Local startup expects boost from TV appearance

Frank Bouchard and Toby Maurice are expecting an opportunity to come their way on April 1 that could triple their company’s sales practically overnight.

It’s not an April Fool’s joke – or at least they hope not.

Their startup, Wipebook, will be featured that night on the popular CBC show Dragons’ Den, and Mr. Bouchard says he has heard from other entrepreneurs whose sales have gone up threefold after they’ve appeared on the televised pitchfest, which draws about 1.5 million viewers.

“We’re just going crazy right now making sure that everything is being shipped at the right places,” he said Friday morning.

The company, which normally sells 700 to 800 of its portable, reusable notebooks each month, is scrambling to make sure it has enough inventory to cover the expected uptick in interest.

“We don’t want to lose this sales opportunity,” Mr. Bouchard said.

Opportunities have been been coming fast and furious lately for Wipebook.

The company’s second crowdfunding campaign at kickstarter.com closed in December after raising $110,000. About a month later, the firm surpassed the $1-million mark in overall sales since its launch in 2013.

The company is also about to wrap up a successful three-month sales trial at 15 Staples stores in Greater Toronto and western Canada. It is now in talks with Walmart to begin selling Wipebooks at the discount department store chain this fall, while office supply retailer Grand & Toy has also shown interest in the product.

But probably no event in Wipebook’s short history so far has matched its two founders’ appearance on Dragons’ Den, which was filmed almost exactly a year ago in Toronto.

Confidentiality agreements prevent Mr. Bouchard and Mr. Maurice from saying much about the episode before it airs, including how much, if any, funding they received from the dragons.

They did, however, say it was an experience they’ll never forget. Before they stepped out on stage, back-room TVs played reruns of the panelists grilling aspiring entrepreneurs “just to psyche you out and second-guess what you’re going to pitch,” Mr. Bouchard said, chuckling. “Once you’re there, you just see the lights shining right on top of you and you kind of realize, ‘OK, if I muck this up, it’s gonna look really bad on TV.’”

Mr. Maurice said the magnitude of the situation didn’t really hit home until he saw his normally unflappable business partner’s reaction to the hot lights and imposing presence of the likes of David Chilton and Arlene Dickinson.

“Frank’s super smooth with presenting stuff,” he said. “I’m usually a little edgy until things get going. I looked down and Frank’s leg is shaking like hell.”

He added with a laugh, “I’m thinking to myself at that point, ‘If Frank’s nervous right now, I should be running off the set.’”

The filming took about an hour, Mr. Bouchard said, adding the process isn’t exactly the relatively calm question-and-answer session it looks like on TV.

“The reality is they’re all screaming at the same time, trying to lash out at you,” he said. “You really don’t expect it. It’ll be very interesting to see the bits that they keep in the show.”

While they were reluctant to dish too much dirt on the dragons, they did single out one in particular for his generosity of spirit.

“Jim (Treliving)’s a really cool guy,” Mr. Maurice said. “He kind of guided us in certain instances.”