“It feels like you’re watching a game show,” says Richard Osman, “but you know that it’s all real: it’s real people, with real money and they’re talking to entrepreneurs with real dreams. It can be a life- changing encounter for the people who come on. And you see the terror in their eyes.”
The Pointless presenter is trying to explain the enduring appeal of Dragons’ Den, the BBC2 programme that’s still going strong after 11 years and 13 series. This week Osman presents a documentary looking at some of the show’s biggest hits – and a few of its misses. He also catches up with some of the entrepreneurs who have walked away with the Dragons’ cash.
He meets the pasta manufacturer whose pitch nearly ended when he broke down in tears (he now sells more than 800,000 packets of noodles a week); the 18-year-old inventor who has gone on to run a £10 million company; and the husband and wife team looking to emulate the success of the show’s greatest ever hit: Levi Root’s famous Reggae Reggae sauce, which is now worth an estimated £65 million!
NOODLES OF CASH
HOW IT WENT IN THE DEN: Everything went wrong for Ross Mendham — until the very end of his pitch. He was presenting Bare Naked, his brand of premium low-carb noodles, in 2013. Within a few minutes, he’d struggled over his numbers, admitting to the Dragons: “You’ll have to forgive me. Maths wasn’t my strong point at school.” Then, when asked about his home life, he broke down in tears. He explained that his wife Kelly had suffered a miscarriage — her third — shortly before he’d set off for the studio.
Peter Jones told him coldly: “You’re not here for sympathy, you’re here to get an investment.” Incredibly, he then went on to offer a £60,000 investment in Ross’s company.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT: Ross recalls: “I went to hug Peter, and I thought: ‘You’ve changed my life.’” Since the programme Ross has gone from shifting 260 packets of noodles a week to around 16,000. The company is worth more than 15 times what it was. And, rather brilliantly, Kelly went on to give birth to a baby boy.
RICHARD’S VERDICT: “This was a perfect example of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Ross just fell to pieces, but he told me that what Peter said was the best thing that could’ve happened. I think Peter spotted that Ross was going to lose this opportunity if he let himself become too emotional. So Peter saved him.”
THE NEXT REGGAE REGGAE SAUCE?
HOW IT WENT IN THE DEN: Ben Ansah and wife Sue Youn came to the Den last year with a home-made cooking sauce that Sue Youn used to create at her mother’s house. They left the Den with a £50,000 investment from Peter Jones — but not before he’d pushed new Dragon, Sarah Willingham, out of the way. “At the end of the day,” says Jones immodestly, “it’s a lesson for Sarah: she knows who the lead Dragon is.”
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT: Yogiyo sauces are no longer made in a domestic kitchen — they’re mass produced in Korea and on sale here in Sainsbury’s. Ben says: “This is point zero of a new journey. How big can this become?”
RICHARD’S VERDICT: The shadow of Levi Roots hangs heavy over Dragons’ Den. Peter Jones and Richard Farleigh made so much money out of Reggae Reggae sauce that the moment another sauce comes up, they fall under its spell. Ben and Sue Youn are super-smart. And their product is good — if it does become the next Reggae Reggae sauce, everybody involved will become extremely rich. And Sarah will be gutted.”
THE TEENAGE TYCOON
HOW IT WENT IN THE DEN: Jordan Daykin was just 18 when he appeared on Dragons’ Den in 2014, pitching an unsexy, but useful, device that fixes curtain rails and the like to plasterboard (pictured below). Daykin’s prospects didn’t initially look good when Dragon Peter Jones yanked hard at a radiator and pulled it off the wall — and then pulled out of the bidding. But the teenager soon recovered and impressed Deborah Meaden so much that she invested £80,000 in his business.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT: Less than two years later, Daykin’s GripIt Fixings company is worth an estimated £10 million, and Meaden’s £80,000 investment is now worth around £2.5 million.
RICHARD’S VERDICT: “When Peter pulled the radiator down, Deborah was not put off because Jordan explained why it had happened. There’s something about him. He’s incredibly impressive. She took a punt on him and it’s really paid off. His life has really changed since he went into the Den. You sit in his office and watch the people working for him — and they adore him. And that radiator coming off the wall? It cost Peter a fortune!”