Overcoming his nerves to secure £30,000 from one of the country’s most distinguished startup investors, 23 year-old entrepreneur Ed Hollands spoke exclusively to Business Advice about learning to sell and his pitching experience on Dragons’ Den.
The Derby-based owner of Driven Media, an agency working with brands to advertise on the sides and backs of lorries, trucks and vans, appeared on the 11 February outing of the hit BBC2 show.
Hollands walked away with the backing of Dragon Jenny Campbell in exchange for a 20 per cent share in his business. The young founder attributed his achievement to his honest pitch, and his preparation.
“Being open and honest is the key to a successful pitch in the Den,” Hollands explained. “If you’re not honest about what you do, you can be caught out.
“Enthusiasm and passion are also very important. [The Dragons] need to see you believe in what you’re doing, which is impossible to fake.”
After Sunday night’s successful pitch, Campbell said of the deal: “Ed is a young entrepreneur brimming with potential and I am very much looking forward to working with him and with Driven Media.”
In just two years, Hollands has taken his idea for an advertising venture and built a business with a £250,000 annual turnover – an impressive feat for anyone, let alone a young founder who’d only just graduated from the University of Derby with a business degree.
The idea behind Driven Media hit Hollands suddenly one day. Living in Nottingham, he was returning home after dropping his fiancé to work when he noticed a number of lorries and heavy goods vehicles stuck in a traffic jam on the A38 – a major transport road that runs through the Midlands.
“I thought ‘if I had a business, this is where I’d want to advertise it’”, said the entrepreneur. “There was a line of around 200 cars parked behind me, with nothing to look at but the side of this huge commercial vehicle.
Hollands got in touch with as many local haulage firms as he could to drum up support for his venture. One haulier, who owned a fleet of over 100 commercial trailers, showed an interest straight away, and Driven Media immediately had a strong platform from which to sell advertising space.
Learning to sell
Despite his nose for a good business idea, Hollands had no experience of selling. The young entrepreneur admitted that this was a skill he found challenging to master at first.
He said: “Selling the space to would-be advertisers proved to be the hard bit. I had no experience of learning to sell, and a real scatter gun approach to the advertising industry.
“For marketers too, this was an unknown new platform – companies needed a lot of convincing to spend money to advertise on the sides of trucks and lorries.”
Mentoring played a crucial role in Hollands’ early success as a business owner. He told Business Advice that it’d been the influence of Graham Mulholland, a local Derby entrepreneur he’d met by chance at a networking event, that had given him the confidence to pursue with Driven Media.
“Graham’s mentoring was vital,” added Hollands. “My university lecturer put me in touch with him, and he eventually became an investor in the business. Having someone so experienced on hand to talk to is so important, especially if you’re a young entrepreneur.”
For owners with ambitions to one day take their business onto Dragons’ Den, Hollands’ tip is to perform your pitch in front of strangers many times before appearing on the show.
“If they start to switch off, you know you’ve got a boring pitch,” he said. “Strangers are also guaranteed to be impartial. They’ll be able to give you valuable feedback on where you’re going wrong.
“Practice is absolutely the key. Because I’d practiced my pitch to death before going on Dragons’ Den, I knew it inside out. I recently attended another pitching event, where I changed aspects of my pitch, and it didn’t go so well. I came away without investment because I hadn’t practiced my pitch as much.”
Asked whether he or his business had gained anything from appearing on Dragons’ Den, apart from the obvious financial boost of winning £30,000, Hollands said that he’d gained a huge amount of confidence.
“To have someone so distinguished give [your business] the seal of approval gives you a real lift. The passion the Dragons have for business and the confidence they have when making decisions – I’ve been able to leech off it” added the founder.
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