Den turned out. He adds: “Dragons’ Den was fantastic for the product.

“Although I didn’t get investment, that turned out to be a blessing because we now have a successful business turning over £2 million, projected to turnover £100 million in two years, and if the Dragons had invested, we would have had to give 40 per cent to them.

“The exposure after the Den helped generate sales, introduce us to dozens of offers of investment as well as hundreds of emails of support which still keep coming in to this day. It also helped introduce me to experienced mentors and industry contacts.”

So should budding inventors pluck up the courage to enter the Den?

“Definitely,” says Kiddimoto’s Booth.

“Know your business and be confident that you’re going in there with a pretty solid business plan.

“Know your numbers. If you’ve got a great product, you believe in it, and you’ve got evidence that you’re selling, it would be received well.”

Extreme Fliers’ Kerswell adds: “Do it for the exposure but make sure it’s a good product and you practice the pitch. Be prepared to answer all the questions they might have and have fun – that way you’ll make it interesting and entertaining.

“It’s serious business but it’s good to be lighthearted, humble, show your passion and live life as an adventure to win the hearts and minds of viewers.”

BoBo Buddies’ Roupell agrees, but advises caution: “I’d recommend it to anyone, but you can’t just expect it to send you into the stratosphere. It’s how you use it. Certain people sit back and expect everything to just happen once you’ve been on TV. We’ve been sure to take full advantage of it.

“They require a proven track record with proven sales. Any evidence that shows there is a demand for the product. You may have ‘x’ amount of followers on social media, you’ve had ‘x’ amount of pledges on Kickstarter. All that proves there are people out there who will buy your product, even if you haven’t launched it yet.”

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