Entering the Dragon’s Den

Tyson Nutt, Agile Coach, Element Digital

18883879968_b27e7b6cba_o“We’re asking you NOT TO FUND this piece of work — It’s not a matter of can we build it, it’s a question of should we”

It was the most unexpected phrase to hear as part of a funding pitch, but it was the right outcome.


I’ve been working with a team regularly delivering software into a market leading financial services mobile platform. To date, the portfolio has followed a fairly typical approach of annual funding cycles driving product enhancements based on a pre-calculated ROI.


This time things are different… They’ve been given a pipeline of funding, with the blessing: “spend it wisely, and do great things for our customers and our business”. No pre-determined ROI calculations, no (finger-in-the-air) business case estimates — but genuine empowerment.

The team is ready, the funding available — Now for the fun bit… working out what to spend it on!

The team split themselves into three smaller teams, and were given one week to pitch their ideas in a Dragons Den pitch.


To validate whether their ideas met the judging criteria of ideas that are Flexible, Desirable and Valuable, a combination of techniques were drawn from :

  • Lean Startup
  • Design Thinking
  • Lean UX
  • Agile
  • Experimentation
  • Customer-centred design
  • Hackathon events
  • Guerilla testing
  • Startup Accelerators

Screenshot (70)OBSERVATIONS

4 Key points:

  1. Teams developed an unprecedented understanding of the business and customer problem
    “Hearing real people talk about real problems gave it more meaning. It gave me a better connection with what we do as a company”

  2. Get out of the office – our teams hit the streets and began testing with real users, building up valuable insights
    “9 team members, each testing their product with 6 customers in 30 minutes, allowing 3–4 product revisions per day — this feedback loop was on another level

  3. Build to learn vs Building to solve
    “I don’t think that we will get a lot of value from paper based testing. I think we need to actually build something to see if it actually changes real conversion numbers”

  4. Developing People, not just products
    “I feel exhausted, but I know that it’s good for me. I’ve been stretched and I’ve learnt a lot”

They developed empathy for each other as a team. They began to understand what other people in their team ‘actually did’. Our UX guys learnt about the importance of architecture and non-functional testing, while our Devs and POs learnt about product ownership and user testing. The experience has created better empathy within the team and brought them closer together.

So what came of the pitch?

Screenshot (71)

  • One team was funded on the spot, with their work to be integrated into the upcoming app release
  • The next team were close, but were asked to revisit their funding request and return with a smaller MVP. They’ve since been funded for a release, with a roadmap of ideas and potential funding based on validated learning
  • The third team successfully convinced us not to fund their idea — which was a valuable learning for them to realise that they had successfully proven that their potential solution wasn’t worth building

As a coach and mentor, actually being able to see the penny drop for these guys was an extremely rewarding experience. Our next step is to prove the model works, and create the opportunity for other teams to step into The Dragons Den.

The extended version of this article can be found here.

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