My short bio: My name is Greg West and I have been building reptile cages for about 14 years now. What started as a small hobby it has quickly blossomed into a full time business supplying reptile caging to the Canadian reptile industry. I was recently featured as a web pitch on Dragon’s Den (Canadian equivalent to Shark Tank). This has been a roller coaster ride and hopefully it will keep going full steam ahead. Im sure there are a bunch of questions about my business and also about my experience on the Dragon’s Den
If you could cage any human who would it be and why?
It depends on the day. In real life it would be a lot simpler to discipline your kids with a cage haha. Can’t think of anyone to be honest. I have had a few customers though…
What are your thoughts on the case in New Brunswick where those kids were killed by a python? Are there any species you consider unsuitable for caged environments?
The big 3 snakes, venomous reptiles, and Crocodiles, Alligators etc I think would be the main animals that should be restricted. Anything that gets that big is going to be risky for people other than people with specific training for those types of animals.
The New Brunswick case seems really wierd to me and with recent charges to the owner I am wondering if foul play might have been involved. Only time will tell. Really sad for the family of the boys for sure. I personally don’t think the snake was to blame.
Just to clarify, are you saying they should merely be restricted to those with training, or that they are unsuitable for your cages?
I think the animals I mentioned should be restricted to a permitting system or something like that as those are animals that can be dangerous to or those that are inexperienced. While many are capable of keeping burms and the like many are not able to properly care for them once they get to their adult sizes
How did you come up with the name “Cornel’s World”?
The stupidest reason ever but its too late to change it now. As a kid I came up with a nickname Cornelius as I thought it was a funny name. Never really stuck obviously. Fast forward to about 14+ years ago when I wanted to set up a website the only name I could think of was Gregsworld. Of course that page was already taken, and cornelsworld was the next name that popped into my head. Obviously not a lot of thought went into the name, and at the time it was a hobby with never a thought that this could be a full time business. If I could change it now I totally would, but having been in the hobby this long it is the name most people associate with me so it would be hard to change it now.
Can you tell me about your experience on The Dragon’s Den TV show? Was it a positive experience and would you do it again? What would you recommend for others that would want to go on the show? The big question: What was the final outcome of the show?
The show was a great experience. One I was able to do it with my daughter who also loves reptiles, but it was all completely positive. I was most worried about my valuation and not being sure if I was asking too high. I was also worried about Kevin ripping me a new one for whatever reason, but in the end he was replaced before the season started. For anyone trying to get onto the show there has to be some entertainment value to your pitch. Mostly if you have a stupid product that they can rip you a new one, those are the pitches that they like. I am positive the reason I got on is during the interview process I had a dragon with me and there was a news reporter in my pitch. At the end I thought it wasn’t going well and was almost packing up, and then he pipes up “Oh I get it you want to bring a live Dragon to the Den”. All of a sudden the producers seemed much more interested..
What happens after you pitch to the Dragons? After the taping you are sworn to secrecy by contract till thew episode airs. If it doesn’t you still can’t say anything for 4 years.
About a month after the taping I was contacted by Michael’s assistants about entering into due diligence. It is pretty involved and can be quite costly being a small business. They want your books to review, they want you to send them sales reports monthly to track how your sales are going, and a lot more than I typically do. I record my sales as they happen, but only get my book keeper to update my expenses 2 or 3 times a year. If I had to do it monthly it would be quite a bit more expensive. I told them that I was interested in moving forward and getting them everything they required but I wanted to know how involved Michael would be in my company. I told them that if it was just monetary involvement I would just go to the bank and I was really wanting the business expertise to be able to grow my company. I never heard back from them. I sent the same email again but also cc’d Michael’s email address that I had and still never heard back. I took that as meaning it would just be a monetary investment and I didn’t think it would be worth it. At that point I went and talked to the bank and after a long drawn out process I got the loan I required and moved forward with purchasing my CNC machine, and moving into a commercial space.
Most people think that once you get a deal on those shows that you just get handed the money right after and a deal is a deal, but the deal on the show is just a handshake. Either party can back out at any time for whatever reason. I have seen that only 1 in 9 will ever see funding from an investor on the show. Most likely in due diligence they probably would have backed out for whatever reason, but I didn’t want to waste any extra money and give up a part of my business I have worked so hard to build.
The best part of this experience was that it pushed me to quit my Full time job and concentrate on Cornelsworld full time. I may not be making as much as I used to but I love what I do and I typically leave work with a smile on my face and way less stress. I also now have more time for helping out at home and with the kids after school activities. For what I spent getting my family and my product out to Toronto regardless if it aired or not was worth it in the end.
Do you have any ill-will towards Michael? Sounds like his excitement in the clip didn’t follow through to the actual investment. Are you bummed that you won’t be able to have him help you grow your business, or are you confident in your bank loan and personal skillset?
I don’t have any ill will towards him at all. I think watching the show every episode he is a great addition to the show. I also think from watching his pitches that he seems very genuine and will invest in something based on a personal feeling and not just based on how much money he can make. He seems like Brett Wilson in that regard and he would have been the 1 person that I would have loved to have pitched too. I was annoyed they never responded to me, but I am not sure he had anything to do with that. Most likely even the email address I had for him went to others first and are then filtered to him on a need to see basis. I think it may have been a blessing in disguise though.
Am I disappointed I didn’t get the money. Yes and No. While I think Michael would have contacts that could further my business in terms of overseas buying etc I am not sure how much more he could have done. I am happy that I was able to get on the show for exposure and ended up taking it full time while keeping the business fully owned by myself.
I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, but my business has continued to grow year after year and at a decent rate. It may not last forever but every year I keep thinking I can’t top the sales volume I did in that year and I haven’t dropped yet.
Did they tell you when the show was going to be aired, or did you just have to wait and see? Does Michael Wekerle personally keep in contact with you and get involved with the business?
There was a long time between the pitch and when it airs. The biggest problem is there is no guarantee your pitch will make it to air even if you get a deal. I pitched to them at the end of March last year, so I waited almost a year and before Christmas I wasn’t sure I would ever get to see my pitch.
Michael never contacted me. I think had he contacted me and I dealt directly with him instead of his assistants it might have ended up differently. He seemed like a very sincere and down to earth guy. See my answer to Chad above about what happens after you strike a deal with the dragons.
What did you think of that guy who was supposed to be intentionally eaten by an anaconda?
Reality shows these days are stupid and only for ratings. To be honest I never even looked into it. Obviously he wouldn’t have been able to do it. The shitty thing is it sensationalizes snakes and reptiles in a negative light, and it is what most of us work so hard to disprove. How many times have you heard the story of a friend of a friend who was sleeping and their snake came along side them to measure them up to see if they would fit..
Any plans on doing extra exotic cages? Waterfalls, features etc? Making true show pieces?
I have done fully set up enclosures in the past ranging anywhere from $150.00 for a basic small enclosure to over $5,000 fully set up, and automated. Those type of orders are less common, but I definitely love working on orders that make me think. The PVC caging is way more popular now but I still love doing the custom wood and glass enclosures that got me started in this business.
How long does it typically take to build a rack or enclosure? What’s the most time you have spent on a project?
Racks are quick. I can build one in about an hour. Cages depend on what add ons they have added to the order. Most people add lighting, heating, thermostats etc so those orders tend to take a bit longer.
Right now the biggest time delay is the amount of orders I have been getting and where a person is on the order list. I have recently hired someone to help me so that is helping a lot right now.
How many times have you been bitten by something and what was the worse one?
I don’t keep many reptiles and have never had snakes. I have been bitten a few times by smaller lizards which aren’t typically too bad. The worst was while vending at a show and a friend having a tokay gecko bite my chest and arm. They have crazy strong jaws. We may or may not have had a few drinks to put on that show
What’s a good low maintenance way to maintain humidity in my milk snake’s habitat during the very dry winter months?
The best option is to get a Mist King starter system. They are a great misting system and probably the best on the market. Marty has built a great business and a great brand that most have heard of. I have been selling them for 4 years now and use them myself on my cages that need them
I always wondered if you had ever done any tortoise table type setups?
I have a design for a tortoise table that I rendered in 3d that people always commented on at the shows but haven’t had anyone put a deposit down on it. It was expensive as there was a lot of woodworking involved but it would be a showpiece in any house for sure
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Having an Asian wife I have eaten a ton of weird stuff. I haven’t ever eaten any crickets or worms but most likely would for entertainment. I recently tried frog legs which actually do taste like chicken
Are you going to be commercially producing venomous cages and racks any time soon?
I have a design for caging that can have panels that slide in and out from the outside so you can limit the interaction with the animals. In Alberta they are restricted so there aren’t that many people that deal with them. I was approached by a vet in BC for pricing on cages like that, but it never happened. There would probably be a lot more demand for them in the US but my shipping across the border is typically cost prohibitive for most people. The US market is super competitive as well and very small margins, so I have concentrated on mainly the Canadian market. I do get the odd orders from the US from time to time though but typically only the high end orders where there isn’t many people out there doing those types of caging.
How has it been being a company to compete with huge manufacturers such as zoo med,zilla and tetra?
They are a different market altogether. They have probably never even heard of me as they concentrate solely on the pet store market. I would love to have their margins though
Here in Ontario we have a place called Reptilia. It’s a reptile education centre and museum. Have you found places like Reptilia to be a big buyer of your products? Do you actively try to fit into niches such as museums/education centres through specific means (custom work, personalized services, etc) or do you concentrate on simply marketing a good product and let customers find you?
I have more requests lately from vets and zoos but my main clientele is individual keepers. That may be because they don’t know of my business yet so I am hoping with more exposure I can start branching out more into the zoos
I have found that there are a LOT of different idea’s about ideal reptile housing. and they vary wildly by country, do you have any insight about why this could be?
Unfortunately the problem with restrictions for reptiles is most log the time the lawmakers have no idea about reptiles other than the negative stigma you hear with reptiles. As they get more and more popular there are many people trying to educate to dispel the many myths that are associated with reptiles. I know in Europe they are very strict with caging requirements and size minimums for housing which is a great idea.
Do you have any reptiles of your own? If so, which is your favorite?
I have a few but my wife isn’t a reptile person so we don’t keep that many. We have a very busy and active life so limiting the numbers aren’t a bad thing. Currently we have a Red Eyed crocodile skink, a couple dart frogs, a couple of leopard geckos and a hermanns tortoise. Right now the frogs have been added to the restricted list in Alberta so that is causing a big concern for a lot of people. Hopefully the people working on getting the restriction lifted are successful. They have to be the most interesting and colourful reptile that I have seen
What in your opinion is the best type of lizard to keep as a family pet? And what cage would I need?
I would say leopard gecko but it depends on your interests. I wasn’t ever a snake guy but lots of snakes make great starter pets as well.
What factors do you take into consideration when you start designing a tank/cage for production?
Every cage is different and dependant on what is going into it. I don’t usually recommend a cage size that isn’t appropriate to the animal going in it. Overall cost is the biggest concern for most so I have to try and consider that with every design. There is no point designing something that will limit the sales potential if it costs too much.
Think you could you could take Monty Kirzan of Montys Traveling Reptile show in a cage match?
I used to love watching his show as a kid. He was the man back then. I hear he does small shows somewhere in the US now
Do you have a storefront or any locations where people can purchase your products?
I now have a commercial location at 109 1120 5th Ave in Calgary. I am there most of the day Monday through Friday and for a couple of hours on Saturdays
What is your favorite dinosaur?
I like the stegosaurus most if I were to choose one
You said you always had reptiles as a kid, though did you ever think about working with them? When you were younger, what did you want to do when you were older?
I can’t say I ever thought of doing what I do now. I was never in woodworking classes and my dad built a ton of stuff whether it was rebuilding vehicles, or welding up some contraption that would help on the farm but never woodworking stuff. Not sure where it came from to be honest. I started schooling for engineering as I really liked drafting. Once graduated I realized drafting for pay and not for fun sucked a lot, and ended up getting an estimating job for a glass shop. Until then I hadn’t really got back into reptiles other than having a couple, but once I had access to glass I was able to play around and start building reptile cages for myself and that blossomed into building for others starting from 1 or 2 a year to now over 400 a year in various forms.
For me I was lucky as it was a hobby that I was able to turn into a business. I has getting paid a full time salary and this business was really just play money. It quickly grew from that as as it gre I was able to buy more tools, and now the CNC I have which has to be the best toy ever for anyone who likes to draw things and see them built. I really wanted to go on the Dragon’s Den as it is one of my favorite shows, and I knew the exposure would be great. I actually never thought I would ever get an offer and was blown away that I actually had 2 offers (The other one from Vikram was selectively edited out as it didn’t make sense). Once I did get the offer it gave me a chance to think about what I really wanted to do. Im still pretty young so it made the decision easier thinking that if it didn’t work out I could go back to what I did before or find something else out that interests me. I ended up backing out of the deal as I have mentioned before and did end up getting a loan from the bank once I decided to move forward and make it my full time business. I was lucky as I had a cabinet maker friend who had space in his shop and a CNC in his shop could benefit him as well, so it was a win win for both of us.
Was it a hard decision to ask someone else to invest in your business?
I had the hardest time with the valuation and I thought I would be asking too much when in fact the offer would have got me more than I asked for. I wasn’t sold on the fact of having to answer to someone else though so had I went through with it it would have been interesting how it would have all worked.
Was it more of a “this is a fun experience in life” rather than “I need a solid source of investment”? How was the experience?
At the time it was for exposure, but after taping I decided that I did want to take a chance and take my business full time thus needing the money I was asking for. Getting a bank loan was the best option I think so that is what I did. Luckily I had a cabinet maker friend who had shop space available and a need for someone with a CNC, so I was able to secure a commercial space and some added revenue and was able to purchase the CNC. Commercial space was too expensive for me to afford on my own so I wasn’t able to purchase the CNC until I secured the space. It has been great so far. The Dragon’s Den experience was awesome and I am thankful I had a chance to participate. It is a favorite show of mine, and I am proud to say I was able to stand in front of the Dragons and pitch them my business. To get 2 offers was even more crazy. I wasn’t even expecting 1. They edited a lot of my pitch out and reshot the end as Vikrams offer didn’t make sense. Its cool to see how they bring the pitch all together. They made it seem like my pitch was an easy shoe in, and they just immediately invested, but there was a lot of questions, and back and forth before an offer was made. It was crazy but Arlene kind of had me pegged saying that she thought I seemed happy and content with where I was at and did I really need the investment. That part they completely cut out. I thought it was just amazing that she had that correct instinct from talking to me for 15 minutes
What are your feelings about the exotic pet trade?
I have always liked exotic pets, but like dogs and cats as well. I always liked animals that were different. It is getting harder and harder to keep exotics these days with provinces, states, counties etc trying to bring in exotic bans. I am hoping that doesn’t happen and am very appreciative for those who are involved with fighting those bans like PIJAC, USARK etc.
How did you feel when you were immediately offered more than you asked for?
Blown away that I even got an offer. I don’t even think my producer thought I would get an offer. I asked before the pitch if I got an offer if I could go to the back room to discuss with my wife and she told me they didn’t plan to use the room for my pitch. I was like oh I get it. If there is no offer then there is no need for cameras in the rat pit
What was it like fully committing to your own business? What was your day job before fully dedicating your time, money, and effort to your craft?
It was a tough decision. My full time job was a commercial glass estimator. Great company to work for and great people, but a boring ass job. Its hard to weigh out a huge risk when you have such stability, perks, and a good salary to something that may or may not work. Seems to be going great and paying the bills with a smile, so I will keep on truckin.