Dragons' Den often springs a few surprises - and the latest one happened on Sunday night when a Texas cowboy in a sequinned suit strolled out of the lift to meet the panel.
Looking more like he was set to present a rodeo in Houston than talk business, Joe Walters proceeded to break out in a song about eating beef jerky. It threatened to be cringe worthy, but the Texan turned out to have a calm and confident air that very few are able to exude in the Den.
Singing finished, Joe revealed that his masterplan was to establish his beef jerky product as a popular bar snack in pubs aligned with independent microbreweries. Remaining unfazed as the panel fired questions at him, the most striking thing about the pitch was that Walters clearly had absolute confidence in the product and himself.
It was the Texan's endearing persona that got the Dragons' attention - irrespective of the jerky, he looked like a marketable brand in himself, able to pull off a purple and gold cowboy suit with relative ease. The whole scene was reminiscent of Levi Roots and his Reggae Reggae Sauce seen in series four - a pitch that saw the engaging entrepreneur perform a soulful song before eventually securing a £50,000 investment.
Such an approach is risky, but when it's conducted in the right way - and by a person with genuine charisma - it can serve to be far more powerful than watching someone stand there and reel off figures. The approach must make a refreshing change for the Dragons, who all too often have to watch prospective partners freeze to the spot, tie-fiddling nervously.
Though serious about business, Joe Walters had a genuine laugh and natural appeal that can sometimes be just as important as the quality of your product. It's easy to see Joe as the face of his jerky brand, just as Levi Roots was the appealing, marketable face of his Reggae Reggae Sauce.
This is a quality that's tough to cultivate - it's not the sort of thing that can be taught or practised. Often it's a reflection of the faith an entrepreneur has in themselves, their product, and the message they're conveying. You've either got it or you haven't, as the saying goes.
Still, charisma alone is not necessarily enough. It was the nature of his business plan that really had the Dragons scrambling for a slice of the action. Competition intensified among the panel when it was revealed that James Watt, co-founder of BrewDog, was also going to be on board, with intent to stock Texas Joe's Jerky in ten bars around the country and willing to match any Dragon backing with an equal investment of his own.
BrewDog is a Sunday Times Fast Track 100 company with sales in 2011 of £5.9m and is at the forefront of the growing market for craft ales. The distribution channels open to Watt, plus the general alignment of Texas Joe's Jerky with a booming product, made Walters' proposition all the more attractive.
Indeed, while Joe was only asking for £37,500 for 16% equity, Peter Jones outmanoeuvred three of his fellow Dragons by offering £50,000 for a 24% stake in the business. The deal was done, but it turns out there's a twist: the agreement struck between Walters and Jones appears to have fallen through after the filming of the show. It's unclear why this happened, but it's full steam ahead for Texas Joe, who is continuing to promote the brand along with BrewDog as he races to get as many units to market as possible.
With Texas Joe's name well and truly out there following Walters' appearance in the Den, all that remains to be seen is how well the public receives the jerky. My guess is that things will go well if the cowboy continues to present himself as the affable face of the company, and the deal with James Watt will prove a masterstroke - even if, talking speculatively, it did ultimately come at the expense of Dragon backing.
Has Peter Jones let a cash cow slip through his fingers? Let us know what you think about the future of Texas Joe's Jerky in our comments section.
Dan O’Sullivan is Make It Cheaper's Web Content Manager, which means much of his time is dedicated to ensuring we have plenty of online material to help business owners understand the energy, insurance and telecoms industries. With years of experience working alongside SMEs, Dan is committed to making life as easy as possible for smaller firms. You can email Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org
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