The hugely successful Dragons’ Den returns to BBC Two this month for its fifteenth series with the first episode airing on Sunday 20 August at 8pm.
Original Dragon Peter Jones, Deborah Meaden who joined in series three and Touker Suleyman who joined in series 13 will be joined by multi-millionaire investors Tej Lalvani and Jenny Campbell.
This series the Dragons saw 102 business pitches from entrepreneurs looking for investment with 26 receiving the cash.
MEET THE NEW DRAGONS
Tej Lalvani is the CEO of Vitabiotics, the largest vitamin company in the UK by value sales with a current group turnover of over £300 million a year. The company which was founded in 1971 by his scientist father Professor Kartar Lalvani who remains the company’s Chairman.
Under Tej’s leadership Vitabiotics has expanded to its current size where its products are sold in over 100 countries worldwide and produces many of the UK’s number one selling vitamins including Wellwoman, Wellman, Perfectil and Pregnacare. The company has also been awarded Boots’ Supplier of the Year award and the Queen’s Award for Innovation.
After leaving school at 16 to begin her working life counting cash in a bank branch, Jenny climbed through the ranks to become one of the few senior female bankers at the time in the UK.
She left the corporate world in 2006 in pursuit of a new challenge – to turn around a failing cash machine business. Jenny launched a major operational restructure of Hanco ATM Systems, turning it from a business that was making a huge loss in competitive markets to a thriving, profitable entity operating across Europe.
In the midst of the turnaround process and at the height of the financial crash, Jenny was tasked with selling the business. However, she saw that the business had real potential and wasn’t ready to give up on it or the people in it. So she decided to buyout the business and become the majority shareholder – later re-launching it as YourCash Europe Ltd.
Ten years on from taking the business under her wing, Jenny sold YourCash in October 2016 for £50 million.
Previously awarded Business Woman of the Year, Jenny’s favourite business motto is “live by corporate standards, but breathe like an entrepreneur.”
What is your favourite thing about being a Dragon?
It’s the opportunity to invest in small to medium sized businesses giving somebody that ultimate break and at the same time being able to help grow that business into something really exciting.
This year there are two new Dragons, Jenny Campbell and Tej Lalvani. How are you getting on with the new Dragons?
I’m supposed to say it’s all fiery and there’s a lot of competitiveness but I genuinely think they’re fantastic. Both Tej and Jenny are a pleasure to have in the Den. The minute the cameras are turned on we are our own individual Dragons and we are out for ourselves – but off camera they are a pleasure to be around.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs pitching on the show?
Know your onions. In other words because you’ve got two new Dragons you have to know what their backgrounds are, what their strengths and weaknesses are. Also come with a plan. When you’re in the Den [know] what is it you want to achieve and then practice for when you’re in the Den. Get it pitch perfect. The pitch has to be short, concise, to the point and most importantly you’ve got to get everything you want to say said in a very short space of time, in two minutes. You have to do it with confidence and make sure you smile. Business is about making money but it is also about having fun, so get your character across.
How important in your decision is the person pitching or are you just looking at the business?
They’re absolutely vital because people buy people first. What you’re doing is trying to build empathy and excitement but also it’s very much about you. We are questioning the business, the business model and the experience but also at the same time we’re looking to the person who is pitching – can you do what you’re saying you can, are you capable, are you believable? So many mistakes are made by not knowing your numbers, over exaggerating or not telling the truth. So just be genuine, be yourself and you’ve got a chance. The most frustrating thing is when someone doesn’t know the answer but gives you a nonsense answer – that’s when you know this isn’t going to work.
Do you have a specific business that you’re looking for?
No. I’m so varied now and I’ve got 28 businesses ranging from internet to clothing companies and experiences to tailcoats.
Do you have a dream business to invest in?
I haven’t seen someone yet walk into the Den with the same vibe and spirit as Levi Roots. I’m not suggesting everyone needs to get a guitar and sing a song but that charismatic way of coming in and engaging the Dragons in their pitch by doing something different, I’m looking forward to seeing that again.
You’ve been a Dragon since 2005, what’s been your most memorable pitch in that time?
Ross from Bear Naked Foods was amazing. He had a back story and whilst he came in with his business I ended up investing in him as a person. It was an interesting one because we said lets create a business, we don’t know what it is yet but we’ll create something. Also Levi Roots is still very much the standout.
INTERVIEW WITH DEBORAH MEADEN
What’s your favourite thing about being a Dragon?
I love the ingenuity of British entrepreneurs. Every year I think I’ve probably seen it all and every year they prove to me there are still plenty of opportunities to go for and that is the life blood of British business.
How are you getting on with the new Dragons?
The new Dragons are fantastic and they got stuck in straight away. It’s really important that we have five chairs that are working really hard and that is exactly what we have.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs coming on the show?
If you’re looking for investment you’ve got to think about what the investor gets from being involved with your business. A lot of people think about what they’re getting from their point of view but not about what the investor gets out of a deal. Also you need to think about who is the right investor but don’t make your mind up before you come into the Den because you have never met us. It isn’t until you get into the Den that you see who we are and what questions we ask. It’s then that you can make your mind up as to who would be the best investor for you.
How important in your decision is the person pitching or are you solely looking at the business?
I have definitely learnt in business that when you have a smart, engaged entrepreneur with good judgement they can really drive even a mediocre business forward so to me the entrepreneur is very important. Most of all I have to believe them, I have to trust them, I have to think they know their topic really well.
What sort of businesses are you looking for?
I look at a wide range of businesses I do believe that most businesses have the same structure even if they are selling a different widget so as long as it sits within my ethical code I look at a wide range of businesses. I started off in the leisure industry and now I find myself as the DIY queen – I’m not quite sure how that happened! It was simply because I was prepared to move into a sector and find out how that worked and make the connections in that sector. I think that’s the thing a Dragon does well, they understand what they’ve got to do and can see the path, see the map and can make the connections.
Do you have a dream business you would like to invest in?
For me there is never one style of opportunity. It’s not about a business that does one kind of thing. It’s about a magical combination of a good person who understands their products place in the market and has managed themselves into a good position but are also clear as to where I can help. That’s the dream investment for me it isn’t within a particular sector although it’s fair to say before I start filming each series of Dragons’ Den I always spend a bit of time researching and updating myself on the different sectors food, DIY, fashion etc. to see what the latest trends are.
What has been your most memorable pitch?
Probably one of the best pitches for me is the 18-year-old Jordan Daykin who came in and pitched GripIt Fixings. It started off horribly for him because he was demonstrating the world’s strongest plaster board fixing by putting a radiator on a plasterboard wall which Peter promptly pulled off! His pitch could have fallen apart at that point but what was brilliant about that was a young entrepreneur had the good sense to just push on through and explain that it was the damp plasterboard, left out the night before, which caused the problem not the fixing and he is now a multi-millionaire.
INTERVIEW WITH TOUKER SULEYMAN
What’s your favourite thing about being a dragon?
Being a Dragon gives me the opportunity to give other entrepreneurs my experience and of course my cash and guidance.
How do you get on with the new Dragons?
The new Dragons were like ducks to water within a few days. When we’re in the Den each Dragon is out for themselves, we will fight over a deal. However, when we’re out of the Den we’re great friends. We go for dinner together all the time when we’re filming.
What advice would you give to someone considering coming on the show?
If you’re considering coming onto Dragons’ Den the first thing is believe in yourself. Believe in what you’re offering. The most important thing is get your numbers right, get your pitch right and be confident.
What sort of businesses are you looking for?
I was involved with retail and manufacturing then all of a sudden I find myself in the baby world. Baby products seem to be my niche at the moment but I’m involved in food, toys, and all sorts of different industries. I’m very wide open for the right investment.
What would your dream investment be?
My dream investment would be one where I put the least amount of money in but make the most amount of profit. I think the important thing is that it’s about having a business with a great brand, great customer base, great data, and a great product that you can market around the world.
How important is the entrepreneur themselves in your decision whether or not to invest?
The entrepreneur is so important. I’m investing in the entrepreneur, you can have a great business but if I can’t work with the entrepreneur I won’t invest. We do ask entrepreneurs about their backgrounds and their expertise, after a while in business you get that gut feeling and in your head you create an image of who they are and what they’re capable of.
INTERVIEW WITH JENNY CAMPBELL
Are you enjoying being a Dragon?
It’s great fun. I’m enjoying meeting entrepreneurs from so many different sectors while using my knowledge and experience to apply the basic principles of business to each of those opportunities. I’m having a lot of fun, I’ve made some investments, I’ve said “I’m out” quite a lot and had a few sparring matches with the other Dragons along the way so it’s good to be here.
What are your relationships like with the other Dragons?
The relationships with the other Dragons are intense. Outside the Den it is fun and friendly but in the Den it’s all business. We’ve had some alliances built and we’ve had some boxing matches between different Dragons. That’s business and we’re all individuals bringing our sprinkle of Dragonism to the Den.
How did you feel on the first day?
I was excited but also apprehensive. I like to know how things work and then I get into my groove. I soaked that up within about two days and the other Dragons said by the second week Tej and I were both fully fledged Dragons. It didn’t take long for us to feel like part of the team.
What does it take for you to say yes to an entrepreneur?
I try to keep it at the simplest level. I need to understand and like the product. I have to really want to work with that entrepreneur and then it’s the mechanics of can I get in at a suitable price and equity share to make it worthwhile so that I can add real value. Also can I see an exit because I always think it isn’t a strong investment if you don’t realise the investment. They’re the four pillars I’m looking for. That being said I have invested in a business where everything went wrong in the pitch and it didn’t meet my criteria.
Before you started on set did you have a business in mind?
I’ve been asked that a lot and coming from the financial services sector and also a broad entrepreneurial background I’ve seen so many different businesses so I didn’t really have a go-to business. There are businesses where I wouldn’t want to get into that sector – perhaps one I know less about or where I think I can add less value to the business. So I came in with a really open mind. The portfolio of businesses that I’ve said yes to is really broad.
Do you have a dream business?
The dream from the heart and the dream from the head are very different. From the heart it would be something to do with animals and probably dog related. Which is the wrong way to think about it! From the head I don’t mind about the product as long as I like and understand it. My dream from the head is to take a budding entrepreneur to be something that is something ten times what they thought they could be. That is success for me, that without a Dragon they would have carried on running a fairly small business with some growth but with me they realise more potential than they could have ever imagined. It’s all about the people, the relationship and your trust and belief in them that they can take the business from ordinary to extraordinary with my help.
INTERVIEW WITH TEJ LALVANDI
Are you enjoying being a Dragon?
I’m really enjoying it. It’s a fantastic experience. I didn’t know what to expect when I came on set for the first time but the other Dragons were great and the crew have been wonderful so it feels really good now.
What is your relationship like with the other Dragons?
In the Den it’s hot and cold depending on if I like something and want to invest in an entrepreneur then all bets are off but sometimes I see the value the other dragons are bringing in. There is lots of banter and it’s different every day. The Dragons themselves are wonderful people and easy to get along with. They’ve been very accommodating and helped ease both myself and Jenny into the process.
Did the returning Dragons give you any good advice?
They did. Peter, Deborah and Touker told me what to expect. I haven’t been in front of the camera much before so they helped me to deal with that and taught me what to focus on.
How did you feel on your first day?
Very nervous. I was conscious of the cameras to start with and what questions would be the right ones to ask. Before you make your first investment you’re thinking should I invest now or when is going to be the right time to invest. You have a lot floating around in your mind. After a couple of days you settle in and understand better the sequence of how things are happening.
What does it take for you to say yes to an entrepreneur?
It’s got to be their character, their determination. Have they got the secret source for success that I believe they need? Of course the product is very important as well. I have to believe in the product. Coming from a healthcare background you tend to focus on products and services in that category but I try to keep an open mind to completely different areas of industry too. Then it comes down to the entrepreneur, what skills they have and what value I can bring to their business.
How important is the entrepreneur when you’re making the decision as to whether or not to invest?
Sometimes if the entrepreneur comes with an unprepared pitch or they haven’t got their numbers right then you really grill them because they’re here presenting and should have prepared their numbers and pitch. Occasionally they give you a crazy valuation which they can’t base on any evidence which is frustrating. They’re just creating figures of forecast. That is where you have to really drill down.
What sort of business are you looking for?
When I came into the Den I thought I can add value in the retail space, consumer goods and marketing because that’s where my main expertise is however I soon had an open mind to various businesses because you realise they can use your expertise, for example a completely different business may need help with the branding or the packaging. You start to think I can work with them in that industry with that product.
What is your dream business?
I love technology, design and music so maybe something that combines all three.