AST on Dragons' Den: "Can you bring a tank?"

So in my previous two blogs I've covered THAT we were on Dragons' Den (surprise!) and how it came about. Here I'll explain what happened between being provisionally scheduled to film and the big day; tomorrow I'll cover the filming itself; and then lastly, the segment, and its consequences.

So in late August we were given a provisional film date in October. I was hoping for a little later, as the developers who had taken on the Apocalypse Survival Training app had not been able to resolve the payment system bug on either platform, and had not been able to update the iOS app to cope with the iOS 14 rollout, which was crashing it. So it was not an ideal time to be going on Dragons' Den, plus we had no decent figures to take in as we hadn't been able to promote the app beyond organic reach.

But we had to TRY to improve the downloads and revenue. Imaginactive was out of cash - and had been for some time - so I put in a £11k directors' loan to cover the PR agency, the upcoming insurance renewal, other costs associated with prepping for filming and, because we were now a year into working with the second dev agency and had still not achieved three of the key items on the initial 3 month work agreement, and the iOS 14 update seemed impossible to achieve, I took out a subscription with a white-label media app provider. This is a service that provides a templated website and native iOS and Android app that you upload your own content onto, to look like your own product. No development costs, instead, a monthly subscription for using the service. Over a year that would be a pretty big rental cost to meet but even so, we could use it for 13 years before having spent the same amount of money we had sunk into trying to build our own app. And we were (provisionally!) going on Dragons' Den, so I was sure we would have some traction finally coming.

I would like to say, for the record, the agency that took on the AST app did try extremely hard to complete the agreed work, but we could both see the writing on the wall: the app was simply untenable.

The PR agency, ELO, were recommended by a friend and were by far the best marketing consultants we have worked with to date. They reviewed our sites and socials, tidied up a lot of loose edges, ran ads that generated downloads and got us some great press. But although we were getting downloads, we weren't getting any revenue. Our sales funnel had massive leaks in it, not least because the app was unpredictable and its UX hugely outdated.

With that background, I was terrified of going in front of the Dragons. I was watching them tear apart entrepreneurs with great products, huge numbers of customers and strong revenue.

Don't worry, everyone who was helping us said, they will love you and Ras!

(As it was, I needn't have worried - the Dragons didn't get any of this history out - they didn't ask any of the difficult questions we were game planning for!)

In our prep for filming, we didn't work with or speak to a producer at all, which I understand was unusual, having by now spoken to several entrepreneurs who had previously been on. We were working with a research assistant, who was concerned that, being an audio product, the set was going to be boring. Desperate to have something for the Dragons and also audience to look at, she asked if we could, perhaps, bring, like, a tank. Or some other big post-apocalyptic vehicle. And a post-apocalyptic set.

Could we bring a tank?

I mean... I didn't expect that. But also I figured it wasn't impossible given my network. I vague-booked on Facebook and was quickly connected by a few mutual friends to John Bitmead, the man in the UK to talk to about apocalyptic vehicles and set dressing. John was just divine and so helpful and I was able to quickly send back photos of one of his vehicles, Skinrig, on the set as a concept, and he also made us a whole set in a couple of hours. I couldn't believe it. Ras and I had a wonderful afternoon out at his Super Secret Location checking out his vehicles and hearing his amazing stories.

Our "tank", Skinrig, courtesy of John Bitmead

So yes, we had a 'tank' and that seemed all very good once we'd worked out it could actually make it onto the set; until a few weeks later, when the vehicle was no longer wanted. The set dressing was no longer wanted. It was going to be too distracting from the product (something I had mentioned myself).

Ras had meanwhile been working on our binaural surround-sound audio pitch, which he put huge amount of time into and which we were really proud of. Our brilliant Dramatic Voice Over actor, Neil Wease, recorded the lines and Ras designed a dragon flying in around the listener from above, landing heavily, and then roaring flame. We were really pushing for our USP being that we made exercise entertaining with audio drama - not that we were a 'fitness app' per se.

We had zero chance of making an impact as a fitness app - there are a lot of fitness apps and the big ones are all raising millions in funding and launching on sleek shiny apps with hours and hours of workouts. We had 10 episodes of workouts dressed as audio drama with the production price tag per episode £1500 if Ras and I were very cheap for the hundreds of hours of work we would be putting in. We had something really original, super immersive, which our users absolutely loved - and we were certain we had to lean hard on our USP to have a chance.

But now that the set dressing was gone, they wanted me to work out for the Dragons, or bring people in to work out as part of the pitch, instead of using the audio pitch. We'd completed it by now and I knew we couldn't pitch THIS product without a really amazing audio example, since the audio is the product. It's an audio fitness adventure. I could not see how me doing some squats and push ups was going to convey in any way that we make super immersive binaural audio drama to workout to. They just wouldn't - couldn't - understand what we were pitching. We were certain we had to get the Dragons in headphones.

I'd already fought very hard for this, because the production team were, not surprisingly, not enthused: they didn't think the Dragons listening to audio was going to make good TV. I pushed that the Dragons' reactions would make good TV.

Eventually we agreed that I would wear fitness kit (Ras, as the tech side of the partnership, didn't have to), and we could play the sample, but we had to provide volume controllers for the headphones for the Dragons' comfort and safety. They still wanted me to work out; there was no way to do that in a way that made sense with our sample though, and I didn't want the Dragons watching me, I wanted them listening to what we were playing them. And we had only 5 mins to pitch, which meant once the audio was done, I need to be talking, not panting!

So! Finally, we had our pitch ready. We bought the headphones and controllers, left them in their boxes, packed our bags, and headed to Manchester.

Tune in tomorrow to hear about the filming day!

Design by John Allison

© 2019-2020 Apocalypse Survival Training by Imaginactive Ltd

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