My Experience in The Den

If you’re reading this you may well have seen my rhyming pitch in episode 11 of series 14 of Dragons’ Den.  It aired on Sunday 15th January 2017 on BBC2 at 8pm.

Although my time in the Den was edited down to 3 minutes, I was actually filming for at least an hour.  Fortunately for me, my rather nervous and pale husband was listening on the side-lines and we were able to note down everything that was said soon afterwards.

The Den was a very positive experience.  I left exhausted but elated. 

Touker had said mine was the best pitch he had ever heard in the Den.  Deborah led the applause.  Sarah said she’d be shopping with us.  Nick called our products 'great' and my rhyming pitch ‘brilliant’.  Even Peter, as he declared himself out, said if I’d come offering my services as a poet to other businesses he’d be interested.

Nor did I have much of a financial grilling.  I was given some really good ideas for moving the business forward.  It was more like a mentoring session than a pitch in many ways, and there were a lot of laughs.

‘Keep doing what you’re doing.  Your children should be proud of you.’ (Sarah)

‘I like you, I’m in two minds… but you need a mentor not a dragon.’ (Touker). 

‘I like you and I’d love to work with you.’ (Deborah). 

As I walked out of the Den, I heard the words ‘She was good’, echoing behind me.   I think it was Deborah.

BUT… Good experiences don’t always make good TV.  The tough moments do.  And there were a couple of those too.  I walked into the filming recognising that Dragons’ Den is primarily an entertainment show and that the edit might not emphasise the aspects I thought were important for the public to see.  That is made perfectly clear from the start and the researcher and team (who are delightful) are out to help you perform your best.  There is no conspiracy to make you look daft.  It’s a brilliant platform you are being offered.  You have to accept that you are taking a gamble.

I knew Peter’s comment that ‘You haven’t got a business’ would be shown as it was by far the most controversial of the day.  I wasn’t at all surprised or unsettled, in fact I found it rather amusing.  The other Dragons scoffed.  We’d just been talking about staff, studio, stockists, and small businesses contributing to the economy!

I do regret I never had the right of reply, but he promptly declared himself out.  Peter wrote several funny poems during the pitch which lightened the mood and got us all laughing.  He’s full of energy and charisma.  He reminded me of the bright but naughty boy on the back row from my teaching days.

Deborah made fair and reasoned arguments about Bespoke Verse being a niche business.  She felt our products might date and although we debated it, and I argued that we are constantly responding to trends in the gift business, my Dragon of choice was not to be swayed.  She’s immensely charismatic and rather like a slightly inspirational, scary headteacher.  I left with my girl crush intact.

Sarah oozes kindness and warmth.  She is very attentive and even stepped in defensively a few times on my behalf.  She was interested in the working mum aspect of my life ‘I bet you work very hard... I’m going to buy from you… but I don’t know how to help you.’

Nick shared his extensive knowledge of personalising products online.  I’m not sure we were on the same page at times, as he was talking about the infrastructure you need to build a multi-million pound gift personalisation business, which wasn’t actually my aim at all.  He was, however, very fair with his comments and advice ‘these are great products, but there are a lot of great products out there…’

Touker is charming and seemed to be looking for reasons to invest. At the end, he teetered ‘I’m in two minds… I can see the film but not hear the script…’  He said we'd do well in America and I would have loved his help to make that happen. However, he was probably right when he said that we would need too much of his time.

I agree with the Dragons' assessment that I’m the strength and weakness of the businesses.  When a business is so tied up with the creative output of a single designer maker, that needs to be addressed before it can expand.  Fact.  This is why it is difficult to value a small creative business.  Yes, our turnover is good, but can Bespoke Verse be sold for a value that reflects our current profitability without me in it?

Editing the pitch down to a few minutes meant that a few key messages didn’t translate onto the TV.  One of these was the fact that our business has two aspects to it – bespoke poetry for special occasions such as wedding speeches – and off the shelf products, some of which can be personalised with a message. 

Another is that we are a profitable business that has been trading for 5 years.  We are a team of 5 and have over 100 stockists, including Paperchase (a fact which impressed the Dragons and was referenced several times).  The USP of our products is the originality and quality of the verse, and this was understood right from the moment I presented the pitch in rhyme – a decision I’m really glad I made!

Different dragons explored different means of expanding the business which was incredibly useful.  I left the Den feeling excited for the future and encouraged by the positive response I’d received.  I may not have received investment or a long feature within the programme but it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.   My only regret is that my brother, who died suddenly a few weeks after filming, isn’t here with us to laugh at Peter Jones and his crazy poems.

You can view the pitch again here on iplayer at 26.35 mins.



  • Hope House Press on

    Congratulations on making such a well thought out, entertaining and engaging pitch.
    The thing I took from the clips they did show on the episode is how they were so sorry – genuinely – so sorry to not be investing. It’s so rare to see them so engaged with an applicant.
    And the coverage from this has been amazing – you must be delighted. It looks like it’s been a great experience for you and the Hope House Press team can’t wait to see where you go to next!

  • Maureen Mc Ghee on

    I identify with a lot of your experience being a designer maker too,
    You’ve done well so people obviously want your products. Goodluck for the future

  • Marie on

    Joanna you really are an inspiration. I could have been there with this brilliantly written detailed account absolutely love hearing all about it. Your business is amazing and so are you.

  • Laura Cotton on

    Fantastic. You should be immensely proud of yourself.
    L x (a fellow NOTHS Partner)

  • paula miotello on

    I watched and found it great…you can tell each dragon warmed to you and your business and you ooze positivity…well done and onwards and upwards

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