Series 10 of Dragons’ Den has started its weekly humiliation of so-called entrepreneurs. As a ratings puller it has done well for BBC 2 and now has a prime time 9pm Sunday slot. It has made stars of the Dragons and has given them a God like status amongst the public. For the Dragons it has been a great success, most of them enjoying lucrative spin-offs.
For many of their victims however the programme has been more of a destructive force. Under the pressure of the cameras people crumble, make fools of themselves and more often than not show they are out of their depth.
The programme's makers justify the airing of such human frailty as an education in what not to do to get finance in the tough world of Angel investment. As noble as that may be, like all programmes of this genre I think it is more to do with the titillation and entertainment of the audience than an education in the benefits or pitfalls of seeking funding.
I used to be a producer director in television so I talk with some authority on this subject. The programme makers’ allegiance is to the audience and those appearing in front of the camera are caste and manipulated to fit into a role that will elicit a favourable response from the audience.
For example last week’s episode had a rather over-enthusiastic pensioner, well out of her depth trying to raise funding for a local dining club. A very entertaining lady but she didn’t understand the first principles of business. Another was Sandy, a chap who arrived in a kilt a funky hat and a beachcomber attitude to life.
He wanted to raise finance for his idea of making bar furniture out of sand. Again entertaining but he didn’t have a clue about business. Both of these people were wonderful characters, a vital ingredient for programme makers, but they did not contribute anything to understanding how to start up or run a business. Simply fodder for the Dragons to show off their own business prowess.
The question for me is why are people prepared to put themselves through such a humiliating process? The BBC will undoubtedly have data that shows that every year hundreds of people apply to be on the programme.
Unfortunately here I have to site the X factor phenomenon. People still seem to believe that if only they are discovered they will be fast tracked to stardom. After the initial spike in media awareness I know of hardly any person whose appearance has lead to long-term success.
Not only that, but the deals that the Dragons make with those fortunate enough to receive an investment is steep. I am sure many people have lived to regret giving away such a huge proportion of their business. If the person was not chasing the dream of television stardom I believe they would have got a better deal speaking to their bank manager.
In the long run programmes like this could do more damage than good. Britain urgently needs to cultivate real entrepreneurs, but the important thing here is for people to understand that there is more to being an entrepreneur than simply having a good idea.
The programme makers need to raise the bar by selecting people who clearly have a greater understanding of the business process. In writing this I already know that the chances of this happening are nil because they then risk losing the entertainment value, and thus, their audience.
Achieving success for your business is not going to happen simply by linking up with one of the Dragons, so don’t be tempted. The best thing for your business long term is that well worn path of hard work and determination, overcoming set backs, overcoming failure. This is the reality. It is the experience of these trials and tribulations that will directly benefit your business.
Appearing on Dragons’ Den may give you your 15 minutes of fame but it will leave your business to pick up the pieces.
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