“Oh, God. There’s Deborah Meaden. No-one’s smiling. What am I doing?”

That was the first thought I had as the doors opened to the den.

But this was it. I was here to pitch Warpaint For Men to the dragons so that’s what I was going to do.

Everything was rehearsed to perfection, but my head was still all over the place – not helped by the fact that just moments before my pitch I made the decision to change the equity ask from 5% to 7% for a £100k investment! Fully aware that mine was a small business, I didn’t want to get into an unnecessary debate – a tactic that would (thankfully!) serve me well later.

“You can’t improve on perfection”

It’s no secret that I founded Warpaint For Men in response to having been bullied for my appearance when I was younger, and it was really important to me to get that point across quickly. This was not a business to help me make money quickly, nor was it in response to a gap in the market. It comes from a much deeper place. You can imagine, therefore, how nervous I was to invite them to try the product that means so much to me. This was it – crunch time.

“You can’t improve on perfection”, Theo Paphitis joked, after an uncomfortably long silence. I was absolutely bricking it by this point; he was definitely the hardest dragon for me, grilling me more than any of the others. I just couldn’t read him.

But then came the turning point, thanks to the next five words uttered by Deborah: “You’ve done a cracking job.”

And breathe.

But it was far from over. Whilst I was able to relax ever so slightly, there were still lots of questions being fired at me and I genuinely didn’t know which way it was going to go.

“I’m ready to put my Warpaint on”

Up until this point, Peter Jones hadn’t really said much. But then he said he was blown away by the positioning and quality of the product. It still makes me feel emotional and gives me goosebumps when I think about it. I felt like the world had been taken off my shoulders because no matter what happened now, at least I had one dragon.

I couldn’t have anticipated what would then follow. One by one, each and every single dragon proceeded to make me an offer, too! I couldn’t keep track of what was going on, but one thing I was sure of: I would not be going as high as 20%, which was the first offer on the table made by Peter. Nor would I go as high as 15%, which was the lower offer made by Deborah. “How am I going to whittle them down?”, I thought. I was so red by this point even Warpaint couldn’t hide it!

Thank God for the talking to the wall moment! Honestly! I needed time to compose myself, and in doing so decided I’d turn the tables on them. Brave or stupid? I’ll let you decide!

And that’s how I asked them what they could bring to the business and how much lower they would be willing to go. It felt like all my Christmases had come at once when Peter and Tej Lalvani agreed to team up, as they were the dragons I really wanted, but it was still at too high an equity. So, I pushed harder for a total of 12%, against their negotiations of 20%, then 15%, then 14%. They tried to go for a buy-back deal but I was adamant: Agree to 12% now and we’ve got a deal. If I sound cool, calm and collected now, I was absolutely bricking it at the time. Was I really going to walk away from the den without a deal when all five dragons had offered to invest?

“Let’s do it!”

The moment I saw Peter nodding at Tej, I knew we had a deal. Relief flooded through me and I was over the moon excited, if also absolutely shattered. I called my other half to tell her and that’s when it hit me: Five people like that backing my brand could change everything. And it did.

Like all business deals and investments, sometimes they go through and sometimes they don’t, and at that point in time we decided to progress the business a little further before taking external funds. And even though we didn’t end up working with the dragons, we’ve grown considerably as a brand and launched all over the world since then.

My time in the den was definitely one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve ever done but also one of the best. It gave men’s makeup a bit more of a platform and furthered our journey in ways I still pinch myself about now. The future looks amazing and I hope you’ll stay for the ride!

Check out the episode here



August 12, 2020 — Ally Collins

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