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Pitching smart shopping to the Dragons

Andrew and Joelle Johnson were among the presenters who pitched a product or idea during the Dragons’ Den auditions held at the Civic Centre last week.  - DeLynda PILON/Free Press
Andrew and Joelle Johnson were among the presenters who pitched a product or idea during the Dragons’ Den auditions held at the Civic Centre last week.
— image credit: DeLynda PILON/Free Press

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote you should speak politely to an enraged dragon, and anyone who has ever watched Dragons’ Den knows if you’re rude, or worse, your offering is less than optimal, that is a good piece of advice, otherwise the dragon will turn that cruel maw of a mouth on you and burn you alive.

Verbally, of course.

The premise of CBC’s Dragons’ Den is fairly simple. Venture capitalists  Kevin O’Leary, Jim Treliving, Arlene Dickinson, Bruce Croxon and David Chilton are the dragons. Entrepreneurs enter the den, pitching their business ideas to this panel of experts. Either the Dragons will give you the go-ahead, which includes a capital investment in your idea, or they will, with painful honesty, tell you why it will never work.

If your idea is grand, the Dragons will squabble over who will seize it, like a pack of lions descending on a prey – which they kind of are, actually. Or they will form partnerships, and within that entity offer to provide the cash investment your venture needs.

Auditions for Dragons’ Den took place in Prince George at the Civic Centre last week.

Andrew Johnson, with his wife Joelle at his side to support him, sat at the end of a row of chairs, clasping a piece of paper with the number nine on it, indicating when it would be his turn to face the Dragons. The line-up of chairs wasn’t long, but some of the people in it were colourful, like the stocky gentleman in the Chinese red silk jacket. Some looked dead serious, while others looked as though they were about to be ill. One was nearly giddy at her chance to pitch to the Dragons.

“I have so many bags. I’m the Dragons’ Den bag lady,” she cried out as she toted a few of those bags towards her chair.

“All entrepreneurs have a lot of bags,” someone quipped.

There was a smattering of laughter and Joelle smiled.

“She’s been entertaining us since she got here,” she said.

She seemed happy for the distraction.

“They’re still on the first interview,” she explained, staring at the door supplicants disappeared behind as though it was - well, as though it was enclosing a den of dragons.

A clock on the wall proclaimed the first presenter had been there nearly an hour already.

“They started a bit late,” Joelle explained, also glancing at the time.

Andrew explained he’d come to pitch, a company he owns with two partners in California, Brian and Meghan Ollenberger.

Brian, he said, grew up in Prince George. is a web service that watches for the things you would like to buy online, alerting you when they go on sale.

The idea for the service was born in the spring of 2012.

“We just got started with it, so we’re in the beginning stages,” Andrew said. “It’s looking good. Now we just need to get lots of people using it.”

Joelle explained that currently a lot of the ads for the service are online, specifically targeting online shoppers. But they need to do more advertising. That’s why they came to face the Dragons and ask for  $250,000 for advertising.

The way the service works is you install the shopscotch button on your browser.

“Suppose you’re online and you’re looking at a cardigan. You think it’s attractive, but it’s $80. You click on shopscotch,” Joelle said.

Then you get an alert if and when the item goes on sale. You can set the parameters of the alert, ensuring it only tells you when and if the item is 25 per cent or 50 per cent off. And, if the item goes on at a better sale price within a month after your purchase, you will get another alert in case you’re eligible for the further discount.

Andrew added they are about 80 per cent complete in being offer shopscotch as an iPhone app as well.

“I’m a little nervous right now, but I’ve described it quite a few times,” Andrew said. “So, I’m not too nervous. I’m pretty well versed in describing it and I know it is a good product.”

“All together it saved us about $500 over the summer while we were piloting it,” Andrew added.

Following the audition, Andrew said he felt things went very well.

“They are going to let us know the beginning of March,” Andrew said.

That is when the Canada-wide auditions end. Following that, final selection will be made, he said.

About 100 of the entries will make the cut, but only a handful of those will make the show.


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