Behind the scenes at Dragons’ Den: How we pitched a multi-million dollar startup to Canada’s fiercest investors

Pitching your business on national television can be a make it or break it opportunity. In the spring of 2017, Moka (previously known as Mylo) was invited to pitch on CBC’s Dragons’ Den. When our CEO Phil Barrar and Executive Chairman Liam Cheung faced the Dragons, we were already pitching investors to raise seed funding for our fintech app, but Dragon’s Den proved to be a pitching experience unlike any other. To celebrate the release of their episode, Phil and Liam take us behind the scenes and share some of the insight they gained from appearing on the show.

Lesson #1: Expect the unexpected. If you’re well prepared and can adapt to change, you’ll be able to make the most of any surprise opportunity.

Phil Barrar:  Pitch day started really early at 6:30 a.m., although that didn’t really matter since we were so excited it was impossible to sleep the night before. We grabbed a coffee across the street from the CBC studios in Toronto, where the show is taped, and we saw the other invited entrepreneurs in the same cafe, gearing up for the show.

Liam Cheung:  There was a lot of nervous energy in that coffee shop!

Dragons’ Den has two taping sessions in a day: one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. It’s a really well-oiled machine. Everyone goes to a staging area on the seventh floor of the building, sets up their station, and rehearses their pitch in front of one of the show’s producers.

Phil: After our dry run, they brought us to a waiting room. We were scheduled to face the Dragon’s in a few hours, so we thought we had time to relax before showtime, but we were unexpectedly bumped to an earlier slot at the last minute! The told us we would be on in just 30 seconds! We were hurried up the stairs at the back of stage and told to follow a big yellow line to centre stage. That’s where we came face to face with the Dragons.

Liam: The producers are trying to stoke nervous energy because it makes for good TV, and they do it very well! Luckily, we were so prepared for the pitch that the last-minute schedule change didn’t really phase us. Everything flowed as planned.

Lesson #2: Dragons are human, too. Successful investor relationships rely on seeing past titles and public personas. Focus on making human connections.

Phil: My memory of our three minute pitch is a blur, but I remember the Q&A with the Dragons that followed much better. We fielded questions in the Den for an intense hour and 45 minutes.

Liam: The pitch is a blur for me, too. What I remember most clearly is how professional and genuinely nice all the Dragons were. I’m an active investor, so I’ve listened to many pitches. I have to say that the Dragons’ interview was one of the best I’ve ever experienced from either side of the table.

On TV, you often see conflict in the Den, especially when the Dragons hear an idea they don’t like, but when you meet them person, it’s clear that there isn’t a mean bone in their bodies. They aren’t contentious at all. We actually ran into Jim Treliving in the hallway before the pitch, and he was very polite and soft-spoken. In that moment, we saw a glimpse of the person underneath the TV persona.

Lesson #3: Relationships matter. The people you know and the connections that you nurture can be valuable even if they don’t offer a direct investment.

Phil: At first, the Dragons gave us really positive feedback. They seemed to like our business model and our social mission to make saving and investing accessible for all Canadians. They even said things like, “Everyone needs Mylo.”

Then they started voicing concerns around issues like our need for capital, the competition we would face and whether or not our valuation was too high. It felt like there was skepticism from the Dragons.

Liam: Then Joe Mimran, who hadn’t asked many questions, suddenly said, “Yes, I’ll do it.”

Phil: His offer felt like an immediate win. Not only did we get an offer, we got the amount we asked for at the valuation we wanted and that the business deserved.

Then there was a moment of quiet where I thought: What do we do now? So we asked if any other Dragons wanted to join the conversation.

Michael Wekerle and Jim Treliving both liked the idea but had conflicts of interest because of  other businesses they were invested in.

Manjit Minhas said she would download the app but bowed out of a deal, explaining that her area of expertise isn’t technology.

That’s when Arlene Dickinson and Michele Romanow started talking about the possibility of investing. So Joe had a deal on the table, but Michele and Arlene were also interested.

In the end, all three of them agreed to be partners in a deal to invest in Mylo.

Liam: I thought Mike Wekerle, a financial industry veteran, would be the toughest to win over, but he immediately saw the value in our company and even helped make the case for Mylo to the other Dragons.

Mike and I both worked in finance in Toronto in the 90s, so we have mutual professional acquaintances. I think that gave us credibility in Mike’s eyes, and his words of support gave Mylo credibility in the other Dragons’ eyes. So even though he didn’t offer us a deal, he still contributed to our win.

Lesson #4: Your success as an entrepreneur depends on your ability to convince others that your dream is achievable. That means you have to wholeheartedly believe that you can bring your vision to life and perfect your ability to communicate that vision to others.  In the beginning, you are the business.

Phil: It’s been a year since we were in the Den. Today, our pitch to investors focuses on our traction in the market and the metrics behind the success we’ve seen to date, but back when we taped the show, we were pitching an idea and a vision. We hadn’t officially launched Mylo yet, and we went in knowing our episode would probably be airing much later.

We took our investor Jay Ferst’s advice and pitched them the dream.

Liam: I’ve always believed in Mylo, but by practicing the pitch so many times, I actually sold myself on the dream. Usually, when I invest in a company, I look for a revenue model that is really fleshed out, and most of my investments are much later stage. They are usually well established and predictable in terms of the risk and return.

It’s very different with a startup; there are a lot of unknowns and assumptions to be confirmed before you get to market, but I believed so strongly in the Mylo vision that I deviated from my typical investing ethos. Today, the dream is a reality!

Lesson #5: Choose your partners wisely. Sometimes, they’ll be the only person by your side. The best partnerships are made stronger under pressure.

Phil: One of the best things about the experience was getting to know Liam better. This was actually the first project we worked on together following Mylo’s acquisition of Liam’s firm, Tactex Asset Management.  It was an intense way to kick off our working partnership.

Our team spent over 100 hours preparing, collectively. I drove to Liam’s house every day to practice.  We rehearsed our routine on anyone and everyone who would listen.

Liam: My kids knew the pitch really well!

Phil: It’s funny to think we almost turned down the opportunity to appear on the show! We manage our clients’ money so it is very important that we maintain their trust, and if we didn’t nail our TV premiere, we might shake our users’ confidence in the brand.

Liam: You aren’t allowed to bring anyone to watch or support your pitch, so we were really in it together. I’d say we came out on top.

Phil: Definitely! We were thrilled to get a deal in the Den, but ultimately we didn’t take the Dragons’ money. We decided to work with other investors because we were able to secure a strategic offer that made more sense for our company. Overall, Dragons’ Den was a great opportunity and we’re grateful to have had the experience.

It’s amazing to look back over the past year and think about how far we’ve come.  Not only did we launch Mylo in the App Store and Play Store, but we were named one of Apple’s Apps We Love and App of the Year by Notable Life.  We raised $2.65-million in seed financing lead by Desjardins Capital, which has allowed us to accelerate our growth, expand our team and invest in our technology.  

Dragon’s Den was an important moment on our mission to help millions of Canadians achieve their financial goals by investing spare change.

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