Hardbacon on Dragons’ Den: TV investors charbroil founder Julien Brault

Up in smoke. It was over in an instant for Julien Brault after the celebrity investors on CBC’s Dragons’ Den shredded his business idea and his commitment to Hardbacon, the Montreal-made app that helps people plan, budget and invest.

Was it fair? Probably not.

But ‘fair’ usually doesn’t have a place in Dragons’ Den. Deals do get done once the stage lights have turned off and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the good guy wins. Mostly, it’s just TV entertainment.

What happened in the Den?

Hardbacon is an app that generates revenue from premium subscriptions, lead generation and sales of its two white label solutions for financial institutions: a portfolio analysis module and a financial planning module. Its partners include National Bank Direct Brokerage and Questrade. It also has an advisor feature.

Many would argue that it went poorly for Hardbacon. But in reality, the show provided yet another large marketing and publicity avenue for the marketer-at-heart Brault.

The questions came fast and Brault seemingly didn’t stand a chance three minutes in. The Dragons’ rarely seemed impressed despite his positivity and willingness to engage in their criticism.

Manjit Minhas – who would have made an excellent crown prosecutor had she not become co-owner of Minhas Breweries – cross-examined Brault about the value of Hardbacon’s stock analysis tool. It runs as part of the premium subscription at $99 per year. She didn’t seem impressed.

Lane Merrifield immediately dropped out once he found out that Brault hadn’t hired a full-time employee completely devoted to security. This proved the most frustrating part of the experience for the Hardbacon founder. He told MTLinTECH that Romanow backed him up on the security issues, but it didn’t make the editing cut. “Obviously, it was too boring to air on tv,” he said.

Brault’s main goal was to get more Canadians interested in Hardbacon, which is launching a new $500,000-target crowdfunding campaign on December 1st.

He founded Hardbacon in 2016, working on it for two years without a salary before bringing in that first $780,000. That was after he quit his job as a reporter for Les Affaires.

But the company’s previous equity crowdfunding campaign, which raised $780,000 on FrontFundr in 2019, drew the ire of Dragons Arlene Dickenson and Vince Guzzo. The latter accused Brault of not having enough skin in the game.

Dickenson sniped at Brault that his funding is “other people’s money.” But isn’t most sources of investment other people’s money?

Once Brault admitted that he had made mistakes, Minhas pounced again. “You’re just proving more and more as you keep talking that you have no experience in this field,” she told him. “No experience running a tech company.”

The comment was not accurate, but it made for dramatic TV.

Targeting the fintech person

Brault targeted Michelle Romanow as the investor he wanted to wow. She previously founded and sold Buytopia.ca and SnapSaves. But Romanow declined based on the company’s equity crowdfunding backbone.

“I think you gotta listen now,” Romanow told Brault. “There is no way investors are going to want to back you if your cap table looks like this because we ultimately won’t believe that the founder has the incentive to get this to the next level.”

The actual episode ran for seven minutes, while the real pitch took around 40 minutes. Brault revealed a little more of what we didn’t get to see:

“It was clear she was getting it but… her view was that we were doing budgeting, planning and investing and that we were trying too much,” Brault said. “She said the strength of a fintech is that they can do one thing really, really good, while banks are trying to do everything… which kind of makes sense.”

“In general, I believe that’s the case of a lot of fintech, so it was good feedback. The others do not really invest in fintech so they were all out. It was a fun experience and I love the show.”

How to make it on the Den

Pitch success on Dragons’ Den is often based on a mix of tangible and intangible factors. Hard numbers like profit, equity and business valuation get the Dragons listening. It’s the first barrier a pitcher needs to step over.

Beyond that there is an element of luck and real-time interpersonal factors. It can depend on the attitude the pitcher projects and even how the Dragons are getting along that day. If there’s tension in the group, which there seems to be much more of over the past few seasons, the entrepreneur can be belittled and burned. And burned they often are.

It’s a show where conflict, harsh criticism and constant tension between the massive-ego’d celebrity investors is at a premium.

And while Dragons’ Den is television drama at its core, the group’s on-camera dynamic seems rather real. Dickenson and Minhas do not seem to get along. At times it’s uncomfortable to watch as Dickenson dishes out scorn towards the younger, equally-headstrong Minhas. Minhas mostly shrugs it off.

In Guzzo’s first season, the big-talking cinema magnate put the know-it-all tech investor Merrifield in his place on more than one occasion. Romanow, the cofounder of venture capital firm Clearbanc, seems to get along with her fellow Dragons the most (or argue with them the least).

Meanwhile, the stoic former RCMP officer Jim Treliving sits in his corner perch. He knows his younger investor peers don’t take him seriously, but he doesn’t care. He remains the one dragon who can be counted on to not say something incredibly mean to a pitcher, usually extending a courteous, “I’m going to be out on this one.”

The conclusion of the episode came after Brault offered Treliving a seat on his board in a last-ditch attempt at garnering interest from a Dragon.

“All I need is another seat,” said Treliving, shooting a quick glance at Dickenson, perhaps firing a low-key shot at his fellow investor.

On Brault

Here’s what I know about the jovial Brault, both a colleague and a friend (full disclosure).

As far as I’ve ever seen, he treats people extremely well. His strongest asset is his ability to market and network. It’s as if he simply doesn’t possess the inherent self-consciousness that so many entrepreneurs struggle with. No matter how good or bad a week is going, Brault always opens his door with a smiling face ready to chat about anything, a unique personality trait.

He worked hard earning nothing for years before Hardbacon achieved any kind of momentum.

And that might be the intangible that the Dragons totally missed out on in between competing for air time: Brault’s work ethic is crazy high. He’ll turn this into a positive through sheer marketing and elbow grease.

Anyone interested can register on the landing page on the FrontFundr platform and get notified nearer the date to invest as little as $500.

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