By Julianne Ponan, CEO of Creative Nature
Just over a week ago I was contacted by the BBC and informed that I was going to be back in the Dragons’ Den again – much to my surprise.
This doesn’t mean I’ve physically stepped into that environment, it means that the BBC are, for whatever reason, were repeating the episode first screened in the summer of 2017 when I first appeared on the Den. It was shown last Sunday October 13.
I had originally taken part in Dragons’ Den after a researcher had contacted us from the programme several times. Eventually I decided to take the opportunity because I wanted to take my free from food brand to the next level (Creative Nature) – and felt expertise from the Den would be beneficial if we could secure a deal. Also, let’s be honest, the visibility of being on air has the potential for great PR and this is something I’ve always embraced in the business.
Looking back though there are a few things I did right and others I’d wish I’d known prior to appearing on the show.
- I did know that these were serious business people and they needed to be taken seriously so I prepared very well. As did my fiancé Matt who appeared with me.
- I did ensure that there were plenty of products to try which were clearly labelled and looked good for the Dragons and cameras.
- I did appreciate we would be in the Den for a much longer period of time than a tv programme would put to air and I needed to have my business plan in order – in my case, we were on air for 16 minutes but we were in the Den for over two hours.
We were very lucky and were offered a £75,000 investment from Dragon Deborah Meaden in return for 25 per cent of the business. Of course when we went to air, that episode had been filmed a few weeks before so I already knew that the investment was not going to go ahead.
As we were going through the due diligence process I began to feel it simply wasn’t right for me or for the brand and I became increasingly anxious about it. I took advice from people I trusted. We had already confirmed a launch into Sainsbury’s and the Coop before filming – however we didn’t have a physical purchase order to show the Dragons. This PO then came through within days of filming and this was part of the reason, I was having second thoughts. I made the difficult decision to pull out. Deborah was very understanding and I’m hugely grateful for that.
What I did not know about the Dragons’ Den process was this:
*I’d totally underestimated how stressful it would be – this was not about the business, I knew where I wanted to be with the business, it was about not knowing how we could come across on air, what parts of the two-hour process would actually be used in the final programme.
*I appeared in the Den with my fiancé Matt Ford who is also my salaried operations manager for the business. We were not engaged at the time however we’ve been together as a couple for nine years (seven years at the time of Dragons’ Den). We presented jointly – however we were questioned unexpectedly over why Matt was not a shareholder in the business. I explained that I’d given up my whole career in Beijing to commit to Creative Nature and I had invested my own money early on, so the business was on my shoulders, it was my responsibility. Matt was there for me – and later made the personal decision to leave his job as a primary school teacher to join the business. That was entirely his choice.
*I was unprepared for the negative side of the PR opportunity. When you are in the Den, the Dragons are looking at your whole personality as well as the health of the business itself. The fact that my relationship with Matt was questioned and that this was picked up in the final edit of the programme, led to some very unpleasant comments on social media about Matt, about me and about our personal relationship. Matt was never bothered by this and was able to laugh it off, I found it more challenging to cope with – and I still do. I can’t help but wonder if I’d been male and Matt female if we’d have had the same conversation. Maybe, maybe not….
The truth is that I learned a lot of being part of this process and I’ve no regrets – as I find they are largely pointless in business. When you take part in a programme like this you have to face the smooth and the rough.
I learned that people will judge and you have to just keep going. Our business is continuing to move forward – our turnover is around £1.5m and growing now, we raised £500,000 through crowdfunding last year and, on a personal note, Matt and I are now engaged. We plan to get married in 2021. Matt is now a shareholder in the business after investing his own money last year and he will also have share options as the business grows.