Dragons’ Den is a great TV show. When I appeared as a panelist, it was into its third series so I knew what to expect. It is reality TV, but it’s not people doing stupid and unreal things, it’s people doing business. And it has brought a lot of concepts into people’s living rooms – like first mover advantage, patent protection, business plans and margins. It has also de-mystified to many people the process of assessing a product, gaining investment and launching a business.
The range of viewers is also apparently very impressive – the show attracts all ages, many backgrounds, and both genders. And I thought the panel did a good job of backing potential winners, which isn’t really that easy given that there is no ability to, for example, access market research on the internet, or do reference checks on the contestants, or even to “ask the audience”. I decided to be relaxed with the contestants, which quickly earned me the moniker “Mr Nice”, even though that was fairly easy when compared to the other Dragons. I also decided to try to evaluate every decent idea that was presented to me, and make some sort of offer, even if it was a long way off from what the contestant expected. The BBC liked that, since it enlivened the debates. But of course it meant I got knocked back more frequently, and I was soon jokingly called “Richard the Reject”.
Having said all of that, I do wonder what would happen if Alexander Fleming came on as a contestant. “I’ve been working with growing bacteria on Petri dishes, and some tiny airborn substance, a fungus, blew in from outside and seems to kill the bacteria. Even when I massively dilute the substance, which I am calling penicillin, it still kills it. If there is a way to get the penicillin into the human body, a lot of illnesses could be cured. I need investment, please.”
Then the questions would start. I would obviously see the potential of this and make him an offer! However, true to form, I would be rejected by the polite Sir Alex Fleming. Then Duncan Bannatyne would inquire, “what’s your third year gross margin forecast?” “Err, I don’t know what that is. I’m just a scientist. I thought you investors would be able to help me with things like that.” “That’s ridiculous,” the Scot would say. “You have no understanding of business. I’m oot.”
Theo Paphitis would take over. “Show me one of the Petri dishes”, and he would break it with his hands. “What sort of prototype is this? It’s terrible. I’d rather stick pins in my own eyes than waste my children’s inheritance on this silly idea. I’m out.”
Deborah Meaden would be nice and say, “Well, I’ll invest if someone else invests.”
Finally Peter Jones would have a turn. He’d toss in a cheap pun, before either, “I like the idea but I don’t like the way you are dressed”, or “This is a good idea, Alex, but I’ve got guys who could easily replicate this whole thing in about a week. It’s got no real value. I’m out.”
Perhaps we Dragons are just sometimes too clever to understand a brilliant idea.