I have never been a fan of reality TV and would be hard-pressed to watch any programme where people try to meet a suitable partner or spend weeks cooped up in a fishbowl of a room trying to see how they get along. But one show, which has caught my attention is Den D (translatable as D-Day but known in English as Dragon’s Den). If you’re familiar with the programme, you’ll know it’s a show where entrepreneurs try to persuade investors to put money into their start up businesses.
The show’s attraction is the success stories – genuinely good ideas that get produced –versus ideas that fail miserably and don’t get a single crown. The first can be fairly inspirational; the second, often in the form of a stammering guest with a screw loose and convincing no one, can be painful to watch.
Just this week Czech TV began its third series of the popular show, featuring a panel of potential investors like the tourism industry’s Tomio Okamura. He and others lend an edge to the programme and a no-nonsense approach: one should genuinely be scared to appear before them unless you’ve crunched the numbers, crunched them again and know a lot about your product.
You have to be able to convincingly explain why you think your idea will be a success. And you have to have panache. If you don’t, if you can’t, if you come off as a snake-oil salesman or as a lunatic, you’re in for a gruelling from the panel you (and viewers) won’t soon forget. It’ll be polite but very, very brutal and not over fast.
In Thursday’s episode, for example, one would-be businessman was told by increasingly annoyed panel members that he was a ‘cvok’ (a nut), or that he was either from Alpha Centauri or Mars or Venus. His mistake? Having wasted their time with a fairly ugly plastic toy system that won’t be rivalling Lego anytime soon. As a potential entrepreneur he unfortunately showed painfully little business sense. Another guest, though, succeeded in securing funds for his project in return for a share in his company, a kind of hobby horse that wasn’t a bad idea but aesthetically left a lot to be desired. Too bad the investors didn’t press for an improved design.
But my favourite to appear on Den D so far had to be a lady planning to launch a kind of Czech version of McDrive, only with traditional Czech food and traditional recipes. Most of the panel appeared quite happy to invest in the idea, which, if successful, would feature outlets along major routes. But the women behind the project, who was wearing Czech kroje (historic dress) apparently ‘didn’t get the memo’. Offered money by the investors, she told them she would give them five percent in profits but in no way part of the company.
In other words, the panel quickly deduced, they would act as bankers offering a convenient loan but not get much in return. And that ended any potential deal. Tomio Okamura was emphatic that part of the thrill of investing was in watching projects successfully grow – so not only in making a profit. But it was a no-go and that was the end of it. She left empty-handed, unwilling to budge, it was fascinating nonetheless.
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