While many of us have watched Dragon's Den, not many of us know what goes on behind the scenes – or what happens after. We quizzed Bad Brownie co-founders, Paz Sarmah and Morag Ekanger, to find out all the juicy details.
While many budding entrepreneurs apply for the show, Paz and Morag were scouted by a casting producer while selling brownies at Maltby Street Market. “They were like, listen, we’ve got some new Dragons this year and we think you’d be a great fit,” says Paz – although as simple as it sounds, the actual process of applying for a spot was much longer. “We had to do about a year’s worth of paperwork, as well as lots of mock interviews,” he adds. “But it felt really good to be invited on.”
Filming the show was simultaneously nerve-wracking and thrilling. At the studios, participants mingled together in a small room, quietly practicing their pitches while waiting to go in front of Dragons. “The whole show is run literally like a military operation,” says Morag. “If you needed the loo or something, you’d have to let the production staff know so they could check the corridors for Dragons and then they’d escort you to and from the room.”
While viewers only saw a ten-minute segment of Paz and Morag’s pitch, the pair were in the Den for over an hour and a half being grilled by the Dragons. “We’d spent days and days rehearsing for our pitch,” says Morag. “But when you’re actually in that room in the heat of the moment, it felt like we’d just forgotten everything.”
And what are the Dragons really like in person? “They were exactly the same in real life as they are on TV,” says Paz. “It was straight down to it. There were no pleasantries, it’s just okay, off you go, and then you do your pitch and everything’s over in one take.”
While all the Dragons were enthusiastic about the brownies, it was Touker Suleyman that decided to make Paz and Morag an offer. While they had originally offered a 15% stake in the business, Touker requested 35% – much higher than Paz and Morag had anticipated. “Ultimately the fact that he wanted to invest in us was amazing,” says Paz. “We weren’t sure if we would really be able to negotiate, but we just decided to go for it and luckily we were able to compromise on 30%.”
“We walked out that room looking at each other and going ‘Did that really happen? Oh my God, we’ve got an investor’”, Paz laughs. “That felt really amazing.”
After a substantial amount of paperwork (that took almost a year to fully complete), growing the business with their new investment could commence. Touker and his staff were incredibly welcoming, granting Paz and Morag access to their offices, a team of business experts, and any other resources they needed.
“One of the first things we did with Touker was opening up the kiosk,” Morag says. “It was the first retail space we’d ever had, inside a shopping centre. We definitely learned a lot from it – it wasn’t a roaring success right from the start, but in hindsight nothing is. But we met lots of people and had lots of interesting experiences.” From there, Bad Brownie popped up in a shopping centre in Reading. “That was completely different,” notes Paz. “No one knew us, no one had heard of us.”
The vision for Bad Brownie also began to evolve. “I guess we thought we’d be opening some flagship locations after Dragon’s Den,” Paz muses. “That’s what we went in for. But Touker was of the mindset that it made sense to target smaller, high-volume locations.”
From then on, the company’s approach became much more reactive, grabbing onto any space they could secure and every opportunity that appeared. In 2017, the brand teamed up with Pret A Manger to sell brownies in select locations across London. “Pret A Manger asked if we could create a vegan and wheat-free brownie for them,” explains Morag. “Initially we were uncertain, as we didn’t want to compromise on the deliciousness and decadence that’s at the heart of our brand. However, after a lot of experimenting, we did create an incredible vegan product that didn’t feel like it was lacking in these qualities, and it’s now an important part of our core range today.”
In August 2018, the business opened its eye-catching kiosk near the bustling Canary Wharf tube station, although sadly this was forced to close following the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Within hours of the first lockdown being announced, things started to go crazy,” muses Paz. “Possibly because it also coincided with Mother’s Day, and people were starting to panic about not being able to see their mums.”
Rather than signalling the end of the business, as Paz and Morag had originally feared, it began to grow exponentially. “We thought that was the end of Bad Brownie, because all the shops had shut,” reflects Paz, “but the next minute everything had completely switched around.” In fact, the first couple of weeks in lockdown were record-breaking for Bad Brownie. While the brand had launched its e-commerce website back in 2014, online orders never achieved the same popularity as market stalls and kiosks – until the pandemic hit. Back then, Paz and Morag would carry bags of orders down to the local post office themselves.
“Instead of letting people go, we had to start hiring,” Morag says. “All the people that worked in our markets and at our Canary Wharf location had to relocate to the warehouse, because there were so many orders.” But even that wasn’t enough help – during the ordering frenzy, Paz, Morag, their partners, and their friends all chipped in to help pack and ship brownies from the company’s tiny Forest Hill-based unit.
Thanks to the boom in business, Bad Brownie found itself growing out of its former unit. In 2021, the business moved to a brand new location in Hayes, where Paz and Morag promptly started construction on a brand-new kitchen, as well as a new office space to house the recently hired marketing team. Most recently, Bad Brownie launched its sugar-free, low-carb keto brownies.
During this time, Touker left the company and Paz and Morag became its sole owners once more. “Coronavirus changed everything,” Paz reflects. “We had to give up our physical sites. It didn’t look like the future of the business would be retail, which is where Touker’s expertise was. Circumstances changed, the business changed, and things came to a natural end.”
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