The word from the bird.

Toucan tames a dragon: The story behind our time in the Den

17th February 227 mins
By Toucan

We were on Dragons’ Den! A small, yet mighty tropical bird went up in front of five fearsome Dragons – and we think they were impressed. 

We sat down with Matt, our CEO, and Melody, our Head of Product/UX, to talk about their Den experience and what happened behind the scenes.

Matt, when did you decide to apply for the Den?

Matt: “It was around February 2021. At that time I would walk around Crystal Palace park with my daughter in her sling, trying to get her to sleep while her mum was running her own business at home. I used to do all of my business calls on that walk, and if I didn’t have any I would listen to podcasts. One day, I discovered Steven Bartlett’s Diary of a CEO, and I knew I had to get Toucan in front of him. I was going to pitch to him directly through email, but for some reason I decided to hold off.

A week later, I got home from another walk with Sienna to the news that Steven had been announced as a new Dragon on the Den. I thought to myself, “if fate exists, this is it.” I’m pretty sure the BBC had actually closed the applications for the Den, but the website was still open, so I decided to apply. I stayed up all night working on it. Once I was done, I went back to the first page, moved everything down, and wrote “FOR THE ATTENTION OF STEVEN BARTLETT”, made it bold, highlighted it – the lot. A couple of weeks went by and I got a call from the BBC, who said they’d been revisiting applications after Steven’s announcement to find businesses that might resonate with him, and we stood out.”

How did you prepare for the Den?

Matt: “I thought it would be good to have Melody, our co-founder in the Den with me. I’ve known Melody a while, and we're very yin and yang. I'm quite extroverted, I like to chat and Melody’s got a very centred sense of power. When Melody and I go to a task, if Melody wasn't there, I'd run through a wall and leave everything scattered behind me, but if I wasn’t there Melody would maybe overanalyse. So both of us together are a good team. 

Melody flew over from Canada and we bubbled up together for two weeks; she stayed at my house with me, my wife and daughter. And we just practised the pitch. We watched loads of Dragons’ Den. On the weekend, we would go into the office, set out five chairs on an empty floor, do the walk, and present our pitch. We would put a laptop on the chair, and watch previous pitches on YouTube, so whenever the Dragon asked a question we would answer it as Toucan. David, our CFO, was also really helpful in preparing us for the financial questions. 

Melody: “After Matt told us we had made it onto the Den, I booked my ticket within the week and landed in London around 24th June. There was really not a long period of preparation for us, and props to David during this period because he really helped coach us. One of the things that he said that really stood out to me that made me feel better was at the end of the day, this is the Dragons’ TV persona. That made it easier for me to talk to them as if they're just normal people – rather than millionaires. We did a lot of question prep, but at the end of the day when you're in there, they don't even ask you most of the questions that you think they would! You don’t expect the questions to be coming at you left and right because that doesn’t come across on TV, and it’s quite hard to predict what they would ask. We had to know our business inside and out, and why we were doing this. That was the best way to prepare.”

What was the time frame from applying to pitch?

Matt: “It was really short. From applying it was about three months, but once the auditions kicked off it was about eight weeks from first audition to being on the show.”

What did you do the day before?

Melody: “So the evening before we arrived in Manchester and got ourselves settled. Matt and I went to a restaurant with an outdoor area and we went through our questions and chatted about the Den. It was a mixture of us running through questions and answers, talking a little bit about life in general, how we got up to this point, and then realising, “Oh, my God, we're going to be on Dragons’ Den!” It was a bit of a rollercoaster of things the evening before. 

Matt: “After our meal, we walked into the hotel lobby and there were other entrepreneurs practicing their pitches to each other, so we joined them. It was nice to have all four businesses putting each other through our paces and building our confidence for the Den.”

What was the day itself like? How did you both feel?

Melody: “We practised some more in the morning, and then we arrived at the studio for 12:45. Then the waiting began! 

“For me the walk in was the most awkward, because I am not the most coordinated person. They told us not to look directly into the camera – it was the first thing I did, I just couldn’t help myself. It was odd to film, you have to walk to an x on the floor and stand there for a bit. It’s not often you have to think about how you’re going to appear on TV; it’s not like giving a speech, because you’re not worrying about people being able to re-watch you over and over again. You don’t want to look like you’re hunching! 

Everything just felt surreal. You feel excited, but nervous and anxious at the same time. I went through periods of calm, and because we didn't have a specific time to go in front of the Dragons, the anxiety would kind of build-up again. But once we actually got in the Den and did our pitch, the natural flow of the conversation happens and you stop thinking about the cameras and all those things anymore. It’s just Matt and I talking to five people about Toucan.”

Matt: “It was the first time I've had my makeup done, which is a bit odd.” 

Melody: “Debbie, our make-up artist, was really nice. I remember they really have to cake powder on you. She told us the lights are really strong – it made me remember a different episode where the entrepreneur started sweating, and they were zooming in on the sweat on his forehead. He needed a Debbie. She was such a big part of our day, along with our researcher. He was popping back and forth to get us ready and in the right place at the right time – he was really great. Everyone around us was great keeping us level and letting us know everything would be fine; they really help calm you down.”

How did it go in the Den?

Matt: “Every single time I did the pitch on the day, I messed it up. The first time I did it perfectly was when we were doing it to the Dragons, which was really nerve wracking. 

“On reflection, I think the Dragons kind of knew what they were doing and took me through a bit of a journey. The thing that doesn't come across on TV is the volume of questions that they ask you, and the nature of answering a high volume amount of questions is that you're going to get some wrong or you're going to kind of not be quite right on it. So for the first hour, I thought it was going badly. The concept was being challenged. We had modelled about 20-30 answers, but we think they asked us over 100 questions. You cannot wear a mask in that situation; the real you comes out.

“Then Peter Jones came in and just said so many nice things. One of the things I remember he said, that will always stick with me, is what he liked about both of us is that we used terminology like ‘we’ and ‘us’ and not ‘I’. That was a nice thing to hear because even under pressure in the moment, you know, it was all about the team and all about what we're trying to achieve. And as soon as Peter Jones said these nice things, it was like a switch flicked in the Den and everyone wanted a piece of us. 

“It was extremely intense, it was very emotional; you're put through the wringer. When you have someone like Peter Jones come and rescue you from what feels like a pit, it is an elating feeling - a relief.”

Melody: “The moment the doors opened, the first person I saw was Deborah Meaden. I smiled at her and she smiled back! That really helped me feel less intimidated. The person that I was probably most intimidated by before going in was Peter Jones. The way he sits, there is just something very powerful about him. But in the Den, he was like probably the one of the least intimidating of the group. 

They asked a lot of good questions and they were genuinely interested in hearing about our business – at the end of the day, they are investors deciding whether they want to put money into it.”

How did it feel to have an offer from all five Dragons, and three individual offers?
Matt: “It really was amazing to get the offer from all five. To face the barrage of questions and challenges and to sort of feel like you've got everyone on side in the Den was fantastic.”

Melody: “Honestly, it was shocking, However, I think in practice scoring with probably one maximum two is better, because, you know, they're all big personalities. But it was really exciting and flattering. It made us feel like, you know, we're actually making something. This isn’t just a dream that Matt had and then got the rest of us on board; this is real, and there are people that actually believe in us, outside of ourselves.”

Why did you pick Steven?

Matt: “We picked him because the number one objective in our business is to acquire donors, and we need a user acquisition specialist. Steven has built a business around content creation and acquiring users. He's got a big following and a lot of leverage in online communities. If he can help us promote Toucan across his communities, then it will only bring light to who we are and what we're trying to achieve. And I'd say in the Den, Steven probably gave us the hardest challenges, and it reinforced why we wanted him.”

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