Duncan Bannatyne: Apart from the castle, what have you got for your £120,000?
Entrepreneur: You may be able to see a fence here.
Dragons' Den, based on the Japanese TV show Money no Tora ("Money Tigers"), has versions, with varying success, in Japan (the original), the UK (longest running), Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Nigeria, Canada (with another exclusive to Québec), Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, the Arab world, Ireland, and the United States (titled Shark Tank). The format is owned by Sony. The original show debuted in 2001.Contestants have a set period of time to pitch their business to the eponymous Dragons (businessmen and women of note who operate in the nation). They then have to answer questions. This is where a lot of them fall down as their big impressive numbers turn out to be guesses. They have to go in with a set amount of funds they want and a percentage of the business they want to give away. One of the rules is they have to get all the money they came for or leave with nothing. They usually give away much more of their business than they hoped.Part, if not most, of the show's appeal is the utterly-insane inventions and businesses some people put forward. Generally speaking, pitches break down into five categories:
The Insane — the product makes no sense, solves a problem that doesn't exist, already has a much cheaper solution, or behaves in a way that is laughable.
How to stop British drivers driving on the wrong side of the road in France? How about a plain white glove, worn on the right hand!
The Unstable — the product works, but the business (or sometimes the entrepreneur themselves) has serious problems. It might not own the patent or have huge debts... or maybe the owners just intend on spending all the money for their own salaries.
I have much experience in this field! This will be the third company I have run to try and make this toy!
The Slightly Problematic — the product is good and there are some merits, but due to various issues, the dragons decide that they're out.
The Uncooperative — they get an offer, but refuse it.
I wanted to give away 5% of my brand-new company for £100,000. I refuse to give away 40% just because you know what you're talking about.
The Successful — they get the deal. The Sunday Times once tried to make a big deal of the fact that some deals never went through after the show, but it didn't really work because the show never made a secret of that fact — both sides have a period of due diligence, and there have been several people who lied about their figures on the show. As Theo Paphitis put it, "I kept up my end of the bargain. The show is not about a cash prize, it is about us pledging to invest. But people must tell the truth. Simple."
There have been several very successful products that got their start in the Den, not least Reggae Reggae Sauce and a growing set of hardware products owned under an umbrella company by Duncan Bannatyne and James Caan.
Dragons' Den provides examples of the following tropes:
Adorkable: Robert Herjavec, especially if there's a dog in the room.
All or Nothing: Entrepreneurs must secure all of the money they ask the Dragons/Sharks/Tigers for, or they leave with nothing.
Animal Motifs: Dragons in most versions, tigers in Japan, and sharks in the US; all of which emphasize the ruthlessness and ferocity of the investors.
Arch-Enemy: Peter Jones and Duncan Bannatyne. Jones described Bannatyne as "a shit" in Series 1, and doesn't seem to have changed his opinion. Bannatyne says he can't see what Jones' problem is. Bannatyne ended up going down this path with James Caan later on.
The Dragons called out two women who were trying to set up an all-female building business for this. They were offering 20% equity in two separate companies, and the Dragons naturally assumed this meant 20% of each company, only to discover that they were actually being offered 5% of an established company and 15% of a company that hadn't even started trading yet. The two women were initially incredulous that the Dragons would have any problem with this, and then when Theo attempted to explain why their 20% figure wasn't valid they accused him of being sexist, sending Theo and Duncan (both of whom have women as over half their workforce) into a blind fury.
The Canadian Dragons were once confronted with John "the Engineer" Turmel, who came in talking about how inflation was eroding the value of the world's currency. His presentation to the Dragons advocated that Canada abandon its dollar, which will eventually lose its value, with redeemable poker chips, which would theoretically never lose their value. The Dragons immediately pointed out to Turmel that his solution wouldn't solve anything, since the money the chips could be redeemed for would still lose its value. They also noted that there was no real way they could make any money from Turmel's scheme. There's a reason Turmel holds the world record for the number of failed election attempts...
Artistic License - Physics: The UK version has an interesting example. One businesswoman pitched a bandage which cools down the area it is applied to, with the idea that it would help soothe injuries. She described it as being superior to ice for the same purpose, as the bandage "sucks the heat away gradually, rather than trying to force the cold in like ice." Anyone who has done basic thermodynamics in school can tell you that this is not how the universe works, and all "coldness" which we interpret is as a result of heat moving from hotter areas to colder areas, so in a sense all "cooling" works by "sucking" the heat away from things. Interestingly, none of the Dragons noticed anything wrong with this claim and the woman walked away with an investment — because the product idea itself was sound. Packing ice onto an injury can make things worse if done incorrectly, and the only real mistake the woman made was oversimplifying the explanation of how the bandage worked (having lower thermal conductivity than ice) to the point where it ended up sounding like nonsense.
Overinflated business valuations tend to be one for all of the Dragons.
Whenever former investment bankers show up, particularly one case when they wanted to start a financial company.
Anyone who admits or is found out to intend part of the investment to pay their own salary will find themselves facing the fury of all Dragons at once. Typically more of a problem during the earlier series, but eventually people realised just how bad an idea this was, but on the US version, some people STILL admit to taking a salary. It usually does not end well (especially if it's a large salary).
Anybody that expects the Dragons to put up a significantly greater amount of money than they themselves have.
Anybody who comes to the Dragons for an investment, despite having the money to do so themselves.
Deborah Meaden hates it when people try to bargain percentages with her.
Duncan Bannatyne hates smoking, and thinks it's unethical to invest in any products that relate to it.
If a company is even borderline illegal, Jim Treliving (former RCMP officer) will not be amused.
Telling a diabetic (or anyone with a health condition for that matter) that they should stop taking insulin or whatever else they're using to treat their condition because that article you read on the internet says that herbal medication can cure them. A snake oil salesman who tried this got chewed out for making such bold claims.
Kevin O'Leary and board games. In a 2014 episode he even took a failed board game entrepreneur up to his personal cabin just so he could burn the board game that was pitched in the den in front of its creator.
Mark Cuban hates when someone takes his offer seriously then asks if there are any other offers. He usually pulls out right then and there.
Mark Cuban also hates health scams. One example is a positive/negative ion bracelet; Mark Cuban actually turned down the gift the entrepreneur was offering.
The Dragons have an official one, "I'm out." The contestants have developed an unofficial one used when they have been given an offer "Could we have a moment to discuss this?"
All the British dragons (particularly Meaden) regularly use the phrase "Let me tell you where I am," usually when they're about declare themselves out. The US Sharks have also been known to use this.
Theo Paphitis: "Why should I risk £x of my children’s inheritance on...?" and any reference to "Mrs. Paphitis"/"Mrs P."
Bannatyne: "Ludicrous" and "Ridiculous"
Richard Farleigh/James Caan: "Your valuation is ridiculous!"
Hilary Devey: "You (would) make my foot itch, mate!"
"You know what matters in this room? MONEY!!!"
"Sooner or later, all roads lead to Mr. Wonderful."
"Stop the madness!"
"You're dead to me."
"I forbid you to do this."
"Kumbaya", done sarcastically in mockery of the other investors trying to be nice and often in conjunction with another sentence (but he sometimes just sings it to ignore the other Sharks/Dragons).
Robert Herjavec: A very subdued "Ta-da!" whenever anyone makes a grand unveiling of their product.
Lori Greiner: "I can tell instantly if it's a hero or a zero."
"There's nothing proprietary about this."
"(Contestant), what are you going to do?"
Celebrity Endorsement: It's becoming increasingly common in the US version for contestants to bring in a celebrity that they've met to help pitch their product.
One skin product's pitch in the Canadian version had one of the dragon's become a celebrity endorser as part of the deal.
The Comically Serious: Sometimes the Dragons are faced with intentionally humorous pitches (such as the pantomime business in series 9).
Continuity Nod: The show often provides updates on how previous contestants are doing with their products, whether or not they got an investment. In the US version, one of these updates segued into the contestant returning to the Shark Tank to try again. He still didn't get an investment. The Canadian version will sometimes dedicate an episode where all of the contestants are returning for another chance.
In Shark Tank, the pitch was for a sunglasses company made from wood that many celebrities use. Daymond backs out because it was cool, saying cool companies like theirs have caused him trouble in investing due to being a temporary trend.
In Shark Tank's season 4 theme/intro, the Sharks each wear one.
Critical Research Failure: Often committed by the contestants, either by only doing a small amount of research (for instance, asking their parents or neighbours whether they think the product is a good idea), or by doing full research and then disregarding it when it paints a less-than-rosy picture for the future of their business or product. Needless to say, the Dragons are relentless to people who always do the research. invoked
Crossover: The ending of season finale of the U.S. fourth season featured an odd crossover in which Dr. Doofenshmirtz of Disney Channel's Phineas & Ferb appeared to pitch a Shrink Ray. In an acknowledgment, though, of the fact that this probably wouldn't interest most regular viewers of the show, only a brief portion of this was shown, with the remainder of the segment available to view freely on the show's official page on ABC's website. Doofenshmirtz was asking for $500,000 in exchange for 1% equity in his "Shrinkinator" invention. He ended up destroying his own invention by accidentally pushing the self-destruct button, and since it was a No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup deal, that was the end of it.
On an episode of The View, some homemakers pitched their products to the Sharks.
With an episode of The Neighbors called We Just Jumped the Shark (Tank) !
The UK version had a crossover with Top Gear with Jeremy Clarkson pitching a new car model named the P45. Duncan Bannatyne offers him £1 for 1%.
Distracted by the Sexy: The panel on the Canadian version was being pitched a product attached to playing cards to assist in the construction of sculptures with them. They were more interested in the muscular female model that the businessman brought along with him instead.
Dumb Blonde: Averted in one episode of Season 5 of the Canadian Version. One of the entrepreneurs was a Blonde Bombshell who pitched nut-free cookies. Apparently, even before the entrepreneur had started her speech, Arlene Dickenson had written her off as an airhead and was subsequently impressed by the blonde's pitch as well as her confidence. Arlene then confessed and apologized for her prejudice and was one of the Dragons who eventually signed up a deal with her.
People had to carry their own products up the stairs, instead of the items being put there by the production team before the pitch.
The room was smaller, so there was no space for entrepreneurs to go to the back of the room to discuss deals on offer. (The first series was a real location in London; they switched to using a set for subsequent series.)
Duncan Bannatyne and Peter Jones seem to have more tolerance for bad pitches. (No doubt their impatience in later seasons is due to having to sit through hundreds of awful ideas.)
It's also a little disconcerting to watch later seasons with the briskly no-nonsense Deborah Meaden, then watch seasons one and two with very soft and rather quiet Rachel Elnaugh as the female dragon.
Some pitches in Season One and Two began with entrepreneurs shaking hands with the Dragons.
Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Invoked by James Caan in one episode, when rejecting investment in a vest for dogs that stops the animal from worrying about wounds it has:
James Caan: It kind of looks like it does what it says on the tin. It's probably not something for me.
Face Palm: A common reaction to very bad ideas. Mark Cuban in particular does these quite often.
Fanservice: The first pitch of Series 11 started with three women in bikinis dancing, in order to show off the product in question (a tanning lotion and cellulite reducing cream).
This is extremely common in the Canadian version to the degree that it becomes a running joke that the male dragons are distracted by the dancing models. An entire segment on the behind the scenes episode strings some (but not all) of them together.
The Farmer and the Viper: The scorpion variant was referenced by Kevin when dealing with a lawyer who was being particularly feisty on Shark Tank.
Follow the Leader: Discussed regularly. When a Shark is talking about whether a product is "proprietary" or not, that's the technical term for "Can a competitor copy your product and rip you off?"
Friend to All Children: Deborah Meaden is the only British Dragon who does not have children, but she is clearly fond of them. She once cheerfully admitted she wasn't really paying attention to a pitch for a type of baby product because she was distracted by how cute the baby was that the entrepreneurs had bought with them.
The US Sharks are almost all parents as well; one sure way to get their attention is to have a product aimed at children, or bring some with you to help with the pitch.
Genre Blind: Anyone who comes on the show and sets their company at a particularly high valuation, especially a million dollars or more, with little or no revenue has no idea what they're talking about. This is easily one of the quickest turnoffs and is immediately evident from watching just a few episodes of the show.
Peter Jones: Sorry, did I hear that right? You want £150,000 for 1%?
Get Out: Theo Paphitis delivered an epic one of these after an entrepreneur revealed that he owned a company that could have funded his product, but expected the Dragons to take the bulk of the financial risk associated with it.
Hopeless With Tech: Duncan Bannatyne. He has stated he knows almost nothing about computers, and therefore never invests in pitches that relate to them.
Hostile Pitch Takeover: Done as part of a pitch for a horror franchise in series 10 of the UK version. An entrepreneur starts with his pitch, before being grabbed around the ankle by another entrepreneur wearing a zombie mask from under a covered table. The first entrepreneur runs away, as the second one comes out from under the table and gives his own pitch (for the horror franchise).
Hurricane of Puns: Peter Jones loves to make bad puns about pitches for ideas he hates. (He never does this for things he is seriously interested in, though.)
One pair of investors in series 9 of the UK version (who had delivered a very confident pitch) had six offers from four Dragons — and managed to get every Dragon to declare themselves out after deciding to stick to their original demand of 25%. Their best offer was for 30%, with a 5% refund if they hit the first year target they had repeatedly declared was easy and realistic.
On Shark Tank, an inventor presented the plate topper, a microwavable plate cover. He had a perfect pitch requesting $90k for 5% equity, and within five minutes had 2 offers. One for $900k in return for 30%, the other $1m for 25%. Instead of saying yes to either one, he said he had a different valuation than what he entered with, but refused to state it. In response, the million dollar offer was off the table and the $900k went down to what he asked for. He then said he was initially going to ask for $750k for 5% equity, valuing his company at $15m. His refusal to lower his valuation brought him nothing but abuse from the Sharks and upped the only remaining offer to $90k for 8%, which he settled for (though it later fell apart in due diligence). All the sharks are amazed at how tightly he held onto the Idiot Ball. They even said that the product was probably the best they ever had on the show, and he could possibly walk away with nothing.
I Have a Family: Used by the owner of Remyxx shoes to appeal to one of the dragons for a 50/50 stake instead of 80/20. It didn't work, but he took the 80/20 deal anyway.
I'm Not Here to Make Friends: In the U.S. version, Kevin says this when trying to get one of the businessmen to accept his pitch. "I'm not trying to make friends, Drew, I'm trying to make money. I think we should get in tune with that." In the end, it was Kevin's offer that he took.
It Will Never Catch On: Duncan Bannatyne and Deborah Meaden's attitude towards Reggae Reggae Sauce. To this day, Peter Jones likes to remind them of their prediction.
The Magnificent: Kevin is always quick to remind everyone that "they call him Mr. Wonderful". Who "they" refers to is unclear, as nobody (outside of Kevin himself) has ever been heard calling him that.
In the UK version, just about all of the Dragons were Mean Brits. Peter Jones, Duncan Bannatyne, Theo Paphitis, and Deborah Meaden fall squarely into this category. Simon Woodroffe and Rachel Elnaugh weren't quite as bad, but could certainly turn on the nastiness when needed. Even Doug Richard, who is technically American, could earn an honorary Mean Brit title due to the fact that he could be as nasty as the others, and has resided in the UK for some time. James Caan (no, not that one) is the only real exception to this rule, as he is by far the nicest of the British Dragons (Richard Farleigh was the nicest overall, but is actually Australian). Hilary Devey seems to be covering for Caan as "the nicest one". Piers Linney and Kelley Hoppen also downplay this trope.
Missing Steps Plan: Quite common. It it truly amazing to see the array of completely absurd things some people think will make money.
Nice Guy: Strangely for a show of this manner, Brett Wilson of the Canadian version was considered one. He considered less than profitable companies that were unlikely to make large profits, offered lines of credit as parts of deals (thereby reaching the requested value), was generally very supportive of investors, and even donated 1000 dollars for an inventor who kept coming back, just to encourage him to continue inventing. Privately, he does a lot of philanthropy work, and has admitted that his spot on the show was an unlikely prospect because the producers thought he was too nice.
Non-Idle Rich: All the Dragons are self-made. An entrepreneur once made a sneery off-hand remark about their children having nannies. Duncan Bannatyne immediately declared himself out, as he was so angry that she made assumptions about how the Dragons lived.
One Steve Limit: Averted in Seasons 1 and 2 of Shark Tank with Kevin O'Leary and Kevin Harrington, although Harrington would eventually be replaced by Mark Cuban.
Papa Wolf: All the male British Dragons are fathers, and will immediately criticise any product for children that is not safe. Duncan Bannatyne (father of six) and Theo Paphitis (father of five) tend to be most vocal about their protective feelings towards children.
Seen in the US version when a premium pogo stick company came in asking for an investment to go mass-market. In contrast to their regular ruthlessness, the Sharks encouraged him to stay high-end; declining to invest not because of a flaw in the company but because they simply felt the company was doing fine on its own.
The UK Dragons, while capable of being pretty mean, can be pretty civil when a product or business is working well, but doesn't appear capable of giving the Dragons a return on their investment, or they have other reasons for not wanting to invest.
One young entrepreneur had shown a lot of enthusiasm for her business and had invested her own money as well as a loan from her parents' mortgage. However, her product had yet to go on sale, and she had no business plan, prompting four of the sharks to tearfully drop out. Daymond, who could relate to asking parents for a loan, decided to take a gamble on her, offering her $70,000 for 70% of the company, allowing him to handle distribution of the product while taking her under his tutelage.
Product Placement: At least one episode of Shark Tank in Season 4 involved Daymond blatantly pulling out a T-Mobile smartphone to take and share a picture of a stunned Mark. It's continued in later seasons as well.
Richard Farleigh was booted off the show and replaced by James Caan when The BBC demanded that one of the Dragons be from an African or Asian ethnic background. This would probably have happened to Caan himself after the BBC decided they wanted another female Dragon to create a better gender balance, though other events meant he left the show anyway (see below).
On the US Shark Tank, Kevin Harrington is this, having been fully replaced by Mark Cuban.
Revolving Door Casting: The UK version managed to keep the same lineup through series 5-8 but otherwise has been prone to a lot of changes (in the most recent series Hilary Devey left after just two series, whilst Theo Paphitis had been there since series two).
Running Gag: Theo Paphitis breaking the inventors' prototypes.
Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: In a 2013 edition of the UK show, there was a pitch for a product designed to help people suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Peter Jones deliberated over whether or not to make an offer for a long time, as he wasn't sure about whether or not he wanted to use such an idea to make money, and finally made an offer with the condition that 10% of the annual profits would go to charity. (However, he later abandoned this stance upon discovering that the business was projected to make £1 million by its fifth year.)
Rachel Elnaugh officially left the UK show in order to raise her newborn son. Following her exit however, it quickly became known that she actually left due to a combination of none of the other Dragons liking her, and the fact that the BBC were likely going to fire her anyway, as her company Red Letter Days had recently gone bankrupt, which cast doubts on her credibility as a businessperson. (Incidentally, Theo Paphitis and Peter Jones later bought the company while drunk.)
James Caan bailed out on the show after a massive dispute with Duncan Bannatyne, caused by Bannatyne effectively accusing Caan of being a tax dodger in his newspaper column.
Simon Woodroffe also left when he felt that the other Dragons were becoming more concerned with their egos rather than whether there were any good investments on offer.
Brett Wilson of the Canadian version quit after a dispute with the network. In his exit comments, he challenged the show to provide "constructive criticism as opposed to abuse."
Shout-Out: In one pitch, Peter Jones offers to give the entrepreneurs jobs in his business. The narration comments:
It's an astonishing development. Less "I'm in", and more "You're hired."
Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: The Dragons/Sharks are all competitive, but Mark Cuban and Robert Herjavec take the cake, with Mark outright stealing deals from Robert, and even admitting, when pressed by Herjavec, that It's Personal.
The Smurfette Principle: The Canadian version with Jennifer Wood in season 1 and Arlene Dickson from here on after.
Spin-Off Babies: Junior Dragons in Ireland. (Despite the title, it's about child and teenage entrepreneurs, not investors.)
Stage Money: The UK set includes ostentatious stacks of banknotes on the table beside each Dragon, which they would occasionally use to illustrate "throwing your money away".
The Canadian version also has this as well, often in focus during the openings or in eye-catches.
Start My Own: This is the reason many of the entrepreneurs on this show started their business in the first place — they had a problem and couldn't find anything that would solve it well, so they created their own invention/product.
Start of Darkness: The Canadian version had a special that detailed the careers and origins of each of the Dragons, and Kevin O'Leary's section described the event that led him to become a self-employed entrepreneur: having been hired to scoop ice cream at a parlour, he was ordered to scrape gum off the floor by his employer. He refused, was fired, and vowed never to let anyone have that kind of control over him again.
Stealth Pun: In the opening montage, Peter Jones is introduced as a "telecoms giant". He's REALLY tall.
Terrible Interviewees Montage: Some versions of the show (of which Shark Tank is not one) are broken up with narrated portions of two or three unsuccessful ideas back-to-back in less than five minutes.
Duncan Bannatyne: Quite often on Dragons' Den I see people with a product, and we think: the business isn't worthy of investment but the product is worthy of buying, and I think "I'll buy the product". But this one, I wouldn't buy, I wouldn't touch. And sometimes I say to people "We're not going to invest, but I wish you all the best success." I wish you absolute failure on this. I hope it doesn't take off, I hope people don't buy it, I think it's ridiculous, and I hope it fails. So I'm out.
Kevin O'Leary's speech to the owner of "Pretty Padded Room". He uses a metaphor about how the first seal leaving the beach and being eaten by sharks serves to warn other seals to not go in the water. He proceeds to tell her that she has messed up her presentation so badly but not knowing enough about her "numbers" that she will now serve as a warning to other contestants to never make the same mistake.
Two Girls to a Team: The UK series, with the introduction of Hilary Devey (and later Kelly Hoppen after Devey left after only two series).
Violent Glaswegian: Duncan Bannatyne is more bitingly sarcastic than violent, but you wouldn't want to get into a punch-up with him. He managed to build a successful ice-cream van business in Glasgow when that trade was "protected" by organised crime, so he can't have been offering free hugs. That, and he once threw an officer off a jetty while in the Royal Navy.
Worst. Idea. Ever: Duncan Bannatyne has variously stated the white glove idea mentioned near the top of this page or the cardboard beach furniture featured in S01E03 are the worst ideas he's ever seen in the Den.
The Den/Tank occasionally features teenagers, who the Dragons/Sharks are noticeably nicer to than they are to other entrepreneurs. The Dragons also compliment them on being so driven at a young age. Shark Tank had an episode in Season 5 dedicated solely to child entrepreneurs, with the youngest of them being six years old. (She was with her father who did most of the talking.)
Intriguingly, this is mostly averted by the Dragons themselves, who didn't generally become entrepreneurs until later in life. Duncan Bannatyne in particular cheerfully admits he spent his twenties lounging around on a beach and only doing just enough work to pay the bills. Richard Fairleigh has said that he tried running a lemonade stand as a child, but failed badly. Peter Jones is probably the nearest to this, as he did set up a number of businesses when he was younger; unfortunately they all crashed and burned within months, and he had to settle for working for others until he built up enough money to try again.