Jayden Li and David Tao pitch TappLock to the Dragons on CBC's Dragons' Den

(from left) Jayden Li and David Tao of TappLock. Photo: CBC

More than a decade in, Dragons’ Den continues to inspire and amuse Canadian TV audiences. But the CBC’s hit show isn’t just meant to be entertaining. It’s a televised school for entrepreneurs. For each episode of Season 11 (which airs Wednesdays at 8 pm ET), we’ll be talking to one of the Dragons to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of their decision-making process and hear what they hope viewers learned. And we’ll be examining a pitche for smart strategies and useful tips that entrepreneurs can use to make their own businesses better. Episode 16 featured a promising new twist on the dated padlock.

TappLock

Entrepreneurs: David Tao & Jayden Li | From: Toronto | Ask: $200,000 for 5%

Manufactures and distributes fingerprint and Bluetooth-enabled locks

Michele Romanow can’t stand combination locks. “You can never remember the password [and] it always takes six tries to open it.” It’s a frustration anyone who’s spent long minutes turning over tumblers at their gym locker or crouched beside their bike knows all too well.

David Tao and Jayden Li’s solution is TappLock, which opens at the press of a finger, either on the device itself or an accompanying app. “We all are very familiar with how our iPhone [screen locks] work and how fast that is,” says Clearbanc co-founder Romanow. “It seems totally logical that you put the fingerprint technology in this.”

She wasn’t the only Dragon who thought so. Tao and Li got three offers when they pitched their new take on the old tumbler-and-loop mechanism. Jim Treliving kicked off the bidding, asking for 8% of the company for the $200,000 in capital. Joe Mimran went next, offering the money for a royalty until the initial sum was paid back, along with a 5% equity stake. Romanow’s ask was a 5% royalty and a 6.15% piece of the company, and she won the deal.

Before entering the Den, the TappLock team had run an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, raising $230,000 and pre-selling 5,000 units. Another 800 locks were being bought up each month. But the company had yet to deliver, and that proved a sticking point for Manjit Minhas. “There’s no user feedback. They haven’t actually shipped any,” she pointed out. “We don’t know whether people are buying it again, we don’t know if it’s working, we don’t know what the faults are.”

Lots of buzzy products rack up the pre-sales, only to falter when it comes time to miss deadlines, leaving backers angry and disappointed. Delivery is the “moment of truth” for any company, Romanow said on the show. A crowdfunding enthusiast, Romanow considers it an excellent form of market validation. “It’s an amazing way to make sure that people really want your product and that they’re truly willing to pay for it,” she said in an exclusive interview before the episode aired. “You should be testing all products this way, because it’s easy and it’s cheap.” Even a failed campaign is valuable in its own way. “It’s so much better to know early than to know when you’ve spent two years of your life trying to sell a product to retailers.”

And a few months after filming, Romanow is happy to confirm that TappLock has been delivering on its early promise. After the handshake deal in the Den, her business partner made a trip to China to ensure the company had the necessary manufacturing and delivery capacity. “TappLock is live, shipping now, you can buy it online,” she says. “We’re very happy with the end product, it works right out of the box.”

Other Dragons had concerns about the ease with which the product might be knocked off. “Are you concerned that you’re going to have a copycat that’s going to produce it a lot cheaper—maybe not as high quality, but use similar technology?” Michael Wekerle asked. The company had a pending patent responded Tao, noting that swiftly building a recognizable brand was the best way to combat imitators.

In such situations, striking a balance between speed and quality is key. “You’re trying to move as quickly as possible [while making] sure that very first product that gets into people’s hands is really exceeding their expectations,” says Romanow. But she’s optimistic that TappLock is early to this promising space, and that the padlock is just the first in a successful line of products. “There’s a whole world of home locks you can get into, there’s luggage locks—there’s quite a few things we’re looking at as we start to scale this one.”

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