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Duncan Bannatyne: Apart from the castle, what have you got for your £120,000?
Entrepreneur: You may be able to see a fence here.
Based on the Japan TV show Money no Tora ("Money Tigers"), this show has versions, with varying success, in Japan (the original), the UK (longest running), Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Canada (with another exclusive to Québec), Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, the Arab world, Ireland, and the United States (titled Shark Tank). The format is owned by Sony. The original show debuted in 2001.
Contestants have a set period of time to pitch their business to the eponymous Dragons (businessmen and women of note who operate in the nation). They then have to answer questions. This is where a lot of them fall down as their big impressive numbers turn out to be guesses. They have to go in with a set amount of funds they want and a percentage of the business they want to give away. One of the rules is they have to get all the money they came for or leave with nothing. They usually give away much more of their business than they hoped.
Part, if not most, of the show's appeal is the utterly-insane inventions and businesses some people put forward. Generally speaking, pitches break down into four categories:
- The Insane — the product makes no sense, solves a problem that doesn't exist, already has a much cheaper solution, or behaves in a way that is laughable.
How to stop British drivers driving on the wrong side of the road in France? How about a plain white glove, worn on the right hand!
- The Unstable — the product works, but the business (or sometimes the entrepreneur themselves) has serious problems. It might not own the patent or have huge debts...or maybe the owners just intend on spending all the money for their own salaries.
I have much experience in this field! This will be the third company I have run to try and make this toy!
- The Uncooperative — they get an offer, but refuse it.
I wanted to give away 5% of my brand-new company for £100,000. I refuse to give away 40% just because you know what you're talking about.
- The Successful — they get the deal. The Sunday Times once tried to make a big deal of the fact that some deals never went through after the show, but it didn't really work because the show never made a secret of that fact — both sides have a period of due diligence, and there have been several people who lied about their figures on the show. As Theo Paphitis put it, "I kept up my end of the bargain. The show is not about a cash prize, it is about us pledging to invest. But people must tell the truth. Simple."
- There have been several very successful products that got their start in the Den, not least Reggae Reggae Sauce and a growing set of hardware products owned under an umbrella company by Duncan Bannatyne and James Caan.
- Arch Enemy: Peter Jones and Duncan Bannatyne. Jones described Bannatyne as "a shit" in Series 1, and doesn't seem to have changed his opinion. Bannatyne says he can't see what Jones' problem is. Bannatyne ended up going down this path with James Caan later on.
- Artistic Licence Economics: The Dragons called out two women who were trying to set up an all-female building business for this. They were offering 20% equity in two separate companies, and the Dragons naturally assumed this meant 20% of each company, only to discover that they were actually being offered 5% of an established company and 15% of a company that hadn't even started trading yet. The two women were initially incredulous that the Dragons would have any problem with this, and then when Theo attempted to explain why their 20% figure wasn't valid they accused him of being sexist, sending Theo and Duncan (both of whom have women as over half their workforce) into a blind fury.
- The Canadian Dragons were once confronted with the crown prince of this trope, John "the Engineer" Turmel, who came in talking about how inflation was eroding the value of the world's currency. His presentation to the Dragons advocated that Canada abandon its dollar, which will eventually lose its value, with redeemable poker chips, which would theoretically never lose their value. The Dragons immediately pointed out to Turmel that his solution wouldn't solve anything, since the money the chips could be redeemed for would still lose its value. They also noted that there was no real way they could make any money from Turmel's scheme. There's a reason Turmel holds the world record for the number of failed election attempts...
- Bald of Evil: Kevin "Mr. Wonderful" O'Leary.
- Berserk Button:
- Both overinflated business valuations and, more recently, when former investment bankers show up, particularly one case when they wanted to start a financial company. Anyone who admits or is found out to intend part of the investment to pay their own salary will find themselves facing the fury of all Dragons at once. Typically more of a problem during the earlier series, but eventually people realised just how bad an idea this was.
- Deborah Meaden hates it when people try to bargain percentages with her.
- Peter Jones hates sloppily-dressed people.
- Anybody that expects the Dragons to put up a significantly greater amount of money than they themselves have.
- If a company is even borderline illegal, Jim Treliving (former RCMP officer) will not be amused.
- Telling a diabetic (or anyone with a health condition for that matter) that they should stop taking insulin or whatever else they're using to treat their condition because that article you read on the internet says that herbal medication can cure them. A snake oil salesman who tried this got chewed out for making such bold claims.
- Brutal Honesty: Some are more brutal than others, but none of the Dragons are the kind to mince words about a product's or company's flaws.
Duncan Bannatyne: When you lie down on a sunbed you put this on top of you. But most sunbeds now are stand-up sunbeds. So what happens then?
Entrepreneur: They fall off.
- Catch Phrase: The Dragons have an official one, "I'm out." The contestants have developed an unofficial one used when they have been given an offer "Could we have a moment to discuss this?"
- All the British dragons (particularly Meaden) regularly use the phrase "Let me tell you where I am", usually when they're about declare themselves out.
- Theo Paphitis: "Why should I risk £x of my children’s inheritance on...?" and any reference to "Mrs. Paphitis"
- Bannatyne: "Ludicrous" and "Ridiculous"
- Richard Farleigh/James Caan: "Your valuation is ridiculous!"
- Robert Herjavec: A very subdued 'Ta-da' whenever anyone makes a grand unveiling of their product.
- The Comically Serious: Sometimes the Dragons are faced with intentionally humorous pitches (such as the pantomime business in series 9).
- Continuity Nod: The show often provides updates on how previous contestants are doing with their products, whether or not they got an investment. In the US version, one of these updates segued into the contestant returning to the Shark Tank to try again (Copa De Vino single-serving wine).
- Critical Research Failure: Often committed by the contestants, either by only doing a laughably small amount of research (for instance, asking their parents or neighbours whether they think the product is a good idea), or by actually bothering to do full research and then outright disregarding it when it paints a less-than-rosy picture for the future of their business or product. Needless to say, the Dragons are relentless to people who have done either of these.
- Dramatic Curtain Toss: Some investors like to reveal their product to the Dragons this way.
- Dumb Blonde: Averted in one episode of Season 5 of the Canadian Version. One of the entrepreneurs was a Blonde Bombshell who pitched nut-free cookies. Apparently, even before the entrepreneur had started her speech, Arlene Dickenson had written her off as an airhead and was subsequently impressed by the blonde's pitch as well as her confidence. Arlene then confessed and apologized for her prejudice and was one of the Dragons who eventually signed up a deal with her.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Series 1 of the British edition.
- People had to carry their own products up the stairs, instead of the items being put there by the production team before the pitch.
- The room was smaller, so there was no space for entrepreneurs to go to the back of the room to discuss deals on offer.
- Duncan Bannatyne and Peter Jones seem to have more tolerance for bad pitches. (No doubt their impatience in later seasons is due to having to sit through hundreds of awful ideas.)
- It's also a little disconcerting to watch later seasons with the briskly no-nonsense Deborah Meaden, then watch seasons one and two with very soft and rather quiet Rachel Elnaugh as the female dragon.
- Ear Worm (In-Universe) "Fireman clowns, fireman clowns..."
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Invoked by James Caan in one episode, when rejecting investment in a vest for dogs that stops the animal from worrying about wounds it has:
James Caan: It kind of looks like it does what it says on the tin. It's probably not something for me.
- Five-Bad Band
- Fluffy the Terrible/Ironic Nickname: Kevin O'Leary is commonly nicknamed "Mr. Wonderful"
- Idiot Ball: One pair of investors in series 9 of the UK version (who had delivered a very confident pitch) had six offers from four Dragons - and managed to get every Dragon to declare themselves out after deciding to stick to their original demand of 25%. Their best offer was for 30%, with a 5% refund if they hit the first year target they had repeatedly declared was easy and realistic.
- It Will Never Catch On: Duncan Bannatyne and Deborah Meaden's attitude towards Reggae Reggae Sauce. To this day, Peter Jones likes to remind them of their prediction.
- Market-Based Title: Money no Tora in Japan, Shark Tank in the US.
- The Mean Canuck: Kevin O'Leary. He once told an entrepreneur who brought in an innovative new type of computer screen that if the guy was his VP of sales, he'd have been fired a long time ago. Which arguably missed the point, since the guy had come in to get someone who was actually good at sales; namely, the Dragons, to handle that side of the business while he and his colleagues continued to develop the technology.
"You never listen to guys like Kevin, he crushes people's dreams."
- In the UK version, just about all of the Dragons were Mean Brits. Peter Jones, Duncan Bannatyne, Theo Paphitis, and Deborah Meaden fall squarely into this category. Simon Woodroffe and Rachel Elnaugh weren't quite as bad, but could certainly turn on the nastiness when needed. Even Doug Richard, who is technically American, could earn an honorary Mean Brit title due to the fact that he could be as nasty as the others, and has resided in the UK for some time. James Caan (no, not that one) is the only real exception to this rule, as he is by far the nicest of the British Dragons (Richard Farleigh was the nicest overall, but is actually Australian). Hilary Devey seems to be covering for Caan as "the nicest one".
- Pet the Dog: Seen in the US version when a premium pogo stick company came in asking for an investment to go mass-market. In contrast to their regular ruthlessness, the Sharks encouraged him to stay high-end; declining to invest not because of a flaw in the company but because they simply felt the company was doing fine on its own.
- The Pete Best: Simon Woodroffe, who was only around for the first UK series. Rachel Elnaugh to a lesser extent; she was there for series one and two, but was soon forgotten once the much more vocal and imposing Deborah Meaden replaced her.
- Power Walk: The UK opening sequence, "shot to resemble a Tarantino heist movie" (Charlie Brooker).
- Put on a Bus: Richard Farleigh was booted off the show and replaced by James Caan when The BBC demanded that one of the Dragons be from an African or Asian ethnic background. This would probably have happened to Caan himself after the BBC decided they wanted another female Dragon to create a better gender balance, though other events meant he left the show anyway (see below).
- Screwed by the Network: Series 9 of the UK version was enjoying the show's best ratings ever. Then it was moved an hour earlier in the schedules. Then it was shifted from Sunday to Monday for no reason whatsoever.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here: James Caan bailed out on the show after a massive dispute with Duncan Bannatyne, caused by Bannatyne effectively accusing Caan of being a tax dodger in his newspaper column.
- Smug Snake: Kevin O'Leary epitomizes this trope.
- Stage Money: The UK set includes ostentatious stacks of banknotes on the table beside each Dragon, which they would occasionally use to illustrate "throwing your money away".
- Start of Darkness: The Canadian version had a special that detailed the careers and origins of each of the Dragons, and Kevin O'Leary's section described the event that led him to become a self-employed entrepreneur: having been hired to scoop ice cream at a parlour, he was ordered to scrape gum off the floor by his employer. He refused, was fired, and vowed never to let anyone have that kind of control over him again.
- Terrible Interviewees Montage: The show is broken up with narrated portions of two or three unsuccessful ideas back-to-back in less than five minutes.
- Violent Glaswegian: Duncan Bannatyne. Well, more bitingly sarcastic than violent, but you wouldn't want to get into a punch-up with him. He managed to build a successful ice-cream van business in Glasgow when that trade was "protected" by organised crime, so he can't have been offering free hugs.
- Worst. Idea. Ever.: Duncan Bannatyne claims the white glove idea mentioned near the top of this page is the worst idea he's ever seen in the Den.
- Young Entrepreneur: The Den occasionally features teenagers, who the Dragons are noticeably nicer to than they are to other entrepreneurs. The Dragons also compliment them on being so driven at a young age.
- Intriguingly, this is mostly averted by the Dragons themselves, who didn't generally become entrepreneurs until later in life. Duncan Bannatyne in particular cheerfully admits he spent his twenties lounging around on a beach and only doing just enough work to pay the bills. Richard Fairleigh has said that he tried running a Lemonade Stand as a child, but failed badly. Peter Jones is probably the nearest to this, as he did set up a number of businesses when he was younger; unfortunately they all crashed and burned within months, and he had to settle for working for others until he built up enough money to try again.