David Chilton On Life As A “Dragon”
David Chilton’s recipe for success is a clear vision, hard work, and some clever marketing. Whether it’s helping thousands of Canadians achieve personal financial success or investing in low-fat cookbooks, Chilton has always had a knack for recognizing great ventures from the get-go. In his latest incarnation as a “dragon” on CBC TV’s Dragons’ Den, Chilton proudly leverages that knack, regularly putting his business expertise to work. TV magazine recently sat down with David for an up-close and personal chat about being a dragon, his investing strategy and…his kitchen:
TV magazine: You are the newest Dragon, with two seasons under your belt. What’s it like to be a Dragon, and how has your life changed, if at all?
David Chilton: It’s changed fairly dramatically on three weird fronts. Number one: As the “Wealthy Barber” everywhere I have gone in my life people have recognized me and asked me one question: should I pay off my mortgage or max my RRSP? And now everywhere I go people say, “Can I ask you one question? Is Kevin really like that in real life?” I get that question 30, 40 to 50 times a day, and often it’s not phrased that politely. The second is that you get pitched non-stop; there was one week where I got between 300-400 pitches. The final thing is that you get your picture taken constantly, so I always have to have a nice shirt on now. In the old days I just wore whatever (laugh).
In the final episode of the season we are given a backstage pass to the life, the loves, the drama that is David Chilton…
I don’t have a lot of drama!
Sorry, let me rephrase. We get to see you in day to day life, how you run your businesses, and your amazing golfing prowess…
Oh yeah, I think I hit like one good shot on that trip and they happened to catch it on camera. It was a very big coincidence.
I’m sure you’re just being modest.
Honestly I was shocked when I hit a good shot on camera because I was very nervous. But it worked out well.
But seriously, what are the new and shocking secrets are your fans going to learn about you after seeing you at home and away from “the Den?”
In my case not a whole lot — people know that I live a very modest life. I live in a very small house, and that might catch some people off guard because they think of Dragons being ultra wealthy and living in gigantic mansions. I’m a huge home body. When I’m not on the road travelling for speaking or for business I almost never leave my house. I think people will be happy to learn that I’m very much the same guy I’ve always been. I hang around with the same friends from high school, I see my parents 4-5 days a week when I’m home. My life is fairly normal.
We did see your home, and yes it is very modest. But I have to say, I was appalled by your kitchen.
A lot of people are (laugh).
David, you have a half size stove and laminate counter tops. I’m all for frugality, but really?
Ok, I’ve got to tell you a story, and I don’t ever tell this story, but it is so funny and embarrassing. I lived in my house for months and I had two people over. And one of the wives said, “Oh isn’t this the cutest little dishwasher.” And, I’m telling you the truth, I didn’t even know I had it.
I know! It was to the left of the garbage — I never even noticed it. I know, my kitchen is very, very humble. I don’t do any cooking at all. I know, I’m horrible in the kitchen.
It is a modest kitchen, but that stove is appalling.
Well appall is a little strong! It’s like an Easy Bake Oven. It shouldn’t appall you, it should take you back to your youth. You need to use your words more diplomatically. Maybe you can mix your language up and say, “I was appalled by his adorable appliances.”
Ok, the stove is cute and adorable. In fact the whole thing felt a bit like an episode of MTV’s Cribs — all that was missing was the bedroom tour and you turning to the camera and saying “This is where the magic happens.”
You know why? Because everybody would know it was a lie, so there is no point there.
On the final episode they showed a clip of Mary McQueen of Hand and Beak, a rather eccentric woman who created unique cards with strips of paper her lovebird Luigi shredded for her. It might have been the editing, but some of your co-hosts seemed to think the lady was a bit of a joke, yet you took her on and successfully launched her with Hallmark. What did you see that they didn’t?
She had such a quick wit and I will never forget how she was talking about the back-up bird Binky as an apprentice to Luigi. And she looked at Kevin and said, “Oh, I should let you know Kevin, that they are not unionized.” And I loved that, it caught my attention. But the biggest thing was the quality of the cards. I actually don’t like the greeting card business for entrepreneurs, it’s just so tough on the distribution side. But I loved her cards; she had such a great eye. The fact that Arlene loved the cards impressed me because she’s got good instincts in that area. But all that being said, to be honest, I was not confident that it was going to work out as it has.
You won’t believe this but Luigi was hired as the spokesperson for shredding company. He is now on the side of a truck. Mary is very sharp — the more I get to know her the more I am impressed by her.
Do you feel that your criteria is different from the other Dragons in how you choose someone to invest in? Or is it a matter of taste?
You know it’s funny, I think one of the reasons Dragons’ Den works is that there is no checklist because every pitch is so different. I do want someone who has a good attention to detail. I think that is the common denominator in those that I ended up partnering with. One thing I did last year was gravitate towards dog deals. Holy smoke, I’m a sucker for a dog. In fact as soon as a dog came down the stairs all the Dragons would look at me a say, “Oh here goes Dave.”
I also look for an opportunity to take advantage of our contacts. It hit me last year in Dragons’ Den that I didn’t realize how many people I knew. I’m so old now that throughout 30 years on the road speaking to people, you make a lot of contacts.
To be able to share those contacts with those people working on their dream must be very satisfying for you.
Honestly, it sounds corny, but that really is one of the most delightful parts of this. You get a good product and they can’t get it in front of the right people. And that’s the thing you can do, you can open those doors.
It’s been almost 25 years since The Wealthy Barber was first published, you’ve had 2 seasons on Dragons’ Den, what’s next for you?
You know in my whole career I’ve never really had a five year plan or anything. I never really know where I’m going myself and I kind of like it that way. I don’t know what I want to do next. I know I’ll never retire. But I love what I do and I enjoy my work.