Facing the Dragons

“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.

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. 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. 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!

Number 89” is finally called and that’s me. With props in hand, I walk into the room and 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. I begin my pitch while looking at the top of the producers head. I think it’s going smoothly until she looks up and asks me to stop. I didn’t even make it to the end of my pitch.

Anxiety surges from head to toe. What did I do so wrong? She lifts her head and remarks, “This is one of the best inventions I’ve ever seen.”

The Call

My wife and I were giddy as we walked out the room. Then we had to wait for ‘the call’, where the producers invite you to 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, however the cutoff date came and went. An email the week following the cutoff date confirmed the bad news. We didn’t get selected to be on the Dragons’ Den.

What Now?

We wiped a tear or two and agreed there was always next year. The year in between actually became extremely valuable. We fine-tuned The HEFT™ and came back better prepared with the prototype design and the I.P. taken care of. So we were elated when the call came saying, “Marco, we want you on the show.”

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, the second largest hardware show in the world. At the show, we asked everyone that visited our booth for their feedback and price suggestions. This gave The HEFT™ credibility and much needed market research. We met with 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.

Pitch Day

It was finally May 10, the day of my pitch in the Dragons’ Den. I arrived at the CBC by 5:30 am and 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. The producers first took all the ‘pitchers’ on a studio tour; we were all ‘locked’ in a staging room 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. However 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 completely rewritten my ‘pitch’. 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.

At 9 am my producer, Amy, asked me to give her my pitch. Not 30 seconds into the 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 planned. So for the third time in less than one week I rewrote my pitch, with less than 90 minutes until I met the Dragons.

Next thing I heard was, “Marco, they need you to get ‘miked up’, it’s show time!”

Check 1-2-3

The CBC staff was fabulous, helping me though the process of the sound check. A few moments later, I was sitting outside the sound stage, lost in my thoughts, ready to pitch and sweating… a lot. Finally it was show time.. I was brought to the top of the stage and then 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 Dragons’ Den!