Dragons (potential investors) sample Taynton Bay Spirits. Photo courtesy of CBC

Spirits of Taynton Bay attempt to slay dragons

Invermere-based company pitches plan to investors in hopes of a deal

Steve Kuffler and Justin Atterbury can’t wait to see what happens on Dragons’ Den next week. They appeared before the dragons back in May to ask for a deal – $125,000 for a seven per cent share of their locally-brewed company Taynton Bay Spirits – but they haven’t seen their episode or even glimpsed a clip and have no idea how they’ll come across.

“I’m more nervous about the airing than I was about the show,” Mr. Atterbury said, admitting that he and Mr. Kuffler made their share of bad jokes during the taping. “You’re at the whim of the editors and you hope they’re kind and, if not, you hope you can live it down.”

Even so, his worst-case scenario isn’t coming across poorly on the nationally-broadcast CBC show where entrepreneurs compete to secure business deals with investors. Instead, his fear is about losing out on his chance to tell the country about Taynton Bay Spirits.

“We’ll see how it plays out. We’re hoping for a decent segment, and we hope it’s not a 30-second clip of ‘Justin and Steve from Taynton Bay came in and showcased some alcohol’ and then go onto the next guy,” Mr. Atterbury said. “We’ll be devastated.”

The pair, who are among five Taynton Bay partners, must know if they got a deal, but all they can do is shrug at the question until the episode they are on airs at 9 p.m. on Thursday, November 14th.

Mr. Atterbury and Mr. Kuffler have been watching Dragons’ Den from its first season, long before they came up with an idea they found worthy of the show.

When they saw an ad inviting entrepreneurs to audition, they only had four days to prepare. With up to 6,000 applicants auditioning across the country for 120 spots of airtime, they only had a two per cent chance of making it through to meet the dragons.

The audition room was awkward at first, Mr. Atterbury said, but then he offered some “liquid courage” to the other presenters.

“As soon as we started pouring drinks, the tension just got cut with a knife and then everyone just kind of relaxed a bit,” he said.

“We changed the game that morning,” Mr. Kuffler added.

While they felt fairly confident about their audition, they didn’t know what to expect.

“They weren’t there to critique whether your idea was good or bad. They were there to see, in their words, if you’re TV-worthy,” Mr. Atterbury said.

And being TV-worthy doesn’t necessarily mean being amazing, Mr. Kuffler said.

“Some of the goofiest ideas that are out there, they put them on there because of the entertainment portion of the program,” he said.

The pair were invited to head to Toronto in May to pitch Taynton Bay Spirits to the dragons in search of marketing support and a strategic partner to help them grow.

“I was at the top of the stairs looking down at the stage, and then there were all six of them sitting there with bright lights and glittery. That’s when I went ‘wow.’ I could have pinched myself at that point,” Mr. Kuffler said. “We just said ‘let’s do it’ and we kicked that door open and away we went.”

Right from the start things didn’t go as planned. They had been told to introduce themselves, say where they were from and get drinks into the dragons’ hands within 60 seconds. But they were thwarted almost immediately by the dragons who wanted to chat about Invermere. All but one of them were familiar with the area.

Mr. Atterbury and Mr. Kuffler wouldn’t say much about the rest of their pitch, but they said the conversation flowed naturally.

“Although you’ve never met these people before, you’ve seen them interact so many times you actually felt like you knew them,” Mr. Atterbury said. “This just felt like it was our Superbowl and we were ready to play.”

Then he paused, worrying again about how the recording will turn out.

“We might look way dumber than we thought that we were. We’re good at tweaking history to form a positive narrative,” he said, breaking into a hearty round of laughter with Mr. Kuffler.

Despite all their laughter now, it hasn’t always been giggles for Taynton Bay Spirits.

“We had a lot of hard knocks early on,” Mr. Atterbury said, adding that he and Mr. Kuffler were literally thrown out of liquor stores when the two-and-a-half-year-old company started up. “We faced so much rejection together.”

Even so, Mr. Kuffler said: “We kept our heads high and kept on punching.”

Tune in to Dragons’ Den on Thursday, November 14th to find out whether Taynton Bay Spirits slay some dragons or get roasted.

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