Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Making of a Dragon

I had great fun Saturday as an “armchair dragon.” But it was also frustrating, as I’ll explain.

Due to the number of pitchers expected at the Toronto audition for the new season of Dragons’ Den, the producers at CBC asked me to help interview applicants. My job was to stand beside the camera as each candidate made his or her two-minute pitch for funding from the show’s millionaire investors. Then I would ask qualifying questions in place of the absent dragons.

Hi,” I said trying to capture the sprit of the show, “My name is Rick and I’ll be your interrogator this afternoon.”

Overall people were very nice and understood that they were in for a grilling. Otherwise, it would be the family dinner table, not Dragons’ Den.

I heard some great opportunities this afternoon, but not many great pitches. You'd think that people who had watched the first season of DD would understand that the dragons are interested in the money they can make from the deal – not the intricate details of the product or service. But again and again people spent way too much time talking about the minutiae of the product, and not the language of the dragons: return on investment.

That forced me to play Bad Cop, trying to ask the questions that Laurence Lewin and Kevin O’Leary would ask if they’d been there: “What’s your vision? Who will buy this product? How big can this business get?”

In 20 years of working with entrepreneurs, I’ve asked questions like these a million times, but never at the pace of television. We had 5 minutes, max, for the whole interview. So after going too soft on the first few pitchers, I fine-tuned my introduction to help them make a better impression. “You've only got two minutes for the pitch,” I said. “Don't focus too much on your product. Get to the opportunity as soon as you can. How much money do you want from these dragons, and what will they get in return? How are they going to get their money out of your business, and how much will they make?”

Yes, I had turned into a Dragon.

Sadly, my advice came too late for many entrepreneurs, who had no idea how to answer those questions. Most stuck to their script, which was all about their product. Which forced me to interrupt more and more to focus on the heart of the matter: Why should investors of wealth and ambition invest in your company? Very few could answer that question.

One of the producers said later that they had learned over their career that you can't tell inventors anything – they're just too wedded to their own ideas. I hope that’s not true. Who wants a business partner who won’t listen?

Thanks to Netta, Sean and Tracie for a great day.
I’ll be back for the May 5 audition, so I hope to see you there. Properly prepared, of course.

For the schedule of upcoming auditions, please see my previous post.


George Torok said...

You gave good advice. The presenters must see themselves as sales people. And a good sales person understands that it is about the customer - not about the sales person.

An investor is a buyer and every buyer want to know - WIIFM.
What's in it for me?

George Torok
The Speech Coach for Executives

kelstarz said...

Great advice!
I'm rethinking my pitch and strategy with the hope of making it to the Dragons' Den!