From the top · 18 December 2018

“An embarrassing spectacle”: What real entrepreneurs made of The Apprentice final

What did our panel make of the final episode? | Credit: BBC

As Lord Sugar goes into business with swimwear designer Sian Gabbidon, we asked our panel of real-life entrepreneurs how they observed the final episode of The Apprentice 2018.

Having entered the final at the expense of Daniel Elahi, Khadiji Kalifa and Sabrina Stocker, nut-milk entrepreneur Camilla Ainsworth lost out to Sian Gabbidon after rigorous interviews and a three-day branding challenge working with their fellow contestants.

The business mogul’s £250,000 investment into Gabbidon’s Swim by Sian brand represents his first foray into fashion. While he accepted the “crowded market” the duo were partnering in, he praised Gabbidon’s expertise in the sector.

In an Instagram post, the Leeds-based designer said she was “overwhelmed” to have won this series, and shared her excitement of the road ahead.

But did Lord Sugar make the right call? We asked our panel how they felt about the finalists and whether the BBC’s business show still has legs.

Danny Doughty, director, Roch Valley

The rejected candidates made a return this week to help Camilla and Sian battle it out for the top prize and were subjected to the humiliation of getting “picked” playground footy style. Poor Sabrina was last pick again, even though she had proved herself to be one of the best in the process. Presumably, they pick their house friends rather than the qualities they need to win.

Business naivety

Both candidates showed their business naivety in this episode, but Camilla more so. She didn’t seem to understand her margins or the intense price pressure when dealing with supermarkets. It was a good idea to try to differentiate her brand with a higher nut content but why go for 15% when the average is 2%? Even 4% would be double that. Camilla’s other major error was the poor packaging she came up with, it had the feel of a cheap dairy product when she should surely have been going down the quality organic route and emphasising the health benefits of her product

“Camilla’s TV ad didn’t help matters – it was terrible, messy, unfocused and unfunny.”

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Steely determination

Sian’s steely determination came to the fore in the final, although she certainly should have given clearer instructions to the team who were responsible for making the gif, allowing Kurran to be sidelined by Jasmine, who thought she knew best but produced a cheap looking image. Sian saw the error of her ways and gave Kurran the opportunity to direct the TV ad which turned out to be quite good (under the circumstances). Sian’s real moment came when she designed a swimsuit on the spot which went straight to print and into a garment the next day.

“The low point for me was the embarrassing spectacle of the two desperate women bickering with each other in the boardroom in order to secure the coveted investment.”

I really hope our young entrepreneurs don’t see this as acceptable business behaviour. In the end, I believe Sian was chosen for her design ability but in such a saturated market there will be many challenges for her in the weeks and months to come.

Sian Gabbidon | Credit: BBC

Aaron Short, co-founder Accommodation.co.uk

Sian has stood out as a professional, focused and creative business person from week one so I’m really pleased that she’s walked away with Lord Sugar’s investment. Her pitch was fantastic and although I’m not sure she created her idea of the perfect brand for SYO Swim in the final episode, her passion, knowledge and potential shone through.

The digital advert featuring Sabrina was definitely a flop, and demonstrated the importance of carrying someone’s idea forward and bringing into all the elements of brand marketing. It didn’t fit the tone of the TV ad and final bikini product and didn’t mesh with the brand overall, but with Sian’s vision and a team of professionals, I think there’s plenty of opportunity for a more focused and vibrant brand moving forward.

Meanwhile, runner up Camilla created a popular and premium product that went down well with consumers. Again, her branding for MLK IT wasn’t fantastic and her costings weren’t coherent enough. Camilla’s pitch wasn’t as professional as Sian’s and it was apparent that she isn’t as experienced in business. She has plenty of potential though, and maybe one day we’ll see her product on the shelves.

Scalability and manufacturing was a big obstacle for both Sian and Camilla. Karen had a good point that this would where Lord Sugar would step in to bring in his expertise and make it all possible. Pairing Sian’s talent and Lord Sugar’s business know-how was a no brainer.

It’s been an interesting 12 weeks and ultimately, professionalism and strong leadership have prevailed. Sian demonstrated expertise and focus during the process, while her creativity in the final episode was definitely what sealed the deal. It will be interesting to see where her brand goes from here!

Stacey MacNaught, freelance content marketing consultant

My opinion before the final was that Camilla had the better product and Sian is the stronger candidate. The final didn’t change that. I still feel as though Camilla’s product is excellent. And yes, there might be some work to do on the branding, but a high nut content vegan-friendly milk alternative certainly, in my view, has a place in a growing market. I do feel as though, regardless of not winning, her product will make it to market one way or another – albeit, with different packaging, I’d expect.

But Sian, the ultimate winner, has a decent product too, some incredible talent for design and a real passion and zest for what she does. She has been so focussed throughout the whole series, consistently exhibiting her ability to diplomatically raise and address concerns and to retain a professional level head throughout.

She demonstrated in the final that she has a real flair for design and is strong in marketing the product too. Where she falls down is in, perhaps, her naivety towards the whole process of manufacturing the product at any sort of real scale. But that’s where Lord Sugar comes in and I think the fact that her gaps are ones he has real experience in probably played a part in the final decision.

Both contestants were strong in the final and Lord Sugar’s comment that he felt he had “the best two,” in the final is warranted.

Juvenile debate

The only unfortunate element of the performance of both of them was the bickering at the end. Why not just focus on the strengths of your own brand and proposition instead of turning it into a juvenile debate over someone else’s weaknesses? I think that let them both down a touch.

But did the right candidate win? I think so. What a close call though. And what a great series.

The Apprentice
Credit: BBC

Faisal Nasim, founder Eduprintsplus.com

I think this series of The Apprentice has been one of the best so far. The quality of the final two candidates is testament to that. I genuinely think they both did a brilliant job.

I would have liked to see Camilla win, as I believe her product really is superb and the market is growing so quickly. She also did a good job, for the first time this series, I think, on bringing her branding into check. She’s been heavily criticised for overly sexualising everything and at the beginning of last night’s episode, I feared it might go the same way again. But, in spite of some of Daniel’s “cheekier” suggestions, she kept a level head and created branding that was fun but did not cross any lines.

I was quite surprised with the final result. But let’s take nothing away from Sian. She was strong throughout the whole series, performed well and was professional. She comes across a strong business person and she is very good at what she does. She has researched her market well, she knows her product well and has even started looking in detail at scaling the operation with UK based manufacturing.

“I think Sian and Lord Sugar’s pairing gives her business a real chance of significant success.”

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Praseeda Nair is the editorial director of Business Advice, and its sister publication for growing businesses, Real Business. She's an impassioned advocate for women in leadership, and likes to profile business owners, advisors and experts in the field of entrepreneurship and management.

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