Dragons' Den - Part 1 - Before The Den

Watch us on BBC 2 - 10th September - 9pm.

In May 2017, Ben and I stood in front of the famous lift doors, patiently waiting for them to open. Meanwhile our business experiences from the last few years flashed before our eyes as we recited our opening scripts in our heads over and over again. Prepared? Time would tell. Nervous? Bricking it. Mouths? Dry as the desert. 

Dock & Bay has brought us some unimaginable highs and lows since our first sale back in August 2015 but this was set to be the most surreal one. We stood just metres away from a group of well-known and well-regarded investors worth a combined total of nearly £700m. I’m still happy if I find a £10 note in my back pocket. With just the 2 lift doors continuing to separate us, we waited. Awkwardly. Would our business stand up against questioning? Did we know our business as well as we thought? Will they like us? Will they like our products? Were shorts the right choice? The doors opened. We took our first few steps into the Dragons’ Den. Here’s our story.

Note: Dragons’ Den is a UK television show where young businesses pitch to a set of 5 wealthy and successful investors to offer them a share in the business. We took our unique microfibre towel company into the Den in May 2017 as we felt it was the perfect opportunity to be able to put our business to the test amongst scrutiny and hopefully come out with a new investor on board that would be able to help take our business to new levels. A little background to what makes our towels different as the unique benefits they hold are endless - Sand free, lightweight, compact but huge laid out, quick drying and won’t collect damp smells. What more do you need.

Way back when

Back in May 2016, as I sat at my parents’ kitchen table, also known as my office at the time, I had a brainwave. When Ben and I have brainwaves, the first thing we do is Whatsapp the other as they sit (likely sleep) on the opposite side of the world. So I picked up my phone.

Andy: How about we apply for Dragons’ Den?

Ben: Go for it.

Just to fill you in as to what this sort of simple reply means. This means - Ben isn’t against the idea but also isn’t hugely enamoured either. He’s happy for me to go ahead with it and pursue my wild ideas but doesn’t have a huge amount more to say on the matter. Eg. “Leave me, I’m sleeping”. We both come up with so many ideas day to day that it simply isn’t feasible to always share each other’s vision straight away but we’ll never hold each other back without good reason.

‘Without good reason’ – We’ve learnt this to be vital in growing our business. We both come up with wild and wacky ideas every day. But unless we can come up with legitimate reasons as to why those ideas shouldn’t be pursued or at the very least, come back with constructive feedback, then we stay out of it. I believe this is key when growing a business. It’s really easy to be destructive about people’s ideas and it’s definitely not easy to take one forward and put yourself on the line. But the latter is what makes a business great. Remember that next time someone at work thinks of a new direction for the company that sounds a bit ‘odd’.

The early stage of a business is sort of like playing darts blindfolded. Some ideas will miss the board completely and you’ll laugh about them in years to come. Some will hit the board and add value but probably won’t be memorable. But every now and again, you’ll hit the bullseye and those are the ideas where you’ll look back proudly one day and say: “We did that”.

Anyway, “Go for it” was enough for me and a day later I had sent off our application. I quickly got a reply back and any buzz I had from sending off the application was gone. The email simply said:

Thanks for your application. We will be reviewing applications for next season in Jan 2017.

A lot happens in a year

Skip forward to January 2017 and I’m lying in my bed working on my laptop, it’s about 9.30am on a Monday and I’ve had a rough weekend. Treating myself to working from bed for the morning rather than the kitchen table. I’m still living at home with my parents, nearly a year now, as Ben and I continue to inject all our earnings into the business, paying ourselves little to no salary. Still loving every minute of growing the business. Parents not loving every minute of their fridge always being empty.

I get a call. It’s a producer from Dragons’ Den. I sit upright in my pants (underwear if reading from America). Not how I imagined I’d be dressed if I ever spoke to them. They start to question me about the business but the questions feel strange. Then I trigger. They are looking at an application that was written over 8 months ago when our business was in a VERY different position. Back when I applied, we were still very early days, we’d turned over about £100k in our 2015/16 financial year and were still unsure of our potential growth rates for the 2016/17 year. As they called, we were set to turnover more than £1m in 2016/17 and now sold in 9 different countries.

It was a real eye opener for me actually, to see how fast things can happen and I’d never really stopped to look back at that point. I talked them through how our business had changed and how our pursued business valuation (key for investors) had also shifted. I felt proud of what Ben and I had done in such a short space of time and also thankful for people like my parents who had made it all possible with their undivided support.

I got invited into the BBC studios in London to do a demo pitch and just a few weeks later, I heard back. We’d made it on to the show with an air date in May. Well that escalated quickly. Ben and I were talking on Whatsapp at the time as the email came through. We were both pretty shocked, this was really happening. The next day, Ben booked a flight over for the show’s filming in Manchester.

Before we were set to film, Ben had lots to think about with his imminent wedding to his now wife, Emma. We put it to the back of our minds for a few months. As a little shout out, Emma has pretty much shaped the look and feel of our imagery and made Dock & Bay what it is today, taking around 80% of our photos that you see across our website and social media and helping to showcase our products to our target markets. Thank you Emma! Have a browse of her work here.

Judgement day

Skip forward a few months and Ben & I are sitting in the Holiday Inn in Manchester, living it up (finally moved out of my parents’ house by this point too). We arrived a day early from filming to allow us time to prepare and had been practising our lines in the room. Ben was very prepared to say the least, he knew all of his lines and tended to only have a few hiccups during practice. On the other hand, I’ve always worked best when under pressure, learning my lines with more of a last-minute type approach. I’d started to question that approach.

Ben never said anything but the fact I was still learning my lines in the last practice runs before we went to bed ahead of the big day was probably a slight concern. That said, we nailed our last few runs and headed for some sleep.

We were picked up at 6.30am to head to the studios. When we arrived, we had to all set up our displays. I was still half asleep so that wasn’t easy, especially when the producers asked us to do a dry run of our pitch. That part could have gone better. The producers scuttled off looking slightly worried. Next we were off to the green room to wait for our slot in front of the Dragons. We were told we would be on about 3pm. Great, that gave us only 8 hours to sit there overthinking the whole situation and working ourselves into a deep sweat.

It was surprisingly easy to fill the time – Make up (5 minutes), Pre-interview (15 minutes), Lunch (20 minutes), Break outside (20 minutes), Practicing our script (3 hours), Staring at the wall (3 hours), Crying (1 hour, dispersed across various intervals). Ok the crying wasn’t for real but that 8 hours sure did go on forever. That said, we’d really started to nail our pitch and felt pretty clued up on all the potential questions we thought we might get.

You’re On

They’d given us a 15-minute warning. Ben and I looked at each other, it was really happening. We’d been in this room for what felt like 3 days now and all of a sudden we were 15 minutes away from pitching to the famous Dragons. I don’t know what I looked like but Ben had lost a bit of colour. Then it felt like a bit of a downhill domino effect. We tried to practice our script again but Ben’s mouth had gone pretty dry, then mine, then lines started to be forgotten. This wasn’t looking good.

Next thing we know, we are standing in the foyer ahead of the Den. Staring at framed photos of the Dragons. We were being filmed now but tried to put it to the back of our minds, continuing to practice our script. Adrenaline had started to set in and we seemed to be getting a bit better again. We knew it would be pretty cringe TV but we kept practicing. They kept us there for what felt like 10 minutes. I feel like it’s a tactic to build up the nerves. Finally, a green light summoned us to the lift doors. We walk over, trying not to trip over our own feet.

The lift door opens. We enter the lift. The lift door closes behind us. What do you say in a lift? I’m usually on my phone trying my best not to make eye contact with anyone as I wait awkwardly for the lift to reach my floor. The numbers start to rise, before we quickly reach the 3rd floor. S**t. This is it. The front doors open. We step into the Den. 

Watch us on BBC 2 - 10th September - 9pm