Flushing out the losers in Dragons’ Den: It’s all going down the toilet

A contrast to last week’s fun and frolics, this laborious episode was only improved by some small snippets of the super silly pitches that they luckily laced the show with – if they hadn’t I’m not sure I would have made it through the show without an emergency trip to Bargain Booze to induce an alcohol-related coma.

First to be tied to the torture table was 26 year old online fashion magazine editor and optimist, Laura. Now in fairness to the Dragons, the lovely Laura did get herself in rather a mess when questioned by Meaden about what she’d use the requested £100k for. Going against a global trend in her desire to move her mag from online to offline, unable to make the figures fit to the budget, and rather unrealistically appearing to think that she could penetrate the fashion magazine market in 20 countries for around £50k, didn’t help her case. Despite this, I’m not sure that she really deserved the slating from Jones when it appeared he was momentarily startled when he thought her magazine may compete with one of his. Less than a minute with the magazine and he was able to say that it was “of sub standard quality”, the content was “appalling” and she needed a “reality check”. Panic much Pete?

From Laura’s tears of sadness to tears of joy for me, and a pitch for a new type of toilet brush. The best bit about this was the rather bemusing demonstration – if there was a point, I missed it. In order to illustrate the difference between the new style toilet brush – which looked rather like an oversized plastic butter knife – and our usual bristled model, the inventor had come prepared with half a water-filled toilet which she used to show how you rubbed the toilet brush up and down the bowl whilst asking the Dragons to imagine what delights might be stuck to the side. Absolute genius. I have no idea what the difference was and, as the inventor seemed to struggle for words, I’m not sure she knew either. I wish I could have seen more but, alas, I have had to hold in my explosion of toilet humour.

Still baffled by the brilliance of the brush, I was in good humour when two informed gents pitched their organic-recipes-and-ingredients-to-your-door business. Delivering ten recipes and the appropriate ingredients, in the exact portion sizes to make your meals and therefore avoiding food waste, the chaps invited the Dragons to have a go at making one of the meals to see how simple they were to make and to sample the wares post-production. The Den’s Divas weren’t rushing forward to volunteer for the job but finally Mr B stepped up and everyone managed to agree that he could toss a good salad, given the right ingredients. The organic lads held their ground well and visibly impressed Jones with the size and standard of the Business Angels they had already secured: “You’ve done really well,” Jones conceded. As it turns out these boys weren’t really that bothered whether or not Jones fancied jumping aboard their fast-leaving organic food delivery train. He didn’t, and they left, apparently with plenty of other options.

My favourite act of the evening was a trio of young men – young in comparison to me anyway. Dean, Tris and Ben had developed a family-friendly board game called Linkee, that post programme we now know is stocked all over the UK. Jones jumped right into an anti-hero outfit and transformed into alter ego ‘Poor Pete’ when he whined about how his allegedly brilliant, superbly-selling board game, Big Business, failed to bring in the big bucks. But as the trio quite rightly pointed out – although not to his face – if Pete’s board game was so successful, why was it still not on sale? Mind you, if you’re quick, there are four used editions available on Amazon. After protracted Den discussions, Bannatyne did finally make them an offer, but they refused after being unimpressed with his response to their question about how he would be able to help them accelerate their growth. So the programme ground on.

I’ll gloss over the company selling waterproof paper made from stone that had no customers and had somehow already clocked up a £200k spend; and the fluffy heads for hobby horses that I thought looked like other heads for hobby horses but must have been different, assuming the claim that they had a multi-national supermarket deal secured was true. Instead, I’ll finish with an unnecessarily serious quandary between profit and philanthropy.

Gloucester-based Richard has been successfully selling ‘Remembrance Pods’ to more than 30 NHS Trusts, charities and care homes throughout Britain. These Pods recreate a place where people with dementia, [there are more than 800,000 apparently], can reminisce and enjoy a ‘safe haven’. The facts about the medical benefits on the show were light, but, with the exception of a not-so-enlightened Linney calling the Pods “airy fairy”, the Den seemed generally convinced there was something behind the pitch, given the business’ credible customer base. Jones repeatedly questioned Richard about where his intentions lay in terms of profit vs philanthropy and Jones claimed to struggle to see a fit – until it appeared he realised the Pod’s projected profits that is.

Meaden had already put an offer on the table, and post projections, so did Jones. Although adding an unusual twist, his offer insisted that there would have to be an ongoing contribution to charity for the lifetime of the business. When asked, Richard said he was in it for the money and he didn’t apologise for wanting to make it as a result of dementia.

The end Den result was Richard taking £50k from both Meaden and Jones, giving them a 22.5% stake each, with a commitment to donate some money to charity and a claw back of equity if he hits his profit projections. So, my question is, which Pete did we see? Profiteer Pete, Philanthropic Pete or PR Pete? And if we were to make the call, where would our line be? Should we unashamedly make money from any product demanded in a truly capitalist fashion – is that not just good business sense? Or do we have a wider ethical duty?

Clearly I don’t have the answers and it’s certainly nothing I’m going to ponder post-Dragons’ Den drama. If I do, it’ll just drive me to the aforementioned Bargain Booze…