Here be dragons

I first came across the BBC’s Dragons’ Den on a work trip home a few years ago. I instantly loved it; I was working in marketing at the time, and I genuinely did learn a lot from the successful pitches. But, of course, the real fun comes from those awful, doomed pitches, and the complete lack of self awareness of some participants.

I was really happy when the CBC came up with its own version of Dragons’ Den the next year, and I watch or tape it every Wednesday night. I no longer pretend to gain any career-related benefits from the show, and treat it as pure entertainment.
But this week’s episode was a little more serious. See how the Dragons deal with a snake-oil salesmen claiming to have a miracle cure for cancer, arthritis, heartburn, and pretty much everything else under the sun:

I have to say I was impressed. If only all sources of product development funding were so hostile to the woo-meisters and people sucking money from desperate patients. It helps that Jim Treliving, the Dragon who kicked the guy out, is a former cop who presumably has little patience for fools and knaves.

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
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14 Responses to Here be dragons

  1. Erika Cule says:

    bq. You disgust me as a person
    An extreme reaction to an extreme proposal.
    Worth watching.

  2. Bob O'Hara says:


  3. GrrlScientist says:

    where were these “dragons” when the american banking and investment system began fucking over the average american? where are these “dragons” now that american congresscritters are fucking over the average american with their so-called “health care reform”?

  4. Kristi Vogel says:

    I watched the UK version of Dragons’ Den once, and found the “dragons” to be so insufferably smug and loathsome, that I instantly wished to reach into the television and throttle them all. Though perhaps they’ll be like Richard Cory in Robinson’s poem (and the Simon and Garfunkel song), and take care of the problem themselves.
    Sorry to be so negative, but I think people like the “dragons” have taken a collective financial dump on the rest of us recently.

  5. Brian Derby says:

    The “Dragons” in the UK are at least mainly self-made rather than bankers who manipulate other peoples money. In which case it might be argued that they do have an eye for a business opportunity. They do cut very hard bargains for their equity injections.
    1) The pitchers probably have either a crap idea/business model or are bad at writing business plans because they have failed to get funding through banks, regional development agencies, businee angels etc. and this is their last throw. Unless, of course they are merely after their 15 minutes of fame.
    2) For dragons: smug bastards make better TV. Why else is Simon Cowell tolerated on the myriad of talent shows he has spawned.

  6. Cath Ennis says:

    Erika, I thought the reaction fit the pitch pretty well!
    Grrl, not in the spotlight of making their business decision on national TV, that’s for sure.
    Kristi, the Canadian version has a smug one, two “nice” ones, and a cut-throat mercenary who is evil but very entertaining. The ex-cop who evicted the quack on the video clip is usually the bland one. I guess something hit a nerve.
    The Canadian banks, and especially their mortgage/lending practices, are very tightly regulated (I’ve heard the term “more Swiss than the Swiss banks”), and so there hasn’t been the anti-banker backlash here that is happening in the US and UK. The biggest effect on our economy has been the downturn in the US, our biggest export market. Olympic construction projects and other investments have insulated Vancouver even from most of that. So there’s not so much to be negative about (sorry if that sounded smug or loathsome… 😉 )
    Brian, same on the CBC – they’re mostly self-made (one guy smugly pronounces at every opportunity that his parents immigrated to Canada with $20 in their pocket). They are all pretty ruthless, as you pointed out, but some of the pitchers are so clueless that it’s like lambs to the slaughter.
    They’ve actually had some really, really good products on the show. Eco-friendly products are big, e.g. non-toxic road salt, biodegradable golf tees etc. For some reason, the last couple of seasons have been full of new kinds of cat litter trays. The best one though was the woman who had a license to sell medicinal marijuana, and couldn’t persuade the dragons to get into the drug trade…

  7. Alyssa Gilbert says:

    Wow. What bothers me the most about this clip is that the guy seems to be absolutely convinced that he’s doing a good thing by selling that stuff to people. I wonder if he really believes it works?

  8. Kristi Vogel says:

    @ Brian: I know that Grrl mentioned the investment and banking system specifically, but I think the blame for the financial crisis is more diffuse than that, at least in the US. I’ve no doubt the “dragons” have great eyes for Arkenstones business opportunities.
    Simon Cowell is utterly loathsome as well. He, and two of the “dragons”, have ruined a couple of episodes of Top Gear for me, due to their participation in the “Star in a Reasonably-priced Car” segment (thoughout which they were all, predictably, utterly loathsome and smug). I suppose you could argue that Clarkson is smug, but at least he’s funny, and genuinely entertaining to watch (IMHO).

  9. steffi suhr says:

    Oh how utterly depressing.
    (In any case, don’t trust anyone who tries to sell you a cure for ‘indegestion’ and ‘prostrate’.)

  10. Cath Ennis says:

    Alyssa, it’s so hard to tell, isn’t it? Both possibilities are depressing and scary in different ways.
    Regardless of whether he believed it or not, he clearly saw the opportunity for personal gain. What a ridiculous valuation he put on his company!
    Kristi, I actively avoid Simon Cowell and Top Gear. The combination of the two sounds awful.
    Steffi, yeah, apparently water doesn’t cure illiteracy either.

  11. Stephen Curry says:

    Great find Cath – I especially like the bit where the woman dragon asked if the ‘miracle’ medicine could treat insanity!

  12. Matt Brown says:

    Deeply depressing. But good to see such a loathsome practice so robustly challenged on mainstream TV. Maybe it will make a few more people think twice before wasting their hopes and money.

  13. Cath Ennis says:

    Thanks Stephen! Yes, that was a highlight for me too.
    Matt, let’s hope! I’m glad the Dragons didn’t go the Boots route of “well if people want to buy it, let’s sell it, even though we know it doesn’t work”.

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