Is Dragons’ Den an anti-entrepreneur show?

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Ben Johnson
24th February 2014

Dragons’ Den is harming British entrepreneurialism and encouraging rude and dismissive behaviour among investors, says a leading UK business owner.

breathHR CEO and co-founder Jonathan Richards, writing on the Real Business website, said the “testosterone-loaded” judging on the long running TV show had infiltrated into the real world.

“The result of this is that many entrepreneurs and business owners think that their only options of funding lies between a bank that they are convinced won’t lend and an angel that they are certain will rip them apart,” Richards writes.

Of course, alternative financing, like the online peer-to-business funding available on rebuildingsociety.com, offer borrowers the opportunity of appealing to a much wider range of investors.

But borrowers should expect tough questioning from lenders, especially when they are investing their own capital. Do you think this is reasonable?

If a borrower can answer queries succinctly and effectively, our experience shows investors are more likely to lend quickly and in bulk.

Here is the full transcript of Richards’ article, originally published on February 21 2014 on Real Business.

“Over the last 20 years, I’ve started numerous businesses and stood in front of many angel investors during that time.

“While I’ve found the majority of them to be great people who really care about the businesses being pitched to them, I’ve recently met an increasing number who think it’s acceptable to be rude and dismissive when meeting entrepreneurs. But where could these successful individuals have learned such disrespectful behaviour?

“For me, the blame lies squarely at the door of Dragons’ Den, the BBC show in which rich and successful angel investors shred and belittle the half-baked dreams of cherry-picked entrepreneurs all in the name of great TV. Now in its twelfth series, it’s clearly a format that chimes with viewers, but you’ve got to question the impact that the show has on entrepreneurs in the real world.

“While the show does feature some incredibly impressive entrepreneurs with fantastic business ideas, the majority would never get past the early filter if they contacted the angel direct. Their businesses just aren’t ready or may never be ready to be exposed to angels. Yet the show’s popularity is built on having these sacrificial lambs brutally dissected in the name of entertainment.

“I know that angels are people who are used to being at the top and therefore aren’t typically the shy and retiring type, but televising the ritual humiliation of people that are brave enough follow their dreams can only have a negative impact and deter some people from seeking funding for their business ideas.

“Entrepreneurialism is the lifeblood of the UK economy, with angels playing an integral role in the business ecosystem, supporting entrepreneurialism at the grassroots through funding and guidance.

“However, the testosterone-loaded way in which Dragons’ Den portrays angels is actually bleeding through to the real world, with angels increasingly thinking that this is the way a successful business person should act.

“The result of this is that many entrepreneurs and business owners think that their only options of funding lies between a bank that they are convinced won’t lend and an angel that they are certain will rip them apart.

“I start from a basis that all people are equal, and just because someone has money it doesn’t give them a right to be rude. If an entrepreneur is nervous they may stumble in their pitch, especially if they are using Dragons’ Den as an example of what to expect.

“I’ve sat in on quite a few pitches and presented some myself. The dragon wannabes pay little attention to the person pitching and then ask questions whose purpose can only be to spoil the pitch. If you get a room full of angels and one angel is badmouthing the pitch, it often has a knock-on effect on the others.

“Great angel investing is about forming a partnership and both parties should be prepared to walk away if the chemistry isn’t there.

“There will be bad times, so great communication is essential. No matter how much money someone offers to invest in my business, if I don’t get along with them then I won’t go there. I want to be happy to have dinner and talk socially with an investor because if I’m not how will I ever have an open an honest conversation with them?

“After broadcasting Dragons’ Den for almost ten years, it’s about time the BBC refreshed its output and created some programs that more accurately represent the challenges that modern entrepreneurs face when starting a business.

“Until then, when it comes to Dragons’ Den, I’m out.”

What do you think? Is this a fair representation of your experiences when pitching to business angels, and do you think investors have the right to ask borrowers tough questions? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.

Image: BBC; from left – Duncan Bannatyne, Kelly Hoppen, Deborah Meaden, Piers Linney and Peter Jones

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