Plenty of smoke, not a lot of fire…

So I finally got around to watching last week’s premiere of “Dragon’s Den“, the new CBC version of the successful British show of the same name.

I’d been pretty keen to see it – between going through the VC motions over the past year and following Sean Wise’s blog as he detailed his experiences during the casting phase of the show (and now during the show on the Official blog) – I was quite intrigued.

The premise is entrepreneurs are given the opportunity to pitch the “Dragon’s”, 5 ultra-wealthy entrepreneurs. The contestant’s essentially propose a deal to the Dragons (for example – “I’m asking for $100,000 and I’ll give you 15% of the company for it”). The Dragon’s then listen to the pitch, ask their questions and either say they’re out, or make an offer. The only catch is the contestant has to receive offers for at least as much as they go in asking for. (So if one Dragon offers only $50,000 – the contestant gets nothing).

My initial reaction? Flat and a little dull.

I’ll cut it some slack because it was the first episode but I just found there was no bite to it. The set looked more like someone’s basement then a Dungeon and even the music had this strange mellow quality to it that seemed completely incongruous to the nature of the show (and really guys, we don’t need music playing during every second of the show! It just feels like you’re trying to cover something up).

For whatever reason I just don’t like the host – not a fan of her delivery and her voice-over work is bland. She’s clearly scripted to try and add some suspense to the show but I’m just not feeling it.

As for the Dragon’s themselves? I found there was a lot more smoke then fire… Granted a few of the presenters weren’t all that impressive but I got a distinct sense they were coached to be rough on the contestants and it came across strongly and unnatural at times. Of the five of them I found I really only liked Robert and Jennifer. Both seemed to have their egos in check and were willing to hear the contestants out and consider the deals. The other three were too busy taking pot shots at each other and enjoying the sounds of their own voices – My disdain for Kevin O’Leary only grew as the hour progressed.

Of the five pitches, only one got a funding proposal (and deservedly so).

I was amused as they all flat out rejected the proposal by the woman who wanted to start up franchises of “Nap Rooms” where workers could catch up on sleep with a quick power nap on their lunch hour etc. – this just after I’d read a whole article in Business 2.0’s “What Works” section about the $20 BILLION industry behind sleep related products. It also mentioned a very similar company called “Metronaps” which appears to be on an absolute tear right now.

It was clear that these guys couldn’t wander far outside their comfort zones when it came to ideas – I found their treatment of the woman pitching “The Magic Banana” downright childish. It was a hard one for her to pitch given it’s use but nonetheless it could have been handled better.

It was painful watching the one contestant who did get a funding proposal get squeezed by the Dragon’s. She came in asking for $200,000 in exchange for 20% of the organization – a very reasonable (the most reasonable of the entire show) post-money valuation of $1 Million even. Jennifer offered $100K but wanted 25% of the company for it. Jim Treliving (founder of Boston Pizza) matched Jennifer’s offer so the contestant could have the money – but she’d have to give up half the company.

She countered with 40% but they stuck firm – first using the tried and true “50% of something big is better than all of something small” nudge, followed by their insistence that they wanted the controlling interest.

What was really disappointing is the control issue was a completely hollow one. As Sean Wise himself will tell you, as soon as you take $1 of someone else’s money they can have total control over your business.

I’d be really keen to see what kinds of legal terms the contestants need to sign away in order to be on the show, as well as what the investment term sheet looks like for these deals.

In the end she took the deal – what I think made it worthwhile was Jim’s involvement, he owns/has involvement in a distribution company out West – one that could open up huge doors for the company into a lot of retail environments. I think that capability alone made the “50% of something big” argument hold some water in this case.

Will I watch again, yes – I’m a reality TV junkie – but I won’t be upset if I miss an episode.

However, I am keen to see tonight’s episode as I believe the guys from will be on – they presented at DemoCamp8 a few months ago and seem to have a really solid business idea and are gaining some traction (I’m actually surprised they’re looking for money through this show).

It’s on at 8PM EST on CBC

– Ryan

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