I got 5 nos on Dragons’ Den after they begged me to apply… now we’re worth £86m – the show’s no better than Big Brother | The Sun

GETTING an icy reception and a collective “I’m out” on Dragons’ Den is most entrepreneurs' worst nightmare.

But for Harry and Charlie Thuillier, founders of healthy ice cream brand Oppo Brothers, going on the show was never about getting offers from the likes of Peter Jones and Deborah Meaden.

In fact the brothers – who were seen on telly in February 2016 – never even wanted to go on Dragons’ Den.

Speaking to The Sun, Harry, 36, claims BBC producers begged them to pitch – and after turning them down three times they eventually agreed.

He explains: “We never thought we wanted to go on because I think Dragons’ Den is to business like Big Brother is to real life. It's like a cartoon version. And it's 99 per cent for entertainment.

“We thought it would take focus away from what we were trying to do, which was create ice cream that's healthy.”


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It's not unusual for Dragons’ Den producers to approach start-up companies and ask them to come into the den.

But when they contacted Harry and Charlie, they'd already managed to secure £100,000 for their fledgling business through crowdfunding.

After rejecting the show offer twice, Harry admits one conversation during their third approach changed his mind.

He recalls: “One of the researchers said, 'What are your challenges at the moment?' And I said, 'As always, it's getting the word out there with a relatively small marketing budget.’

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“They said, 'Four million people watch BBC at this time, and you should go on it'. So we agreed, knowing we had the money.

"But we wanted to speak to these experienced investors, get in front of them, and, more importantly, get in front of four million people that might be interested in Oppo ice cream.”

Sneaky tricks

In May 2015, Harry and Charlie headed to Manchester to pitch to the dragons, hoping to secure £60,000 in exchange for a seven per cent stake in Oppo.

They arrived at 9am but it took until 3pm for them to be called into the den.

Harry admits the experience was the “most nerve wracking thing” he’s ever done.

"You're put in a green room, and they don't actually tell you when you're going to go on," he tells us.

"It's a bit like waiting for a plane, and then suddenly, 'Ok, it's here, you're on it'. 

“The BBC [producers] are quite clever in actually making you feel fairly nervous and popping up quite a lot. I was wrecked by the time we went on.”

Producers are quite clever in actually making you feel fairly nervous and popping up quite a lot. I was wrecked by the time we went on

He was shocked to discover the infamous lift isn't real, adding: “You stand in it, and you press a button, and it doesn't go anywhere. 

“Instead, once the Dragons have got themselves settled, the doors just open. 

“But you're standing in the lift for five minutes, and you don't know when the doors are going to open, so you're there with a constant half-smile."

He claims producers have a few tricks up their sleeve for when business owners leave the den to ensure they capture a genuine reaction.

Harry recalls: “When we left the room, they separated us and then brought us back together on camera for an interview, so we weren't able to confer or discuss anything together before they interviewed us for our reaction. 

“And that's quite clever of the BBC to stop it being a thought-up line. They could get our reactions fresh.”

Now worth £86million

Harry is thankful they got through their pitch without making any major gaffes.

But he and Charlie didn’t receive an offer, with the Dragons allegedly deeming their business “too risky”.

"They were like, 'Unhealthy ice cream? Who's gonna want that?' " Harry says.

"Peter Jones probably put in some clever quip, which I luckily can't remember now. But yeah, it was just they thought it was a tiny market – but everyone knows launching new products in the supermarket is quite risky.

"You do need to put some money behind it, especially in a category in which you're almost creating a new category.

"So I don't blame them for not putting an offer in – it was risky. We had very low sales at that point and had only just launched in Waitrose."

However, the free advertising they got when their episode aired more than made up for it.

Harry adds: “lt would have been a bonus to have got an offer and been able to negotiate, but it was an advert and we were the 16th most trending term on Google in the UK for a day or so after it went live – and it was February, so hardly ice cream season!

“Our sales actually tripled too – and that's a real stepping stone, it's all about brand awareness.”

Now, Oppo Brothers is worth a cool £86 million and counts tennis champ Andy Murray among its investors.

The ice cream is stocked in almost every major supermarket in 10 countries across Europe, including Morrisons, Sainsburys, Tesco, Ocado, Waitrose – as well as Harrods, Booths and Wholefoods in the UK.

So, do they think the dragons regret turning them down?

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“I don’t think they’d ever admit to regretting it, because there’s egos there,” chuckles Harry.

“But I’m sure they’d have invested in it now, because the value of the business has increased so much!”

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