Currently, I’m running a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to launch MAN v FAT, a free digital magazine and website for men who want to lose weight (get your free copy here!). It’s going very well and with six days left, we’ve hit 72% of our target. Not only that but we’ve amassed over 1,500 subscribers, had support from the amazing Jamie Oliver and built relationships with some fantastic organisations like Heart UK, the National Obesity Forum, the British Dietetic Association, Men’s Health Forum and the Food and Drink Federation who have all promised their support for the magazine. I really couldn’t be happier with how it’s gone.
And then Dragons’ Den turned up.
In my inbox this morning was an email from someone on the production team (don’t think it’s fair to name names) from the BBC programme Dragons’ Den which said:
I’m part of the Dragons’ Den production team and having seen your campaign to launch an online magazine targeted at helping men to lose weight, ManvFat on Indiegogo, I thought you might be interested to know that we’re looking for our next set of entrepreneurs for Series 12.
Are you currently looking for financial backing and have you thought about trying to get investment via this route?
If you are seeking investment for your business, I can send you across an application form which you can send directly back to me so I can process it.
Wow, great news, right? A TV show that specialises in backing entrepreneurs has been going through crowdfunding sites and has singled out our campaign to get onto the show (the letter goes onto say that the email doesn’t *guarantee* we’ll make it on, but there’s a whiff of nudge-nudgery around the whole thing). This must be the best thing ever!
For clarity, I enjoy Dragons’ Den. I like the format and I respect the entrepreneurs who are on it, I’ve interviewed a few of them and they were – without fail – very decent people. But there is one thing that is very wrong with Dragons’ Den soliciting for young companies from crowdfunding sites:
Start-ups don’t need venture capital.
I’ve started precisely two successful businesses and at least 20 not successful ones. Everything I’ve learned about running a business I’ve learned from making the sort of mistakes that are pretty much inevitable when you’re learning. Start-ups are supposed to be small, because it’s so much better to trip off a kerb than it is to plummet from the fifteenth story of an office block.
I speak to other aspiring entrepreneurs and my advice is always the same, try your idea out. See if it works. See if people like it. You’ll know very quickly about whether you’re onto a winner and, equally as important, whether you actually like running that business. Build, measure, learn, pivot, fail fast, etc – in the digital age it’s very easy to suck it and see; especially if you can get past this weird hang-up society has to the stigma of failure.
Consequently, taking large, obligation-riddled sums of money at this stage of an enterprise is lunacy. If your idea is any good then people will be interested in it, not because you stick thousands behind a marketing campaign. And if they’re not – guess what – you don’t have a good idea and you shouldn’t pursue it. I’m pretty sure that most of the Dragons would agree; heck Reid Hoffman agrees with me and that’s enough. Therefore, searching for companies at this phase of their lifespan to populate your programmes is actually a bit naughty.
But start-ups do need two things:
1) the sobering and sometimes sickening reality of putting your idea in front of people who don’t know you and aren’t afraid to tell you you’re an arse and,
2) limited, obligation-free investment from people who think your idea is good. That gives you a boost. If you get enough of them to boost you then it can achieve incredible things.
Do you know where you can find that in abundance? On crowdfunding sites like IndieGoGo.
Getting this email makes me realise why so many of the entrepreneurs in the Den seem like such total eejits. They seemingly pull company valuations and required sums for investment out of their arses. “Oh, we need £150k for marketing our range of dolls made out of waste hair and old hypodermic needles because no one seems to want to buy them.” Riiiiiigggght.
But now I can see that they’re not stupid (necessarily) they just don’t know any better – quite possibly if the tactic is to cruise around IndieGoGo and Kickstarter they were never looking for this sort of investment in the first place. But then someone offered them the chance to go on Dragons’ Den and they thought it sounded exciting.
Anyway, I’d like to thank Dragons’ Den for their offer, but respectfully, I’m out.
If you’d like to be in on the MAN v FAT thing though please do take a look at the campaign.