Our journey started with a curious email
Early last year, we received an email from someone who claimed to be an assistant producer at BBC Dragons' Den about potentially coming on their show this year. Yang and I regularly watch it and had no idea that they proactively send invitations to interesting businesses. Therefore, we assumed it was a scam and went on with our day.
It wasn’t until about 2 weeks later that I decided “there’s no harm in responding”, so I fired off a quick response offering to do a call. The chap on the other end explained that actually about half the companies on the show come on through the standard application process and the other half comes through their team scouring the web and sending invitations. Apparently, he’d seen our ads on Facebook, loved the brand and thought we would be a great fit. He invited us to come into BBC headquarters for an audition in the coming weeks.
Auditioning for the Den
When we arrived, we were directed to a small meeting room with a couple junior members of BBC and a video camera. We gave our prepared pitch in front of the camera a couple times and then recorded another 30 minutes of us answering questions together. They thanked us and we went back to work.
About a month later, we got a follow up from the BBC that they would like to host us in the Den (up in Manchester). WE WERE IN!!!
Practice, practice, practice
In the weeks leading up to it, we practiced, and practiced, and practiced. We did everything from hiring an acting coach to doing mock pitch sessions with other businesses that had been on the show (like LookAfterMyBills).
The day before the big day
The production is set in Manchester, so we took the train up on the day before to get ready. After arranging some props, having a hearty dinner and more practice in the hotel room, we finally went to sleep for the big day around 1:30am.
Loads of prep work
6:15am - We woke up late!!! The other teams had already gone over to the Den by this point. Luckily, they sent another van to pick us to. We jumped in and hurried our way to the studio.
6:30am - We were brought into a large waiting room where we would set up our display. We toiled away folding pants, putting our tree saplings into burlap sacks, and delicately cut out lumps of bubble-wrap to stuff into the pouch of the mannequin so as to make the shape more realistic.
7:45am - The producers came by our table and left their comments convincing us to rearrange certain aspects. They had strict rules against showing your branding or website.
8:00am - We were sent into makeup. As a man, it’s the first time in my life that I’ve put makeup on. I must have needed it as it took many layers of foundation to cover my shiny forehead.
8:30am - The production team asked us to come get our shots of “walking into the Den.” Much to my surprise, the elevator is completely fake! For about 20-30 mins, they asked us to walk up and down the hallway, and press the elevator button and pretend as though we were waiting for an elevator!
9:00am - We then went to a separate studio to film the intro sentence before going into the Den.
THE WAITING BEGINS
10:00am-2:30pm - Once the intro interviews were done, they asked all teams to wait in a large waiting room. Then don’t tell you which order you are in, so you could be first at 10:30am or you could be last at 6:00pm. You can only wait and watch as one by one they call other teams through the studio doors (never to be seen again).
Since we only had 5 hours of sleep the night before, by noon our energy levels began to crash. Yang decided to take a nap. I was astonished how easily she was able to sleep just hours going into the Den.
2:30pm - Yang woke up from her nap, downs a bottle of soda water and has some fried cod for lunch.
3:00pm - The production team came into the room to say “JustWears is on next. You’ve got 20 minutes.” Right after lunch! It may have been the fried cod or the nerves, but Yang suddenly didn’t feel well at that moment and needed to go to the toilet to puke. We were both pretty nervous, but the show must go on! After a quick pep talk, we went back into the studio, had our make up done (again) and put a brave face on to walk on set.
Finally in the Den
3:30pm - 5:30pm - The next two hours in front of the Dragons' were a total blur.
- My favorite part was when Peter said, “I think you’ve got something here with the branding, and the product quality is quite nice, but the pouch is awfully large, isn’t it? Isn’t that going to alienate some men?” In a stroke of brilliance, Yang immediately responded back "Oh, I hope we got your size right. If not, we can change it out after the show." The whole crew erupted in laughter.
- Sara was the first out. She didn't get the business model and thought we were crazy to expect to achieve +£3m revenue with an online only business.
- Peter dropped out next saying that we were too ambitious and were going to make a mistake.
- Toukar said “Anyone can make a product, but what makes a business is the founders, and you two are very focused. You guys could sell anything.”, and then also commented on how it's not defensible.
- Then Deborah said “Your product is great. Your branding is great. I like everything except the name.” The dragons' talked about the name for a little while. We gave an example of how Allbirds changed their name twice early on and that we were open to suggestions. She still said it wasn't for her and dropped out.
That left Tej Lalvani and Toukar Soulyman remaining.
- When it seemed like we might not get a deal, Tej Lalvani came in and offered us £80k for 20%. He asked Toukar if he would match that. Toukar said that he was willing to go for 80k for 40%, but since Tej's offer was so much better he couldn't beat it, he was out.
- We then went back to the wall to discuss. We came back and asked Tej if he'd be willing to drop down to 10%. He said 20% was the best he could do.
- We then said, the only reason we are here is because of the support of our early investors who believed in us before we even got the website going and we couldn't do a deal that would disadvantage them. We turned it down and walked out with a smile on our faces.
But, the story doesn't end there...
About 3 weeks after our debut on Dragons' Den, we received a call from Tej Lalvani’s team. The guy on the other end of the phone explained that Tej was still interested in us, and he was willing to come down to invest £80k in exchange for a 10% stake in the business. This was AMAZING news!
But by this point, we had arranged a deal with a new generation of investors including Caspar Lee for £200k in exchange for just 5% of the business. As business moves online away from physical stores, we feel like this younger group of creators and opinion leaders can help expand our brand to the next level.
All in all, it was an incredible experience that helped elevate our business to the next level, and I’m so glad that the producers reached out!