“5-4-3-2-Marco we are live… GO”. Down the stairs, don’t trip, turn right and walk through the 3 circles of light on the floor, hit your mark and don’t forget to SMILE”
“Hello Dragons, my name is Marco Longley, I am from Richmond British Columbia and I am asking for a $25,000 investment for a 10% share of my business”. Wow, if you are an inventor or entrepreneur and that scenario doesn’t get your heart pounding, you don’t have a pulse.
May 10th 2012 was a day that will I will never forget as it was the day I ‘pitched’ my invention called The HEFT™ in Toronto for the CBC TV show, the Dragons Den. If you are not familiar with the TV show, it is one of the highest rated non-scripted television shows in Canada. Over one million Canadians tune in each week to watch entrepreneurs bare their souls as they pitch their business ideas or inventions. (similar to the ‘Shark Tank’ in the U.S.A.) The ‘Dragons’ are five venture capitalists seeking opportunities needing an injection of cash or experience into their business, invention or idea.
Just getting to the Dragon’s Den is the first half of the battle!
Every year the CBC sends out its team of producers across Canada for auditions. After an initial introduction of the procedure the hopeful pitchers can wait up to several hours before getting to pitch for two minutes to the producers. Did I mention the waiting is nerve racking? Imagine a room of 100+ entrepreneurs complete with props and all rehearsing their pitches. The tension in the room is palpable. You are assigned a number and then wait to be called. And you wait and wait. As your number approaches you start to move closer to the ‘pitching room’ only to see the other pitchers walking out of the room either elated or dejected; mostly the later. Hopes and dreams are riding on the pitches!
Each year over 2,000 people audition for the show and only 200 get ‘the call’ to go to Toronto for filming. “Number 89” is finally called and that is me. With props in hand I walk into the room and am given a couple of minutes to set up. The producer I am working with smiles generically and asks “are you ready? Begin”. And then she drops her head and focuses on her laptop. No eye contact, none what so ever, my view is of the top of her head and she begins to rapidly type. Unnerving would be a good description as when I practiced my pitch for my family or friends they were smiling and enthusiastic. I begin my pitch while looking down at the top of the producers head. I think it is going smoothly until she looks up and asks me to stop. I didn’t even make it to the end of my pitch and am asked to stop.
Anxiety surges from head to toe, and elbow to elbow. What did I do so wrong that she asked me to stop? She lifts her head and remarks, “This is one of the best inventions I’ve ever seen”
My wife and I were giddy as we walked out the room. And then we had to wait for ‘the call’. That all important call where the producers invite you to actually pitch the Dragons and film the show. Everyone was told that if you didn’t hear from them by a certain date, you didn’t make the cut. After hearing the words “it is one of the best inventions I’ve ever seen” my wife and I were confident that the call would come. The cutoff date came and went without ‘the’ call. An email the week following the cutoff date confirmed the bad news. We didn’t get selected to be on the Dragons Den.
We wiped a tear or two and agreed there was always next year. The year in between actually became extremely valuable as we fine-tuned The HEFT™ and were much better prepared with the prototype design and the I.P. taken care of than the previous year. This year was the charm and we were elated when the call came saying “Marco, we want you on the show.”
Oh my goodness, be careful what you wish for!
Going on the show with only a prototype and no sales is usually a death sentence in the Den and Kevin O’Leary is likely to rip you apart and shred your confidence if you don’t have sales. I knew this and prepared the best I could with a strategy in mind.
The week prior to filming the Dragon’s Den, we debuted the HEFT™ at The National Hardware Show in Las Vegas. Debuting a prototype at the second largest hardware show in the world required a lot of work, but it was well worth it. We pulled the Vegas show off flawlessly and even managed to take home the Bronze ‘Pitch-Tank’ award for ‘innovative new product’. What the show did for us was give The HEFT™ credibility and much needed marketing research, as we asked everyone that visited our booth for their feedback and price suggestions. We met with all the movers and shakers in the hardware industry, including a meeting with a senior buyer from Amazon. Yes, THAT Amazon. Having this experience was invaluable in preparing for pitching to the dragons, and I flew to Toronto feeling confident about my presentation and invention.
It was finally May 10th, the day of my pitch in the Dragons Den. I was up early, with not much sleep the night before as I mentally rehearsed my pitch for the ten thousandth time. I arrived at the CBC by 5:30 am and was informed that one of the members of the production team would be waiting to sign me in at the registration table and take me and my props up to the studio. I was early by one hour; complete with enough coffee and Tim Bits to serve 10 people. I knew it could be a very long day waiting in the holding room, and the potential existed to even be bumped to the next day for taping.
The producers took all the ‘pitchers’ on a studio tour; I sat in Jim Treliving’s chair and quite enjoyed the view! Following the tour of the set, we were all ‘locked’ in a staging room on the tenth floor and not permitted to leave.
I was having difficulty with keeping my pitch organized in my head. Having been at the Vegas show, I had ‘pitched’ The HEFT™ many times and felt my presentation was very solid. Through a great twist of fate, an amazing business advisor with experience working with Venture Capitalists had entered my life just after the Vegas show and prior to me heading to Toronto. This was not as good as it sounds as my business advisor completely rewrote my ‘pitch’ and this was the cause of my lost sleep. As hard as I tried to incorporate the new changes to my pitch, the Vegas pitch kept surfacing, leaving my brain in a muddle.
To add a little more stress, my producer Amy sat with me at 9 am and asked me to give her my pitch. Not 30 seconds into pitching Amy with my ‘new and improved’ pitch, she said “STOP, this just isn’t working”. She wanted me to have one of the dragons on stage with me far earlier than I had originally planned. I had to rewrite and memorize my pitch for the third time in less than one week. She also said they were moving me up on their taping time and that I would be pitching in 90 minutes. The sweat started to form on my brow.
Next thing I heard was, “Marco, they need you to get ‘miked up’, it’s show time!”
The CBC staff was fabulous as they helped usher me though the process of the sound check.” Check 1-2-3”, a few more adjustments and then I was sitting outside the sound stage, lost in my thoughts, ready to pitch and sweating… a lot. Finally it was show time and I was about to play out a scenario I had dreamed about for many years. I was brought to the top of the stage where you see the silhouette of the pitchers walking across the platform and then down the stairs. Down the stairs to meet the Dragons! My heart was pounding out of my chest and I was about to cross ‘pitching to the Dragon’s Den’ off my bucket list.
The last staff member I saw did their best to keep me side-tracked until I heard those words… “5-4-3-2-Marco we are live, GO”.
To find out what happens next, you’ll have to tune in December 5th at 8 pm to CBC ‘Dragon’s Den’!