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The 12 Biggest Dragons’ Den Failures

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Dragons’ Den is a British reality TV show in which contestants pitch business ideas to the “Dragons” — a group of wealthy investors prepared to back the right projects. 

Contestants must specify how much money they are looking for from investors, what they need it for, and how much equity they are willing to give the Dragons in exchange for funding. The Dragons can then pass on the offer or make a counteroffer.

Over the years, the Dragons have funded many successful projects, but they’ve also missed out on some pretty big opportunities. Here are some of the businesses that went on to be hugely successful after being passed on by the Dragons.

12 Biggest Opportunities Missed by the Dragons

12) Grillstream

Grillstream

What is Grillstream? Grillstream is an easy-to-clean barbecue tray designed to prevent oils and fats from dripping down into the barbecue and catching fire.

Grillstream’s founders: Ian Worton and Peter Neath.

Grillstream on Dragons’ Den: Here is the Grillstream pitch from 2009.

Ask: £120,000 in exchange for 15% equity.

The Dragon’s Liked the product idea, but they weren’t convinced of its ability to make money as a standalone product and ultimately passed on investing. 

However, following their appearance on Dragons’ Den, Grillstream’s founders successfully licensed their product to several manufacturers, including LeisureGrow, a UK-based manufacturer of home and garden goods. Part of their success was due to interest in the product generated by their pitch on the show. 

Grillstream became a hit in the UK and was even sold in Canada at the massive chain of home stores Canadian Tire. The company has since expanded its product line and is now one of the biggest barbecue brands in the UK.

11) Aquatina Water Bottle

Aquatina Water Bottle

What is Aquatina? Aquatina is a collapsible refillable water bottle.

Aquatina’s founder: Guy Jeremiah.

Aquatina on Dragons’ Den: Here is the Aquatina pitch from 2010.

Ask: £100,000 in exchange for 10% equity.

Aquatina, now known as Ohyo, was an idea that the Dragons hated. One of them even threw one of the water bottles across the room, stating that it was a “terrible invention.” Needless to say, all the Dragons passed on this invention and Guy Jeremiah walked away without a deal.

Unfortunately for them, it seems that not everyone agreed with the Dragons on this one. Others saw the value in the convenience of the design, and Jeremiah went on to sell 100,000+ units of the bottle after the show. The product was also licensed by retail giant Marks & Spencer. Ohyo bottles are now available in 15 countries around the world.

10) Skinny Dip

Skinny Dip

What is Skinny Dip? Skinny Dip is a brand that makes fashionable phone cases, headphones, and other tech accessories.

Skinny Dip’s founders: Lewis Blitz and James and Richard Gold.

Skinny Dip on Dragons’ Den: Here is the Skinny Dip pitch from 2011.

Ask: £120,000 in exchange for 20% equity.

At the time Skinny Dip appeared on Dragons’ Den, the brand's founders were seeking backing for their phone case and accessory company. They called their business a tech accessory company that merged fashion and technology.

Multiple Dragons actually wanted to invest in the company, but the founders ended up accepting an offer from Peter Jones of £120,000 in exchange for 30% of the company. However, this deal was one of the many Dragons’ Den deals that didn’t go through after the show.

That didn’t stop Skinny Dip from achieving success after their appearance on Dragons’ Den, though. The brand now has eight brick-and-mortar stores of its own and is sold through many other retail outlets, as well as doing massive online sales. They have also expanded into selling a full range of lifestyle goods.

9) Pasta Evangelists

Pasta Evangelists

What is Pasta Evangelists? Pasta Evangelists is a fresh pasta delivery subscription service.

Pasta Evangelists’ founders: Alex Savelli and Finn Lagun.

Pasta Evangelists on Dragons’ Den: Here is the Pasta Evangelists pitch from 2018.

Ask: £75,000 in exchange for 2.5% equity.

Pasta Evangelists’ founders came onto Dragons’ Den wearing chef hats and speaking Italian, ready to pitch their pasta delivery service to the fullest. But the Dragons weren’t impressed by their authenticity or their offer, and passed on investing in the business.

The rejection didn’t phase Alex Savelli and Finn Lagun, who went on to double their sales after their appearance on the show. They were later able to obtain £3.5 million in funding from private investors to grow their business even more. 

Pasta Evangelists now offers 30+ types of artesanal pasta and customers of their fresh pasta subscription boxes include TV celebrities like Bake Off's Prue Leith.

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8) Approved Food

Approved Food

What is Approved Food? Approved Food sells out-of-date food, drink, and household items that are still usable, online.

Approved Food’s founders: Dan Cluderay and Andy Needham.

Approved Food on Dragons’ Den: Here’s the Approved Food pitch from 2014.

Ask: £150,000 in exchange for 10% equity.

The Dragons didn’t see the potential for profit in selling out-of-date grocery store and supermarket items online, and they all passed on the offer from Approved Food’s founders. However, this didn’t set the company back. 

Dan Cluderay and Andy Needham were able to get ahold of £400,000 in loans and investments from other sources. They also went on to become runners up in the 2015 Virgin Media Pitch to Rich competition, which landed them a marketing campaign worth £100,000.

Approved Food is now the largest online retail of clearance products and makes over £4 million in annual revenue doing 3,000+ weekly sales.

7) Prestige Pets

Prestige Pets

What is Prestige Pets? Prestige Pets makes a no-spill portable dog bowl for walks and road trips.

Prestige Pets’ founder: Natalie Ellis.

Prestige Pets on Dragons’ Den: Prestige Pets appeared on Dragons’ Den in 2008.

Ask: £120,000 in exchange for 15% equity.

Natalie Ellis came onto Dragons’ Den hoping to make a deal with the Dragons that would allow her to start marketing and selling her no-spill dog bowl in the United States. The Dragons thought her plan for US expansion was unrealistic and passed on her offer.

But that didn’t deter Ellis, who went to Chicago herself and made a deal with an agent there in exchange for a 5% stake in the company. She also began selling the dog bowls on Amazon. 

Just a year after appearing on the show, Ellis was able to rake in £1 million in profit, with nearly half of all sales coming from the United States.

6) Oppo Ice Cream

Oppo Ice Cream

What is Oppo Ice Cream? Oppo Ice Cream is a low-calorie ice cream brand.

Oppo Ice Cream’s founders: Harry and Charlie Thuillier.

Oppo Ice Cream on Dragons’ Den: Oppo Ice Cream appeared on Dragons’ Den in 2016.

Ask: £60,000 in exchange for 7% equity.

Oppo Ice Cream’s founders pitched their low-calorie, “guilt-free” ice cream brand to the Dragons when their startup already had some traction. However, the Dragons believed the company was too risky of an investment and passed on the deal.

The Thuillier brothers were not deterred, and decided to crowdfund Oppo Ice Cream after getting rejected by the Dragons. The crowdfunding campaign was a big success, and they were able to secure £350,000 in funding from backers. Notably, the campaigns backers included British tennis star Andy Murray and British entrepreneur Richard Branson.

Oppo Ice Cream is currently sold in 1,300+ stores across the United Kingdom, including massive supermarket chains like Tesco, Ocado, Sainsburys, Waitrose, Morrisons, Booths, Mark & Spencer, and Whole Foods.

5) Hungry House

Hungry House

What is Hungry House? Hungry House is an online food ordering and delivery service.

Hungry House’s founders: Shane Lake and Tony Charles.

Hungry House on Dragons’ Den: Here’s part one and part two of the Hungry House pitch in 2007.

Ask: £100,000 in exchange for 11% equity.

You might think that an online food ordering website isn’t an original enough idea to pitch to investors these days, but back in 2007 it was. 

Hungry House founders Shane Lake and Tony Charles didn’t get exactly the deal they were hoping for on Dragons’ Den, but they did manage to secure £100,000 from Dragons James Caan and Ducan Bannatyne in exchange for a 50% stake in their company. However, the partnership wasn’t meant to be, as the deal fell through in post-show negotiations. 

Hungry House’s founders later managed to secure £150,000 in funding from other founders and was able to greatly grow the business, eventually selling it to German food delivery company Delivery Hero, and later to Just Eat for a whopping £200 million.

4) BrewDog

BrewDog

What is BrewDog? BrewDog is a best-selling craft beer brand.

BrewDog’s founders: James Watt and Martin Dickie.

BrewDog on Dragons’ Den: BrewDog was selected to appear on Dragons’ Den in 2009.

Ask: £100,000 in exchange for 20% equity.

BrewDog’s founders had already been brewing and selling beer for two years before being selected to appear on Dragons’ Den in 2009. But the show’s producers feared that the brand wasn’t special enough and didn’t have enough growth potential to make investing worth it, so at the last minute they decided not to let the founders pitch to the Dragons.

As it turned out, the show’s creators were very wrong, and they probably should have gone through with letting James Watt and Martin Dickie pitch their beer brand. The pair went on to crowdfund BrewDog in a unique way, by letting people who drink BrewDog back the company in exchange for a small stake and other benefits.

BrewDog is now one of the top-selling craft beer brands in the world, and the company even has its own bars and pubs. It’s estimated that if any of the Dragons had invested the requested  £100,000 in BrewDog, their stake would now be worth an impressive £360 million. Talk about a Dragon Den failure — the Dragons never even had a chance to make their own decision!

3) Cup-a-Wine

Cup-a-Wine

What is Cup-a-Wine? Cup-a-Wine is a single-serving, sealed plastic cup of — you guessed it — wine.

Cup-a-Wine’s founder: James Nash.

Cup-a-Wine on Dragons’ Den: Cup-a-Wine appeared on Dragons’ Den in 2009.

Ask: £250,000 in exchange for 25% equity.

Entrepreneur Steve Nash came onto Dragon Den with his idea for a ready-to-drink glass of wine that consumers could take anywhere with them. The Dragons were not impressed with what they considered a tacky idea, and were worried that it was too easy for competitors to copy, so they passed on the deal.

Unfortunately for the Dragons, Nash was able to secure a deal with a private investor and also license his product to Mark & Spencer, which used the Cup-a-Wine for its signature Le Froglet wine brand. Cup-a-Wine turned out to be a hit and Nash has made millions off of the idea.

2) Tangle Teezer

Tangle Teezer

What is Tangle Teezer? Tangle Teezer is a detangling hairbrush.

Tangle Teezer’s founder: Shaun Pulfrey.

Tangle Teezer on Dragons’ Den: Tangle Teezer appeared on Dragons’ Den in 2007.

Ask: £80,000 in exchange for 15% equity.

Shaun Pulfrey developed Tangle Teezer after decades dealing with knotty, tangled heads of hair in salons. He brought his product onto Dragons’ Den in the hopes of securing an investment, but his pitch went awry when he was unable to untangle a knot during his demonstration on a manikin.

After the Dragons rejected Pulfrey’s offer, he financed the project himself through savings and by remortgaging his home. It seems he took the right risks, as Tangle Teezer is now worth more than £65 million and has received praise from celebrities including Victoria Beckham and Cara Delevigne.

Since appearing on the show, Pulfrey has expanded his business into selling other hair styling products, which can be purchased through various retail outlets.

1) Trunki

Trunki

What is Trunki? Trunki is a wheeled children’s suitcase that kids can sit on and ride on.

Trunki’s founder: Rob Law.

Trunki on Dragons’ Den: Here is part one and part two of the Trunki pitch on Dragons’ Den in 2006.

Ask: £100,000 in exchange for 10% equity.

You may have seen a Trunki rideable children’s suitcase on your last trip through an airport. The suitcase’s creator, Rob Law, left Dragons’ Den empty handed after Dragon Theo Paphitis ripped a strap off of a sample during the pitch. Another Dragon, Australian businessman Richard Farleigh, actually did offer Law half of the requested amount, but Law didn’t accept.

That didn’t stop Trunki from becoming one of the most widely-sold children’s suitcases in the world. You can now find the colorful brand of suitcases in airports and retailers in more than 60 countries. Trunki reportedly sold over £9.5 million worth of suitcases by 2018.

Why Dragons’ Den Investments Fall Through

Although many Dragons’ Den failures occur because the Dragons pass on an offer, it’s estimated that more than half of the deals struck on the program collapse after they are made on air (as we mentioned above, this happened with Skinny Dip and Hungry House).

But why do so many Dragons’ Den investments fall through after the show? Well, it turns out that the deals made on the show are just verbal agreements, and neither party is obligated to go through with them after the show.

As you can imagine, there is an incredible amount that goes on behind the scenes once the cameras stop rolling to actually make a Dragons’ Den deal real. A lot can come out and happen during post-show negotiations that can cause either the investors or the founders to back out of a deal.

For instance, entrepreneurs have been known to inflate their sales figures or make other false claims in order to secure an investment. So, when investors look deeper into companies after the show, they may discover this and decide it’s not a good investment after all. 

Allegedly, the Dragons only back out of deals if they discover legal or financial discrepancies during their period of due diligence after making a verbal deal, but it’s hard to know for certain what’s true with reality TV.

There is also the possibility that some entrepreneurs just want to appear on Dragons’ Den for publicity, and they have no intention of actually following through with any deal that is struck. 

Or, they might get contacted by private investors who see them on the show and offer a better deal, so they decide to go another direction and bail on the Dragons.

Despite all the Dragons’ Den deals that fall through and the opportunities missed by the Dragons, many startups have been funded through the show or found other paths to success after appearing on Dragons’ Den.

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