The condensed version of each proposal that the television audience gets to see can be deceptive. Dragons’ Den pitches often go on for far longer than the few minutes that get broadcast. One of the projects from the last series that Theo eventually invested in was the Gaming Alerts website: an online service for Internet gamblers. Some elements in the online affiliate and gaming industries expressed a degree of scepticism regarding the wisdom of the decision. What those people didn’t realise, and what the format of the show didn’t make clear, was that the website formed only a part of a larger package.
“Some of the pitches are two and a half hours long. On TV you saw ten minutes of the two hours and forty-three minutes of that full pitch. There was little in it about Ed and Emmie’s associated media business that already makes a half-million pound profit.”
And despite the surprised reaction from outsiders, Gaming Alerts is also delivering results. Theo’s involvement with Gaming Alerts at this stage is strictly an investment role with, as yet, little of the hands-on approach that has built successful concerns out of many ailing businesses.
The brands with which he has become most widely associated, Ryman, La Senza and even Millwall FC, required substantial intervention to get them back on track, and Theo’s involvement had to be with the day-to-day running. Changes had to be made and management philosophies reshaped. After immersing himself in a project and seeing it transform from a receivership case into a vibrant, growing business, selling a revived brand doesn’t mean that Theo turns his back on the work he has put into it. With La Senza, for example, although he no longer runs the company, Theo retains a percentage of the company and still sits on the board.
“I’ve sold quite a few businesses in the last five years, but I’ve also bought quite a few. The ones I’ve sold have made quite a substantial profit, but all those businesses have been restored to health and they’re back up and running. It gives me a good feeling, and I have a good rapport with them – even the ones I’ve sold. I sit on the boards of most of them still, and it can be quite hard to watch someone else running them.”
Theo’s autobiography, Enter the Dragon, which will be published in May, takes the reader behind the scenes at Dragons’ Den as well as explaining how Theo made his fortune. He describes how his family moved to England from Cyprus and how, as a poor immigrant, he took whatever jobs were available. He talks about the undiagnosed dyslexia that interfered with his education, and describes how determination and common sense enabled him to succeed despite that hurdle. The book is subtitled “How I Transformed My Life, and How You Can Too”, and includes a master class in business methods.
There is clearly a good-natured rivalry between the Dragons and it has become clear during the interview that Theo enjoys every opportunity to make jokes about his fellow panellists. When we asked him if he had read Duncan’s book, the response was typically tongue in cheek.
“No! Is he going to read mine? No!”
It is obvious that Theo gets a great deal of enjoyment from Dragons’ Den, and from most of his projects.
“I do have fun. I love to make money! Those are the key cornerstones: have lots of fun but never forget to make money.”
Story: Rick Cadger
Interview: Angela Banh
Photography: Stan Thompson