YOU CAN’T cook an egg without an egg. Pretty simple, I guess, but all the same James had attempted to demonstrate his electronic egg cooker invention to five fiery dragons on Dragons’ Den and had forgotten to put an egg in it. No one had noticed, and we’d waited four minutes for a soft-boiled egg, only for James to open his little machine and find it empty. It would have been good, I thought, if its job had been to make an egg disappear; lots of magicians would have bought one. But the machine’s job was to cook an egg, without water, then beep and light up, and switch itself off to prevent over-cooking.
James was embarrassed, given all the pressure and everything, and wanted another go. Deborah Meaden wasn’t giving him one, and sighed an exasperated “I’m out!” A bit harsh, I thought, and the rest of us watched James carefully insert an egg as we all waited in anticipation. Four more minutes passed and the machine beeped and lit. James lifted the lid and the egg hadn’t disappeared (pity, I thought), but it hadn’t cooked either. It was stone cold.
When James had started his presentation he was very professional, almost scholarly, and had plenty of confidence. Taking nearly ten minutes to forget an egg and then not cook it would embarrass most people, and James was reduced to a mumble. “It hasn’t worked,” he said sadly before remembering he had another machine; could he have a go with that one? Not for Duncan Bannatyne he couldn’t. “You can’t prove it works and I can’t really see this product selling…I’m out.”
Only three dragons remained. Then James made a third attempt. Egg inserted, another four minutes and…another cold egg! “I’m terribly sorry. I’ve done this many times but for some reason this one hasn’t worked either. I promise you, it does work.” So of course I asked him why, and now his only answer was “I haven’t got a clue.” “That’s not a good answer, James.” “I know. But I promise I’ve cooked millions, er, loads of eggs and it’s worked before. The technology is relatively simple.” Relatively simple and it’s not working! That’s as funny as it gets on the Den and we were all laughing. Laughing with James or at him, maybe both. Theo Paphitis applied the three strikes rule: “I’m going to make this dead easy. Animals, children, electrical products…I’m not going to be investing, so I’m out.”
While all this was going on I was trying to decide whether, if this thing worked, it could actually sell. Could it become like a toaster – one in everyone’s kitchen? Many people, myself included, have accidentally overcooked or undercooked eggs. And could there be a commercial market?
A few months earlier, I stayed at a plush hotel on a week-long skiing holiday in the US, and my friends and I had tried to order soft-boiled eggs for breakfast. For the whole week it was beyond their kitchen; you could only get an egg hard-boiled or raw. I don’t particularly like either. By investing, I could rescue runny egg lovers all over the world!
But James still hadn’t demonstrated that the egg cooker actually worked. He was long on apologies and short on excuses. If it was so simple and such a good product, why hadn’t an electric egg cooker already been invented? It was a real possibility that he was simply just lying to us. I looked at the poor man, inches from being ejected from the show. He was looking at his egg cookers like he wanted to stomp on them. That’s normal, I thought. I’d feel the same way. But it occurred to me that, if he was lying, wouldn’t he be looking at us, not the machines? Wouldn’t he be wondering whether he’s fooled us? So I said to him slowly, “I could see this selling zillions”.
James left the den with cold eggs but a hot investment deal with me and Peter Jones. He later decided he didn’t need us – a mistake, perhaps, because I have yet to see or hear of his cooker hitting the market. It seems to have vanished like the disappearing egg.
Richard Farleigh has operated as a business angel for many years, backing more early-stage companies than anyone else in the UK.