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Dragons’ Den stars on how the show shaped them as VCs

Four of the Dragons discuss investing perspectives and the ones that got away

Blowing smoke is no option when the cameras are rolling on CBC’s Dragons’ Den . With a meticulous filming schedule and thousands of aspiring Canadian entrepreneurs pitching their investment ideas, a Dragon has to be on fire. But how does the pressure of the spotlight affect the venture capitalists’ investing and entrepreneurial perspectives?
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Four Dragons describe how being on the show has shaped them, and confess whether or not they have any regrets.

Michele Romanow

Co-founder and president of Clearco (formerly Clearblanc)
Season 10 to present

Investing approach

“Becoming a Dragon allowed me to test my original idea for Clearco. A founder came on the Den asking for $100,000 for a 10-per-cent equity stake in their company. When I asked her what she needed the capital for, she said Facebook ads and inventory. Having founded several companies, I understood how expensive equity is and I thought it wasn’t a good deal for the founders. So, I had an idea: I offered what they were asking, $100,000, but for 10 per cent of her revenue, just until the company paid back their capital, plus a 6-per-cent fee. My condition was I had to see their Facebook account and check their unit economics. There is definitely a place for VCs but it’s crazy for a founder to give up equity only to spend it on Facebook ads and inventory. That founder said yes to the deal on the show and the rest is history. Clearco has now invested about $2 billion into more than 5,000 different largely e-commerce companies – all based on that first revenue-sharing deal on Dragons’ Den .

Regrets

“I regret not investing in Smart Sweets when Tara [Bosch] was on Dragons’ Den ; that’s the one that got away!”

Smart move

“When I met Mike [McNaught] and Will [Thompson] from RVezy and Marc [Lafleur] from Trulocal in the Den, I sensed straight away they were smart operators and I knew I had to invest in them. Trulocal was acquired by Emerge [Commerce Ltd.] for $17 million and RVezy has grown tremendously during the pandemic.”

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Career high

“Becoming a Canadian unicorn this year has been a career high for sure. We knew there had to be an alternative to VC funding and it’s been amazing to see how much what we’ve built resonated with founders of all sizes. There have been lots of mistakes and failures along the way. Moving from funding vacation rentals to e-commerce businesses was a hard decision at the time but ultimately we would not be where we are today without going through that tough period of change.”

Vincenzo Guzzo

CEO of Cinémas Guzzo
Season 13 to present

What’s important

“[Being on the show] has helped me communicate to a wider audience my accomplishments and how I got to where I am today. I only take on projects that resonate with me, and that will never change. I genuinely enjoy every experience, but what’s of equal importance is the opportunity to share my words of advice with young entrepreneurs and help them along their journey as they look to become successful entrepreneurs as well.

Not just entertainment

“The show is not just entertaining, it also provides real guidance and mentoring to people who are truly trying to get somewhere. As with all of the Dragons, we invest our time, not just our money; and we partake not just for the show, but because we care and take a stake in some of the businesses. The show has been an amazing experience for me but it has not changed the way I do things from a business perspective. While it is nice to have new ideas presented to me within a TV show setting, I am still very thorough in my research and due diligence.

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Risk factor and ROI

“The producers find a broad range of entrepreneurs with ideas of products and services, and as I am always looking to take on new challenges and turn them into something fruitful, I find that invigorating. Having said that, I rigorously evaluate each opportunity and weigh in the risk factor and the return on my investment before making any commitment.”

Joe Mimran

Fashion designer and creator of Joe Fresh
Season 10 to 12

The need for speed

“I entered the venture capital market late in my career with an entrepreneurial background. Being on Dragons’ Den’s set listening to 10 pitches a day for 20 days brought back many memories of my early days and the struggles of getting a business off the ground. You have to quickly assess whether an individual is coachable, whether they have the skills necessary, and whether they have a product or service that the market truly wants or needs. I think it made me more empathetic and willing to listen to entrepreneurs with an idea.

Backing the person over the idea

“I don’t regret any of the decisions made as they all contribute to the whole. Where I backed an individual over the idea, I performed better. Great entrepreneurs are tenacious, have a knack for raising money, attracting great people and pivoting when necessary.”

Bruce Croxon

Co-founder of Round 13 Capital
Season 6 to 8

Endless opportunity

“My experience on the Den did not lead to any fundamental change in my investing approach but it did reaffirm to me that ideas are plentiful, people and teams that can truly make it happen are rare. I have made no dramatic changes to my approach. I don’t look back much on ‘the ones that got away’ because there is always today and hopefully tomorrow that keep me busy enough. Our country is full of opportunity.”