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The Truth Behind Dragons' Den
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The Truth Behind Dragons' Den

When will this door ever open?’

I’ve been here waiting for the Dragons for an eternity trapped in this box errrr I mean fully functioning lift which has now somehow magically moved with the studio relocation to Salford.

I wouldn’t say I’m nervous, but I’m definitely tense; I still don’t know the song well enough.

‘… oh the song’

‘… why had the producers insisted?’

They’d heard me sing a Caffeine Bullet advert on my podcast and I was trapped. A song it shall be.

My joke ’re-interpretation’ of the Reisen chocolate chew advert was unbroadcastable, so last week’s shower time had been dedicated to creating some shockingly bad jingles.

The doors open to complete darkness except for the five Dragons sat there looking a of welcoming and intimidating.

I take my position and start to sing

“If you want to work out but your energy’s too low”

Sara smiles, but Peter’s already lost faith.

…’oh why did I think a full seven lines was a good idea? this feels longer than singing American Pie’

‘here comes the rip superman reveal… Imagine if I’m not strong enough to rip off all the buttons … why did I buy from M&S, their button attachment is second to none- I should have bought Primark’

“they make you strong and fast like a superhuman”

‘Why that look from Deborah, was that a positive? I’m not sure I’m selling that Deborah’ ….

‘Ok final line, sell it big’

“Caffeine Bullet, Caffeine Bullet, nothing kicks like Caffeine Bullet”

Complete Silence.

‘Welcome to Dragons’ Den’

David Hellard Caffeine Bullet Founder Dragons' Den Shirt Rip


I thought I knew what to expect from the Den, several friends had been on with varying levels of success and it seemed the essentials were:

  1. Know your numbers backwards and be able to justify every part of your projections.
  2. Listen to everything they say and answer their questions – don’t gloss over any problems, just be honest, be direct and explain.
  3. Smile, be warm, be fun, they’re humans after all.

Going into the Den I was already slightly off-balance. I’d hand-written personalised messages to each Dragon, tying our product to their background with wordplay. For Deborah I incorporated the songs she’d danced to on Strictly, for Peter – I’d used tennis terms, his favourite sport.

Like bronzed bad apples one Dragons can set the mood of the entire Den, so my intention had been to show them that I’d taken the time to understand their background and that I was invested personally in them with the hope that this would temper their tongue should they not love the product and limit any damage if they weren’t a fan of exceptional singing.

It was deemed too distracting by the producers, so were removed from their boxes minutes before we recorded.

They were so important in setting the tone, but I just had to put it out of my mind and not let it affect me.

David Hellard Caffeine Bullet Founder Notes To Dragons' Den's Investors


The Den was far more disarming than I’d expected. The show is full of zingers and shut-downs, but the first 10-15 minutes was broadly about my background, the company’s formation and the entire room felt very supportive.

You can’t see any cameras and you quickly forget that you’re being filmed, it’s just a chat with them lot off the tele, so you’re eased into thinking – ‘wow, this is going great, I think we’re all becoming the best of buddies’ but like the joyous, Kobe beef cow on receiving his massage, you just haven’t reached the point of slaughter.


I had genuinely been open to all 5 Dragons, my main focus was their support rather than the money and they all had contrasting but relevant experience. However, I’ve always greatly admired Deborah Meadon and going in she was top of my list. The edit made it seem as if she’d taken offence to my denigrating her to only being able to support about environmental issues, but she’d actually grilled me for a good 10 minutes.

I’ve always struggled with our packaging – it’s plastic and while I’ve managed to find a producer of biodegradable material, in our quantities it would cost between 10-15 times more to buy and degrades too quickly for us to buy in bulk and store. We’d have to double our prices, so we’d not be competitive.

My hope was that Deborah would be able to help us reduce our environmental impact, but her view was that we wouldn’t have released a product that wasn’t 100% sustainable if we’d truly cared about the environment and that was it, Deborah gone.

It was a real blow and I still don’t know what we could have done as a company, we simply wouldn’t exist or have a product if we had to wait for everything to be perfect. I’ve since reached out to her to ask for her guidance or an introduction to other suppliers, but am yet to hear back. If you know of a solution, please reach out.


‘Don’t go on social media afterwards’.

The BBC repeated this several times worried about how we’d respond to twitter’s venom. Once home, I of course immediately did.

Other than a general anger at my energy levels and a mixed reception to my blue trim shoes, the main heat was about Steven and how unreasonable it was to ask someone to make a life-changing decision so quickly.

I love Shark Tank, a far more brutal US version of the show, where time-pressured decisions are common-place, so it didn’t catch me completely off guard. While I do think that time pressure can lead to different decisions and outcomes, I don’t think it did here.

I had 20% as my limit going into the Den, so I was ready to accept an offer in that region. More time would have allowed me to negotiate harder, leveraging Sara’s offer to try and reduce the stake of Steven and Peter, but I’m not convinced they’d have dropped from 20%, although I suspect Sara might have dropped her offer to stay competitive with an offer from two Dragons.


It’s very easy to walk away from any deal made in the den, excuses can easily be found and the company still needs to go through due diligence. One aspect of Dragon deals that never happens is the change in % ownership once the Dragons have been repaid their investment.

In the den we agreed that if we paid back the investment within 2 years, their overall ownership would drop from 25% to 20%. However, the Dragons want to benefit from EIS/SEIS to protect their investment and to do so the investment is not allowed to be tied with such agreements for the 3 years that EIS covers. So in practice the companies get 4 years to repay the investment, far more manageable and realistic for a growing company.


The final edit was completely different to what actually happened. From the pitch to the order of the offers, even mid-sentences, everything was cut up and re-spliced to create a more succinct narrative. It never misrepresented the product or the brand, but it did position us primarily as a top-end sports product and not also as an energy boost for everyone, as we’d hoped to be portrayed as.

Look how well-edited this section is. I’m actually answering a question Sara asked, as you can tell by my final phrase to her, but it’s used as an answer to Peter’s question.

Sara and Peter actually both invested in us for reasons not aired. Peter liked the way I listened and responded to Deborah’s points, demonstrating that I was desperate to learn and Sara primarily as she appreciated that it was low calorie and near-instant motivation to exercise. Maybe not hugely important for the viewer to miss, but it positions the brand very differently to our customers and that’s part of the risk.


Absolutely, it’s the biggest free platform that a young company can have, going out to over 4 million people, but it doesn’t come without its risks. It’s a ten-minute advert, where you have no control of its content. Should a Dragon not like your product or reveal a major flaw that’s going out to 4 million with no opportunity for reply. All of your suppliers, and your retailers will know what happened and you may be inclined to agree with Jennifer Robert’s character in Notting Hill when she said “Dragons’ Den lasts forever, you’ll regret this forever” … well hopefully not.





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