BEING branded the “best ever” pitch and having every investor fighting over you is a dream few Dragons’ Den hopefuls can achieve.
But that was the reality for Sam Jones, 31, after he offered up a 10 per cent stake of his company Gener8, which helps internet users profit from their data online.
He walked away with a £60,000 investment from Peter Jones and Touker Suleyman – and, in an unusual twist after the BBC show aired in 2021, bagged a ‘bonus Dragon’ and celebrity backers, too.
Sam’s business is now valued at £30m – making it one of the TV show’s most successful – after a recent £5.1m funding round and app launch.
“What’s amazing is that I nearly gave up during the waiting period and left before my Dragons’ Den pitch. If I did, none of this would have happened, it’s very humbling,” he tells The Sun.
Having watched it since he was a child, Sam was amazed when a producer asked him to apply via LinkedIn.
Despite being approached, he was told there would be “no shortcuts” and he would face the same rigorous process all show hopefuls go through.
In preparation Sam “watched as many previous Dragons’ Den pitches as possible” to learn from the mistakes of his predecessors.
It led him to present a basic pitch without props, which he explained was to keep it “real and raw with nothing to hide behind”.
Unable to sleep the night before filming, Sam admits he was in a “zombie-like state” when he arrived at the Manchester studio at 5.40am.
After going through hair and make-up and being asked to name his preferred Dragon on camera, he claims he was left in a room for 11 hours.
He recalls: “Because of Covid, the BBC rightly didn’t let us mingle with the other entrepreneurs.
“We were all locked away in separate and very small dressing rooms and not allowed to leave.
“I ran through my pitch, listened to meditation apps and ordered Deliveroo to the studio because I was so hungry.
“I could see glimpses of people passing in the corridor, I heard one poor girl crying her eyes out which didn’t help my nerves.”
I could see glimpses of people passing in the corridor, I heard one poor girl crying her eyes out which didn’t help my nerves
Sam says he finally “got hold of a producer” after growing increasingly frustrated and tired while waiting around 10 hours to pitch.
“I told them, ‘Look, I’m so exhausted, I’ve hardly slept or eaten and I thought I was going on this morning. I can’t even think straight let alone pitch my businesses’,” he recalls.
Sam says the crew apologised but didn’t give a reason for the wait, but within an hour he was pitching to the Dragons.
‘They pitched for me’
Fortunately, sleep-deprived Sam’s adrenaline kicked in moments before his pitch.
He says: “When the lift doors open you walk in and take about 10 steps to the middle of the room to find a mark on the floor.
“I could see all five Dragons lined left to right; it was so silent I could hear the echo of my every footstep.”
Although Sam’s pitch took over two hours, it was condensed into a 10-minute clip for TV.
One section he claims was cut was a rare role reversal in the Den, where each investor pitched themselves to him.
Sam says: “What happened on the Den but didn’t make it on TV was each of the Dragons giving a 10-minute pitch to explain how they could help the business.
“They were all excited and wanted to come on board. They explained how they could add value, help it grow and be a part of that journey.”
Another trimmed-down section was the amount of time Sam spent “talking to the wall”.
On the show it appeared to be just seconds but in reality, he says it was a good minute.
Touker’s cheeky offer
Sam convinced Touker Suleyman and Peter Jones, the Dragon he most wanted, to share a 10 per cent equity of Gener8 for £60,000.
Retail mogul Touker sweetened the deal by offering free workspace for up to eight people in his offices – which left Deborah Meaden rolling her eyes.
Sam adds: “Touker clearly had so much enthusiasm and communicated really well that he wanted to add value.
Touker has been true to his word, I see him nearly every day in the office, we drive to meetings together and go for dinner too
“But what was really attractive about the office space offer was nothing to do with free rent but that I would have a Dragon nearby.
“In a cut segment of the show, he told me, ‘Anything you need knock on my door, my door is always open and I’ll help with whatever you need’.
“And he has been true to his word, I see him nearly every day in the office, we drive to meetings together and go for dinner too.”
Five months later when the episode aired, four million people watched as Sam’s pitch was called the “best ever”, “brilliant” and “exquisite”.
And another surprise was in store less than 24 hours later after the show aired.
Sam had gone on BBC Breakfast to talk about his business when, he tells us: “After the show, Touker picked up his phone and I heard him say, ‘Hey Tej [Lalvani], yeah I’m with Sam now. I’ll pass the phone over.’
“I’d just come off TV and had a Dragon wanting to talk to me, it was surreal. Tej reiterated that he loved the pitch and business and really wanted to be involved.
“He told me, ‘Sam, I can’t miss this opportunity, I’ve got to be on board’. It must have been the first time a Dragon has chased up a contestant outside of the show.”
Sam’s business went viral after Dragons’ Den with him claiming six million people – nearly 10 per cent of the UK’s population – visited his website – and within weeks 60,000 had signed up.
He also attracted celebrity investors including Tinie Tempah, who he’s partied with, Harry Redknapp, Jamaican cricketing legend Chris Gayle, Tony Ryan – the son of RyanAir founder – and ex-British Olympic Association chief executive Simon Clegg CBE.
He adds: “What’s really cool is that I have a group of successful celebrities and business people on board – entrepreneurs, a rapper, a football manager and a top cricketer.
“Nearly two years on from the show, I work with all three Dragons very closely and have 25 staff working on a whole floor in Touker’s offices.”
This week Gener8 closed another funding drive and secured £5.1million, which means the company is valued at £30million.
The site claims people can earn between £10 and £25 a month by monetising their data.
Sam also claims three different companies have tried to acquire the business so far but he’s not interesting in selling it.
He adds: “We’re focussing on making enough progress rather than entering into conversations about selling, even though companies have approached us.”
Gener8’s success is a million miles away from the struggles Sam faced after launching in 2019 and nearly seeing his business “die” multiple times.
He says: “During Covid I nearly ran out of money and fortunately was able to cling on by my fingernails.
“There are so many forks in the road where the business could have ended or gone drastically differently, it’s all very humbling.”
The BBC chose not to comment after being contacted by The Sun.