Few days ago I had the great pleasure of chatting with Brett Wilson, Calgary entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist. Here is the video Brett Wilson interview – 01/05 – Leaving CBC Dragons’ Den, TV offers, Uno bike, and Ben Gulak (see below for interview transcript). [Click her for links to watch all five parts of the interview series.]
Kempton Lam: I was shocked & saddened by CBC Feb 2011 press released that you won’t be part of Dragons’ Den. To be positive, did that motivate/excite you when the TV offers came in resulting in the chance to do a new TV show call “Risky Business”?
Brett Wilson: Those are very good questions.
First of all, I was and I am disappointed that CBC and I couldn’t reach agreement. I was very keen to do another season. CBC knew that. So just to be clear, I didn’t walk away from the show. I was very keen to do another season. Then CBC press released it that I was gone which also surprised me cause I didn’t think it was that big a deal. And I really thought that was the end of my television career. I’ve never studied acting. I can’t memorize lines. I don’t understand Shakespeare. So I had no interest really in doing anything else in terms of television. I certainly didn’t leave Dragons’ Den to pursuit other stuff. I wanted to continue with Dragons’ Den.
So first of all I was surprised that CBC wanted to press release it that I was gone. And then more importantly, I was surprised by the responds in the market place. All three networks reached out at various levels to say, “Hey, if you are interested, lets talk.” And I had two production companies say, “Would you like to screen test for shows we have in development?” And I did. I screen tested both. And we decided to move forward on one of the shows right now. The other show I am still hoping to do for another time.
And I’ve met with several production companies about doing some stuff in the world of philanthropy that I am very interested in doing. But then again, thats all in production, in development. Someone told me the other day that Mark Burnett is telling the world that 90% of all television under production is documentaries and reality TV, which doesn’t bode well for those people who studied acting. Which does bode well for people who are playing in the reality TV genre which is what obviously now I am part of.
Kempton: When offers started to come it, did it surprise you too?
Brett: Well, I was very surprised. I really didn’t think there was anything else for me. You know, there is one television show in Canada that deals with business and thats Dragons’ Den. And I thought that would be it.
I am very proud that I’ve done 55 episodes with CBC. In terms of the 75 shows that they’ve shot, I have been involved with 55. And its the highest rank 55. I mean the first two years, the viewership was 200/300/400 thousands people. In the time that I was on the show, it has been running a million, and now up to 2 million a show. So it is in a league of its own. And its something that I am very proud of.
Kempton: You were one of five Dragons, and now you have your own show. Thats a big change.
Brett: Now I have my own show. When I left the show, one of the thing I said was, I like to challenge CBC and the Dragons to step up the game cause the quality, background, and knowledge of the viewership, of the people watching Dragons’ Den has gone up a bunch. Its people who are interested in the show. Its not just a novelty factor anymore. Every business school, every engineering school, every law school in the country, as well as trade, everybody is watching the show on some level. So when I had an opportunity to do my own show, I basically said as long as it celebrates entrepreneurship or celebrate philanthropy, motivates and encourages people, I will be interested. Sure enough, “Risky Business”, as it is called now, interested me.
Kempton: When many business schools, MBA programs use Dragons’ Den as a framework to simulate business pitches, you kinda want to be focusing on the positive sides of entrepreneurship.
Brett: Very much so. What I basically said was lets hold back on the faux business commentary, the pretend rudeness, the gratuitous or theatrical rudeness that comes along. I get that makes great TV, but I was of the view that we could really use the show to step up the game in terms of celebrating entrepreneurship in Canada. And again, to a degree it does. I just think it could do more.
Kempton: The balance of the “heat” and “light”. You want to add some insights too, not just the drama. Can you talk about your bike investment Uno? Originally all five Dragons were involved, how’s that business now? What is your current involvement?
Brett: All five Dragons were involved on the show. They were all interested. And then as soon as we started due diligence, before we even begun, it was clear that we were going to spend some money on due diligence, the other four dragons all dropped out. They didn’t want to spend money. They wanted the company to do the due diligence. I said, well, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. So I proceeded by myself. So I invested 1/5 of the amount that was being proposed. So I gave him a quarter of a million dollars, bought in other investors. I’ve invested in another round. The original Uno has literally been discarded. Its now for the Smithsonian. And we built a second version that had a wheel that slid forward. Two wheels at higher speed. There is a third prototype that has just been finished.
We are bootstrapping for money, but we are continue to progress the idea. So I am still a huge fan of Ben Gulak. And I am still a huge fan of the concept of this unicycle driven urban transportation vehicle.
Kempton: In the show and in previous interviews, I think [you were excited about] Ben Gulak as an entrepreneur and inventor. Now, you’ve got a few years to know Ben, what is he like?
Brett: Ben is maturing. Ben is learning. Ben is becoming more even creative than he was in the first place. He is still a very young and passionate entrepreneur. And someone we are delighted to be associated with.
Note: This interview has been condensed and edited.
P.S. Here is a video clip (posted Dec 27, 2010) where you can see a transforming Uno.