Dragons’ Den Part I: Dancing into the Fire

Posted By Robert Tang on Sep 14, 2009 |

On Wednesday, September 15th at 8:00 p.m., CBC will air the “Dragons’ Den Season 3 Special”, in which danceScape will be included as part of the lessons learned from the Den.  There have been times where I thought, “Why, oh why, did we put ourselves through that experience?”  The irony, however, is that we weren’t actually supposed to be on the show.

What had happened was that one of the producers, who was also a producer of CBC Television’s other business show, “Fortune Hunters”, emailed us, as danceScape was one of the companies that they had profiled a few months ago.  The focus of that show was on Baby Boomers, and how Beverley, myself, and our instructor team were teaching Baby Boomer women and couples to dance and keep fit through our Ballroom, Latin, Salsa and danceTONE programs.  They sent a Canadian film crew to shoot in Burlington, and even arranged an American crew to follow us to Menlo Park in California where we were pitching the famous venture capitalist, Tim Draper, about investment funding.  I’ll have more to share in a future blog about our experiences on Fortune Hunters, but for now, back to the Den …

Dragons’ Den Season 3 was in production and they were in the process of casting for a new Dragon to join the team.  Laurence Lewin, co-founder of La Senza and one of the original Dragons, was very ill at the time, battling lung cancer.

Robert Tang on Dragons' Den with Beverley Cayton-Tang

The producers asked if we were interested in practising our pitch at one of these Dragon auditions.  They made it very clear that we would NOT be in the show.  Initially, we were unavailable to do this, as we were in the midst of preparing for our Spring workshop season.

A few months later, they contacted us again.  

This time, we were available, although still a bit hesitant because we had seen Seasons 1 and 2, and how vicious some of the personal attacks were from the Dragons.  “Why would anyone subject themselves to a fate seemingly worse than death?”, we said to ourselves. 

The producers emphasized again that it would never go to air, so we thought, “Why not?”  If anything, it would be an interesting once-in-a-lifetime experience that would enable us to further develop and practice our business pitch.  As well, it would provide the perfect excuse to drive into downtown Toronto for some shopping!

We arrived at the CBC studios mid-morning on a Wednesday with our notes and copies of our “For Absolute Beginners” Ballroom Dancing instructional DVD set in hand.  We had done some practising the night before, but because we weren’t the ones being auditioned, we didn’t feel any pressure.  Maybe some nervousness, but not really pressure. After all, it was the potential new Dragons who were in the hot seat.

There were about eight other entrepreneurs invited to pitch, but as we introduced ourselves, we realized some of them were actually auditioning to be on the real show.  As we sat in the waiting area, we noticed a few people who had that “deer-in-headlights” look. 

The producer that had worked with us on Fortune Hunters came up to say hello, gave us a quick briefing, and reassured us again that we were there only to help them out with the auditioning process of four potential new Dragons.  She added that Kevin O’Leary (yes, THE infamous “Kevin O’Leary” … the Dragon who makes wannabe entrepreneurs and babies cry with a single glance) would be part of the panel. 

There was a moment of stunned silence between Beverley and myself.   “OK, then,” I thought, “This is going to be interesting.”

The first victim was called to the set.  About ten minutes later, the next victim.  Five minutes after that, it was our turn.  It was not looking good, especially after seeing the glazed look on the other two as they passed us. 

Beverley and I took a deep breath and followed the producer onto the set.  It was pitch dark, except for an area where lights were positioned around a lineup of chairs. As we scanned the chairs, my eye caught the dreaded Dragon, Kevin O’Leary, in the centre.  At least, he was smiling.  Or was that sneering? 

We immediately recognized one of the other Dragon hopefuls, who was a guest panelist on a few episodes of Fortune Hunters.  We also recognized the Lady Dragon hopeful, a winner of many business awards including top entrepreneur of the year.  We didn’t recognize the last two hopefuls, however. 

Kevin made a comment to the Director, “OK, are you going to give us some REAL businesses?”  He was unaware that Beverley and I were only a few feet away, and seconds from making our pitch. 

The Director then positioned us in front of the Dragons, beside a small table where we placed our DVDs.  The Dragon hopeful from Fortune Hunters smiled at us and said, “Hey, I recognize you guys!”  We smiled back and said that we enjoyed watching him on Fortune Hunters, and that we knew two of his employees who happened to be students at the studio.  Whew, that broke the ice!

After some lighting adjustments and sound checks, the director indicated that we could start whenever we were ready.  And so, our pitch began. 

“Hello Dragons, my name is Robert Tang and this is Beverley Cayton-Tang and we are the founders of danceScape, a dance learning and entertainment company based in Burlington, Ontario.  We are here today to seek investment funding of ….”  OK, got through that part without stumbling.

The Lady Dragon immediately started to ask questions.  Then the others chimed in.  Kevin was quiet.  It was as much about each of the Dragon hopefuls trying to get “air time” as it was about our business pitch.  Because there was no pressure on us, we felt very natural and could respond to their intense grilling. 

We were there for business advice and mentoring, and we can honestly say that Kevin, the one dragon that we feared, actually included in his exchange some business tips for us.  It then went into the final round, where the Dragons started to indicate if they would invest or not.  The other two Dragons who were the least vocal of the group indicated that they would not invest. 

Much to our delight, the Lady Dragon hopeful indicated that she was interested in investing!  The other Dragon hopeful from Fortune Hunters indicated we were not a fit with the type of company that he was looking for, but felt we had a solid viable business concept.  Kevin was also out, but he advised us to hire someone who could quickly and easily pull together a more formal business plan.  We thanked the panel and handed each of them a copy of our DVD. 

To the Lady Dragon, I was so excited that I said, “Could I have your business card,” to which all the other Dragons laughed.  Oops, breach of protocol! We then headed back to the waiting area. 

The producer who escorted us to the set came up excitedly behind us and said that the director and other producers were very impressed with our performance.  And that they wanted us to be on the real show which would be taping in a few months.  She started to fill us in on what would happen next.

We were, of course, extremely flattered! And the fact that we broke through to one of the auditioning Dragons gave us hope.  After all, she was no light-weight business person even if she was the only person on the panel who could appreciate the business of dance.  Her reputation and success had been reported in all the top tier business publications.    

I’ll have more to share about the actual taping of the show in a subsequent blog, but for now, here is the “least painful” part of the excerpt:

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