Episode 7: Mark O'Loughlin
The day after being invited onto the Dragons Den I came down with a flu. Then a key partner had a bereavement. This obviously shortened the preparation time but we kept our nerve, crammed everything in and happily emerged with a result.
Q: Who was the toughest Dragon?
A: That would have to be Bobby. He grilled me, and not just by verbal interrogation. His stare told me he meant business.
Q: Were you nervous?
A: You'd have to be nuts not to be. Having said that some deep breathing and a quick spot of thi chi at the bottom of the famous stairs helped ground me. The production team and crew were very helpful also.
Q: How did you prepare?
A: The approach was to be strictly commercial from the beginning. As the idea and subsequent product development progressed my research and business plan writing ran in tandem so by D day I thought I had all angles covered. Also I tried to visualise myself standing there presenting which helped.
Q: Was it as you expected it to be?
A: Actually yes. Nobody can claim they were ambushed given that it's a public forum with set rules and a known format.
Q: Were you surprised by some of the questions?
A: Most questions are predictable and even if your (prepared) answers do not satisfy the dragons at least you can demonstrate your ability to anticipate and address issues.
Q: Who was most interested in your idea?
A: Gratifyingly I think it's fair to say they all liked the concept. Niall, although he ultimately didn't invest, was very gracious when bowing out. He has incidentally, and I'm sure he won't mind me saying so, ordered a HidBin for himself and hopefully someday soon will be among our first customers.
Q: Would you do anything differently?
A: I was unaware that, during questioning, there can be --at least in my case-- some disconcertingly long pauses. Perhaps, like in a job interview, I could have volunteered more pertinent information...or maybe that would have irked them...
Q: Has the experience changed your perception of business?
A: Yes. The entire process, applying to the Dragons Den ,being scrutinized then invited on, bringing a mere idea from conception to developing numerous prototypes, putting a business case and plan together was both immensely challenging and (regardless of the outcome on the day) very rewarding. I suppose the main lesson for me at least, is acknowledging the value of a deadline to make things happen.
Q: Would you recommend applying for dragon's Den to any other budding entrepreneurs?
A: Absolutely. The process alone is a great experience which, win loose or draw, can always be applied on your next project.
Q: What does this mean to you personally?
A: Well okay, it's easy to say now having got the investment (and investor) that I thought that it was all great but I genuinely believe that even if I walked down the stairs empty handed that it would have been well worth the effort. I was proceeding with the HidBin regardless. I think viewers admire anyone who has the guts to give it a go and god knows the country needs more entrepreneurs.
Personally yes there is satisfaction and even an element of vindication. By successfully pioneering the market for synthetic lawns for private gardens and crèches in the last few years I've learned to trust my instinct. Self belief is key. Of course now I've a brand new deadline (the HidBins launch date) and plenty more challenges like the small mater of product design perfection and logistical issues to sort out not to mention selling the product in the volumes and markets I anticipated.
On a final personal note which I didn't manage to squeeze in during my exit interview with Richard, I'd like to use this forum to sincerely thank the many people, from family, friends, colleagues and professionals who helped me enormously throughout the process to date.