Into the Dragons' Den - Surrey business strikes it rich
PUBLISHED: 13:00 11 April 2012 | UPDATED: 13:35 14 June 2016
Having emerged from the Dragons' Den £200,000 to the good, the young directors of Reigate-based Prowaste Management Services have every reason to be pleased. Here, Paul Tinton and Colin Slade speak exclusively to Surrey Life's DEBBIE WARD
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine November 2008
Since winning the backing of the country's top business brains in Dragons' Den, the young directors of Reigate-based Prowaste Management Services have found themselves in a strange role reversal situation.
Now Paul Tinton and Colin Slade have budding entrepreneurs seeking their own business advice. "We've had people saying 'what do you think about this?' and 'I've got a new idea, how do I patent it?'" explains Paul.
The pair, who are best friends as well as business partners, have got their hands full, however, with their own fast growing company, which now boasts two 'dragons' as part of its team.
Paul and Colin, both just 28, set up Prowaste, a recycling and waste management service for the construction and refurbishment industry, almost two years ago after Colin, who ran a demolition company, spotted a gap in the market. Their know-how coupled with a colour-coded waste separation system helps contractors minimise landfill.
Paul submitted an online application for Dragons' Den after watching the show one evening.
"We're both fans of the series: we always watch the programme and regularly talk about it," he says. "But it was just another thing we'd done - I didn't really think about it going anywhere."
Having passed a BBC audition, however, the pair anxiously genned up for their den grilling by reading the dragons' books and quizzing accountants on how the value of a business is assessed. A BBC researcher also helped them prepare a pack of documents to substantiate their business claims.
Making the pitch on Dragons' Den
Paul, who made the TV pitch, says being a naturally confident person he wasn't too phased by the prospect of facing the belligerent dragons - until he was waiting at the foot of the famous stairs to the den. "I was standing at the bottom of the steps and I could see Deborah Meaden's feet and her having her make up done," Paul says.
Suddenly nervous, he started jangling the change in his pocket and one of the production crew told him to take it out. "I put the money in his hand and said: "If I get it it's yours, if I don't it's mine!" Paul laughs.
Happily, he could afford to part with his loose change because he emerged from the den with a total £200,000 investment from Duncan Bannatyne and Deborah Meaden in return for a 40 per cent stake in Prowaste.
"I went outside and the whole BBC crew was cheering," says Paul, "but I had one thing on my mind - I've got to speak to Colin." He tracked his partner down to the gym where the receptionist called Colin to the phone to hear the good news.
The den experience is significantly cut for TV so Paul's grilling actually lasted an hour and a half. He not only had to answer the dragons' tricky questions but zone out the camera crew to his left. "It's so surreal when you're inside," he says. "It does feel like you're in front of a row of teachers."
Paul and Colin were conscious that more than a potential investment was at stake in the den - their business's reputation could suffer if it got a TV mauling. But, unusually, Prowaste even gained compliments from the dragons who decided not to invest.
"Our clients were over the moon for us," says Colin. "They were really proud to be working with us." Dragons' Den has also made the eight-strong Prowaste team closer, says Paul. "The whole thing has been brilliant. Everyone has pulled their weight and come together, it's been a bonding experience."
The night of the TV screening was almost as nerve-wracking as the filming itself as the pair gathered in a pub with friends and family. "I was hiding behind Colin," says Paul, "but it turned out to be great. We had everyone booing at the dragons and then cheering. It was a really special, special evening."
The former Epsom College pupils' success is little surprise to their families as they both showed an early passion for business. Paul had a record label when he was just 16 and later promoted renewable energy while Colin helped organise club nights as a student.
"Subconsciously, we always knew we'd go into business together," says Colin.
So fast growing is Prowaste that the £350,000 turnover, which impressed the dragons, has doubled since the recording of the show. Paul and Colin have also had several offers of extra investment since the programme aired.
The pair claim the den experience wasn't about the money, which they were confident they could have raised elsewhere. "What's important is having these people around us from this age," says Paul.
Deborah and Duncan have already used their clout to approach City banks on behalf of Prowaste and Deborah has helped get the company's website up to scratch. Paul says: "They've given us clarity of direction. Both of them have committed to quite a lot of time on the project." Colin adds: "I think they have seen the confidence in us. They are starting to harness our enthusiasm and energy in a way that is beneficial."
The four recently got together for what turned out to be a very relaxed and enjoyable dinner at a London hotel. Paul and Colin have even laughed with Deborah Meaden about a recent Harry Enfield sketch in which the comedian portrayed her as 'the grumpy one'. She is lovely in real life, they say. "The reason she comes across as harsh in my opinion is she's so analytical," explains Paul. "I really enjoyed answering Deborah's questions in the den. She helped us show off our business."
With the dragons' investment Paul and Colin plan to increase the size of their staff and number of vehicles to help meet demand and also to relocate to be nearer their London client base. In the long term, they anticipate selling the business to a company with a large infrastructure and staying on as managers.
They've come a long way in a short time but, like the rest of us, they still watch Dragons' Den hopefuls from between their fingers.
"I still cringe!" says Paul. "I know how horrible it feels when it's not going right. I pity the people more now because I know how just to get there is a struggle."
- To watch Paul's Dragons' Den pitch, follow the link on their website, www.prowaste.co.uk
Paul Tinton and Colin Slade's Dragons' Den tips:
- Be sure this is what you want to do and you have your colleagues' and family's support
- Consider your credibility if your product is ridiculed or you're made to look unprofessional
- Do as much research as possible into your market
- Watch the show and anticipate questions
- Spot patterns: for instance, for investment over £100,000 the dragons rarely ask for less than a 40 per cent stake
- Have a clearly defined pitch
- If you're desperate for the money you'll be under a lot of extra pressure - it's best if your priority is the dragons' expertise
- Take a tissue and don't wear a dark shirt - it's hot under the lights and the dragons' gaze
- Even if you aren't successful, preparing for the show can help you clarify the direction of your business.