Even if the judges on CBC’s show Dragons’ Den only spewed fire at him, Karlo Krauzig knew any spark they set off could only help his company to grow.
Krauzig is the owner and sole employee of Yukon Shine Distillery on Industrial Road. The company’s Yukon Winter Vodka, made from Yukon Gold potatoes and Canadian rye and barley, hit stores in December. Yukon Shine also produces gin.
Krauzig recently started selling his products throughout British Columbia, and has his sights set on Ontario. That province’s liquor control board is the largest purchaser of alcohol worldwide.
An entrepreneur for most of his life, Krauzig has watched Dragons’ Den with interest for years. Aspiring businessmen and women pitch their concepts and products to a panel of Canadian investors. Krauzig’s appearance will air this afternoon as part of the seventh season’s second episode. The Whitehorse native asked the business moguls for $300,000 for 33 per cent of the company. He wants the funds for marketing.
He’d read about “The Dragons’ Den Effect.” No matter how people fare on the show, the exposure often results in profits, even if their idea is “brutally kicked to the curb by (co-host and global investor) Kevin O’Leary,” said Krauzig. Even those humiliated on the program won’t be sent into obscurity. One study he read says the program reaches two out of five Canadians. A segment on the show can lead to national exposure – the National Post has already interviewed Krauzig. One company has estimated an appearance is worth a million dollars in terms of marketing value, he said.
And he knew the Yukon has great cachet and his business has great television appeal.
Two years ago, Dragons’ Den producers held auditions in Whitehorse for the first time. Then, Krauzig didn’t have anything to show for the business, not even empty bottles. But he knew he wanted to be on the show, so he headed out to watch the process in action. When he was ready to make his pitch, he wanted to succeed.
A producer asked him why he was there. Krauzig told him about the distillery he was starting.
“When I said that, he said, ‘That’s awesome television. We were told to look for businesses like that. Give me your pitch.’”
Krauzig did. They called him two weeks later to say they wanted him to come to Toronto for a taping – even though he told them he had nothing to present.
Eighteen hours before he was to fly out, the head producer called him. “You don’t have anything,” he remembers her saying. After calling the dragons, his appearance was cancelled.
But he was not forgotten.
The show returned to Whitehorse in March.
“Are you the vodka guy?” a producer – not the one who was there two years ago – asked as Krauzig filled out the forms. “We were hoping you’d come back,” she said when he confirmed he was.
He wasn’t surprised when they called asking him to come to Toronto in April for a taping.
For the most part, he was prepared. This wouldn’t be the first time he’d asked for large investments. He knew his company’s value and made his pitch accordingly. He’d studied each of the panel members. He knew what sorts of questions they would ask and how to answer them.
Making the pitch didn’t make him nervous – but the fact that it was on television did.
“It was the cameras, the panels, the dragons that are quite possibly going to tear me apart if they don’t like my product, or if they don’t like my presentation, or they don’t like me.”
He knew he wasn’t just asking them to open their wallets. He was asking them to open up their contacts and their expertise. And he couldn’t speak with them before or after his presentation.
He had to prepare for the theatrics of television. It took three suitcases and a carry-on. He brought potatoes and grain. He rented four Canada Goose coats – at a few hundred dollars each – for himself, a bartender he hired from Toronto, and two models CBC found to serve as waitresses. He brought a portable bar that folds down to four inches thick.
“CBC didn’t seem to have anything,” he said. “Renting four parkas, I just assumed CBC has shows that have winter scenes, they should have a wardrobe.”
Krauzig hasn’t seen the final show, which airs Sept. 26 at 5 p.m.
He can’t say what the dragons decided, and a handshake in their den isn’t binding, he said.
But he won’t be watching with a shot glass handy.
“I don’t do drinking games anymore,” said the father of two, “I spill a lot more alcohol than I drink.”
Contact Meagan Gillmore at