It’s crunch time. Last night the remaining five candidates had their credentials assessed and business plans examined in the most formidable stage of The Apprentice: the interviews. Last year’s runner-up, entrepreneur Bianca Miller, shares her experience of the process and picks out business lessons from the episode along with Neil Dagger, senior product marketing manager for domain name registry Nominet. Warning: contains spoilers.
Missed the last one? Catch up with our commentary on episode 10.
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It’s the moment we have all been waiting for. The episodes and the tasks are fun but what we’re all really waiting for is the interviews, where five previously confident business minds get interrogated, often to breaking point. Yes, it is cruel – from my experience it is much, much harder than they edit for television – but it does make bloody good (behind fingers) viewing!
This year was no different. We had five finalists all pitching an array of business plans. In summary:
Charleine: The successful hairdresser with a salon in Plymouth had a business plan to expand her business into a training institution bigger than Toni and Guy. The interviewers felt her dream was far too large and that she should concentrate on building salon by salon, even though she said she would “work her socks off” at regular intervals throughout the interviews. They weren’t interested in her socks. She was fired but will no doubt be in a great position to expand using her platform.
Joseph: The owner of a plumbing business wanted to take things further by creating a franchise model that would allow him to cover more geographical areas. Makes sense. However, the way he priced the franchise made it very difficult for the owners to make enough money to derive a profit. This can be easily overcome – he can alter the pricing structure, build in a repayment structure and with the backing of Lord Sugar, the marketing potential just from his name will help each franchise to advance their position in the local area.
Vana: She pitched an idea for a dating and gaming application, where you find a match by playing a game with a potential suitor. As the game progresses the picture of the person is revealed – a dangerous game if you ask me. I have seen how people treat potential dates on Tinder and it’s brutal. Imagine having to work to get a first look at them. But at least it brings a fun element to online dating, not to mention the fact that a world of dating based on looks alone is worrisome.
Richard: He pitched an outsourcing marketing solution for small business. To be honest I don’t know much more about this idea as he made it extremely complicated. He ended up in the foetal position after a few stern words from three interviewers, one of whom eventually breaking him. “Tricky Dicky” was perceived too big of a risk, and was fired.
Then there was Gary – to be honest I had to Google to find his name, sorry Gary – they had too many nicknames for the poor chap. Unfortunately “Mr Corporate” had an idea for a global mobile disco which for the most part involved letting friends abroad join the party virtually. Yes, you could use Skype. The parties were also £300 a pop, which raises the question: why didn’t he increase the price point after realising at the children’s party task that people are willing to spend more on a children’s party, let alone an adult’s party?
In addition, DJs and sound systems cost more than that to hire. It was an ill-researched, ill-thought out idea, sadly. Bit of a waste of a finalist position to be frank. Fired.
Business lessons from this week’s episode:
Cut the fluff and the jargon – some people (Richard in this case) have a propensity to overcomplicate a concept. Your plan should be clear enough for even a novice to understand.
Be open to change – I know this from experience. Sometimes a business idea is your baby and you have worked so hard on the concept, the plan, the financials and the research that you are scared to accept changes. Scared that changes will alter the whole proposition. Sometimes you are right, sometimes you are wrong, but be willing to listen.
Honesty is essential – Basically, don’t lie. That’s it really but to elaborate: lies in business or on your CV can be found out. Honesty, integrity and trust are crucial to business, while lies destroy credibility and business relationships.
Your past isn’t your future – I have a huge bugbear with the way the UK looks at perceived failure in business. In his interview, Richard was asked whether he had the ability to succeed, having only made a small profit in his previous business. I take two issues with this: firstly, would the interviewer have preferred someone with no business experience, and secondly, a person’s past shouldn’t be the deciding factor on their future success!
Many entrepreneurs have had negative business experiences, have lost everything, been bankrupt, or have been affected by financial crises, but they’ve used that experience to be bigger and better next time. I mentioned this on Facebook yesterday and entrepreneur Claudine Reid gave me a fabulous quote: “Don’t judge me because I fell, judge me on my recovery.” Business can be an uncertain world, so if you’re brave enough to start your own company don’t let others set limitations for you!
In next week’s final, Vana and Joseph go head to head, and regardless of who wins, I wish them both the very best. And to have plan B ready…
Nominet – The UK internet registry for .co.uk and the new shorter .uk
Week 11. It’s the big one. The final interviews. This week the candidates’ proposed business plans are picked apart, every assertion challenged, every claim ridiculed mercilessly and every commitment scoffed at. In the past these interviews have left candidates quivering, sweating and murmuring to themselves as they limp bloodied from the interview chamber to seek emotional counselling.
The episode starts with the traditional phone ringing. It’s the call from Lord Sugar’s office. Luckily one of the brighter candidates yells “PHONE!” in case there was any doubt over the source of that incessant ringing noise. The instructions are to assemble at an office emptied of mere mortals who might be unprepared to witness the ensuing carnage.
A feisty new interviewer has been recruited in interior design entrepreneur Linda Plant, as Claude appears to have mellowed with age and is now fair, supportive and almost kindly.
So what are these much touted business plans we’ve been hearing about? Well, the selection was surprising, almost a bit disappointing. Lord Sugar will need to choose between an outsourced marketing service for small businesses, a plumbing franchise, a hairdressing salon, a mobile dating app, and wait for it… a mobile disco! Yes, that’s right… I can scarcely believe it. Gary has come all this way, quit his job with a major retailer to show up with a plan for a global mobile disco.
Get your coat, Gary. His unintelligible business plan was let down further by some curious claims of managing outlandish budgets and a team of 600 staff, 597 of whom having mysteriously disappeared by the time he left the company with only three reports to his name. Some might say that’s quite careless to lose so many. I suspect they fled in fear of being invited to attend one of his mobile disco parties. Gary headed off to that great glitter ball in the sky. He never really seemed like a fun party guy.
The business plan for the global hairdressing empire seemed more of a pipe dream, so Charleine was soon heading off for a quick rinse and blow dry.
Richard finally let himself down simply by being evasive and slippery, living up to the name he has carved for himself as “Tricky Dicky”. He had the essence of a great idea which made sense but he embroidered it in such a pyramid of piffle that even his biggest fans realised it was slipping away from him.
The business lesson here is clear. Don’t fabricate or cloud a great idea in crypto-baloney. Be honest, direct, and open. Keep it simple. Answer the questions asked and avoid appearing to dodge the tough challenges.
My money was on Richard to win. He is likeable, highly intelligent and I would definitely want him on my team if he could curb the tendency to keep drifting off into the David Brent character from the The Office. In the boardroom he couldn’t quite shake off the fears of a conflict of interest with his existing business and his business plan appeared to be nothing new or different to his current project. Exit Richard.
So the two lucky finalists are Vana and her mobile dating app that combines gaming with dating – potentially a great idea as the two markets are enjoying massive growth. Then there’s Joseph with his slightly questionable plumbing service franchise. His business plan has already been criticised in the interviews as unrealistic but he has shown flexibility and offered to modify to make it workable. His advantage is that he is a plain speaking, direct hard worker, very much in Lord Sugar’s style. So next week’s chalk and cheese final should prove interesting.
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