I’m James and I started My Little Princess with my wife Kelly back in 2008. We started the business with the plan to offer Princess Parties across the UK. Kelly started as our only princess and travelled long and wide across the South of England. Then as we got busier, we trained up more princesses to cover the different areas. We now pretty much cover the whole of the South of England and business is booming.
I have always been a massive fan of Dragons Den and when we started the business we always joked and said we should apply to go on it one day. We decided to franchise the business a couple of years ago and two of our princesses bought franchises in Bagshot and Bournemouth. They both have done great and have loved running the franchises. So we thought it would be great to go on Dragons Den to see if the Dragons wanted to invest in us and help us take over the UK. We have a great business plan and we are extremely confident of achieving our goals with or without the Dragons. But we knew the exposure of getting a dragon on board would be fantastic and obviously their business experience can only help a business.
So we applied for Dragons Den in February last year and within a few days, someone from the show got in contact and seemed very keen. There was a ridiculous amount of paperwork to fill out. Business plans, financial forecasts etc. I spent every evening for a few weeks working until past midnight getting all of the required paperwork together. The whole process involved well over 100 hours of work. This is along side running the business as normal. We then had an audition in London in front of the producers of the show in April and they loved us and it wasn’t long until they told us we were going to have to go up to Manchester to pitch to the Dragons. Most companies get given a few weeks if not months to prepare for this. We were told our audition would be in two weeks. We were hoping to take children in for our pitch but we were told we weren’t allowed to. So we were given two weeks to write our own song and source our own music for the pitch.
We have never written a song before and didn’t have a clue where to start to find a backing track. So I started researching backing tracks and Kelly and I managed to write the lyrics to our song in one night. After a few nights of research I eventually found a backing track that would match our company brand and lyrics and we were really proud of what we had produced. We also had to try and get as many princesses to come with us to sing our song at dragons den. We had around 15 princesses at the time but most of them work full time and they only had two weeks notice. So in the end we only managed to get three princesses into the den, when we really hoped we could get at least five. We decided to go with Sleeping Beauty, Belle and Cinderella as these were our most popular characters at the time and the most iconic. Frozen had just started to explode, but we weren’t 100% sure the dragons would know who Elsa and Anna were. How wrong a decision did that prove to be… Frozen then became the biggest film of all time and it would have been fantastic to have Elsa and Anna on the den.
So we had three princesses to perform our song and now we had a few days to master our pitch. Kelly and I rehearsed and rehearsed. We even spent the day in the spa at our local David Lloyd gym rehearsing in the sauna. I mastered all of the figures while Kelly would present the history and details about our business. We were extremely confident and excited and at the beginning of May we drove up to Manchester ready to win over the Dragons.
We got to the hotel and met up with Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Belle. We ran through the pitch a few times and then enjoyed a meal and drink to help relax before the next day’s fun began. We were told we were going to be picked up from the hotel at 6.30am and it would be a very long day. So it was obviously imperative to try and get a good nights sleep. Trying to sleep when you are about to meet the dragons is extremely difficult and it really doesn’t help when there is a storm outside and there is a leak in the guttering and the drip is falling directly onto your window. So after no sleep… It was time to go down to the studio.
So we turn up at the studio and get a run down on how the day is going to go. Normally there would be 6-7 pitches in a day but today the Dragons are doing a photo shoot in the morning and there will only be 3 pitches. So hopefully it should be an easy quick day…. So the girls got dressed in their costumes and we all got sent into have our make up done. We were going to have to be dressed and ready to go for the full day. There was no actual running order. We could be first to pitch or last. We would spend the day in the green room and food and drink is provided. But when we need to go anywhere, it would be a big mission for the crew as it was imperative that the dragons didn’t see us and give away any of the pitches.
So once we had completed our make up. All three companies pitching were taken through to the studio to do a lot of the pre filming. The other two businesses were a baby changing pack that could go into your hand bag and an ear phone company called Ear Candi. (Ear Candi were featured on the same show as us and they have a fantastic product. So make sure you check out their website www.earcandi.com) Both businesses were really friendly and we all had a great day chatting about our businesses. Being a massive Dragons Den fan I loved seeing the studios. You had the main section of the den where you pitch. Then the lift was in the middle and then section behind where you walk up to the lift. Sorry to ruin this for everyone… But it isn’t actually a working lift. We would be filmed walking up to the lift door. The door would open, we would walk inside and then the lift would close. We all had to do this many times. So the clips of everyone waiting in the lift is actually filmed earlier in the day. This was all very exciting and just added to the excitement and nerves.
We then went back to the green room and continued practicing our pitches and ate lunch. Once the dragons had finished their photo shoot. We would all get a chance to practice our pitch actually on the set. We would get told where to stand etc. Everyone thought this would happen soon after lunch but apparently the directors were not happy with the photo shoot at all. So what was supposed take a couple of hours was taking most of the day. So we all just kept practicing our pitch. Then just as we got called up to practice our pitch on the set as were were going to go first, our Cinderella realised she had spilt pesto from her lunch on her dress. Cinderella obviously couldn’t appear with pesto on her dress in front of the dragons. So the other two businesses went first, while Cinderella had her dress cleaned. It was then our turn to practice our pitch in front of the producers and they absolutely loved it. They all clapped and the main director who was in a foul mood because of the photoshoot, had a beaming smile on his face. We couldn’t be more excited. Everyone involved in the show loved our pitch.
So we then went back to the room and the other two businesses went first into see the dragons. They would then go out another exit when they finished, so we would have no idea how they got on. It had been an extremely long day and we had all completely lost any idea of what time it was. As we were waiting to be called to go into the den one of the producers came through the door and his face didn’t look positive. Through the process we were told that driving up to Manchester and spending the whole day in the studio didn’t actually guarantee we would see the dragons. If the pitches over ran then there was a small possibility that a business might not be seen. We knew because the photo shoot over ran that it was late in the day and from the look of the face of the producer, we knew what was coming. He came and sat down and told us the bad news. One of the dragons needed to be somewhere and we unfortunately were not going to be seen. They asked if we would be able to come up the week after. We were obviously all gutted. The princesses had taken time off work, we have a daughter and had to arrange Kelly’s mum to babysit and obviously have staff to run My Little Princess while we were away. The princesses couldn’t take the time off next week. Kelly’s mum was away the week after and it was the last week of filming. Our chance of being on this series of dragons den had gone. We spent months preparing and the whole day rehearsing. We were gutted.
Then literally a few minutes later the same young guy rushes through the door. Saying you might be going on. We didn’t have a clue what was going on. He said the pitch before us had last literally a few minutes and one of the dragons who had to leave is happy to see us. Our emotions were everywhere. We were all ready to go home and suddenly we were actually going to get on. The stress and emotion of being told we weren’t going on and then we were, got to everyone and especially Kelly. She just bawled her eyes out. My poor wife just couldn’t hold in her emotions anymore. And just as she was still wiping away her tears we get told we are going into the den straight away. You would normally get given time to prepare at this point, but we were shoved straight on the set and within a few minutes of being told we weren’t going to see the dragons we were in the fake lift ready for the doors to open. I looked at Kelly and could see the tears still in here eyes. I’m very lucky I have a beautiful wife, but I could see that the emotion of the day in her eyes. What was supposed to be a really exciting occasion had turned into an exhausting one. So we squeezed each other hands and the doors opened.
The adrenaline kicked in and it was an extremely odd feeling seeing the dragons sitting in the seats you had watched on TV for years. They looked great but they didn’t look real. They had so much make up on that they looked like they were mannequins at Madame Tussaud’s. You could just tell from the split seconds looking at their faces that they didn’t want to be there. You could tell it had been an extremely long day for them and even before we started our pitch I just had a sinking feeling that they are going to want to get this pitch done as quickly as possible and go home. But we were extremely confident in our business, so hopefully they’ll want to offer to invest in us as quickly as possible.
The princesses started the song and it wasn’t long before the dragons started smiling. They were really enjoying it. Then at the end of the pitch all of the dragons clapped. Kelly then started our pitch and I finished it by giving them all the figures. We were really happy. The pitch couldn’t have gone any better. We nailed it. The producer said we should then ask the dragons if they had any questions for the princesses. But the dragons didn’t and said the princesses could leave. On the TV you will see they don’t show any of this and actually make out that the princesses stayed for our entire time in the den. This is just proof that they can edit the pitch however they like because the princesses left through the lift and then the questions from the Dragons began.
There were lots of questions about how many parties we were currently entertaining. What the history of the business was and why we started it etc. We handled all of the questions extremely well. But as we tried to give them more detail and explain more about our business one of the other dragons would interupt to start another point. It felt like they just wanted to all have their say for camera so they could make a TV show out of the pitch and then say I’m out and go home. Literally as soon as we started the pitch, just from their body language I knew that none of them were interested in investing. Peter Jones main issue was that we weren’t busy enough. We had taken 500 bookings the year before and he said he would be interested if we were taking 500 booking a month. If you watch the show Peter Jones especially will only invest in business that can make him millions. We are never going to be a business that could make an investor millions. So it was clear he was never going to invest.
Piers Linney didn’t really get the idea and was extremely negative throughout. He brought up the Disney issue first and the other Dragons actually backed us up. Saying how they are old stories that were around long before Disney came along. Piers questioned where we would find more entertainers. But Debra said it would be easy to find them as she ran a holiday park business who would employ similar staff. But Piers did say he thought we would make a bit of money from our business and we should keep going with it.
Kelly Hoppen was relatively quiet through the pitch and explained how it wasn’t for her and she kindly said to Kelly that she was the perfect princess and if she was to book a princess she would definitely want to book Kelly.
Debra didn’t think we would be able to franchise the business successfully as she felt that people would just want to do it themselves and not want to have our help and buy a franchise from us. But you could say the same for any franchise business. Anyone could start a burger company, but you pay for a Mcdonalds franchise for many reasons and we believe people will want to become part of My Little Princess rather than starting a princess party business on their own.
Duncan Bannatyne has experience investing into similar businesses to ourselves and he was extremely helpful with his criticism and his advice. He gave us a lot of information about the issues he has had with other businesses he had been involved with and we thank him for this. Whilst the businesses he has invested in have been extremely successful I think he may have had to put in a lot of time himself. So I don’t think investing in a small business like ourselves interested him on this occasion. But he did have lots of positives things to say and out of everyone I felt he understood what a franchise business was about.
We always knew that the Dragons were going to be critical of our business. Even if you went into the show pitching a business that was making millions of pounds a year they would find something to criticise. That’s the whole point of the show. We unfortunately felt we didn’t have a chance from the moment we walked in though. As it was obvious the dragons didn’t want to be there. Do I think we would have got investment if we had gone in on another day? No. We were too small a business at the time we went into the Den and we didn’t make it clear enough how we were going to make enough money for them to invest. The funny thing is business boomed literally as soon as we left the Den. Frozen becoming so popular resulted in Elsa and Anna bookings going through the roof. January 2015 saw us take over double the bookings in January 2014. We have invested in franchise advice from franchise experts and we are now in a fantastic position to franchise our business across the UK. So if we went into the Den today we would stand a much better chance of investment.
So we came out of the Den disappointed we didn’t get investment, disappointed how the day went and the stress we had to go through. But there were lots of positives comments from the Dragons overall. We were actually in the den for nearly an hour, even though it seemed like 5 minutes at the time. They all said we should keep going with our business. We had great comments on our pitch and how we came across. Kelly especially got some great feedback on what a great princess she is. So we couldn’t wait for the show to be aired. Whilst we knew the editors would obviously show a lot of the negative comments we were excited to see the positives from the show. Especially the dragons clapping our song and Kelly Hoppen saying Kelly was the perfect princess.
So we had to keep this quiet since May. We were told a couple of weeks ago that we would be on the show on Sunday February 1st at 9pm BBC2. Then the Sunday before they showed us three times in the clips for the next week and so we obviously couldn’t keep it a secret anymore and everyone started asking us if that was us on Dragons Den. So we told everyone that we were going to be on the show the following Sunday. We were obviously extremely nervous how the show was going to be edited. Especially as I had been on a popular reality TV show before and knew first hand how TV shows can edit the show however they like to make someone look good or bad. But we were confident they would show positives things from our pitch as well as the negatives.
Sunday 9pm came and it was time to watch us on Dragons Den. We had thousands of customers watching and all of our friends and family. The show started and after a couple of pitches it was time for My Little Princess to pitch to the dragons. But unfortunately we weren’t one of the long pitches. They had used us so much for the pre show advertising but they only gave us a 3 minute segment on the show. The princesses sung most of the song and they showed the dragons pulling negative faces when they were smiling through most of the song on the actual day. They then didn’t show them clapping at the end of the pitch which was the most disappointing thing of all. Kelly and I are both former presenters. So we were looking forward to seeing ourselves present our pitch. But they unfortunately didn’t show this. They just showed a few negatives comments from the dragons.
I explained the Disney issue earlier and how this wasn’t a big deal on the day. We can’t even remember Piers comment about us going into peoples homes. I mean how ridiculous was that comment. Most of our parties aren’t in peoples homes, but you can’t rule out investing in a business because you go into peoples homes. How many businesses in the UK would that rule out? We have very reliable trustworthy staff and we have been running for over 6 years and this has never ever been an issue.
The show picked up me saying that franchises would only make £24,000 a year by year 3 but they didn’t show that this is a part time franchise. So for working 20 hours a week that is a very good wage.
So we were obviously gutted with the way the BBC edited us on the show. We felt extremely stupid telling everyone to watch the show once we had watched it ourselves. But the support and response has been fantastic. Our customers know what a great business we have and saw through the editing of the show. We cannot thank everyone enough for the kind words through emails, facebook and twitter. We were expecting business to explode from going on Dragons Den and we had spent months planning how we were going to handle the extra interest in our business. But unfortunately the edit of the show wasn’t great so we haven’t had the response we were looking for. But we are still extremely busy anyway and our plans haven’t changed. We still plan to franchise My Little Princess across the UK and we will hopefully be able to provide princess to every county of the UK by the end of the year. The phone doesn’t stop ringing everyday and we couldn’t be happier with our well the business has grown.
Overall it wasn’t the best experience going on Dragons Den. But you always have to look at the positives. Our business did get on TV for a few minutes in front of millions of viewers and we can always say we are My Little Princess as featured on Dragons Den. It makes for a great story when having a drink down the pub with your friends. Kelly has already been on a local radio breakfast show. Local newspapers should be running stories on us this week and media companies have expressed an interest in national newspapers and magazines printing stories about us. And most of all we cannot wait to prove the Dragons wrong and be one of those businesses that the dragons were stupid not to invest in.