Draknästet: lessons learned from pitching to the Swedish dragons
Adam Webb, founder of plastic-free lifestyle brand Lifelong, has wanted to pitch on Dragons’ Den (or Draknästet in Sweden) for years. Now it’s checked off his bucket list, he shares his experience and advice for other startups thinking about entering the dragon’s lair…
Hi Adam! Tell us about your company Lifelong.
Lifelong is a plastic-free lifestyle brand currently selling hand wash, bodywash and shampoo products. We use a powder-to-liquid formula which is good for two reasons: it comes in a compostable paper-based pouch (getting rid of plastic), and because you mix the water into the products yourself at home we reduce transport emissions by 94%. We have other products in the pipeline too, like deodorant, facial cleanser and cleaning products.
How did you end up on Draknästet?
I was a fan of Dragons’ Den for years in England and I’ve always said I’d be on it one day, but I never thought I’d be pitching on the Swedish version – in Swedish! I saw they were looking for companies so I contacted them. They’d already made their selection but I sent them our product, which they liked, so they squeezed us at the last minute. I had a week to prepare and learn a pitch in Swedish (even though I don’t speak Swedish) before the show so it was a bit intense.
How would you describe the experience?
It was a bit stressful memorizing the pitch, but the great thing was I was allowed to take my daughter with me. I wanted to show that we’re building Lifelong to protect future generations from the plastic waste problem, so I tipped a bunch of plastic on the floor and asked her to pick it up – then explained that we can’t expect our children to tidy up our mess. Having her there made me much less nervous because I was more worried about her. It also made the experience way more pleasant, as it just turned into a fun day out for me and my daughter.
So what’s it like pitching to the dragons?
Weirdly, I actually preferred pitching to the dragons more than other investors. Because it’s in a TV studio, it doesn’t feel as real or as nerve-wracking. The dragons were also super friendly and polite, especially compared to the English dragons. They made me feel at ease which I really appreciated.
What did you want to get out of it?
Seven months ago when the show was filmed I didn’t have much money in my business bank account and I needed an investment so I could buy more products and keep the company going. So I walked in wanting to get a dragon on board.
I managed to do it! I planned to ask for SEK 1 million for 10% of the company, but at the last minute SVT said the dragons weren’t investing a lot of money so I lowered it to SEK 700,000 – which may or may not have been a good idea. I managed to get Shervin Rezani onboard who agreed to SEK 700,000 for 20% of the business. I accepted the deal because I figured it’s better to own a smaller part of the company and keep it going then have no company at all.
What do you think swayed them one way or the other?
Another company pitched a cleaning product similar to ours which a couple of dragons invested in, so they probably didn’t want to invest in something too similar. For another dragon, I just don’t think it was his thing, and Shervin said he was investing mostly in me which was a nice thing to say. The world is also facing a huge plastic pollution problem and people are looking for sustainable alternatives that Lifelong can provide, which was probably another factor behind Shervin’s decision.
What’s your advice for other startups thinking about going on the show?
Definitely do it, but make sure you manage your expectations on how much airtime your brand will actually get. I expected the chance to explain what our products are, why you should use them, and their benefits, but in the show they cut about 90% of my pitch out. Because it’s TV, they’ll focus more on entertaining, emotional moments like the dragons saying no, as opposed to your company. It’s sad because I’m trying to reduce the amount of plastic waste in Sweden to help future generations and SVT is in a perfect position to get that message out but they didn’t really. Just remember it’s ultimately all about entertainment! If you can dial up the drama you’ll probably get a bigger segment. If I were to do it again, I’d probably challenge them and argue harder for why they should invest. But when the spotlights are on you, you can answer their questions a bit timidly and accept what they say instead of saying what you really think.
And what about the investment side of things?
You can spend two years building a company and creating something truly innovative, but when you really need an investment, you’re willing to give more away than you should and the dragons know that. I know they’re taking a risk too, but it’s usually a big percentage for a relatively small amount of money. If I started by offering 2% of the company they may have asked for 10%, but I went in with an honest figure in mind (10%) so to come back with an offer that doubled that was a bit of a kick in the balls. My advice would be: go in low and expect them to double the percentage. I’ve watched the program so many times that I know this happens, but at that point I really needed an investment so I accepted.
So, did the deal go through?
In the end, no. It can take months to do all of the necessary due diligence and get an official contract on the table, and by the time that happened, Lifelong’s situation had changed so much that it didn’t seem right to give away 20% of my company for such a small amount of money. Joining Sting was a huge booster for us thanks to the Propel Capital investment, which is SEK 500,000 in the form of a convertible note. We’ll use this money to drive the growth we need to raise a pre-seed round of hopefully SEK 2.5 million. If we had brought Shervin onboard at such a low valuation, it would’ve definitely made things much more complex when it came to future investments. I was still really happy to get an offer from him though, if I’d had five nos it would’ve hurt!
Would you do it again?
I’d definitely do the UK one so I could have a go at pitching in my native language.
What’s next for Lifelong?
For the next six months we’re focusing on developing our product range and will launch our newest product, which is a deodorant. I’m super excited about this because it took a lot of testing to get it right. When we finally created a powdered deodorant that actually worked I started jumping up and down in my living room. It smells amazing!
If you’d like to learn more about Lifelong, contact the team on firstname.lastname@example.org