I've been asked to blog for Dragons' Den. Here is episode 4:
This week’s Dragons’s Den had me gripped – and it wasn’t just by the pitches but the interplay between the Dragons snapping at each other. As Robert Herjovic and Brett Wilson manoeuvred Marissa, owner of Moxie Trades, towards a deal, each of the Dragons took turns chipping at the opportunity. Kevin O’Leary had on his MBA professor hat, explaining how more products means way too much complexity for an early stage business. Unless Marissa sticks with shipping only boots, the SKUs (stock keeping units) will mushroom horribly and as Kevin said, “Marissa will find herself in the world of hurt”. Showing again why she gets paid the big bucks for marketing, Dragon Arlene Dickinson labelled Moxie Trades’ products for females in traditional male jobs as “badges of honour”. Brilliant - but before I could absorb this feel good moment, Kevin had kicked out with his hobnail boots of reality and inquired about the money. Ah yes, it always comes back to the money.
Brett Wilson picked up the theme and asked, “What is the margin on your boots?” When Marissa said around 30%, there were quite a few Dragons trying hard not to look too impressed. Kevin does know his industry metrics and let out that those margins were significant.
It was Big Jim Treliving who tipped over the Dragons’ negotiating table, telling Marissa not to make the deal, leaving Robert to blurt out with a blinding smile, “Damn you.” Gosh, Herjovac makes even his bad moments seem wonderful. He has enormous emotional intelligence in his dealings with people, particularly during awkward moments. Indeed, Robert gently asked Arlene to clarify after she said she did not want to do the deal with him. Actually, she meant the deal structure did not appeal. I also admire the way Robert sets out his boundaries telling other Dragons to make a deal or get out, but in the most charming way that only James Bond (or perhaps Robin Williams) could possibly top. No bridges were burnt with Marissa and we learn that this deal will return in a later show.
The Nails ‘n Martini presentation demonstrated how far you can get with investors when you realize that pitching is more about debate. Actually, the entrepreneur, Martin, approached pitching as a social encounter at The Devil’s Martini Club on Adelaide Street.
As you know, investors put money into people. With Martin, the Dragons recognized a positive, upbeat, outgoing personality and spent the time unpacking his concept even though he had neglected to do much of the work himself. You can see how the partnership between innovator and venture capitalist works. The Dragons bring financial competence, price out the dream and keep everyone grounded in realty. Big Jim is familiar with building a service business one city at a time and then moving down to the USA. Jim shared that the American market place is tough and that he got his “tail shot off.” This is exactly the kind of partner Martin should have in his business to guide him past the rocks and the hard place. Jim’s been there already.
Arlene told Martin she could drive a bus through his plan, particularly the costs. Martin dismissed her feedback saying he already gets money from his wealthy relatives. Hope they weren’t watching because my guess is that they will be putting a stop order on any more cheques. Martin reminds me of a teenager who racks up the calls on his parent’s cell phone and when the monthly bill arrives says, “Whaaaat? I didn’t know.”
Each week, the Dragons astonish me with their openness to listen to zany characters like Martin and to put their money into ventures. Innovation sure happens in strange, unbelievable places. Wouldn’t we all love to invest in a growing business and make money but how many of us could even spot a diamond in the rough? Last week, I was reminded of the crazy quirkiness of innovation at an entrepreneurs’ award ceremony. Lo and behold, the competition winner was a man who started on the streets of Montreal, walking on stilts while eating fire - Guy Laliberté, the founder of Cirque du Soleil.
Zut alors! Turns out, I worried needlessly about Brett Wilson’s sanity when he invested in Alison and her street circus business, Arial Angels. He may have actually done a pretty wicked deal by putting cash into what seemed a flimsy business concept. If a fire eater from Montreal can trade in his stilts for a business suit and finance partners – well, we can see that the world truly can become his stage.
Memo to Alison of Arial Angels: get hold of the book Blue Ocean Strategy which lays out how Cirque du Soleil reinvented the circus business model and beat the industry giant, Wringley Brothers. Then buy a navy blue suit and wear it. Robert Herjovic gave you the best advice for free – become a business person, do not remain an artist. Laliberté accepted his award wearing a suit and spoke about his financial partners, not a word about fire eating.
I’m becoming quite fond of Dragon Brett’s style and how his investment strategy involves so many elements around people, innovation, risk and reward. Maybe Big Jim should follow the Albertan instead of O’Leary. One thing I know: where there’s a Dragon’s Deal, it’s genius.
Jacoline Loewen is the author of Money Magnet.