HM Insights

Episode 1 of Dragons’ Den/The Apprentice

Welcome to our weekly Dragons’ Den and Apprentice blog, where a member of Harper Macleod's entrepreneurial team will share their view of the latest episodes, give some professional insight to explain how we could have helped … and hopefully have a bit of fun along the way.  The first blog is from partner Paula Skinner who heads up the team.  The team have been involved in almost 200 transactions with a total deal value of more than £147m in the past three years, many of these being equity investments.

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New series of both Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice kicked off last week and while they both tend to be overly-dramatised on the basis that they are reality TV at the end of the day, there are some key points for watching entrepreneurs to take away.  Our blog series will try to cut through the reality/trash elements and focus on key legal points and topical areas. My personal view is that anything that helps promote entrepreneurship to the wider public is no bad thing.

First up was Dragons’ Den and there was a new dragon involved, Steve Bartlett, who is also the youngest Dragon, aged 29. In my opinion, Steve is a great new addition to the show. I loved his positivity and how he wasn’t purely about ripping entrepreneurs to shreds for entertainment purposes. He praised entrepreneurs for their hard work and offered them great feedback.  I think this is a shift for the programme although they may be easing us in gently and the abuse is still to come!  Another change for the programme seemed to be a focus on ethics and impact to the wider world. Evidenced by Deborah Meaden showing an interest in ethical milk production.  This ties in with what we see in the entrepreneurial investment community.  It’s becoming increasingly important for businesses and investors to look at their impact.  That’s part of the reason why the innovative corporate structure of B corporations are seeing huge growth in both the US and the UK.

Turning now to look at one of the businesses that held a particularly strong place in my heart (and stomach!) related to cheese.  The Cheese Geek is a cheese subscription business that sends cheese directly to your door – what’s not to love?  One of the main concerns of the Dragons seemed to relate to the scalability - would their suppliers be able to increase the cheese supply to the business in line with its growth?  I agreed with this concern, however felt that the entrepreneurs answered this question well despite initially saying they didn’t think there were any risks facing their business!! 

It’s critical that entrepreneurs know the risks their business could face and have a plan in place to deal with any issues that may arise.  I know what the risks to my business are and while I can’t control every eventuality, my eyes are completely open to risks that could arise.  The technology behind The Cheese Geek is one of their key attributes and some of the Dragons thought that this was the most important area.  Its technology helped subscribers receive cheeses matched to their tastes every month. 

My key tip here for businesses involved in software is that it is vital to ensure that whoever has helped create the software (for example consultants, employees, third party companies) have entered into intellectual property assignations so that the software is actually owned by the company.  Without something in writing, the intellectual property is NOT owned by the company – it is retained by the party that created it. Weekly we see problems with intellectual property and while the entrepreneur may be happy to take a risk at an early stage, a future investor and/or buyer may not be as willing to take a risk. As a result, we always strongly advise entrepreneurs to ensure that their business is built on strong foundations.

r entrepreneur I admired was Ola Goldsmith who owned a hair extension training business.  She had an absolutely fantastic first year from a revenue point of view but seemed to doubt herself.  It showed what a lonely journey entrepreneurship can be.  That’s why organisations like Scottish EDGE, Entrepreneurial Spark, Business Gateway andDechomai can play such an important role in the entrepreneurial ecosystem by supporting entrepreneurs on their journey and it’s why Harper Macleod supports these types of organisations too. 

It’s so important for entrepreneurs not to feel alone and to have somewhere they can turn to for support.  I’m confident that my team always have empathy when dealing with entrepreneurs and try to put ourselves in their shoes and sometimes, it’s important for us just to be there to lend a sympathetic ear and share our vast experience.  There are not many situations we hear about that we’ve not come across before so always encourage clients to speak to us about anything that is concern.

It was then the turn of The Apprentice.  The key takeaways here were all around branding, branding, branding.  Both teams had issues with their brand name and their logo. It was a shock to see that the boys’ team completely forgot to add their brand name within the logo. While Bouji Cruises (the girls’ team) won at the end of the day, I think they did not win on their own merit, they won purely because the boys’ team logo was so different to the luxury and wellness brand they were trying to portray. While I don’t think there was a risk for either team that someone might copy their brand (!), for most other entrepreneurs who spend time thinking about and choosing their brand, I would strongly advise then to get trade mark protection not only in the UK but also in any other territories that they may trade in.

Please get in touch if any of the issues discussed above are areas that you may need advice on.