Saturday, November 28, 2009

How a freelance writer is asked to appear on CBC's Dragons Den (answer: I wasn't a freelance writer back then)

So, I was asked to appear on CBC’s Dragons Den.  I actually wrote a little article about it for the local paper a few years back, and I will post that excerpt here.  Looking back, it wasn’t a very good article, but I wasn’t much of a writer back then. I was into WEBSITES! (As this is from 2007, I will inject future Shelly in brackets wherever I feel necessary)

Within 1 month I had a request from CBC to appear in the den itself.  Seized by fear, I asked myself the question every small business owner asks at one point or another, “Is any publicity better than no publicity?”  I decided that having Kidswap’s name flogged across the country wasn’t such a bad thing, and made myself get on that plane to Toronto. (I didn’t mention in this article but while on that plane to Toronto, they had to pull out the oxygen mask because we hit a bad patch of turbulence over the great lakes and I had a full scale panic attack. The flight attendant actually grabbed the sleeping idiot beside me and almost tossed him into the aisle. Then she helped me breath while I calmed down. As people were obviously concerned, she said “Don’t worry everyone, she is fine. She’s going to be on reality television.”  No one asked for my autograph, but I could tell they were intrigued!)

(And now, back to the den) As is stands, there was good reason to be afraid of the Dragon’s Den.

I stood at the top of a long flight of stairs.  A strong yeasty aroma  surrounded me in the fermentation room of Toronto’s Distillery District.   Despite pep talks from the producers, I was shaking in my shoes.  Descending the dark staircase, I found my mark and opened my mouth to start my pitch. 30 seconds later, my 2 minutes of ‘uninterrupted speaking’ was over as I was peppered with questions (I’ll go with the word “attacked” here instead. Yes, attacked works much better than “peppered” in this case).   Immediately I realized why they called them ‘Dragons’.  I was being attacked (see?) with queries and condemnations about my business model, my lack of market knowledge, and the competitive target audience I was striving for.  In the space of 3 minutes it was being decided that what I really had was nothing more than a hobby that couldn’t go anywhere.

Then an interesting thing happened; I started arguing.

I thought about all of the people who sold on the site, all of the parents who eschew large corporate sites for buying and selling, the small businesses whom needed places to advertise and gain exposure.  They were attacking my baby, and I was irate.  My shining moment came when poised a question by dotcom millionaire Robert Herjavec, “Come on, why would a mother in Newmarket, Ontario sell on Kidswap?”  To that I grabbed a sweater from a pile of props (namely sweaters that they asked me to bring in as display) I had brought and stated very firmly, “I purchased THIS from a mom in Newmarket, Ontario.  She makes a killing on Kidswap.”  He and I looked at each other for a moment of silence, after which he uttered the dreaded words “I’m out.”

Each Dragon agreed with Robert, and decided against the investment quickly.  My eyes rested on Kevin O’Leary, creator of the Learning Company and investment guru for the television program ‘Squeeze Play’, who had yet to give a final decision.  “I like you.  I think you may have something here.”  Long pause.  I attempt to remain upright and continue breathing, but at this point I am sweating to the roots of my hair.  He continued, “If I hadn’t lost so much money in dotcom’s, I really think I’d be into this.”  Pause again as he taps his pencil on the pile of money sitting beside him. “Ok, well, I’m going to have to say no I think.  I’m out.”

I felt a mixture of disappointment and relief that the moment I anticipated for a month was over, but as I was walking away my only thought was “I almost had one of them!”

I felt euphoric.

I was a mom of three children, running a business from my kitchen that, although extremely popular, barely generated any income.  I had forced myself to go in front of 5 millionaires and pitch an idea that I had already made a reality. (Yes I did, and I am still proud of myself for that) If I never did anything again, at least I can say that I took that risk and showed a passion and belief in my own ideas.
Lessons from the Den?  The greatest gift entrepreneurs can give themselves is to listen to those with experience.   Although they are millionaires who own companies that provide pizza that I regularly eat and underwear that I admire from the mall windows, they are smart and down to earth.  Their assessment of my business may just have been correct, but it was the spunk I took into the den that keeps me dreaming and working toward my goal of profitable ecommerce.

So there you have it in a nutshell.  I no longer work toward a goal of profitable ecommerce, but I do still have fond memories of what Kidswap was at one point.  Unfortunately for me, Dragons Den was the tip of the slippery slope I went down that year. I needed a new look to the web site before I was going to be broadcast on the show, so I hired a few idiots along the way.  Not a good move on my part, but one I can finally forgive me for. 

Although this doesn’t directly have anything to do with my writing, it does show you how I went from being a complete ecommerce addict to not really caring at all, and eventually finding what I’m really good at: Writing.  I look back almost grateful.  (I am, however, still vindictive to those who scammed me! Watch out!)

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