By Shaff Prabatani
“Probably the worst interview of my life, but now at least I know I’m ready for anything.”
That’s how co-Founder Ben described his 40 minutes mauling in the Dragons’ Den. If you watched BBC2s Dragons Den on Sunday 14 October you will have seen the valiant Storemates team being ejected after failing to convince the Dragons to invest in a slice of the new £22 Billion Sharing Economy.
We decided to enter the well-known enterprise duel after being approached by one of the BBC producers back in February 2012. He thought Storemates was a great original idea and one that would excite viewers and possibly the discerning investors. We were unsure at first, having seen many an entrepreneur demolished in the Dragons Dragons, but with a bit of “Who dares wins Rodney” attitude we thought – ‘what have we got to lose?!’ It would be great exposure for us even if we did walk away empty handed.
After completing countless forms, declarations, auditions, trial filmed pitches and a long and thorough process of heavily scrutinised ‘due diligence’ we were finally given a date for the end of April 2012, filming in the new BBC studios in Manchester.
We prepared a lot, with many nights of pitch rehearsals in front of anyone who would listen – including colleagues, friends, families and a very scary criminal court barrister friend. Plus we asked each other difficult questions in Bannatynesque gruffness or with a Deborah Meaden scolding look.
Finally we found ourselves on the train to Manchester the night before the pitch and were put up in the ‘BBC entrepreneurs’ hotel’ for a sleepless night. With hard pillows.
The atmosphere amongst the three of us ranged from the impassive to the almost hysterical as we attempted make last minute tweaks to everything from our pitch to our negotiation game plan. Could we ask for more money at the last minute we pondered confident that they would shower us with no strings cash after our impressive pitch. We all took up dozens of shirts too, not knowing what to wear until the last minute, i.e. ties – too formal? We are a creative internet company after all so no ties, colourful shirts but then – could we be seen as unprofessional?
Next morning after an impressive hotel breakfast – a bit too early for our liking (6.30am) we were whisked off to the BBC studios to await our fate. Media City which hosts the BBC is huge, a large gleaming modern metropolis of steel and glass buildings but with the atmosphere of a moon station (it could have been the cold drizzle though). We were shown our group dressing room which we shared with a few other nervous entrepreneurs; many had calculators in hand, manically trying to bash out their net profit and growth potentials. All were guarding their products and pitch ideas closely. We were chaperoned by friendly 20-something production assistants – all with clipboards and walkie talkies and loads of bubblyness despite the early start. We think they were briefed to keep us calm, hydrated and contained within our small ‘Dragon Bait’ corridor. We were even escorted to the toilet – just in case we chanced upon one of the Dragons counting their cash in the toilet cubicle. Or we may have andered off into CBeebies ‘Justin’s House’ which was also filmed in same set of studios (Imagine if we ended up in the wrong studio with 200 screaming 6 year olds I thought – not sure what would have been worse!)
Make up was fun; they covered up my horrific volcanic sized spot embedded in the middle of my chin. They filmed our walk up and down the stairs earlier and separately from our main outing to the Den each of our props including cuddly toys and my girlfriends borrowed shoes were scrutinised for their televisual potential.
Finally after a nervy caffeine-fuelled 11 hour wait, we were swiftly lead to the edge of the studio where the dragons were waiting. Sorry to break the spell but the pitches are no longer in an abandoned industrial brick warehouse but a studio set complete with plastic effect wall bricks, wooden clocks and light projected through windows. There are no stop and start film takes – it is all shot in one go and the vast studio has crowds of production staff and onlookers in the shadows, all busying themselves with clip boards, wires, earpieces and important pointing and nodding. Not to mention the many cameras set up to capture the slightest sideways glance or a flowing bead of nervous sweat.
Waiting in the wings, we were given the final ‘go, go,’ command and hand signals similar to a parachute jump (but just a bit scarier) and I lead our fellow captains to what seemed like a firing squad. Told to walk in and stop at ‘the cross’ on the floor, I drifted well off course as I was carrying a box and could not see the cross below, missing the mark completely and only deciding to stop when I saw Theo Paphitis staring straight back at me with raised eye brows
And there they were – after months of waiting and anticipation – in all their wealthy, larger than life glory, the five Dragons; Duncan Bannatyne, Hilary Devey, Theo Paphitis, Deborah Meaden and Peter Jones lined up like large chess pieces at the beginning of a high stakes game. The lights shone quite brightly onto their heavily made up faces, and the Den fell completely silent as we shuffled into position; there was a surprising calm as the three of us squared up to the 5 of them . This was it, it was now or never. £90, 000 for 15% of the business, could we pull it off…?