It all started in September 2012, when I decided to fill in the online application form for BBC2 Dragons’ Den.
Our novel DNA artwork company PlayDNA had been going commercially for about 6 months, and while we had had some successful patches following (expensive!) exhibitions in London and Oxford, with a non-existent marketing budget we were struggling to gain any momentum in terms of sales. This was not part of our original plan – we did allocate a marketing budget from the small pot of cash that was originally intended to be our first home deposit– but issues with lab work soon gobbled that up.
So what to do? How to round up that marketing budget and simultaneously generate as much interest in what we do as possible in a short time-span, at minimal cost? “Well”, I thought as I sat down at the computer, “this seemed as good a punt as any”!
I spent an hour or two filling in the application, fired it off into the abyss of the internet and waited. I heard absolutely nothing for several months, and by February 2013 had pretty much forgotten all about it. It was not a good time.
My seemingly indomitable and energetic nan had just passed away after a short illness and we were all feeling very down. I was back at my mum’s house the night before her funeral when I got the phone call.
It was a representative from the BBC, who wanted to have a chat about my application. I shut myself in my old bedroom and answered his questions, in what turned out to be a phone interview. At the end of it, he declared that they would be interested in seeing our pitch, and, after completing another (Pre-Audition) Questionnaire, could we come along to Television Centre at Shepherd’s Bush in London in a couple of weeks time?
“Sure” I said, before heading downstairs to explain to boyfriend and business partner Stuart what I had just got us both into! I couldn’t help thinking about what nan would have said if she were with us still, she had always supported us and I like to think she’d have been quite excited by it all.
It was the weekend of Comic Relief 2013 when we pulled into BBC Television Centre to make our pitch to the Dragons’ Den production team. I distinctly remember the massive queue of young (and, shamefully, not so young!) girls snaking around Television Centre waiting to get a glimpse of One Direction.
It didn’t start well when I narrowly missing John Bishop’s car in my fluster getting into the poorly signposted concrete BBC carpark. After pulling ourselves together, we headed to reception (star spotting some ‘Lewis’ cast members on the way and musing on the irony of seeing them so far from our home town of Oxford) and within ten minutes or so were being shown in to the room we were to present in.
It reminded me a lot of my old school classroom: quite small, full of desks, chairs and decked out in carpet tiles. The unimposing room, and the friendliness of the production team members set us both at ease immediately. We ran through our 3-minute pitch, props and all, in front of a single camera, and managed it in a single take (it was a relief to get it all out!). We then answered a string of personal questions while the camera continued to roll, about our background and motivation for starting our own business, as well as why we wanted the money.
Finally, we were sat down and taken through the paperwork. There was quite a lot of it and it was all quite thorough! All done, we were thanked and shown the door, being told we would hear shortly if we were picked to go through to the final show. It was quite surreal being back out on the street afterwards. We rewarded ourselves with a burger at the Westfield Shopping Centre over the road before heading home.
Another 6 weeks passed before we heard from them again. We had once more assumed that we hadn’t made the cut, when a phone call at work one Thursday told us they had shortlisted us for the final week of filming, to start the following week. “You may, or may not get on” we were informed. Well that put us in a pickle! We were in the midst of quite a busy period, so should we take time off to prepare for something that might not happen? We decided not, and to prioritise our customer orders instead. The following day they called again. “You’re definitely on, and we’ll need you up in Manchester on Monday to prepare for filming the following day”.
Now it was time for panic stations!! It was Friday morning, we had pre-arranged plans for the weekend and we were expected to be ready to pitch to the dragons next Tuesday. Oh, and did I mention the reams of paperwork we were sent through to complete? An 18-point list of information we would need to provide them with beforehand, from outline business plan, to evidence of domain ownership, legal approvals, insurances, market research on competitors, evidence of sales, it went on and on! It took me until Sunday afternoon to complete the paperwork. Meanwhile Stuart worked on the improved pitch, and pulling all our figures together. If there was one thing we were certain of it was that we weren’t going to be caught out on the figures or valuation.
We drove up to Manchester on Monday late afternoon. The BBC had arranged for us to stay in a hotel the night before, as we were being picked up early the next day. We were getting quite stressed by this time and starting to bicker over the detail – at one point during our journey Stuart threatened to jump out of the car while we were on the motorway!
Suffice to say after 17 years together we’ve had enough big bust ups to know when we’re over-reacting and made up shortly afterwards.
We ran through our pitch for the first time that evening – it wasn’t the only pitch we had our minds on that night though.
Memorising the figures was made all that much harder by there being a rather exciting Villa game on in the background. Villa demolished Sunderland 6-1 in a vital relegation battle match, so we consoled ourselves that the week couldn’t be all bad!
The morning came. It was Tuesday 30th April when we were to finally get in front of the dragons. The car came at 7am to pick us up and whisk us to the studio at Media City, Manchester…
Find out more about our ‘day in the den’ this time next week!