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 11 featured a late-career entrepreneur with a great product, and the Dragons engaging in some history-making hijinks.
As the mother of two young children, Manjit Minhas is familiar with diaper rash, and with the creams and lotions designed to treat it. “Everything on the market is sticky [and] has a bunch of ingredients that you really don’t want to be putting on your kids,” she says.
So when she she saw how Lane Casement’s Everything Butt Cream compared to an unnamed competitor on Dragons’ Den, she knew she had a winner on her hands. “[It’s] an amazing product that I can’t believe nobody has come up with to date, because it’s simple and easy to use,” said Minhas in an exclusive interview before the episode aired.
Minhas wasn’t the only one to see the product’s potential, with her offer countered by ones from both Jim Treliving and Michael Wekerle. In the end, all three Dragons combined to give Casement $195,000 for a 45% equity stake—but not before some fierce negotiations and the breaking of a longtime Dragons’ Den tradition for the second time in the same episode.
Casement started his cheekily-named business at an age when most people have long since left the world of work. “I have no burning desire to retire,” he told the Dragons on the show. “I’m still working as a registered pharmacist, and [my] off time time I’m devoting to Everything Butt.” His entrepreneurial determination—however late he may have come to it—struck a chord. “I can only hope that I am starting another product when I am at your age,” Michele Romanow, the youngest of the Dragons, said to him.
Age is no barrier to entrepreneurship, Minhas says in her post-taping interview. “Sometimes it’s hard for people who have an idea but you don’t want to leave everything to fate either [to pursue it],” she acknowledges. “But I think an entrepreneur is always an entrepreneur, and you always have that bug inside of you.” Minhas draws a parallel to Corin and Brian Mullins, pitchers featured in the previous week’s episode, who started Holy Crap Cereal post-retirement.
The advanced career stage of the pitchers wasn’t the only way that Holy Crap resembled Everything Butt—both products also broke unofficial Dragons’ Den norms. Earlier in the episode, Romanow became the first Dragon to make a trip to what they’ve nicknamed the “rat pit,” the room where pitchers can deliberate amongst themselves and make calls out of the Den. Wekerle and Minhas became the second and third, combining forces to win Casement over after Treliving had undercut their individual offers.
Post-taping, Minhas says she has no qualms about the maneuver. “We’re successful businesspeople—we didn’t get here by being nice to everybody,” she says. “We’re all great friends, but when it comes to business at the end of the day we are all competitive and sometimes super-aggressive, and that’s exactly what that was.” Though it’s never been done before this season, the move isn’t prohibited by the producers. “We have one rule, and that’s it: We can’t offer them anything less as far as the dollar value goes,” explains Minhas. “The rest is all fair game.”
A little more negotiating, and all three Dragons got in on the deal done in the Den. (Minhas closed, but she says Treliving and Wekerle didn’t. And Minhas is glad she gets to work with Casement. “I love meeting him, even now,” she says. ” On an afternoon, he comes by for a beer and we talk, and it’s been great.” The Dragons are investing as much in the entrepreneurs as in the businesses they’re running, she notes. “I closed almost all of my deals except one on the show, and I can say I am the biggest closer of all of the past 11 Dragons,” she says. “To get and keep my attention, to get my money, and for me to want me to make [us both] successful, I’ve got to like you and the product.”
Casement ticks both those boxes, and with her marketing expertise, Minhas says his product will go a long way. The company is already in talks with some big national pharmacy chains, and baby stores could be on the way. “We’re just on the brink of doing some fabulous things together,” she says.
Persistence pays: While SPIN’s innovative games and triple-barrel revenue model of renting, events and sales were interesting enough, the real story of the Montreal trio’s pitch involved the Dragons themselves. The company’s financials—Roberge estimated it would have a cool $100,000 in positive cash flow by year-end—had more than one Dragon wanting to play. Michele Romanow initially offered the trio their ask for 25%, only to have Michael Wekerle jump in with a slot machine-inspired 777 deal: a 7% royalty for seven years that then converted to a 7% equity stake. Not to be outdone, Romanow broke with 10 seasons of Dragons’ Den tradition by following the pitchers to the Rat Pit to revise her offer. She clinched the deal, taking a 10% royalty until her initial $75,000 investment was made back, and a 15% equity stake thereafter. “What kind of deal was that?” asked a shocked Jim Treliving, who provides institutional memory as the unofficial dean of the Den. “I went after what I wanted,” countered Romanow.
Fill a real need: Picov pitched his hat-for-all-seasons as the solution to an innovation-less century and a half in the headwear industry. But his history lesson was countered by a business one. “It’s a very silly idea, it’s badly made, [and] the valuation is out of this world,” Manjit Minhas told him. And Picov’s attempt to challenge the Dragons’ reasoning didn’t end well either. “The people who wear hats, why wouldn’t they wear this hat?” he asked. “Because people wear hats to look good, and this doesn’t look good!” Romanow shot back. Picov received no offers.
Build your brand: With merino wool usually the preserve of fashionable adults, Wee Woolies’ kids wear line is something of an anomaly, at least outside the fabric’s home base in Australia and New Zealand. But with nothing to stop other manufacturers from entering the space, Wee Woolies’ growth is an exercise in brand-building—one the husband-wife team think they’ve already begun. “We have great brand loyalty,” Finley said. “We see repeat orders constantly.” That fact got one Dragon’s attention. “When people tell me they’re getting a rerun on your business from a year ago, that excites me,” Jim Treliving said. “Somebody’s remembering that I bought this stuff and it’s really working for me.'” He agreed to the couple’s original ask, and they were happy to take the deal.
You can only do so much: As the restaurateur behind four buzzy Toronto eateries, the author of the award-winning The Great Lobster Cookbook, and the host of a show on the Food Network, Pettit is already a seafood superstar. But while they loved his grub (Michele Romanow is a frequent diner at Rock Lobster), the Dragons were worried about his ability to succeed in the packaged goods space, not to mention his workload. “It worries me because this is not your wheelhouse—your wheelhouse is the restaurant business and good-tasting food,” Joe Mimran told him. Partnered with Sobey, the company sold $75,000 worth of bisque and chowder in just six months and Jim Treliving—no stranger to the food business himself—advised Pettit to pare back his product line before trying to break out of Ontario. “I think the two soups you got, I would do that for sure,” the Boston Pizza chairman said. “I would get rid of the other stuff until you prove the soups are a seller.” None of the Dragons offered a deal.
MEET THE DRAGONS THEMSELVES:
- The Secrets of Jim Treliving’s Success »
- How Manjit Minhas Built Her Booming Business »
- Inside the Brilliantly Weird Mind of Michael Wekerle »
- How Michele Romanow Picks New Product Ideas»
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