It was all smiles and handshakes, mixed with nail-biting negotiations, when Ian Andrew Bell made his pitch on the set of Dragons' Den – at least until the cameras stopped rolling.
It was the second time in three years that the Vancouver-based entrepreneur had been before the Dragons. The first time was in 2011 for a dating app called Tingle, which landed a deal that later didn't close. Mr. Bell believes he may have been too serious on that show and this time around, with a different product to present, he was more willing to play up his business under the bright lights.
On the show which aired on Oct. 22, he pitched his RosterBot online platform that helps amateur sports teams organize their games. Mr. Bell, an amateur goalie, and his business partner, and former Vancouver Canucks player Bret Hedican, came with nets, sticks and custom jerseys for each of the five Dragons.
A small game of shinny ensued and by the end of their skit Mr. Bell and Mr. Hedican had a verbal agreement for $200,000 with four of the dragons for 5.48 per cent of their company, which was double the $100,000 for 2.74 per cent they came asking for.
But when it was time to sign a non-binding term sheet backstage after the show was taped back in March, Mr. Bell balked.
"I said I would honour the terms, but wouldn't sign the contract," Mr. Bell said in a recent interview.
The reaction wasn't good.
"Everybody freaks out and decides we were just there for the publicity," he said, denying the claim. "We went on the show will full sincerity."
According to Mr. Bell, the deal would have given the four dragons in the deal (everyone but fellow Vancouverite Vikram Vij) exclusivity for 120 days. He was worried that would negatively impact financing RosterBot already had in the works, which was an amount much higher than what was offered on the show.
(Weeks after the taping, RosterBot announced its first seed financing of more than $1-million led by Sora Capital, whose president and CEO is investor and former NHL player Paul Reinhart, and angel investors including David Tedman, co-founder of Hootsuite).
Mr. Bell left the Dragons' Den set back in March convinced he had made the right call.
A few hours later, he picked up lengthy voice-mail from entrepreneur Michael Wekerle, one of the show's colourful new cast members, wanting to discuss his decision to not sign the agreement.
Mr. Bell called back and set up a meeting with Mr. Wekerle at his hotel, The Ritz-Carlton in downtown Toronto, at 11 p.m. that evening. The two met in the bar and talked into the wee hours, drinking beer and swapping business and personal stories.
Mr. Bell says he didn't get straight up business advice, but instead some insights on how investors think.
"I feel as though I've gotten to know Wekerle better than investors I've known and dealt with for years," Mr. Bell said of the conversation.
"This is why I think a lot of fast-paced entrepreneurs gravitate towards him. He respects you. Gives you enough rope to hang yourself. The guidance he provides is there but it's practically invisible unless you're watching out for it, which I routinely am."
The next morning, while in a taxi on the way to the Toronto Pearson International Airport, Mr. Bell got a call from Mr. Wekerle urging him to come back to the Dragons' Den studio downtown and sit backstage for the day.
The idea was to give Mr. Bell a chance to try to smooth over relationships with some of the other Dragons who weren't happy with his decision to not sign the term sheet.
"As different Dragons filtered through I had the chance to talk to them and reassure them we were interested in doing the deal," says Mr. Bell.
Six months later, there's still no deal with any of the Dragons, but Mr. Bell isn't giving up hope.
However, he says RosterBot's valuation has since increased, which could change the deal terms if any dragons were still interested.
In a recent interview, Mr. Wekerle, the chief executive and co-founder of Toronto-based investment banking firm Difference Capital Financial, says the window may have closed for him to invest in RosterBot given that he has other irons in the fire. That includes buying up former BlackBerry buildings in Waterloo to create a tech incubator, as well as his charitable work.
Still, he believes Mr. Bell will find success with RosterBot.
"He really does stand out as an entrepreneur – he has the drive and passion," says Mr. Wekerle who, as an amateur hockey player with kids also playing the sport, likes the RosterBot concept.
That said, he cautions other entrepreneurs about agreeing to deals then not following through, and believes in taking a 24-hour cooling-off period if a deal goes south.
"Sometimes doing nothing is the right thing to do," he says. "But [you] may have to go back and be more political."
"Some of the things I tell people, that I have lived by, is: 'Your word is your world, and your world is your word,'" he says. "You have to approach [business] as both a passion and a way of life."
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