Simon Carr: The Kitchen Capitalist

Should I go on TV to face public humiliation?
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The Independent Online

The story so far: the author has sold his house to finance a manufacturing project in the hope of making a small fortune to finance his old age.

I've had this surge of enthusiasm for outside investors before. I suddenly remembered that when listening to La Traviata (tragic opera is the best counselling service for entrepreneurs). You may remember Violetta's last words. She hasn't been at all well. Then she lifts up off her couch of pain with that energy surge I recognised so well: "I think I'm feeling better!" she cries. "Everything's going to be all right!" (Stage direction: she dies).

I've been asked to go along for a screen test for one of those programmes where you pitch for money in front of judges. The programme is based on us raggedy-Anne developers putting up their kitchen-table business plans and having them torn to pieces by billionaires. On the downside, you are dismembered and humiliated. On the upside, it happens on television.

Encouragingly, the quality of most presentations is extremely low. Some are only on for entertainment value. Fantasists present themselves with no idea of their costs, or their operating profit, or the exit for investors. We do laugh at them.

I've never seen it happen, but some get the money. A nice young man had a magazine funded, apparently. These billionaires are very unpredictable. Anyone who funds a magazine start-up after one meeting with the founder obviously isn't in it for the money. I thought money was the whole point. But it obviously isn't the point at all.

And they would ask extremely stupid questions: "Why do you think your gadget will sell 200 units a week?" The answer I've prepared is: "How do I know? Why wouldn't it?"

But I might fit in nicely. The programme likes a mix of rejections. There are the early casualties with an idea and a piece of paper. Then there are the more developed nutcases with a prototype, and there are those with working businesses who need a cash boost.

In fact, I'd get over most of their fences. But their last line of defence is impossible for me. They have to like you. They can look through the business plan with their ferrety little eyes, but in the end they have to like you. That's the problem. That argument I've rehearsed to you before, about the value of a company? When they put their £300,000 into it, they think the company's suddenly worth £1.2m (I say the company's still worth nothing). Mine is a cute little piece of reasoning but extremely hostile to the occasion. It turns the benefactors into combatants. Either they win in which case you lose or you win, in which case you lose.

Because they don't say, "You're right! You win, here's the money." They say, "You're right! Fuck off!" And I could just do that now, without all the hassle of doing it on national TV.