From the Dragons lair to Dragons Den
When you talk about rugby players entering the Dragons Den, it usually means them stepping out at Rodney Parade.
Indeed, that’s something John Colderley did plenty of times in the colours of Newport, as well as during his spells with Cardiff, Neath, Pontypridd and Caerphilly.
It’s a playing career he looks back on fondly, having lined up alongside the likes of Jonathan Davies and Shane Williams in the 1990s.
But now he’s visited a very different Dragons’ Den – the one made famous by the BBC TV programme of the same name.
The former Wales U21s centre appeared on the show along with his wife Sian, seeking an investment of £60,000 into their Cosy Cinema business.
It proved a very successful trip for the Dinas Powys-based couple with football star Gary Neville and fashion retail entrepreneur Touker Suleyman both agreeing to put in £30,000.
The filming for the show, which was broadcast on BBC One last week, actually took place some seven months ago, back in June.
Since then, their business – which offers customers their own private cinema experience – has gone from strength to strength.
Having started out with one pod in their back garden, they now operate nine in all, including six in the Cardiff Caravan and Camping Park in Pontcanna, while they are set to open 15 in Newport city centre in April, with more to follow in Coventry.
Demand for bookings is off the scale, with people travelling from far and wide to experience the cinema pods and watch the films, box sets or sporting events of their choice on a 93 inch screen. They can stay either for a few hours or overnight, with both a seating and a king-size bed option available.
The millions of views clocked up on Tik Tok have proved invaluable in spreading the word and now the enterprise has reached a sizeable TV audience with the appearance on Dragons’ Den.
It’s a venture that’s very different to the couple’s previous business, a mortgage brokership, which John focused on after his career as a professional rugby player came to an end in his late 20s following a series of injuries.
So how did the pod plan come about?
“We were on a family holiday in Disneyland and the queues were horrendous,” he explains.
“I was thinking it would be amazing if we just could take the kids into our own little cinema for half an hour so they could watch some cartoons and relax for a little while, because it’s so chaotic in Disneyland. You get no time or space to take a break.
“So, when we got back home, I started designing a pod. I just drew it on a piece of paper and then it was about developing it into a workable product.
“It was a case of deciding on the screen size and working back from that to make the shape and the design.
“I got the idea off a nutshell. That and the old Anderson Shelters from WWII. They were the two formative parts in the early days of design.
“I had it in my head to do it and I just kept going. It was a labour of love. I thought if I could create happy moments in a nutshell, that would be pretty cool.”
Starting the business in 2016, the first modularly designed pod was sited in the Colderleys’ back garden and it wasn’t long before things went viral.
“A guest video on Tik Tok had 8.4 million views and from that we had £14,000 of sales in just one day ,” said John.
Cardiff Council came on board offering space for two pods at the Pontcanna site and then four more, while the couple now have three pods in their back garden.
“It is new and it is a different concept,” says John.
“People might say why on earth would you leave your home to watch TV?
“But it’s a little bit like bottled water. Thirty years ago, people were saying why are you buying water when it’s there in a tap? That’s the analogy I use.”
Outlining the appeal of the Cosy Cinema concept, he continues: “It just gives you a little bit of time out.
“All our guests want is to get away for the night. They watch box sets or they game and they get food delivered.
“We have so many different types of people that go in the pods now and we get them travelling from so far. I am pretty much blown away by it.
“It’s quite exciting times. We can see how many people are clicking on the booking section of our website and the numbers are just off the charts.
“Our last four weeks have been our biggest ever.
“We need hundreds of pods building and we have got nine. We can’t open fast enough.
“We were left thinking we have got all these guests that want to come and see us. So Sian said why not apply to Dragons’ Den?”
So it was they found themselves stepping into the famous studio set and pitching to Neville, Suleyman, Deborah Meaden, Peter Jones, Sara Davies and Steven Bartlett.
“We were stood up in front of the Dragons for some two and a half hours while they interrogated every element of the business,” reveals John.
“Then they only showed about ten minutes on the TV. It’s so heavily edited, it doesn’t really feel like it is real.”
While they ended up with the investment they were looking for, it wasn’t all plain sailing for the couple, with long-time Dragon Deborah Meaden giving them a real grilling over their financial figures.
“She gave us a bit of a hard time. We got a right beating,” admits John.
“I came away thinking we have got to get stronger with that and learn whatever it is we didn’t know.
“When you are spending so much time trying to get your pitch right, you think that’s it, now we can talk about the product.
“But they wanted to delve deep into every single penny of the expenditure and I hadn’t rehearsed that and just couldn’t remember it.
“As soon as we came out of there, all the figures came back into my head, but it’s difficult when you are on the spot.”
Nevertheless, it all worked out well, with both guest Dragon Neville and Suleyman agreeing to invest £30,000 for 10 per cent equity in the business each.
“We were asked in the green room afterwards whether Gary Neville was someone we were targeting given I was an ex-professional sportsman,” says John.
“We had said he would be great for us because Tik Tok is where our guests come from and he has got a really good, strong following on there.
“Then you’ve got Touker. While he might come across as tough on the screen, he’s very caring and wants to make sure we are protected on the financial level and with regard to the brand and the patent. He is very sharp on that.
“Together, they will have the contacts and the ability to negotiate with things like planning applications and raising funding, which will make a real change possible for Cosy Cinema. We are really comfortable it’s the right move for us.”
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