When I have watched Dragons’ Den in the past, I have always felt nervous for the entrepreneurs who pitch for investment. Putting your heart and soul into growing a company that you believe in and having to try and describe all the facets of it and decisions you have made in such a short time to a panel of intimidating venture capitalists – sounds like such a daunting task. The participants end up in one of three categories: you come off great and get investment, you come off well but don’t get an offer, or (the most terrifying) the Dragon’s interrogation and the video edit generates potentially bad publicity. Combine this with the fact that I didn’t want to be on camera, and it is easy to see why I didn’t want to apply for the show and put my company into a broadcasted crossfire.
I had turned down an offer to be on the show back in 2016 for all of the above reasons. On almost every occasion that I tell someone about the Zip Us In Jacket Expander Panels, the response is “You should go on Dragons’ Den” and when I got the call in January 2019 it seemed to be great timing, as I had begun working on securing investment to accelerate the company’s growth. I still had my reservations about going on camera and putting my company on the line, but I started to realise that if I turned down this opportunity again it would be for selfish reasons and not necessarily in the best interests of the company. So, I took the plunge.
When I travelled up to London for the taped audition in February, I had the real-life baby doll sticking out of my hand bag and needless to say I got some rather odd looks on the Tube! I had to capture my entire business into a pitch less than 3 minutes long, which took some doing. The audition itself was very relaxed but in front of a camera it took about 4-5 takes to get my pitch word perfect. On the way home, I allowed myself to actually take a breath and started to feel positive about the experience and when I got the call to say I had made it through to the next stage I was absolutely buzzing.
I then spent months learning the pitch and going through due diligence with the producers. I had to supply all the product research and development information, all of the company accounts, evidence of my manufacture supply chain and retailers as well as evidence of the awards I had won. Putting in the effort to get this ready at the beginning was definitely worth it, I can imagine this stage proves to be a major stumbling block for many small businesses and doing it myself helped me to prepare and revise all of the figures. I had my family and friends quiz me on all the numbers and throw Dragonesque questions at me to help me prepare.
The filming came around so quickly and took place in June. About 10 days before filming the producers asked if we could bring a real baby and parents to demo the products, which we had not prepared for. I quickly went on a search via our social media supporters to find a winning family that could help. My husband Nathan came to Manchester with me for the filming and I was grateful to have him there supporting me as my nerves started to kick in! It was a surreal journey up North and I spent the time simultaneously running through the pitch in my head and trying to take my mind off the next day. We met our demo family that night in the hotel and had about 2 hours to run through the plan and explain what I needed them to do during filming. As much as we tried, sleep was elusive and before I knew it, it was 6am and we were leaving the hotel for the studio.
Because we had baby Charlie with us, I was up first or second (it’s all a bit of a blur now!) out of all the businesses going in the Den that day. The others could be called in in any order, so at least I knew roughly what time I had to prepare myself for. Everyone’s nerves were quite high, but I felt confident that as I am the only person in my business, I know it inside out and all the decisions that have been made are my own.
The tension that you see when watch the show is all too real, built up even more by waiting in the lift before walking in to face the Dragons. Overall, I was in the Den for just under 2 hours although it is condensed to only a few minutes on the episode. It was a very intense experience and the Dragons interrogated me on all aspects of the accounts and business, although I think I held my own, at times I felt frustrated that I wasn’t getting my answers and results across clearly enough.
After filming, I had to stay tight lipped about the outcome for 10 months, before I got the call from BBC with the confirmed air date. The 2 weeks between finding out and the episode being shown, has been manic and to be honest I will be glad when it is just done and out there.
Having such a short amount of time to present over 5 years of decisions was a huge challenge, add in the intense pressure of the Den environment and it really made me question my choices and the business structure. In the end we didn’t get an investment from a Dragon, but I took away a lot of value from the experience and having input from such knowledgeable individuals gave me an opportunity to reassess the brand, the product and my own direction as the Founder. I truly believe I have come out the other side with a clearer vision, improved personal strength and even more determination to grow my brand.
Looking back, I was as prepared as I could have been and although I didn’t agree with all of the feedback from the Dragons, I had given it my best shot. Despite the outcome of the show I was lucky enough to get an offer from a private investor the very next day and since filming, the company has now completed four investment deals at a company valuation of £1m, as presented in the Den. The 4 individuals have brought a wealth of experience in retail and business strategy to the company.
In the year since filming I haven’t made any real changes to the business plan. I have always had a clear picture of the future of Zip Us In and, for now, we seem to be on the right track. We are making great strides towards the products being offered all over the world and as a brand we continue to work towards the reduction of fabric waste, which is a key aim for us as. This year has seen the launch of our BUY IT BACK incentive. We are proud to be able to offer customers a cash incentive to return products to us when they are no longer required. The returned products are offered to sling libraries, charities or put through recycling. We have again doubled our stock manufacturing for this year and I am excited to continue with this growth trajectory.
Having already grown the company so much since my time in the Den, I am now super excited to make the most out of my company being on the BBC and we have some new ideas in the pipeline so watch this space!
I want to say a huge thank you to all our friends, family, customers and stockists who have supported both the company and me every step of the way.