From the top · 19 October 2018

The Apprentice 2018: 6 “real” entrepreneurs unpick business lessons from episode 3

The Apprentice is once again generating debate in the business world

When Lord Sugar assigns his candidates weekly tasks on The Apprentice, real-life business owners are usually left seething in front of television screens at the show’s failure to capture the true tests of entrepreneurship in 2018.

Following episode 3 of The Apprentice 2018 – where candidates were sent to produce and sell a new doughnut range – we asked Britain’s small business owners where the teams went wrong, and whether the show can offer lessons for those in the real world of business.

Bruce Spencer-Knott, managing director of Minster Surfacing

Watching The Apprentice last night reconfirmed my fears that, other than posturing, the candidates have little else to offer as a collective. Whether this is truly endemic in this generation or part of the selection process the BBC/Lord Alan Sugar look for I couldn’t say but nonetheless there are few stand-out candidates.

One that did shine, despite being asked back into the boardroom, was Jasmine. Articulate, presentable and driven, she actually held the losing team together in my opinion. The PM was bereft of leadership in any form on such an easy task but luckily he had such a timid losing guy in Frank on his team to whom he could deflect the blame.

The winning team understood the need to move all the product on come what may, offering deals on a sliding scale as time moved on. An obvious strategy the losing team couldn’t grasp. I also thought the DPM on the winning team did a good job with her enthusiasm and obvious concern with quality control. She also effectively closed the deal on the artisan units whereas, as an owner, I would have told them to clear off as they looked awful.

The winning team also had the ultra-enthusiastic Kayode on their team who quite clearly could sell ice in the Arctic. Enthusiasm wins every time, even if the odds seemingly stacked against you.

Peter Watson, co-founder and managing director of Distract

“Leadership, margins and price consistency are three huge factors that need to be nailed in business. Despite having a group of businesspeople under one roof, none of them were considered. Collaboration proved that you should stick to what you know when it comes to bespoke – their lack of experience could have been hidden away under layers of sugar and sweets, but instead, it shone through thanks to their overpromise to Beach, Blanket, Babylon.

Typhoon, although still not great because quite frankly, everyone was a bit useless, their flavour ideas were ideal for an artisan product. They had great energy with the public despite their products not looking the most appetising. Their win was big but it could’ve been bigger if they’d focused on quality control and agreed on consistent pricing.

Despite my negativity, it takes a while for people to shine and it’s especially obvious in a process like The Apprentice. With that in mind, it’s important for entrepreneurs to remember that it is a reality show rather than a business show so my advice would be to watch it for things to not do in business and certainly not for any serious business tips.

Kathryn Riley, founder and managing director of legal recruitment experts Douglas Scott

While a catalogue of oversights and errors were made by both teams, last night’s challenge allowed some of the candidates to shine.

The winning team’s ‘best of British’ theme was strong – granted I’ve not been inspired to sprinkle a bag of earl grey tea over me sweet treats– but it was Kayode who was the star of the show for me. Passion is one of the key quantities we look for when hiring at Douglas Scott so I was particularly impressed by his sales technique. Even Claude couldn’t hide his admiration for Kayode’s enthusiasm as he brought a smile to even the toughest customers’ faces.

At the other end of this scale, we had Alex, Sian and Khadija. I’m struggling to remember what any of them contributed. Perhaps a smart move at this stage of the process but – as also is the case in real life – it’ll only be a matter of time before passengers are exposed.

There’s certainly no room for flapping in business. And while he let his emotions get the best of him and his sales technique, which saw him chase after potential customers shouting “oi, don’t run away from me’, was questionable, I still didn’t think it was Frank’s time to go. The case made against him in the boardroom that he hadn’t contributed seemed unfounded as he rightly argued he’d fried “every last one of those doughnuts”. Unfortunately for him, his passion was his biggest downfall and losing your head in the boardroom rarely pays off. Game-face is absolutely fundamental in business and Frank will do well to learn from this.

“Other key lessons include never overpromising to customers, to always properly research potential clients – particularly if you’re going to try to butter them up – and never engage in an arm-wrestle the night before a boardroom meeting with Lord Sugar.

Nadine Smart, head of talent at Cirrus

I was particularly intrigued this week by Team Collaborative. Project manager (Can’t they just call them team leaders, which is what they are?) Tom tried to take a more collaborative approach, beginning the task by checking that everyone was happy with their roles. Immediately Karren Brady criticised Tom for being too conciliatory in his approach, suggesting he should have “led from the front”. In Apprentice Speak that usually means telling people what to do, so it was actually quite refreshing to see Tom make sure his team members were okay.

In an ideal world, Tom could have had the time to communicate clear strategy and goals. However, The Apprentice is not set in an ideal world.

In true Apprentice style, we witnessed the team attempt to create B-shaped doughnuts and flog them for £4.75 a pop. Team Collaborative lost by £68 and Tom ended up in the boardroom with Jasmine and Frank.

As Tom tried to make the case for shared decision-making, Karren once again chided his ‘rule by democracy’ approach and his performance was criticised by Jasmine. Jasmine’s idea of pouring chilli sauce over chocolate doughnuts had also contributed to Team Collaborative’s failure, but she made a good point about the team’s time being more productively spent churning out regular doughnuts rather than B-shaped ones. But focusing on doing simple things well won’t win any ratings wars – this is TV after all.

Genuine teamwork and collaboration require trust. The Apprentice experience is quite deliberately designed to undermine trust between contestants.

Tom escaped Lord Sugar’s pointed finger this time, as did Jasmine. Lord Sugar’s parting words to Tom were that he needed a wake-up call. Will Tom turn into an autocrat by next week? Or will he try and hone those collaboration skills and influence Team Collaborative to actually work together and win?

Samantha Caine, managing director of Business Linked Teams

The show this week was thoroughly entertaining as usual, and it was great to see the teams mixed up a bit. Although both teams produced some questionable flavours, this week’s victory for Team Typhoon ultimately came down to outstanding salesmanship. While the winning team would’ve crashed and burned in the Great British Bake Off, they excelled at selling their unappetizing treats by exhibiting world-class relationship-building skills with their target audience. Kayode was the star of this episode, repeatedly provided the rest of the team with shining examples of relating to potential customers on their level and building rapport in a short amount of time before closing the deal.

Camilla’s bullish leadership didn’t do the team any favours and having failed to listen to the concern of Sabrina, her sub-team leader, at the quality control, her dictatorial style really put the team at risk. From the appearance of those doughnuts, Kayode’s persuasive salesmanship is what won it for the team this week.

Team Collaborative, on the other hand, lacked any real leadership at all, despite producing a superior product. Tom took his diplomatic leadership style to the extreme, failing to make a single decision himself. While diplomacy is a valued leadership attribute, people expect leaders to provide direction and this means taking on the responsibility of decision making.

Frank’s departure didn’t come as much of a surprise after last week’s boardroom encounter. His behaviour revealed a potential lack of emotional intelligence that would be poorly received in any workplace. The team’s overabundant use of chilli also showed a lack of understanding of what your audience wants. The team failed to understand where their energies should be focused, spending too much time on the bespoke “B” doughnuts and failing to give enough time and resource to the mass-market product which could have generated stronger profits.

Budding entrepreneurs take note- do your research, never try to flog a product or a service to a customer that you wouldn’t be happy to receive yourself, and invest in the training and development of your sales team”.

Alex Epstein, CMO of BigChange and The Apprentice Series 6 contestant

I was full of admiration for Camilla, the winning leader of team Typhoon. She was focused and headstrong right from the word go. However, one must never over-promise and under-deliver, which is what Camilla’s team did when they crafted the ‘Espresso coffee’ doughnuts for the corporate client who only paid 50% of the cost. However, Camilla’s team worked well to clear their stock on the streets of London.

The performance of the losing team, Collaborative, was rather sickly, as was the theme for their doughnuts. Tom really struggled on the leadership front, and I can say from experience that the candidates hunt like scavengers for any apparent weakness. They quickly picked up and exploited Tom’s democratic style and constant need for reassurance as a weapon in the boardroom. Tom was foolish for allowing Jackie to get carried away with her idea for a B-shaped doughnut – which not only didn’t turn out but stole valuable production time in the kitchen.

Kayode stood out this week, and he received compliments on his warm personality and his unique way of engaging with the general public. Kayode is a professional speaker after all, so maybe that was to be expected, but I am looking forward to seeing what else he has to offer.

Frank was the scapegoat of the week, but I actually think Frank performed well in the kitchen, left to pick up the pieces by Jackie’s poor product decision. Jasmine received a lot of flak for her Chilli and Chocolate product choice, but once again team manager Tom should have reigned her in.

The main lesson from this week’s episode is don’t walk before you can run. Don’t offer a fancy doughnut when a good old fashioned one would do. And don’t over-promise and under-deliver. It’s as simple as that.

Both teams had a lot of problems this week, and the root of all of them was a poorly executed product. Their lack of research and experience was obvious, and more time should’ve been spent creating a good product. Even if the end result was a simple doughnut – if it looked great and tasted delicious, both teams would’ve been much more successful. More time should’ve been spent building the products and less time selling.

Kayode really stood out. His sales technique was fantastic and his personality shone through. His energy and charisma engaged customers (much more than the product!) and I think that’s the kind of approach that will carry him through the process.

Tom’s team made plenty of mistakes along the way but the biggest was made by Jasmine. Choosing hot sauce as a key flavour was far too risky and the result was a customer coughing over a bin. Not ideal!

There are plenty of lessons to be learnt from this. Research is key to creating a product, so that means spending the time to really know your stuff and doing the market research. Don’t think you can create a masterpiece overnight – especially when you’re selling something for a premium price to premium customers. Make sure your product that you and your salespeople believe in.

It’s important to know your clients, too. Jackie’s blunder at Beach, Blanket, Babylon set the pitch off to a terrible start and is probably the biggest take away from this week’s episode. Oh, and don’t put hot sauce on a doughnut!

Aaron Short, founder and CEO Accomodation.co.uk

“Both teams had a lot of problems this week, and the root of all of them was a poorly executed product. Their lack of research and experience was obvious, and more time should’ve been spent creating a good product. Even if the end result was a simple doughnut – if it looked great and tasted delicious, both teams would’ve been much more successful. More time should’ve been spent building the products and less time selling.

“Kayode really stood out. His sales technique was fantastic and his personality shone through. His energy and charisma engaged customers (much more than the product!) and I think that’s the kind of approach that will carry him through the process.

“Tom’s team made plenty of mistakes along the way but the biggest was made by Jasmine. Choosing hot sauce as a key flavour was far too risky and the result was a customer coughing over a bin. Not ideal!

“There are plenty of lessons to be learnt from this. Research is key to creating a product, so that means spending the time to really know your stuff and doing the market research.”

“Don’t think you can create a masterpiece overnight – especially when you’re selling something for a premium price to premium customers. Make sure your product that you and your salespeople believe in.

“It’s important to know your clients, too. Jackie’s blunder at Beach, Blanket, Babylon set the pitch off to a terrible start and is probably the biggest take away from this week’s episode. Oh, and don’t put hot sauce on a doughnut!”

David Grimes, CEO Sorted

What the winning team did well

I loved how Team Typhoon has a focused approach to the challenge and wasted no time on throwing suggestions around. Camilla led the team with a clear vision and ensured everyone was on track in their roles, which meant that their doughnuts were the most successful.

What the losing team did badly

Team Collaborative were slightly too collaborative, their visions didn’t mesh together, and their project leader ultimately didn’t lead by example. In leadership, you do have to take everybody’s thoughts and opinions on board, but you must come to a decision and be confident in your choices.

Which candidate stood out in a good way

For me, Kayode stood out as a confident salesman, his gift of the gab combined with Camilla’s vision helped to secure the win for Typhoon and leave a lasting impression.

Which candidate stood out in a bad way

Tom stood out as a bad candidate this week due to weak leadership skills and the tactic of leading by democracy. This allowed his team to do as they pleased as there was no united strategy, meaning that the doughnuts were being sold at different prices.

The lessons and takeaways budding entrepreneurs and small business owners can take from this episode

Last night’s episode of The Apprentice showed the importance of having a clear vision when leading a team. It shows businesses that you need a firm hand to steer the ship effectively and a strategy for achieving the results you want.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Simon Caldwell is deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and communications from the University of Liverpool, and has previously worked as a content editor in local government and the ecommerce industry.

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