Making The Dragons' See Red

It's the worst kept secret that the Dragon’s Den is not really about investment in small companies. For the experienced, veteran dragons it’s about broadcasting their egos; for the quivering, sweaty rookies it’s about national exposure. The two meet in an arena packed with BBC cameras and microphones, and the hopes and dreams of entrepreneurs are dashed or fulfilled in front of three million people. It’s a TV show.

As it happens, we did not get investment. After a three minute pitch and a roasting for a full ninety minutes, the dragon’s outed themselves one by one. Low margins and lack of defensibility being their main reasons. Since then, we have rebranded to DAME, and offer more wholesome products - shifting our focus to that of an essentials and wellness box, not just a tampon delivery service. We aim to bring women the convenience and opportunity to experience a range of organic products and supplements that will make their whole month, not just one week, better. We have increased our margins and just closed a £250,000 funding round from angels and funding networks around the UK.

But we flew into the Den (under our former name Sanitary Owl) hoping for a different sort of result. We wanted our monthly subscription service to be the first period-related company to make it onto the program and thus get exposure not just for our company, but exposure for products and a topic that are still fighting for recognition as ‘normal’.

It was therefore disappointing that the editors had chosen to show the dragon’s giggling childishly at some of the products we sell (reusable menstrual cups in this case), and making light of a topic every woman can relate to. It amazed us that the opening line in the voice-over was Evan declaring “it may seem counter-intuitive to launch a product half the population may never have use for” - but that’s half the population Evan! 35 million women in the UK is a huge market size by any measure, especially if it has the potential to improve the lives of half the population.

It's a TV show, we get it, but for us this is just another example of the hurdles we have had to face as a start up in women’s health. Throughout our funding journey we have constantly been faced by rows of men, some wincing at our pitch, some laughing, others refusing to see us because Celia has children and it would ‘distract her mentally’ and her time would be ‘taken up by childcare’. It has been remarkable in 2017 that we still have to put up with this BS.

Most of our fundraising was done through angels, 90% of whom were men. Only when we were recommended for a specialist female-centric investment network were we able to pitch to women. Even then, it was two men who ended up investing. So after our pitch to the dragons, and we walk out into the lift of doom, and it cuts to Peter Jones declaring he “found our pitch quite uncomfortable” - that’s what left a bad taste, not that we didn’t get investment. Because the reality is, we’ve found the entire male-centric funding process quite uncomfortable - and comments like that aired on national television do little to help. 

This is Alec writing this by the way, not Celia.

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