Dragons’ Den has been a fixture of British television for over 14 years now, returning for its 16th series at the beginning of 2019.
Since the shows beginnings, the Dragons have managed to tuck numerous successful investments under their belts. Remember Levi Roots, anyone? But, the Dragons are only human and dare we say it, sometimes they make mistakes.
We’ve compiled a run-down of the best UK Dragons’ Den rejects who went on to prove the investors wrong and achieve massive global success; making millions and becoming household names, despite the Dragons initial judgements.
Shaun Pulfrey and Tangle Teezer
Arguably the most well-known on this list, Shaun Pulfrey’s Tangle Teezer has evolved into a massive international brand and household name.
However, the Dragons couldn’t see the potential of his product back in 2007. His idea was dismissed by the Dragons, who said that Tangle Teezer was ‘not a business’ and ‘hair-brained’ along with many other hair care puns.
But Shaun had the last laugh, as his business is now worth at least £60 million with higher valuations placing the business at £200 million. Celebrity endorsements include Victoria Beckham, Nicole Scherzinger and Cara Delevigne. If any of the Dragons had invested in the business, they’d have been looking at an estimated £8,000,000 return on their investment. Ouch.
Rob Law and Trunki
All seemed to be going well for Rob Law and his Trunki - a ride-on suitcase for children designed to encourage them to get involved with packing and to occupy them at the airport. That was until Dragon Theo Paphitis broke the ride-on suitcase during the pitch, and all of the Dragons lost confidence in the product.
Deborah Meedham believed the product and business lacked ‘integrity’. So it’s of little surprise then that Rob didn’t receive the £100,000 investment he was hoping for in exchange for a 10% share in Trunki.
Despite this, Rob Law has gone on to be one of the most successful Dragons Den rejects, with Trunki now available across the world and turning over more than £8,000,000 per year. Dragons Peter Jones and Duncan Bannatyne have both expressed regret at not investing in the product after watching Rob sell over two million Trunkis.
James Nash and Le Froglet
In 2009, James Nash failed to secure investment from the Dragons. His idea of a single serve plastic glass of French wine (complete with a foil peel off lid) was deemed ‘tacky’.
Duncan Bannatyne said that “people don’t want to buy wine in plastic glasses like that with a seal on top. For that reason, I’m out.”
James left the Den with no investment, but his story did not end there. Marks & Spencer picked up James’ ‘Cup-A-Wine’, rebranded it as ‘La Froglet’ and it has become a staple of commuter journeys ever since. James has even won awards for the product.
Rachel Lowe and Destination London
Destination London is a board game in which players compete as taxi drivers to secure cash. Rachel Lowe wasn’t as lucky in securing cash in her bid in the Den. Having used her experience as a taxi driver in the capital to create the game, Rachel was not put off following her rejection by the Dragons.
Hamleys launched the game in the same year she was booted out of the Den, and it became one of the stores best selling games, beating family favourite Monopoly. Rachel didn’t stop there, creating more versions of the game for different cities. A Disney Pixar version of the game was developed, as well as a Harry Potter themed edition.
And Rachel didn’t just stop at board games, creating a fashion brand called She Who Dares. The entrepreneur was honoured in 2009 with an MBE for services to business and promoting enterprise in schools and universities. Not bad for a Dragons’ Den reject.
Natalie Ellis and Road Refresher
Natalie Ellis appeared on Dragons’ Den in 2008 asking for a £120,000 investment in her non-spill dog bowl with her eyes set firmly on launching her product in the United States.
Natalie moved the Dragons with the background to her business - she suffered a stroke at the age of 37 and her luxury pet product business went under.
Despite this, Natalie was refused investment as the Dragons doubted the products marketability overseas. Refusing to be dissuaded, Natalie pushed with her idea and launched in the US. By 2010 she had made £1,000,000.
The product is now a stalwart of the pet accessory world and has launched in multiple countries. Natalie can count Former US President Barack Obama as a customer, who grabbed a Road Refresher for his dog Bo.
Dan Clauderay and Approved Food
Approved Food sells sweets, groceries and drinks that are past their best before date. Dan has said of the idea that:
“a use by date is there for your health and safety reasons [...] but best before dates are for things in your cupboard - your tins of soup, pasta, crisps [...] it’s got nothing to do with the safety of that product.”
Approved Foods can (according to Dan himself) save shoppers around 70% on their weekly grocery bills. He was rejected by all five Dragons in 2015 after asking for a £150,000 investment in exchange for a 10% stake in the business. Since appearing on Dragons’ Den, Approved Food has gone from strength to strength, regularly turning over more than £4,000,000 per year. Dan might have been turned away by the Dragons, but he’s more than just a number in the line-up of Dragons’ Den rejects.
So, the Dragons have shown that they do get it wrong from time to time. The above entrepreneurs have fared remarkably well in spite of facing rejection on the small screens of many UK homes. Many have gone on to become household names (Tangle Teezer, Trunki) while others are making a huge difference to shoppers’ budgets (Approved Food). These entrepreneurs have shown that if you wish to succeed, you can against all odds. You could event count Barack Obama as one of your most loyal customers.