From the top · 10 November 2016

The Apprentice winner Ricky Martin on life after TV and Alan Sugar’s mentorship

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Ricky Martin: “It’s important to be passionate about what you do”

Startup founder Ricky Martin has been busy since he became The Apprentice winner in 2012, but hasn’t let fame, or a £250,000 investment from Alan Sugar, go to his head, he told Business Advice.

In four years, Martin’s recruitment startup, Hyper Recruitment Solutions, has been transformed from a one-man-band into a 25-staff strong fast-growing recruiter for the scientific research sector. He expects his young firm to reach £10m in sales this year, and The Apprentice winner turned ambitious entrepreneur sees no limit to how far he can take the venture.

Despite his successes though, it hasn’t always been livin’ la vida loca for Martin. Speaking exclusively with Business Advice, the reality star emphasised how much he was left to his own devices after winning The Apprentice.

“Winning the show didn’t seem to matter too much at first,” said Martin. “I had to get out a screwdriver and build my own desk! There were no bells and whistles, if anything I felt additional pressure, both from competitors and from the media, because I was the winner.”

From the outset, the hardest aspects of entrepreneurship for Martin were those fine details that hadn’t occurred to him until day one of the business. Essential procurement tasks like finding appropriate office spaces, installing a phone line and ordering stationary were all left to him to organise.

Having been used to working in large recruitment firms, where everything is laid on for you to hit the ground running, this proved the biggest shock for the then 26 year-old.

On top of this, The Apprentice winner now admits his ego may have prevented him in the beginning from asking for help when needed. “One of the biggest hurdles when starting out is asking for help,” he said.

“Too many people, especially in business, think they have all the answers, but we’re never too experienced to learn something new. Now, if I don’t know something, I’ll ask for advice, and look to outsource anything I think we can’t do in-house.”

In this respect, Sugar has been a valuable ally to Martin since his time on The Apprentice. The infamous investor and life peer maintains his seat on the board of Hyper Recruitment Solutions, meeting Martin every two months, and is frequently called upon to help with the finer aspects of running a company.

“This morning, for example, I had a particular complication I wanted [Sugar’s] advice on,” added Martin. “He was available and helped me work through the issue. He asks questions, and helps you find answers on your own.

“That’s why he’s a great mentor – he is there to offer guidance when you ask, but from day one I’ve been able to get on with running my business the way I want to.”

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Martin and the team at Hyper Recruitment Solutions

As well as gaining the mentorship of Sugar, Martin explained how The Apprentice helped to create a strong network of like-minded business contacts before you’ve even hired your first recruit.

“It’s like an on the job MBA,” said Martin. “The different experiences, and sides of running a business you gain in a short time on the show, is invaluable.

“You get to trade knowledge with other candidates too. After the show finishes, you soon realise which candidates are serious about their businesses and which are just fame hungry. There is a strong alumni network of candidates who take it seriously.”

One of the most important lessons The Apprentice winner claims to have learnt from the show is how vital hands-on experience in a business is. Amongst Hyper Recruitment Solutions’ 25 full-time staff are two young apprentices, which Martin took on after his experience.

When asked whether he thinks the government should be doing anything further to support apprentice schemes across the UK, Martin said that it needs to, adding that more must be done to educate businesses about the value of apprentices.

“I went to university and did a degree, but I’m sure if I was in same position as our latest hires I would have also opted for an apprenticeship,” Martin went on to say.

“Business owners that look at apprentices as ‘cheap labour’ are very misguided. Employers need to invest time and energy into apprenticeships too, but the rewards are obvious. For me, it’s the best route to develop our future consultants.

“Our apprentices will gain an industry-specific qualification whilst getting hands-on experience in every department of the company. And I gain a good staff member who is also receiving training – it’s a win-win.”

What one piece of advice would Martin give to fellow entrepreneurs just starting out? “Stay grounded,” he said. “If you continue to do what you’re good at and you have a simple, strong business plan, everything else will fall into place.

“I also feel it’s important to be passionate about what you do and feel like you’re making a difference,” added Martin. “Don’t just follow the latest fads and definitely don’t do anything just for the money. Money should only be a by-product of starting a venture you care about.”

Peter Jones has begun his search for next generation of young entrepreneurs – Read more here

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Fred Heritage is deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London. He previously worked as a reporter at Global Trade Review magazine.

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