M14 CEO John Kershaw
Dating software boss John Kershaw matched with all five business people on BBC2’s Dragons’ Den last night, leaving the show with an offer of investment.
Peter Jones and Nick Jenkins secured a ‘yes’ from John for an £80,000 investment, representing a 20% stake in software firm M14 Industries, the makers of niche dating app software powering solutions like Bristlr and Spex.
So how does one decide to head to national TV, and put themselves in front of a panel renowned for being a tough audience, to seek funding for their business?
“Shortly after leaving Ignite, it was a ‘well why not?’ situation!” John had developed Bristlr on the Newcastle-based accelerator programme Ignite100, in the months preceding his application to the den.
“This was before we became M14, we were just Bristlr. I applied in the September , and didn’t think anything of it…” John heard nothing for a few months and assumed he hadn’t been successful – but he was wrong, and around a year ago he was invited to meet the production team.
“The pitch was very much around us making Bristlr, and how we grew into M14,” he says, which makes sense for the Dragon’s Den TV show responsible for bringing businesspeople like Levi Roots to our attention. Bristlr, a niche dating app pairing people with beards with people who like beards, has almost 170,000 users.
“I’m quite used to the process of pitching: I say ’Hey, I’m John from Bristlr, and everyone’s like ‘oh, you idiot’, and I’m like ‘so here’s this totally awesome business’… and I took that to the competition!”
The timing coincided with John raising a funding round, meaning he had both his pitches and due diligence polished to perfection – “The BBC loved us!”
But with the filming date set for just two weeks after the close of his first funding round, John decided to withdraw from the process. “Because we closed the funding round we’d gained nine new investors,” he says, and it didn’t feel right to go out to them and seek permission for John to negotiate on behalf of the business so soon afterwards.
The filming window for the Den was long enough, however, for John’s appearance to be moved so that his pitch for investment could go ahead.
“The big thing to keep in mind is that I was in there for about an hour an a half,” he says. “The pitch is only 2-3 minutes but the Q&A part could take up to three hours, edited down to just ten minutes!”
“I managed to do a really good pitch; they all laughed at what Bristlr was and they all agreed the business was really good.
“Not one of them questioned my financials, not one of them criticised the business, and at no point did any of them say anything negative!”
“I thought I’d go in there, they’d say something really mean, I’d have fun and leave,” he jokes.
But that’s not what happened. One by one, each of the Dragons fell for John and his bearded charms, and made him five offers. So many offers, that he had to borrow a pen and paper from the Dragons to do some sums to make his decision!
In the end, it was the combination of Nick Jenkins and Peter Jones who John felt offered the most to his business, and he was happy to shake their hands.
Based in Manchester, M14 secured new clients in late 2016 and is recruiting to extend their capacity to continue growing.