Friday, June 08, 2007

Watching Dragons

I had a great time Thursday on the set of Dragons’ Den. I renewed acquaintances with producers Stuart Coxe and Tracy Tighe, host Dianne Buckner, consultant Sean Wise, and dragons Robert Herjavec, Kevin O’Leary, Laurence Lewin and Jim Treliving.

I also got to meet Arlene Dickinson, CEO of Calgary-based Venture Communications, the new Dragon for season 2.

If you're a fan of the show, you’ll be pleased to know they are planning 10 episodes this year, almost twice as many as last year. The show starts airing in October on CBC.

The dragons were in fine form, with Kevin calling a particularly bad business idea “sinful,” Robert telling an entrepreneur not to feel bad that all the Dragons hated his idea, because they were saving him from wasting several more years of his time, and Laurence Lewin taking regular pot-shots at Kevin. Arlene is a gem, because she is as tough as the other Dragons, but less likely to be swayed by their bad-boy banter. She also focuses the group and ensures that the entrepreneurs get to tell their stories.

I got there in midmorning, so I missed seeing two deals get done. But I saw several interesting pitches that had the Dragons thinking, and a few concepts so promising that some Dragons offered to help out by providing advice or contacts – although, tellingly, not money. There was humour, sadness, and some standout emotional moments that will have everyone talking come fall.

Today showed that the heart of Dragons’ Den is not the Dragons, but the infinite variety of incredible stories from the entrepreneurs that the producers have found. Some are “happy stories,” as Betty Kennedy used to say on Front Page Challenge, and some are not. But they are all authentic and human.

This season's show has the same flaw as last year. Most of the people I saw pitching deals were selling the right to participate in new products – most of them so new they had no sales. They weren't offering opportunities to invest in businesses, which is what the Dragons really want. So there’s an essential disconnect in the show. But of course that creates much of the entertainment value, too.

High Point: Today we got to see the Dragons talk on camera about what they are doing and why. After ganging up on a bad idea, they engaged in some rare introspection, asking themselves whether or not they are really helping the people who pitch to them. I come down on the side of one member who said that if the Dragons don't tell the truth – if they encourage people to pursue business ideas better left behind – they risk leaving the entrepreneurs open to exploitation by less benevolent parties, who could sweet-talk them into paying high fees for unnecessary legal or consulting services.

Let’s hope the CBC re-runs Season 1 over the summer. This is a show we can all learn from.

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