Innovation

Lessons from the Dragons: Create a Category of Your Own

Six determined former pitchers return on Dragons' Den Season 10 Episode 10 Second Chance Special

Written by Murad Hemmadi
Corin_Brian_Mullins-Holy_Crap-Dragons_Den_Season_10_Episode_10-P_CBC-600x400
Corin and Brian Mullins of Holy Crap Photo: CBC

Almost a decade in, Dragons’ Den continues to inspire and amuse Canadian TV audiences. But the CBC’s hit show isn’t just meant to be entertaining. It’s a televised school for entrepreneurs. For each episode of Season 10 (which airs Wednesdays at 8 pm ET), we’ll be talking to one of the Dragons to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of their decision-making process and hear what they hope viewers learned. Episode 10, the show’s Second Chance Special, featured a surprising Dragon switcheroo and some entrepreneurs who learned their lessons from prior experience in the Den.

Holy Crap

Entrepreneurs: Corin & Brian Mullins | From: Sechelt, B.C. | Ask: $2,000,000 for 49%

Certified organic breakfast cereals

Manjit Minhas had never tasted Holy Crap cereal. “I had heard of the brand and seen it in my grocery store, but I had never picked it up,” she says. So when the irreverently-named breakfast food made an appearance in the Den, Minhas was excited to try it.

She wasn’t disappointed. “As soon as I ate it I was sold,” say Minhas in an exclusive interview before the episode aired. Jim Treliving clearly felt the same way half a decade before, when Brian and Colin Mullins first brought their high-fibre, organic cereal to the show in Season 5: he offered them their $120,000 for 20% ask within minutes.

The deal never closed, but Holy Crap didn’t leave the Den empty handed. “The consequence of being on the show was almost $1.5 million worth of business, literally in one night,” recalled Brian Mullins before the couple pitched to the new roster of Dragons in the current season’s Second Chance Special. All told, Holy Crap sold almost $18 million worth of cereal in the years between its appearances on the show.

With numbers like those, it was no surprise that the company sparked a bidding war: Michael Wekerle wanted a partner to split the deal with, but Treliving and Minhas tendered competing offers of $2 million for a 50% stake. During filming, Treliving’s earlier bond with the Mullins won the day. “We made a deal with this man,” Brian Mullins said, pointing to Treliving. “We said we’d come back to him.”

But viewers who turned off their TVs at that point missed the real end to the story. “Call me if it doesn’t work out,” Minhas called out as the Mullins left the set, and they did. Minhas is now the couple’s partner, and per the show, their company’s new co-CEO.

Holy Crap’s success story is impressive, even by the standards of the Den. “They made a product for themselves, and they not only created awareness but created the whole new category of [healthy] cereal in Canada,” marvels Minhas on the phone. “To make it so successful in such a small amount of time, they really knew what they were doing as far as the product goes.” But the couple needed a marketing engine behind them to realize their plans of global expansion, something they readily acknowledged on the show.

That made Minhas a great fit. “Sales, marketing and branding is what I do, and I do it very well,” she says. Since they struck a deal in September, Minhas has helped the company get the word out, and with plans for a line extension that could include smaller products like granola bars. She’s also assisted in the realization of their international ambitions, particularly in the Chinese market.

“It’s an amazing product,” says Minhas. She’s thrilled to have bagged the Holy Crap deal, and for more than one reason—Minhas says it’s the first time in the show’s 10-year history that one Dragon has replaced another as an investor after filming concluded. “It was pretty monumental for me to do that first,” she laughs. “I was pretty excited to scoop it from the veteran Jim!”

Head of the Herd

Entrepreneur: Nancy Cohen | From: Coldwater, Ont. | Ask: $35,000 for 40%

Multi-purpose pet spray

Do your research: Before she stepped into the Den for the second time, Cohen figured out who each of the new Dragons she’d be pitching to were. It’s a strategy that paid off. “I like this product, because I’ve got 13 dogs,” Michael Wekerle told her—a fact Cohen’s research had armed her with. Wekerle offered her the $35,000 for a 60% stake, and she took the deal.

BreastRest

Entrepreneur: Jody Lynne Harbour | From: Oakville, Ont. | Ask: $100,000 for 40%

Comfort bra

Take your time—just not too much: Harbour spent the six years between her pitches perfecting her product. But with only $20,000 in sales to show for it as of filming, the Dragons didn’t necessarily see it as time well spent. Michele Romanow declined to make an offer by way of a story. “Corporations have more money, they have more resources, they can pay people more. The only reason that entrepreneurs win is because they can be fast,” she told Harbour. “And you working on this for six years means you’re not fast.” The other Dragons seemed to feel the same way, and Harbour left with no offers.

Fitness on the Go

Entrepreneur: Dan Mezheritsky | From: Vancouver | Ask: $125,000 for 15%

In-home personal training franchise

The U.S. isn’t for everyone: Jim Treliving—the only Dragon to see the first pitches of every entrepreneur in the Second Chance Special—didn’t remember Mezheritsky, but a lot has changed since Fitness on the Go appeared on the show in Season 4. Kevin O’Leary, who wanted 70% of the company, is gone, and Mezheritsky has adopted a franchise business model. The shift proved very successful—Fitness on the Go did $1.1 million in 2014, with a profit of about $320,000. But Mezheritsky’s plans for U.S. expansion proved to be a point of contention between Manjit Minhas and Joe Mimran. “You made it in the United States—why can’t he make it in the United States?” Mimran asked Minhas, who countered that Mezheritsky was vastly underestimating the costs of expansion and wasn’t coachable. Mimran ended up taking the deal with the only offer, of $125,000 for 20%.

OnCan Realty

Entrepreneur: Pat Gabriel | From: Niagara, Ont. | Ask: $200,000 for 10%

Realty brokerage that offers furniture discounts at Park’s Furniture

Competitive advantages must be defensible: Gabriel was the most recent of the repeat pitchers in the Second Chance Special, having been in the Den just the season before with Park’s Furniture. His new business drew it’s competitive advantage from that connection. “When you buy or sell your home with one of our agents, we give you $3,000 to spend at Parks Furniture,” he explained. But the Dragons weren’t convinced that the link gave OnCan staying power. “Anybody can come in and do this model—there’s nothing proprietary here,” Michele Romanow told Gabriel. The entrepreneur didn’t do himself any favours by admitting—just as he had the season before—that he didn’t really need the Dragons’ money. Gabriel left without any offers.

MEET THE DRAGONS THEMSELVES:

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Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com