- Vino Jeyapalan
- Nov 9, 2020
Canada’s edition of Dragons’ Den is now airing its 15th season, despite the complications of casting and filming the show during COVID-19.
My twin brother, Vijay, and I auditioned to pitch our fresh dog food company, Kabo before the pandemic changed casting to virtual auditions only. We were selected from the 2,000+ auditions to pitch in front of the Dragons.
If you’re curious about how casting, making a deal, and getting your segment on air really works (and whether you should go for it), here are our top takeaways from the experience.
(1) It doesn’t have to be a sure thing
Entrepreneurs or aspiring business owners might think they need to wait until their business is “ready” to audition for Dragons’ Den, but that’s not necessarily true. Sure, the more successful your business is, the easier it is to show why someone should invest. But the Dragons are a diverse group of investors and are willing to bet on businesses at any stage.
Even if you don’t get selected to film a segment, you receive a lot of great feedback from pitching your business during auditions. If you do get cast, there are more potential benefits to filming and appearing on the show than just investment money (but we’ll get to that).
(2) Understand the audition process
First and foremost, the Dragons are the faces you know from the show, and they do control the investment money everyone’s after. But don’t forget there are gatekeepers to the exclusive Den.
To start off, you don’t get anywhere with casting if you aren’t focused on what happens behind the scenes. The CBC producers do a lot of work going across country scouting to give them more than enough pitches to fill their many seasons. Pre-pandemic, they’d encourage people to come to make an impression in person, but now have opened up for online submissions.
We were lucky enough to be in Vancouver before the pandemic, and got to audition and pitch to the producers before they had to move to virtual interviews (which now only get scheduled if they like your written application).
No matter how you meet them — a scheduled audition or by a chance encounter — getting on the producers’ radar is key. In terms of getting on TV, you’re pitching to them before the Dragons.
(3) It’s TV, so make sure you tell your story
During the auditions, you have to remember that the show has been going on since 2006 and they know what works. For example, we knew (from watching all the episodes) that a Dragons’ Den season often has pitches ranging from categories like fitness to pets. The producers know their niche audiences and are always thinking about the end viewer, and you should be too.
What I saw behind the scenes were people focusing too much on their actual business, rather than on the story that’s being told for TV. Don’t get me wrong, you need to know your numbers inside and out. However, as fans of the show, we knew we had an opportunity to tell more of our story beyond the performance metrics. So we focused on what would be most inspiring and interesting for TV viewers while ensuring we could create a compelling pitch for a deal with a Dragon.
We told our story about losing our dog to stomach cancer and our background as Canadian entrepreneurs, rather than focusing on dog data and the opportunity for better nutrition in pet commerce. Being vulnerable and authentic is something that everyone should think about as they enter the Den.
(4) Know what and who you want going in
We were really excited when all the Dragons competed to make a deal with us. They even dropped their equity ask! We tried to go with Michelle Romanow and Arlene Dickinson, but ended up making a deal with Michelle.
Whether you get the deal or not, this is an opportunity to create a key business relationship. We had an idea of who could best mentor us and help fulfill our goals going in, and we balanced that with trying to get our ideal amount of investment. We knew Arlene had a stellar background in the consumer product world and Michelle is changing the way e-commerce businesses get funding.
If you decide a deal isn’t for you, there’s also nothing wrong with turning it down on air. Giving up a large amount of equity early should be worth it for you. Know your deal breakers going in and you’ll be able to make smarter choices on set — without spending time in the Rat Pit.
So how did it turn out?
Whether or not we got a deal, what was actually important was how much fun we had! We really took it as an opportunity to reflect on all the hard work that our team and the CBC team did to put this together. Shooting, editing and getting this ready to air tonight was no easy feat.
We hope other entrepreneurs can learn from our success and have their own Dragons’ Den journey in the coming seasons. Good luck in the Den!
Want to see Kabo's pitch to the Dragons? Watch the video below.