Death by Duncan Bannatyne

The BBC's Dragon's Den, in which would-be entrepreneurs are eaten alive by five hard-headed self-made millionaire investors, is not real life, but it makes great telly.

by World Business
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

The analogy of the coliseum and defenceless slaves being thrown to the lions comes to mind. The contrasting positions of the participants is stark. The five potential investors, four men and one woman, are seated in armchairs, while the hopefuls ascend the stairs to stand before them and beg for their cash. Within minutes, the red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalists will more than likely dash their hopes as wrong-headed or plain nuts and send them on their way.

Gut reaction, no doubt based on years of business experience, seems to govern a great many of the rapid decision of the 'dragons'. Even if the idea is not bad, an adverse reaction to the originator can mean that the investors' wallets remain firmly closed. Only one dragon, Australian millionaire financier Richard Farleigh, remains studiously polite, while the other four compete to show their rude and ruthless killer-instinct. Theo Paphitis actually looks like a mafia assassin.

Even if the dragons make an offer, the price is often a bigger chunk of the start-up than the inventors are prepared to part with. Occasionally the tables are turned and the investors battle it out for a share of the business, a rare treat. The put-downs, eye-rolling and groans of the dragons and the cold-sweated terror, or valiant defiance, of the assorted housewives-cum-inventors make riveting, often excruciating viewing.

Yes, many of the ideas are dead ducks, but some of the proposals that are thrown out seem to have legs, and yet a nervous presentation by a begging inventor can turn quickly into a feeding frenzy and rejection of what could have a decent business concept. It does show that presentation of the business idea, and preparation for tough questions, is where many decent ideas come a cropper. And technology seems to be a curse for the nervous presenter, so Power Point lovers beware.

In real life, a veteran of start-ups assures me, meetings between venture capitalists and entrepreneurs are not nearly so bloody and camped up as those seen on Dragon's Den. Poor or over-long communication of the basic idea does matter though, along with facts and figures on costs, ROI, the market place and competition.

Despite the apparent cruelty of DD, it is obviously free marketing for the entrepreneurs and so a price worth paying - and many rejected ideas have gone on to success, as verified on the BBC's website.

And the greatest irony of all, even dragons fail. Out for this second series went Doug Richard and Rachel Elnaugh, whose business Red Letter Days went into administration last year. 'I'm out,' the catchphrase of Scots leisure industry millionaire Duncan Bannatyne with which he dispatches hopefuls, remains, along with its now famous inventor.

Review by Joe Gill, World Business web editor

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