BOOK REVIEW: Dragons for your coffee table

And For All These Reasons... I’m In: Essential Advice For Entrepreneurs, by Gil Oved, Lebo Gunguluza, Polo Leteka, Vinny Lingham and Vusi Thembekwayo

THE authors of this book all appeared on the South African TV show, Dragon’s Den. The show is a reality television series featuring entrepreneurs who present their business ideas in the hope of securing finance from the panel.

The series originated in Japan and has been produced in almost 30 countries from Afghanistan to the United States. The version most people will be familiar with will be that of the BBC’s Dragon’s Den, which is now flighting its 13th series of the show.

The success of the format probably lies in its value as an hour of entertaining business education. Facing experienced business people, the entrepreneurs pitch for the funding they require to take their businesses to the next level. The maturity of their businesses may range from only an idea, to a company already making profits that requires funding to expand. In each case the entrepreneurs request a fixed sum of money in exchange for equity in the business that can be negotiated.

The entertainment and educational value of the show lies in the probing questions asked of the entrepreneurs by the panellists, called Dragons. Their name derives from the ferocity of their interrogation. Their questions are not academic, but very real – the Dragons are being asked to invest their own money in these businesses.

Oved, Gunguluza, Leteka and Lingham are all experienced business people who have had personal involvement in starting and investing in entrepreneurial businesses. They are all well aware of how difficult it is to start and grow a business into something of real value.

They know, first hand, that most start-ups fail in the first few years of opening. They know that only some make it and grow into businesses capable of offering their owners a good living. They know that only a tiny fraction of start-ups become businesses that make their owners wealthy. This is why their interrogation of the presenting entrepreneurs is so sharp and edifying.

With this background, the authors have produced a print extension of the Dragon’s Den. This book captures the best elements of the show: entertainment and education. The book itself is worthy of a place on your coffee table; it is colourful and attractive. The contents can be dipped into without having to read the book in order, from cover to cover (though I would advise this.)

The book contains quotations and insights from the Dragons, and complementary quotations and insights from well-known giants of business and business thinking.

The book starts off with a description of the “DNA of an entrepreneur”. J D Rockefeller is quoted as saying: “If you want to succeed, you should strike out on new paths rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success.”

Oved sees entrepreneurs as having “passion-fuelled optimism”. To this Lingham adds: “To be successful you need to be a pragmatist with a hint of idealism, not an idealist with a hint of pragmatism.”

The delusion that entrepreneurs come up with new concepts is put firmly in place in the chapter on ideas. “We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas,” Steve Jobs is quoted as saying. Gunguluza warns: “A good idea gives you the foundation for an opportunity you want to seize, but you have to ask yourself the questions: Is there a definite market for your idea? Is your idea going to benefit the customer? Will people be prepared to pay money for your idea?”

When presenting to potential investors, Oved explains that “I am looking for people who have done their homework. You need to answer the WHYs… Why this business?... Why this amount of money? Why? Why? Why?” Leteka adds to that “the problem you are trying to solve needs to be very apparent in your pitch – it needs to be clear how you can convert the opportunity into a reality… Keep your pitch simple… (don’t) get lost in the complex and complicated details.”

A critical part of starting any business is described in a dedicated chapter that focuses on being able to speak the language of business, and having a clear understanding of the numbers. “I have seen great businesses shut down because of bad cash management,” says Oved to which Lingham cautions: “You can’t pay your debts with future profits.”

“Numbers tell the story – its as simple as that. They are a health check and will help you identify where the problem areas are in your business,” explains Leteka.

The renowned motivational speaker Zig Ziglar said: “Failure is a detour, not a dead-end street.” Gunguluza, focusing on the person, says: “That is what true entrepreneurs do. They live to fight another day.”

When a Dragon come to the decision that he or she is not going to invest in the entrepreneur’s company, he or she describes the concerns and then uses the phrasing: “… for all these reasons, I’m out!” This book aims to achieve exactly the opposite response from the Dragons, a response of “I’m in!”

The book is packed with good ideas and insights, and will go a long way to ensuring that you will get a favourable response to your next pitch.

Readability       Light +--- Serious
Insights        High --+-- Low
Practical        High +---- Low

* Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy and is the author of Strategy that Works. Views expressed are his own.

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