PirateLife founder Matt Slaman poses with his crew and CBC's Dragons. Photo: courtesy of Matt Slaman.
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Pirate-themed entertainment company featured on Dragons Den

As the ice melts and the temperature slowly rises, students are finding all kinds of ways to prepare for the summer—although most of us aren’t outfitting a pirate ship.

Matt Slaman, who graduated from the University of Ottawa with a degree in international studies and modern languages, was recently featured on CBC’s Dragon’s Den for his business PirateLife, which is a “pirate ship/theatre” based at Toronto’s Centre Island that provides entertainment—including a treasure hunt—for families.

“As a kid growing up you always think about being a pirate for Halloween, you read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island… and you think ‘why can’t we just do that in real life?’” said Slaman.

On March 9, he appeared on an episode of Dragons Den, where he took to the stage in full pirate garb to pitch PirateLife. Behind him was a large, though not life-size, pirate ship—complete with four sailors who proceeded to sing a sea shanty. From the outset, the Dragons were clearly impressed.

“Families in the summertime are always looking for something fun to do,” Slaman told them. “So last year I built a 45-foot pirate ship.”

Unfortunately, none of the Dragons came aboard, though all of them said they saw potential in the idea. But that didn’t take the wind out of Slaman’s sails.

“It was amazing,” he said. “It was empowering to have all five of them validate the business model… there were a lot of good little suggestions in there as well.”

Before the episode aired, PirateLife set out on its maiden voyage, and Slaman said it was a success. “We’ve had amazing feedback from the people who’ve come to see our ship,” he said.

He said a big part of the business is the actors who provide pirate-themed entertainment. “We have an amazing crew of actors from local colleges and universities.”

Slaman said one of the goals of his business is to make theatre more easily accessible, as a lot of theatre-based entertainment is expensive, especially in Toronto. “We keep our ticket prices low ($25 per person) because we want more people to go out and experience the arts in this way,” he said.

Slaman said he’s had a great experience with the business so far, and was also ready to share some of the lessons he learned along the way.

“Ask a ton of questions,” he said. “What’s really important is that every product we sell has to solve a problem.”

The company is just starting out, but Slaman said there would be some changes on the horizon. He plans to increase the capacity of his ship, and eventually launch another one. Slaman also said that he’s working on a non-profit arm of his company, which would look to “help bring more dramatic arts workshops to kids who don’t necessarily get too much access to the arts.”

Until then, Slaman is focused on getting his company shipshape for their second year in business.