Presenter Evan Davis reveals what to expect from the series...
This is the first series of Dragons’ Den – what’s it all about?
For the entrepreneur it’s like having your worst interview while running an Olympic sprint then going to the dentist. Entrepreneurs are very interesting people – they’re incredibly self-believing, so to see them confronted with the brutal truth about their ideas is fascinating. What you end up with is these headstrong entrepreneurs pitching to these headstrong Dragons which is great TV.
The Dragons have a bit of a reputation – are they really that bad?
With the Dragons what you see is what you get and they’re like that in real life. They have a lovely side and a brutal side, and that’s the quality you need to be an investor. You have to be direct and there’s no point mincing your words when you’re dealing with entrepreneurs. They only hear what they want to because they’re pathologically optimistic. If you say it’s a wonderful product but x, y and z, they’ll only hear it’s a wonderful product so you have to be direct.
So not all the inventions are wonderful?
Not to give too much away but some of the ones you see are ingenious but completely over-engineered, for example one guy invented a way of scooping up dog poop. Of course, people don’t like to pick it up and this thing was really well engineered but it was a huge thing to carry around on your back, like carrying around a vacuum cleaner. What astounds me though is however ingenious people are they can still be misguided! Having said that these guys have sourced their products, got them made, packaged and marketed. They’re all self-starters and getting on with it, so in that sense they’re all much more admirable than me!
Any others spring to mind?
There was also a one-handed glove. I won’t go into it more than that. It was misconceived but the guy was very talented with a very specific reason for his invention.
But you’ve got all these business degrees? Never been tempted to pitch?
People always ask me that but I’m a commentator. What marks these people out is that they’re do-ers. OK, some need to be told to stick to their day jobs but what I admire is that they get on with it. It was the founder of Atari I think who said everybody who has ever taken a shower has had an idea. It's the person who does something about it that makes a difference. Me, I get up, go out and comment on others. These entrepreneurs, they get up and get on with it.
So how difficult is the pitch? Three minutes isn’t long…
As you watch, you’ll see entrepreneurs who haven’t properly prepared or have anything resembling a business plan pitching with hilarious consequences. The minimum requirement by investors is that the entrepreneur has produced projections of sales and we quite often see, particularly in the early series, that they just haven’t done the leg work.
So it’s just being underprepared?
The other thing is that we should never underestimate the difficulty of entering a room with five stony-faced investors and having to initiate the conversation. It’s not like you walk into a room for a normal interview. For many of the entrepreneurs, the combination of walking up those stairs into the Den and being confronted with the Dragons means they’re simply unable to speak.
You talk to the entrepreneurs once they leave the Den – can they speak once they get out?
Many of the entrepreneurs leaving the Den are numb, even if they get the money, they’re numb. You’ll get one or two in tears, a few are angry and some just speechless. Essentially it’s a bit like you’ve just run a sprint race or a marathon and you’re trying to relive that experience. As the series goes through people have got much more savvy because they know what to expect.
Incredibly you’re now filming series 10. What have been your highlights?
During the first few series I would sit at the side watching proceedings and often struggled to contain my laughter. Obviously I didn’t ever want to interrupt filming but the funniest pitch I saw was for an exercise chair, which was a home gym that was also a sofa. I was laughing so much I had to leave the room. And all the Dragons were laughing too.
There have been some very uplifting moments too. I’ve had tears in my eyes when people come in with interesting stories of adversity and triumph. When they’re confronted with a positive or negative review of their business it can be an enormously poignant moment.
Evan Davis was talking to Joanna Witt