We hear from three successful entrepreneurs who sufficiently impressed James on Dragons’ Den to secure his investment.
Inventor: Peter Moule
The Investment: £150,000
Dragons’ Stake: 36%
One of the most successful entrepreneurs to have come out of Dragons’ Den a couple of series ago, 55-year-old Peter went before the panel in December 2007 with an appliance to protect and insulate electrical connectors. After some serious negotiation, Peter, from Goffs Oak, Herts, walked away with £150,000 from James Caan and Duncan Bannatyne in exchange for 36% of his business. He has gone on
to make millions.
‘Running an electrical contracting business, primarily for the exhibition industry, it used to be common practice to leave bare connections at the top of 8ft stands. When new health and safety legislation made it necessary to insulate all such connections about 10 years ago, I came up with the idea for the Chocbox – a simple, safe alternative to insulation tape.
‘It caught on quickly with electricians in the exhibition industry and I had interest from wholesalers supplying electrical contractors all over the UK. B&Q even wanted to use it in their showrooms.
‘I wanted to expand into the domestic market, Europe and the States and needed contacts to help me do it, which is why I went on Dragons’ Den. Because my business was already successful – I was making an annual profit of £300,000 – it wasn’t money I was after but the dragons’ expertise and experience and I think this impressed them, particularly when I offered them a money-back guarantee on any investment.
‘James’ contacts have been invaluable since he invested in Chocbox. It was a contact of his who set up the meeting with GET plc, the UK’s leading distributor of electrical accessories, which led to a multi-million pound distribution deal. James and his team have been a real backbone to the business. I can call on them for legal and professional advice, and to handle the day-to-day basics of running the company.
‘My success has now gone far beyond Chocbox, and I’ve even bought into some of James’ other Dragons’ Den investments, including Magnamole (see right) and Rapstrap – a reusable plastic strap for tying together cables, plants and more. And because of the media coverage I’ve received, I’ve been recognised everywhere from McDonalds to Nice airport. Up until now, the only famous person to come out of Goffs Oak was Posh Spice – but I really believe this is only the start for me.’
Inventor: Sharon Wright
The Iinvestment: £80,000
Dragons’ Stake: 22.5%
In July 2009, single mum Sharon, 39, from Doncaster, brought her ingenious invention – a device that threads cables through cavity walls using magnets – to the den. She asked for £50,000 in return for a 15% share in her business but the dragons were so impressed with her pitch that she walked away with £80,000 from James Caan and Duncan Bannatyne in return for a 22.5% stake in Magnamole.
‘I had the idea when I moved into a brand new home and was having a phone line installed. The engineer struggled to get the cable through the cavity wall and ended up using a coat hanger to pull it through. Not only was it a waste of time but my background in health and safety meant I was concerned with how dangerous it was. That was my ‘eureka’ moment. I came up with the concept of Magnamole, which uses magnets to pull cables through cavity walls, pretty much on the spot.
I approached Hull University to ask if they could help me get a prototype made and they told me I might be eligible for a small grant. After pitching my idea before a panel, I was awarded the money and the business started from there.
‘Last November, I won the Diamond Award for British Innovation, which was a massive confidence boost but made me realise I needed help to expand. I decided to go on Dragons’ Den as I saw it as a way to make new contacts and secure investment so I could employ more staff.
‘Before entering the den I was really scared about doing the pitch. I’d done my homework and had a lot of faith in my product so I knew they wouldn’t totally dismiss it, but I was nervous.
‘In the event, I got an incredible reaction from all the dragons, and actually got more money than I’d asked for – from James Caan and Duncan Bannatyne, the dragons I really wanted to do business with. I felt they had the right experience and contacts to really help me grow Magnamole and I’ve been proved right. When I went into the den, I already had a £270,000 turnover with no debts in the company, but I needed help as I was running the company single-handed and wanted to expand overseas.
‘I already have two new full-time staff, we’ve moved to new offices, sales have increased, targets have been blown away and plans to expand overseas have been fast-tracked – I’ve already been to the States and Canada. Now I have the backing of James, it’s made it that much easier.’
A word from James
Peter landed a £25 million deal in the first month after his appearance. Sammy has been hugely successful – and to think that I was mocked in the den for investing! Sharon’s pitch was outstanding and her determination is fantastic. She’s become a great saleswoman, too.
Inventor: Sammy French
Product: Fit fur life
The Investment: £100,000
Dragon’s Stake: 50%
Devoted animal lover and dog trainer, Sammy, 38, brought her idea – a treadmill for training dogs and for their rehabilitation after accidents and operations – before the dragons in December 2007. James was the only dragon to see the potential in her business, making her an offer of £100,000 for a 50% share.
‘I’ve always trained dogs, particularly gun dogs for the shooting field. During the summer of 2002, I wasn’t very well – I needed to get dogs fit for the season, which starts in September, but I could barely walk. And that’s when I came up with the idea of a treadmill designed specially for dogs.
‘My next step was to find someone to manufacture the product. I did some drawings and appraoched a fitness company who loved the idea. It took two years to actually launch Fit Fur Life. We took it out on the road on the usual show circuit and then did our first Crufts in 2005. By 2007, I’d changed the design of the treadmills and found a new manufacturer but needed a large cash injection to help develop the business – I was running everything on the phone from my flat – and that’s when I applied for Dragons’ Den.
‘To say I was slightly nervous before the pitch would be an understatement – I spent the whole day beforehand on the loo! But once in the den, the adrenaline kicked in and I managed to get through it. I was in the den for a very stressful one hour and 50 minutes before James suddenly offered me a deal I couldn’t refuse – £100,000 for a 50% stake in Fit Fur Life.
‘James came on board quickly – we signed contracts almost immediately – and our first shipment came through in January 2008. The business has escalated massively since he got involved. In its first year, Fit Fur Life sold 27 treadmills, but last year this jumped to 500 and this year it is projected to achieve 1,000 sales. We’ve already revamped the company three or four times and now distribute all over the world. In fact, within weeks of James coming on board, I was on a plane to Taiwan to check on an order of 200 new machines. We’ve even had an order from the MOD!
‘James and his team are so active and supportive. The first thing they did was update my website with a video demonstration on it so I no longer had to take the treadmill to potential customers to demonstrate it.
‘We’re in regular contact and have board meetings every month and telephone conferences every week. James’ private equity firm, Hamilton Bradshaw, deal with all the finance of the company, which allows me get on with the marketing which is what I know best. Ultimately, the business is expanding in a time of recession, which says it all really.’