Rob Fraser could practically touch the Dragons when he appeared before them. And he was tired, because for the first time in his life, he couldn’t sleep the night before.
“It wasn’t from being unprepared,” he said. “There were just a lot of unknowns.”
One of them was Fraser’s unfamiliarity with the lair of the beasts, ahem, the CBC television set, where Canadian entrepreneurs Jim Treliving, Arlene Dickinson, Michele Romanow, Vincenzo Guzzo, Manjit Minhas, and Lane Merrifield either torch or support entrepreneurial ideas with their money.
Fraser for his part appeared before them with his business partner Brent Cameron to pitch their all-day performance socks along with other items out of their Uptown shop under the label of Endur Apparel.
Fraser said he could not discuss how the Dragons responded to their pitch, but described the experience of appearing on an iconic television show as unique. The show — which taped in May 2018 and airs on Jan. 24 at 8 p.m. on CBC — is a favourite of Fraser’s.
“I have been watching this show since I was a young teenager, so it is kind of surreal just getting the opportunity to get on,” he said. “Never in my wildest dream did we think we’d start a business and end up pitching to the Dragons.”
So what where his impressions? “My initial thoughts were, one, they [the Dragons] are much closer than you’d think, the set is much smaller than you’d think, and it’s like you are inside the TV.”
Friends and family in the audience helped to steady Fraser, as he and his business partner made their well-honed pitch, for the show, despite all its familiar artifice, is an actual business meeting.
While viewers will see six minutes of the duo’s pitch, Fraser and his partner answered up to 50 questions in 45 minutes. “They get in deep,” he said. “These are real business decisions. These are real deals.”
For Fraser, the appearance on Dragons’ Den marks an early highlight of his entrepreneurial career that started after he retired from professional mountain biking, having been a five-time member of the Canadian national team.
It was also during this time that he developed a taste for colourful socks to express his personality. “I became the sock guy before owning a sock business,” he says.
After retiring from biking, Fraser pursued a degree in sport management at Camosun College, looking to combine his academic education with his background in sport.
Fraser found a business partner in Cameron and the duo found their niche in an under-serviced segment of Athleisure, the term used to describe clothing durable for athletic activities but appropriate enough for the office: socks.
“The bigger [companies] will do socks, but it is an afterthought,” Fraser said. “So there was this little slice of the apparel pie market that remain untapped in that Athleisure market.”
To fill it, Fraser and his business partner first needed to learn everything about socks. “We tried to attack every common problem that people have with socks,” he said. This deep dive into an otherwise neglected clothing item eventually yielded socks that do not fall down, wick away moisture and breath. “And on top of all that they have a fun design,” he said. “They are loud, there is a wide variety of different floral [schemes] and funny animals, and fruits.” In short, they have personality.
They even produced custom socks for the Dragons.
Some two-and-a-half years after launching their business without any prior experience and enduring various setback along the way, Fraser and his business partner now sell their socks in over 100 locations. They have also been expanding its product palette, while working with various groups such as ParticipACTION to sharpen it profile.
While no can predict the future, Fraser has an idea what happens next.
The rest of us will just have to tune in next Monday.