“Hohle der lowen”: this is why the start-up show is so successful

"Hohle der Lowen" (Lion’s Den): The Hamburg Summeyya Bach gets a deal with Ralf Dummel.

Photo: TVNOW/Bernd-Michael Maurer

The TV show on Vox is a long-running hit, the eighth season has just started. A look behind the scenes with lion Ralf Dummel.

Hamburg. The chair is missing. With one look Ralf Dummel the situation captured. Everything else is there, the chair is not. Last year it was right next to the entrance, to the right of the door. Now there is an empty trash can.

It’s 8.25 a.m. on the first day of filming for the new season of "The Lion’s Den". Ralf Dummel has just arrived on the set and is moving into his dressing room. Second floor, room 217 on the MMC studio lot in Cologne. For 21 days he will shoot here. For 23 days, the room will become his office, his break room, his dressing room. A temporary home. Only going to the hotel to sleep. He needs the chair. Last year, after every shoot, after every pitch, he sat on it, drank Coke Zero and took a break. Last year was a good year. He has 24 Deals made – more than any other lion.

Everything else is as usual: two gray sofas, upholstered in fabric, two coat racks, two desks with chairs, two side tables from Ikea. A roll container, beech veneer, a mirror, a corner cabinet with TV, refrigerator, espresso machine. Ralf Dummel takes off his jacket and hangs it on the coat rack, then looks around indecisively. He has slept badly. He was awake at 3 o’clock tonight, then again at five. After that, he’s not really nodding off.

Even though it’s his fifth time, he’s still excited, especially before the first days of shooting. "It’s a bit like coming home after a long journey," he says. You first have to get back into the swing of things. He arrived yesterday, his team this morning. His assistant and his press spokeswoman, the deputy head of sales, the managing director of his company DS Invest and his co-owner and boss of DS Produkte. Later, they will hold the first talks with the founders, who have made a deal with Dummel. Now they clean up first. And to.

The signs are good

They carry one of the desks into the middle of the room, move the clothes rack and push a sofa to the opposite side. Ready. The laptops are set up, the suits and shirts hung up, the boxes of socks, pocket squares and cufflinks unpacked. Then comes the chair. There was another one outside in the corridor, you can take it. A banquet chair, stackable. Chrome frame with gray fabric cover. Just the same as last year. The signs are good!

Ralf Dummel sits down and drinks hot water with ginger. It’s about to start. On the screen of the TV, the time is superimposed. 9.11 p.m. And 28 seconds. 29 seconds, 30, 31, 32. Press spokeswoman Sanja Stankovic takes the first photos and videos for social media. Then Dummel is picked up. He has to get into the mask, but comes back immediately. Carsten Maschmeyer is not finished yet, the two of them share a make-up artist today.

Dummel takes a Coke Zero from the fridge and sits down on his chair. Then he stands up again. He is nervous.

9.37 o’clock. The mask is free, it’s his turn now. It only takes nine minutes, then he’s done. With the women, it’s been almost an hour.

Eleven minutes to ten. Time to change clothes. He takes off his shoes and puts them neatly by the chair, then goes to the clothes rack. His assistant Anja Westphal hands him a lilac shirt. Is coordinated with the stylist. Nils Glagau, also one of the "lions," as the potential investors are called, is also wearing purple today.

While Dummel buttons up his shirt, he walks back and forth. Back and forth. Afterwards he has to sit long enough. One to one and a half hours is the duration of each pitch, each presentation of a founder. Later, when broadcast, 15 to 20 minutes of it will be seen. Lions told to keep an eye on the clock, limit a pitcher’s time. But that will not work today.

It’s dark in the studio, only the set is brightly lit

Ready. Dummel wears a black suit. His gray one with pattern fell through with the stylist, it flickers. Dummel reaches for a pair of shoes and slips into his sneakers. He only wears the sneakers on the way down two flights of stairs to the set. There he changes again. The first year he put on the shoes for the shoot already upstairs – and the sole had become scratchy and dusty all the way to the studio. In front of the camera it looked as if he had walked here from Hamburg with it. This should not happen again. Neither him nor the others. Since 2019, soles have been chosen to match the color of shirts and suits. Today they are black.

It’s dark in the studio, only the set is brightly lit. Dummel sits down in the brown leather chair on the far right. Right next to the fireplace, the fire is burning. He’s already warm. His assistant Anja Westphal hands him a bottle of Coke Zero. He takes a sip, the last for the next hour and a half. Another quick look at Anja Westphal. Fits the suit? Doesn’t have a spot anywhere? Everything is okay? She nods. Then it starts.

The lion cage is opened. It’s 10.39 o’clock, when the first founders come through the barred corridor and step in front of the lions. Below, Ralf Dummel opens his notebook; above, his colleagues open their laptops. It starts. Hanno Hagemann moves a little closer to the screen, observes Ralf Dummel’s expression. The two have known each other for more than ten years, run the DS group of companies together. He knows exactly what makes Ralf tick. Whether he makes an offer to the founders or not. Their coverage rate is almost 100 percent. But today there will only be 90. Today they will still disagree. Downstairs in the studio the discussion begins, upstairs in the dressing room it is already in full swing. What is the potential of the product? Is there such a thing already? How could they market that. Salesman Timo Neumann and DS Invest CEO Stefan Habdenteufel sound out the market, discuss the pros and cons of the product. Should a deal be struck, the first meeting with the founders will take place today, directly after the recording. They have to prepare for that.

Ralf Dummel is on his own. There is no way to communicate with him. He has to rely on his instinct, his experience. It is 11.28 o’clock, and the recording is already running for an hour when the camera pans to Dummel. "I’m very interested," he says. "I know what to do."Then a pause. His colleagues exchange astonished glances. Real now? He wants to make an offer? At this company review? No, he does not want to. He gets out. His colleagues are relieved.

Time for a short break? Would anyone like a coffee? It’s 11.54 o’clock, when the cameras go off and the broadcast from the studio ends. Anja Westphal jumps up and runs downstairs to receive Ralf Dummel. The TV screen in room 217 shows the logo of "Die Hohle der Lowen" (The Lion’s Den). Two minutes later, Dummel comes storming into the room. Back in his sneakers and with two cosmetic tissues that a makeup artist tucked into his shirt to protect his collar from makeup marks.

The lion has taken the scent

He drops into his chair, stands up again. Then he runs to the window, opens the blinds. Then to the refrigerator. He takes a Coke Zero and walks back and forth with it in his hand. From one side of the room to the next. A lion in a cage. Restless, restless. Driven. The product was so good. But this company evaluation! And then the many investors who were already in there. "You’d have to rent a whole gymnasium for a shareholders’ meeting," he says. Nevertheless. Kind of annoying. But at least no one snatched the deal away from him. This is the worst for him. When he makes an offer – and is refused. He can’t handle that at all.

He doesn’t yet know that’s exactly what will happen at the next pitch. One last sip of Coke Zero, then it’s time to move on. The set has been rearranged. It’s 12.40 o’clock. Lunch is scheduled for the afternoon. The pitch begins. A food product is presented, then tasted by the lions. While Georg Kofler and Judith Williams are still discussing taste, Dummel is already asking about the numbers. The lion has taken the scent. He is not the only one.

It is 13.33 o’clock, when the founder is made the first offer. By Nils Glagau. He has beaten Dummel to the punch. The nervousness rises, Dummel bites his lip. He always does at such moments. No show. He has no time for games. He’s not interested in ratings, but in business. To make the deal. And that’s the one he wants to make. Losing is not an option.

He’s never been good at that. Not even when he played "Mensch argere Dich nicht" with his kids. The founder retires to think things over. Then he decides. Rest. Pause. For Nils Glagau. The camera catches Ralf Dummel’s gaze. Hanno Hagemann closes his eyes briefly. He knows what’s coming. Silence.

No one manages to build up Dummel

In such moments he does not want to talk to anyone. Ralf Dummel walks slowly up the stairs, not saying a word. Not even when he enters the room. He drops onto the chair, leans back. Earlier he could hardly sit still, jumped up again and again. Now he lacks all energy. Quietly he mumbles to himself: This is off to a good start, already on the second deal. "You’re not in it . Hate that! The thing would have flown. That’s what I’m telling you."He says it more to himself than to the others. At some point he doesn’t say anything anymore. Someone hands him a Coke Zero. But he does not drink it.

Meal time. No appetite. The others want to build him up. But no one manages. Again and again he shakes his head. What went wrong?? Silently, he goes back to the dressing room, opens a Haribo bag and picks out the raspberries and licorice stafettes. He likes them best. Then he picks up a bar of marzipan chocolate and breaks off a piece. Slowly he is getting better. Will already!

There are still three pitches today. Five more tomorrow. There must be something for him! It’s not a question. It’s a declaration of war. Toi, toi, toi, the others call out to him as he goes back into the studio. You don’t want to be in his shoes. He is nervous. You can see that right away. It’s about a beauty product that doesn’t exist yet. That he wants so badly. His team is sure of it. They start googling. How big is the market? How many people are affected by the problem? There are comparables?

Ralf Dummel has slid forward a little in his chair. At the beginning of a pitch, he usually sits back and relaxes, but the more exciting it gets, the more he moves forward. Until sometimes he’s sitting on the edge of his seat. He asks about production and sales prices, production conditions, and storage possibilities. Then he rushes forward, makes the founder an offer. "I’ll give you the money . "

"By the end of the season, the suit fits again"

While he’s still thinking about it down in the studio, Hanno Hagemann is already shouting "20 percent". But Dummel cannot hear him. There’s no way to communicate. Then he finishes his sentence: "for 20 percent."He leans back, but the tension remains. Now he has to wait and see. Four lions are still in the running. Then Georg Kofler makes an offer, Maschmeyer and Glagau drop out.

Now it’s up to Williams. You might have a chance against Kofler with this product. But against Williams? Against the beauty queen? What founder would turn down an offer from her?? There is no question. It is an experience!

In the dressing room you start to get nervous. Here, too, they want the product – including the charismatic founder. Absolutely! And then it happens. "Can it be?" Incredulous looks. "Do you also believe that . ", "Sounds as if she is . " The sentences are touched upon, but not pronounced. No one dares to say what’s on camera. Williams gets out. The Lion King makes the deal.

When Ralf Dummel at 16.20 clock comes back to his dressing room, he tears his arms in the air. Heavens, he was so scared. No one can imagine. "Told myself all the time: Smile – so that no one looks at me." Before the camera the smile was a bit forced, now it’s real. He is intoxicated. His hand trembles slightly as he picks up a bottle of Coke Zero and unscrews the cap. He is so relieved. But also totally exhausted. As if he did top performance sports. So – not that he does high-performance sports. Not anymore at least. In the past. That’s how he knows what the pulse feels like then. Like now! Maybe he takes a heart rate monitor with him.

What the show’s all about:

  • It is one of the most successful shows on German television. Since "Die Hohle der Lowen" first aired in 2014, the start-up show on VOX has regularly achieved ratings market leadership in the target group of 14- to 49-year-olds.
  • "The Lion’s Den" based on the British TV format "Dragons’ Den".In the show, founders have the opportunity to present their business model or invention to successful entrepreneurs (the "lions") and solicit an investment from them. It was the first start-up show on German television and remains the most successful to this day. At first, no one wanted the format.
  • As Astrid Quentell, the head of Sony Pictures Film und Fernseh Produktions GmbH, wanted to produce an adaptation of the successful British format "Dragons’ Den" in this country, initially no one believed in the success of the business show. For five years, she presented the concept to various TV stations – until VOX finally accepted.
  • In the fall of 2014 went "Die Hohle der Lowen" on the air for the first time. Meanwhile, the eighth season of the hit format is already running – on Mondays at 20.3 p.m. on VOX.
  • New in the lion pack This year, former Formula 1 world champion Nico Rosberg has taken the place of IT expert Frank Thelen.
  • Ralf Dummel Has been one of the investors since 2016. When he first joined the show, he was virtually unknown. At the time, there was only one photo of him on the Internet – together with Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko.
  • As Dummel was introduced as an investor together with Carsten Maschmeyer, some spoke only of "Maschmeyer and the other". In the meantime, Ralf Dummel has become a darling of the public – and for many, the "Lion King. (nik)

But maybe rather not. Possibly the thing triggers the alarm when his heart starts to race. When the door opens, he expects to be taken to the next shoot. But it’s Astrid Quentell. She is the managing director of Sony Pictures Film- und Fernsehproduktions GmbH. She brought "Die Hohle der Lowen" to Germany, made it big. Here she is Ralf’s boss. "Well, happy again?" she asks. Dummel waves it off. "Don’t act like you felt sorry for her. You only care about the quota." Both grin. They have become friends in recent years.

Astrid Quentell strokes her fingers over the new suits. They are "mega", as Dummel likes to say. Especially the one with glitter. And the gray. "The gray one got kicked out," grumbles Ralf Dummel. "The stylist thinks he’s going to put it on."

"Apply?"Astrid Quentell turns around. So please! Where that? Played indignation. She may, so talk to him. The producer reaches for the Haribo bag, then passes it on to Ralf Dummel. A moment of silent agreement. "By the end of the season, the suit fits again. With the stress I have, I’m guaranteed to lose weight," says Dummel. "But maybe I’ll retire after this season and play on ‘The Teacher’ too. I’m sure it won’t be as stressful there." He grins. A joke, of course! But Astrid Quentell is thrilled. "Yes, mega! Let’s talk about it." She means the thing with "The Teacher". The show is also produced by her. It’s one of the most popular series on German television.

Outside it is slowly getting dark. 17 o’clock immediately. It goes on. The first meeting with the founder is coming up. Very short only. Sanja Stankovic takes photos and a short video. For the broadcast, the recordings are published in the social media. Not before. Then Dummel has to go back to the studio. His team takes over from here. Hanno Hagemann, who owns DS Produkte together with Ralf Dummel and who likes to describe the distribution of roles as Foreign Minister (Ralf) and Interior Minister (Hanno). Timo Neumann, deputy sales manager and master of 4000 products of DS. And Stefan Habdenteufel, managing director for investments, DS Invest.

In the conference room on the second floor, three rooms next to the checkroom, the first exploratory talk is about to take place. There is coffee and compliments for the sovereign appearance of the founder and her product. Then they get started. "You’ve done the lion’s share, now it’s our turn," says Hagemann. There is a lot to do, time is short. At this point, it’s about seven months until the new season airs. When exactly the sequences recorded today will appear, they themselves only know shortly beforehand. Therefore, each product must be ready for market launch by the start of the season. Seven months to determine production quantities, optimize packaging, prepare the website to withstand the onslaught. When the episode airs, thousands of viewers will click on the website – per second.

15 minutes break after the fourth pitch

The first appointment in Stapelfeld near Hamburg is six days away. With all departments, all parties involved. Legal department, import, purchasing, product management, press, marketing, sales, online specialists. There are more than 20 people present at the meeting. Far more than 200 will later work on the product – that’s about 50 percent of the workforce. Six days for both to prepare. So they can both do their homework, as they call it at DS. "Our team in Stapelfeld already knows about it and is working out the first ideas as we speak," says Stefan Habdenteufel. Everything is still based on trust. In the next few days, both parties will sign an NDA – a non-disclosure agreement. Keeping quiet is part of the business at "Hohle der Lowen".

The interview is coming to an end, as is the pitch to the camera. Not much is heard upstairs. When the DS team returns to the dressing room, the last minutes of the recording are playing downstairs. You can only hear Dummel saying: "I’m out of here." Then you see one of the founders crying. Perplexity hangs in the room like stale air. What was going on? Speculation is running rampant, the final minutes drag on. Then Dummel comes back into the dressing room, drops into his chair. He is exhausted. In front of the camera you don’t notice anything, now you do.

That was the fourth pitch, one more to come. 15 minutes break. Dummel goes to the window and tears it open. Once fresh air refuel. Come down once. No, it wasn’t because of him that the founder cried. So please! As if he would ever put anyone down! He shakes his head. That’s not his thing. But he also can’t invest out of pity or sympathy. That’s even less his thing. He is a businessman after all.

These are the start-ups from Hamburg and the surrounding area that have scored so far in the lion’s den:

  • "Small Prints" – Deal with investor Lencke Steiner: 40.000 euros for 30 percent of the company shares;
  • "CoffeeBags" – Deal with Vural oger: 150.000 euros for 33 percent;
  • "Heimatgut" – Deal with Jochen Schweizer: 125.000 euros for 15 percent;
  • "Sugar Shape" – Deal with Judith Williams and Frank Thelen: 500.000 euros for 20 percent;
  • "Towell" – Deal with Ralf Dummel and Jochen Schweizer: 100.000 euros for 20 percent;
  • "Ankerkraut" – Deal with Frank Thelen: 300.000 euros for 20 percent;
  • "Limberry" – Deal with Judith Williams and Carsten Maschmeyer: 250.000 euros for 20 percent;
  • "Boss.One" – Deal with Frank Thelen and Judith Williams: 150.000 euros for 25 percent;
  • "Tastillery" – Deal with Dagmar Wohrl: 100.000 euros for 20 percent;
  • "Foodguide" – Carsten Maschmeyer: 450.000 euros for 31.6 percent;
  • "Veluvia" – Carsten Maschmeyer and Ralf Dummel: 300.000 euros for 25.1 percent;
  • "Kajnok" – Deal with Georg Kofler: 400.000 euros for 26 percent;
  • "Luicella’s ice cream mix" – Frank Thelen: 120.000 euros for 20 percent;
  • "Caps Air" – Ralf Dummel: 200.000 for 30 percent;
  • "Dry Fix" – Ralf Dummel: 200.000 euros / 49 percent;
  • "sleeperoo" – Dagmar Wohrl: 250.000 euros for 25.1 percent;
  • "WeeDo" – Georg Kofler: 100.000 euros / 30 percent;
  • "Easy Pan" – Deal with Ralf Dummel: 25.000 euros for 20 percent;
  • "Soumme" – Ralf Dummel: 150.000 euros for 20 percent;
  • "Jagua for Xou" – Judith Williams and Nils Glagau: 150.000 euros for 30 percent;
  • "drinkbetter" – Ralf Dummel and Carsten Maschmeyer: 300.000 for 30 percent;
  • "YAB Fitness" – Georg Kofler: 200.000 for 25 percent;
  • "flexylot" – Deal with Ralf Dummel: 125.000 euros for 30 percent.

18.29 o’clock. The final pitch begins. While the two founders are still presenting their product at the bottom, they have already made up their minds at the top. A great product, really great founders – but an extremely difficult business model. Hanno Hagemann leans back in his chair. That’s not for them – unfortunately. They have too little experience in this area. Even if the invention is ingenious. Ralf Dummel will not make a deal. There he is sure. When the question and answer session begins, the DS team has already left the company. There’s no money in it. Hanno Hagemann closes his laptop. An hour and four minutes later, Ralf Dummel confirms what his team has long been thinking. "I have some bad news for you," he puts on. "You still have a lot of work to do."

The others hardly listen. That’s it for today, it’s almost closing time. But then Ralf Dummel bends over backwards. Like he always does when . "He’s not going to . ", says Hanno Hagemann and also leans forward to better see the screen. Then he says nothing more. Ralf Dummel has just made an offer to the founders. Hectically, the laptops are opened again, notes are hastily made. Hanno Hagemann stands up and walks back and forth in the 16-square-meter room. Back and forth. That can’t be true – he was so sure that Ralf would drop out.

It is 19.53 o’clock, when Dummel comes back into the dressing room. With raised fist, euphoric. This will be the hammer. He is convinced of this. He debunks concerns, infects everyone with his enthusiasm. Take a breath, then you’re off. The first meeting with the founders.

Most of the time, when Dummel has made a deal, he can’t be there for the conversation. Because by then the next pitch is already being recorded. Not today. Today is closing time. He likes that, these first meetings with the founders. Getting to know each other for the first time, making plans, having visions together. A bit like the beginning of a relationship. He has to hurry, the others are already waiting for him. The conversation lasts an hour. Sure, it could go faster. But the meeting is important – to him and the founders. He knows how long they have been working towards the moment. Is a sign of respect to take time for them.

It’s shortly before nine when Dummel fetches his jacket and turns off the light in the dressing room. They are the last ones in the building. In twelve hours it goes on. An empty bottle of Coke Zero lies on his chair.

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