This Winnipeg entrepreneur shares her experience on the hit series, Dragons’ Den.
Dragons’ Den is one of CBC Television’s most popular shows, featuring entrepreneurs who pitch their ideas to a panel of venture capitalists in the hopes of securing valuable business partnerships and financial backing.
This season Meghan Athavale, CEO of LUMO Interactive, was a contestant on the show. She and her team demoed their software platform LUMO Play, which allows any large display to be transformed into an interactive surface. The technology is very cool and has so many possible applications, as seen in the below video.
We caught up with Meghan to ask about her experience on Dragons’ Den — and to find out what advice she’d give to entrepreneurs trying out for the show.
Q. Tell us about your product, LUMO Play.
LUMO Play is a complete software platform designed to make any large display interactive, using sensors like USB cameras or the Kinect One from Xbox. Over the past six years or so, our company, LUMO Interactive, has been contracted to create custom interactive displays for businesses and brands. Demand for these kinds of experiences has been growing really fast around the world, especially in education and retail.
We used our experience to create a product so that anyone, from agencies to grandparents, can set up a custom interactive floor or wall display themselves with hardware that’s easy to find on Amazon or at any electronics store. Think of it as WordPress or Squarespace for large format interactive games and effects.
Q. How did you prepare for your audition on Dragons’ Den, and was there anything you would have done differently, in retrospect?
This isn’t the first time we’ve been asked to be on Dragons’ Den. I think we spent as much time evaluating what we could get out of the exposure as we did actually preparing our pitch. Pitching to the Dragons is TV…it’s not like an actual investment pitch. For one thing, there’s very little time to actually get into the details of your business.
So rather than focusing on creating what I’d consider a well-rounded pitch — covering our business model, recurring revenue streams and plans for accelerating our roadmap — we really focused on showcasing our technology as well as we could, and treated the experience as a marketing effort.
To that end, the show really supported us; they allowed us to show a video of other installations we’ve done and helped ensure that the interactive display we brought was going to look as good as possible on TV. I don’t think I would have done anything differently.
Q. How long did it take to find out you were selected as a contestant, and what did you do to prepare for your episode?
We’re not really allowed to discuss the ins and outs of the way the show is run. But we prepared by practicing the pitch. A real concern was that typically, I’m the only person in the company who ever does real investment pitches, so making sure Keith and Joss got a chance to talk and knew what to say was really important.
So we wrote a script and we practiced it. You can never be sure what questions the Dragons will ask, and they asked a lot of really good ones, or whether they’re going to go out of their way to be mean — some of them seem to be cruel just because they can. So to prepare for that we really focused on our end goal, which was to share our story with Canadians.
We don’t have a lot of Canadian customers. I think a huge part of that is because the technology is still very new here and other companies who offer it do so at a really high price. We kept reminding ourselves that even if we got stumped, forgot what to say or felt like we were being attacked, as long as our technology looked good, that would speak for itself.
Q. Did you seek the help of mentors or advisors in preparation for the show?
The biggest piece of advice we got was to remember our numbers. Numbers change all the time, and usually, when I pitch I bring the most recent counts of our customers, the market, and our cash flow forecasts. You can’t really use references like this on the show, so I worked hard to remember everything.
I think the most important piece of advice was to have fun. After all, not just anyone gets to go on the show. It was an experience we won’t forget and something that brings us together as a team.
Q. Besides the fact that it was being filmed, was pitching to the Dragons any different than pitching to other potential investors?
Oh heck yes. There’s the time factor, for starters — you only have about 10 minutes. In a normal pitch, by which I mean that you’re invited in private to meet with a firm, it’s usually just the beginning of a series of hour-long meetings. You have presentations and decks to reference. You can pull up your roadmap and demonstrate the nuances of the technology or product you’re developing.
On Dragons’ Den, the focus is first and foremost about making a good TV show. That means it’s got to be fast, interesting to the average viewer and entertaining. Sometimes the entertainment is a lot more important than the business, but the show’s producers definitely aim for a balance; they want valid companies with interesting products who also have great personalities and a good story. I think we were ideal candidates for the show in this respect. But it’s nothing like giving an actual pitch. You’re on TV and your primary job is to be entertaining.
Q. What was the most valuable piece of advice that you received from the Dragons and how do you plan to apply it to your business moving forward?
The Dragons asked a lot of super good questions, which was a relief. I think our biggest worry was that they’d ask dumb questions and we’d all be rolling our eyes a lot.
Probably the biggest takeaway for me was Michele Romanow’s observation that we’ve taken a long time to get to where we are, which concerns her as an investor even though as an entrepreneur, she completely understood why we had to take the path we’ve taken. That really got me thinking about our roadmap.
The fact is, when you aren’t venture-backed and your company grows organically, you become an expert on cash flow management when it comes to growing organically. You’re totally aware of where your limits and priorities should be and you’re prepared to sacrifice accelerated growth for stability when the season slows down or when you have churn in customers or staff.
But venture-backed companies don’t think that way. They don’t have to — the goal, in that case, is to shoot for the moon. Only a big win counts, whether that’s defined by super fast market penetration, an exit or an exponential growth in valuation for some other reason. At the time that we shot the show, we only had one roadmap which was based on what we could do with or without funding.
After the show, we realized we needed two roadmaps and forecasts — one for organic growth and one for accelerated growth. It was a huge shift in thinking for us, but it’s been a really important step for us to take as a company. We’re super fundable now, and we have to be completely prepared to move forward when we choose our partners.
Q. Do you have any advice for aspiring Dragons’ Den contestants?
Before you go on the show, you should ask yourself three questions:
1. Do you need the money or the exposure more? Your pitch should focus on one or the other, not both. Exposure can mean being seen by potential customers, investors and partners. If those people don’t watch the show, you probably shouldn’t do it for exposure… there may be better things to do.
2. Are you prepared to look like an idiot? If you aren’t, don’t do it. Your job is to be ‘good TV,’ and if the show producers and editors decide that making you look gormless or silly is the best way to make an entertaining episode, that’s what will happen. You have to be okay with that.
3. Do you have something for sale yet? Dragons’ Den, like any kind of exposure, has the biggest payoff if you have a product in the market that’s real and that people can buy. If you don’t, you might want to wait until you do. That way, regardless of what happens on the show, you have the opportunity to share your product or service with customers. As long as it works and it’s cool and available, you can find customers. Even if it’s a product that’s too niche for the Dragons.
Do you have any questions for Meghan about LUMO Play or her appearance on Dragons’ Den? Tweet at her or let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Up Next: Learn how Kickstarter and Indiegogo can help you get your project off the ground in a big way. “These Manitobans raised huge money using crowdfunding”
Image credit via Dragons’ Den video featured on CBC