If you were running a growing paddlesports brand and looking to expand to the next stage of your business where would you turn? For a unique standup paddleboard company, the next step is an equally unique approach—going on national TV. This is where you’ll find the founders of Sea Gods paddleboards, Mandy and Ryan Johnston, on October 12. They’ll be standing before a panel of intimidating venture capitalists on Dragons’ Den, the Canadian version of the popular investor reality show Americans know as Shark Tank.
“We’re doing a lot with what we have, and when Ryan and I started this, we didn’t start it to make a business really. We just wanted to make some great looking boards and we wanted them to perform amazing,” Mandy Johnston says of the growing paddleboard company the couple founded six years ago, and in which they have been two full-time employees. “As we’re growing, Ryan and I realized we’re not business people, and we forget about things like profit and accounting—you know, business stuff. So we went on Dragons’ Den looking for some mentorship and an invested partner.”
Born At The Sea
In 2017, the Johnstons moved from Alberta to the British Columbia coast. Mandy held a background in research science and personal training, while Ryan commissioned wastewater treatment plants. The couple also had a four-month-old and two-year-old at home. Paddleboarding was an activity they could all enjoy together. But coming from snowboarding in the mountains, the Johnstons were disappointed in the lack of options in inflatable SUPs—both in performance and creativity—that they found on store shelves. Believing they could put something better under the feet of paddlers, Sea Gods was born.
Mandy Johnston says the Sea Gods boards they’ve developed are first and foremost built for performance. Their current boards feature best-in-class elements like cross-weave drop stitch construction. But beyond being another board on shelves touting performance and rigidity, Sea Gods brings creativity. Each of their boards features the work of artists they’ve collaborated with—a mesmerizing touch of personality missing from the inflatable market.
Within the first couple of years, Johnston says the growth was exponential. Even as the economy has cooled off, she says they’ve still had somewhere in the ballpark of 30 percent growth year-over-year. At times they’ve had to pump the brakes to ensure the quality of both the product and customer experience held to their standards. As Johnston says, it was never about profits but the paddleboards they put into the world. The business element is where Dragons’ Den comes in.
Sea Gods Paddleboards Set To Appear On Dragons’ Den
“The idea was to get someone who knew how to scale,” Johnston explains of the unconventional and bold direction they’ve taken for Sea Gods to appear on TV.
If you aren’t familiar with the show, Dragons’ Den features six venture capitalist panelists who hear pitches from entrepreneurs. As the pitch goes on, the panelists decide whether they are in or out to become an investor in the business. The show originated in Japan as Tigers Of Money before finding its way to iterations in Canada and elsewhere. U.S. audiences will be familiar with the version of the show called Shark Tank.
Mandy and Ryan filmed the episode at CBC in Toronto back in May. And it is airing this fall as part of the newest season. The founders of Sea Gods obviously know how it worked out, but we’ll have to tune in to see whether they are hailed as brilliant or chased off the stage. Without giving any spoilers, we asked if appearing on the show has proven beneficial to their business.
“It definitely put air in our tires, let’s just say that,” Mandy Johnston shared. “It actually showed us how far we’ve come from being brand new entrepreneurs. And it made us realize that we’re doing things differently.”
New Waters Ahead
Johnston was also impressed with the level of production she witnessed behind the scenes and on stage. It’s something she and her husband have carried forward for Sea Gods’ new on-screen endeavor—live shopping broadcasts on their website and the Shop app. Live shopping is an online livestream where hosts can present products and the viewers can purchase them in real time. For Sea Gods, the goal of these live broadcasts isn’t just for sales but also an opportunity to connect with their audience and share product knowledge while at the same time hosting something akin to a podcast.
As for what comes after the upcoming national spotlight, Johnston says they are working on a new touring board as well as collaborations with new artists. Both of which they are excited to officially announce when the developments are further along.
When it comes to sales stemming directly from the appearance on Dragons’ Den, Johnston says they are hopeful but that you never know how it’s going to play out. “Saxx Underwear said they went from 300 orders a day to 3,000 orders a day after their episode aired. We’re going to be sitting there on the West Coast—the last ones to watch because the show airs at 8 p.m. in every time zone. So starting at 4 p.m., we’ll just be wondering what’s going to happen.”