Why I decided to go on Dragons’ Den
When I decided to apply for Dragons’ Den in 2008, I was told by a BBC researcher that I had missed the cut-off point for that series and they would contact me the following year. I had set my heart on appearing on Dragons’ Den and getting investment, so I called non-stop until finally one of the researchers listened to my pitch. I also sent him an email with the visuals of my pitch. Then they interviewed me on the phone before inviting me to audition in front of a producer. The result? I was asked to appear on the show. Let the preparations begin. But although I had an existing business (D4M Ltd, an events management company) my pitch was for a venture I had invested in four months prior to applying for Dragons’ Den. The venture was called ‘the Hangover Patch’, and my new company name was ‘D4M Hangover Patch’. Yes, I know what you’re thinking – what a rubbish name. The Hangover Patch idea was shared with me by its creator, who is from Australia. The brand is called Booze Buddy and I thought it was a great and potentially profitable idea. This is the concept:
The Booze Buddy concept “Booze Buddy is a transparent patch that replaces the Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) your body uses over the course of the day. Drinking and smoking rapidly deplete your body’s stocks of Vitamin B1. By wearing a Booze Buddy patch, the levels of Vitamin B1 in your body are replenished over a 48-hour period, straight into your system. You wouldn’t sit in the sun all day without protection, so why would you drink without protection? Never drink without your Buddy.” For three months I spent day and night preparing my Hangover Patch pitch. I spent a lot of time and money researching the market and making sure I was ready. My preparations included the following. 1. Bought over £3,000 worth of patches 2. Visited nightclubs across the UK to promote the patch and find out what people thought of the idea3. Designed and built a new website4. Researched many routes for the business, including sales from vending machines in service stations.5. Created and hired an employee for a full-time sales and research position6. Applied for and received approval for the patch to be sold in the UK The list goes on and on. It was exhausting and expensive. Now this is where my Dragons’ Den story gets funny (or perhaps tragic). If you watch this clip of my appearance on the show, and this one, you’ll notice something glaringly obvious. There is not a single mention of the Hangover Patch. Not one. The pitch I spent so long preparing doesn’t even appear on the show! Now let me explained what happened and why the Hangover Patch is not shown in any of the clips.
- Samples of the Hangover Patch• Questions about the next stage of the process
The day it all began
My team and I arrived at the Dragons’ Den studio at 7am. We’d had a very early start (with no coffee) and we had loads to arrange. You can be called to appear in front of the Dragons at any moment and we needed at least two hours to get our performers (part of the pitch) ready. It was all hands on deck and we rushed around like crazy only to be told that we might have to wait until 7 o’clock that evening. Half way through getting the performers ready, we were asked to go downstairs and show our pitch to the main TV producer. Apparently he had concerns about our pitch and the props I had brought to the studio. While running through the pitch, me and my team felt we were being laughed at by people who worked on the show, and also by other entrepreneurs who were waiting to pitch to the Dragons. Once the run through was completed, I took a moment on my own to clear my head and think about why we were asked to appear on the show. I was not prepared to be made fun of.
My brilliant researcher – what a lifesaver
I spoke to my researcher, who had been brilliant from the start and knew so much about pitching and starting businesses. He told me, “You know your business better than anyone. You’ve been doing this longer than most of the people in that room. Don’t lose sight of your goal – to win investment.” After the pep talk I got in a huddle with my team to discuss D4M Ltd. I did this in case the Dragons asked about my original business, rather than my new venture, the Hangover Patch. While we were deep in discussion we got so many negative comments. Things like: “Ha ha! I think she’s here to be laughed at.” “That’s not a business at all, that’s a hobby.” This kind of comments continued for most of the day, many from the men in the room.
A brief interlude featuring James Bond
This has just popped into my head and I must tell you before I forget. We were on our way from the dressing rooms to the studio. Our performers were in full costume: one fit lady in a massive tree outfit, and another sexy lady in a silver dress covered head to toe in body paint. Suddenly we saw Daniel Craig coming out of the James Bond set. Well you have never seen four ladies run so fast. Especially one dressed as a tree. We were waving our arms in the air and screaming like we’d been possessed. Pretty soon we realised that everyone was staring at us as if we were mad.
How much longer before we go on?
The day wore on and most of the other companies went in to pitch to the Dragons. You’re never told how they have done. It was nearly 5pm and I thought maybe we’d be sent home. That’s when we heard the announcement, “D4M call time”. This was it. My chance to show people that I’m not a dolly bird or a part-time business woman, and I was certainly not there to make a laughingstock of myself. God, even writing this now I can feel my blood boiling and my stomach churning.
Walking up the stairs into the Dragons’ Den
As I walked up the stairs the nerves hit me and I was desperate to go to the toilet. I’m sure everyone around me knew it too. But once I entered the room and saw the Dragons I felt at ease. I knew this was my moment and I needed to own it. You guys know what went out on air, either from seeing the show or watching clips I linked to above. This is how it really happened. We were in the Den for more than an hour and a half. Once we completed the opening speech, the Dragons made it clear that they did not care for the Hangover Patch one bit. Instead, they questioned me about D4M Ltd and my business background. Not once was I allowed to direct the conversation back to the patch. Luckily, because I know my business inside out and we had a hunch the Dragons would ask about D4M, we were able to change the pitch on the spot (thank god).
After the Den it all started to sink in
When I got back to my car, the realisation that I had just won investment from two Dragons started to sink in. I took a minute to compose myself and thought I’d better call my partner and my Mum to tell them the good news. This is how the call to my other half, Tony, went: Me: “Hey, it’s me. Sorry I didn’t call earlier, we weren’t allowed to use our phones.” “How did it go?” “Well, all the Dragons agreed on one thing…” Here I paused for effect. “They didn’t invest did they?” “They all agreed I did a brilliant job and I got four Dragons out of five!” “Are you bloody kidding me? Well done babe! Now get your arse home and let’s have a drink.” When I got home Tony opened a bottle of wine but I couldn’t drink it. I felt sick, something wasn’t right. That night I had to sleep on the sofa with the TV on to try and stop my thoughts dominating my brain. I put it down to the long day and intensity of the whole experience. If only I listened to my body and my head that night, I would have saved myself all the stress and upset that was to come.
Meeting James Caan and his team
The next day it was back to work as normal. We weren’t able to celebrate our success in the Den at all. Me and my team had a massive exhibition to arrange. We had a stand booked at the ExCeL Centre in London, to promote the Hangover Patch to people in the nightclub and entertainment industry. I now thought this would be a great opportunity to show off the business to the Dragons. It did not go to plan. I was called to James Caan’s office in London to meet his team, go over the contract and make a PR plan for once the show was aired. When I arrived at James’ office, I remember thinking “This is it Julia. You’ve made it and your dreams will now start to come true.” Once inside I was introduced to James’ business partner, his PR representative, an investment manager, and of course, James Caan himself.
I had come prepared with the following:
- The business plan for the Hangover Patch
The Hangover Patch goes down the pan
The patch got canned within the first ten minutes, so the £5,000 spent on the stand at the ExCeL Centre, which we were due to man in a little over a week, was looking like a complete waste of money. The conversation focussed on D4M Ltd and the clients I had already. James’ team talked a lot about managing PR and what they would do going forward. I was introduced to my new investment manager who, from that moment onwards, would work with me developing the business. I was also informed about the process surrounding the contract and due diligence. (As an aside, this is a great website for entrepreneurs who want information or funding, as well as for investors looking for opportunities).
Image is everything – how my mind was warped
After the meeting I walked out onto Oxford Street and went shopping in the belief that my image was now everything, as Catherine, James Caan’s PR rep, had explained. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t take much for me to want to buy new clothes, but something was happening to me that I didn’t like. Looking back I can see I was falling into the trap of believing I was someone else. At the end of the day, I’m Julia Charles, someone with a passion for crazy ideas. I’m not a well brought up child, I don’t know how to speak correct English at times, and I swear a lot. Even more when I’m stressed. This is something James Caan didn’t like at all. As the process continued I went to loads of events and networking evenings with my business manager or Catherine, the PR rep. I came to realise that London and the fast life was not for me. I enjoy spending time with my family, walking my dog, running and other normal things. I was travelling to London early in the morning and sometimes not getting home until after midnight. I started to forget who I was. The worst part was that when people pointed this out to me, I reacted by saying they were just jealous and didn’t want me to do well. Sorry, I’m going off course. Let’s get back to the deal.
How my Dragons’ Den deal worked
My solicitor informed me that the deal was not good for me or the company and that I should pull out. I told him that I couldn’t afford to pay for the skills and contacts I would gain by being involved with the Dragons. Therefore, in my eyes, it was a good deal. I WAS SO WRONG!
Chapter Two: I’m rich beyond my wildest dreams. Now what?
Chapter Three: The terrible deal and how Duncan Bannatyne jumped ship
Chapter Four: Caught up in the madness
Chapter Five: My business in meltdown.