The Apprentice, Episode 1: fish fingers and first impressions » SMEInsider

The Apprentice, Episode 1: fish fingers and first impressions

So… did you see it?

The 11th series of The Apprentice kicked off last night and we’re pleased to bring you some exclusive commentary on the first episode from last year’s runner-up, entrepreneur Bianca Miller, and Neil Dagger, senior product marketing manager for domain name registry Nominet.
Warning: contains spoilers.

Join the conversation on Twitter: @SMEInsider #TheApprentice #BiancaMillerSays


Bianca Miller


The task this week was to create some fish-based lunches to sell to the lunchtime trade. Simple enough… or is it?

We kicked off The Apprentice this year with 18 candidates all competing to be the next Mark Wright, all claiming to be fantastic leaders but not wanting to put their neck out in task one to be project manager! Now… I will be honest and say hardly anyone wants to be project manager week 1! Because you know – if your team loses with no track record to speak of you are almost certainly for the chopping block!

But one woman rose to the challenge, as April Jackson choose to head up Team Connexus. Meanwhile team Versatile forced Selina Waterman-Smith to be PM on the basis that she had a ‘food intolerance’…  interesting.


The strategy

Team Versatile: low cost, high volume – which resulted in them buying some low cost, low quality unsalable squid. Luckily for the team they had a strategy that included two products catering to two types of customer; calamari and a more popular fish finger sandwich – easy to make, easy to sell and easy to customise.

the apprentice selling fish fingers

Team Connexus: high cost, high quality – except the issue with this philosophy is that in order to make a margin you need to understand the market, who are you selling to, who your local competitors are and what the end consumer would be happy to pay for the product in question. To sell a tuna Nicoise salad for £9 to passing trade is no mean feat with the likes of Pret a Manger on every corner selling for a mere £5 (and probably with some change).

the apprentice selling salads

A key principle for selling to a specific market such as the lunchtime trade is to be present at lunchtime!

What is interesting about the teams is their ability to adapt in a changing environment: when the sandwiches weren’t selling Team Versatile took to the street to sell boxes of fish fingers to prepare at home.

the apprentice takeaway fish fingers


The people

From a personal branding perspective, someone who regularly advertises and proclaims the things they are not good at is always an issue for me. We are not all good at everything but I felt Dan Callaghan [who admitted he’s not good at selling] should be better marketing his pros, not his cons.

Equally, I question when people undermine fellow team members and are negative about their input without having made good input himself, like Mergim Butaja did. Promote what you do well before you talk about others.

Ultimately, I believe the right person was fired. April made mistakes but she was brave enough to put herself forward – the first task is always difficult as it is a new environment, new people and many new rules for the TV world. I believe Dan was asking to be fired for confidently and regularly admitting inadequacy and Brett Butler-Smythe was concentrating too much on creating the perfect fishcake and not enough on yielding a profit – lunchtime sales require lunchtime trade, not the perfect fishcake!

Lessons have been learnt… or so we hope.



Neil Dagger


The first round of this year’s Apprentice kicked off with a fishy theme. The new teams were challenged to rustle up some snappy fish-based lunches. As usual, it all went wrong and chaos ensued.

The first task is always assigning teams and selecting a project manager. One team press-ganged a reluctant project leader who initially appeared indecisive, but eventually was victorious and lived up to the team name of Versatile by adapting their strategy and being flexible in addressing their target markets. They went for a low-cost product and focused on margin.

The second team went for the name Connexus and opted for a high cost, high quality product but failed to plan production times or to consider product complexity. They only made a fraction of the product required, limiting their ability to sell in volume and cover their costs. They also over-priced their product, which resulted in the need to discount and making no margin.

the apprentice selling fishcakes

The lesson here is to agree on your task priority and product specification. Don’t over-complicate. In this case, the need was for low cost, simple production and high volume to maximise margins. The losing team focused too much on production process, missed the key lunchtime slots, and was late to market, reducing the sales window. Discounting their product killed off any margin they might have made.

There were also some interesting lessons in thinking about your customer base. What do they want and where are they looking for it? Selling fish to a vegetarian restaurant is always going to be a challenge.

the apprentice vegan restaurant

So simply put, identify your customer profile and their budget, produce a product they want at the right cost, set the correct quality for the price asked, promote it clearly and deliver it on time.

In the end, the candidate fired admitted he couldn’t sell, was accused of delaying production time and didn’t fight his corner with conviction in the board room. The big fish attacked and he was easy bait. So that’s one fish thrown back in the sea.

the apprentice you're fired dan


Make your mark online with a .uk domain name for web and email

A domain for today and tomorrow, bringing UK values to a global audience, .uk represents the trusted, new, shorter domain for everyone. From ambitious start-ups to vibrant brands, students and families, this dynamic online space offers a shorter domain that puts the emphasis back on your name. For businesses and individuals. Starting your digital journey or taking your business to the next level. Get on board with your own .uk.



For more information visit:
or you can call Nominet on: +44 (0)1865 332244