Tag Archives: entrepreneurship

Nice guys finish last. And also first – the Apprentice 2011 finale

I wasn’t expecting that (ref finale of BBC Apprentice 2011). But then, I wasn’t expecting Helen to go off the rails with a totally nonsensical business model on the basis of absolutely no previous experience. For Susan to be stupidly naive, borderline illegal – well, that was predictable. For Jim to be 100% bullshit – again, predictable.

That the single least successful person in the process to make it to the final eventually became the winner kind of nullifies the entire purpose of the process, no? Tom’s 11th hour revelation on how he got his previous product into Walmart must have had a big impact on Alan hiring him for his guts as he’d been as meek as Susan most of the way through the process. Lord Sugar clearly had, however, a soft spot for Tom the whole way through the project. And we liked him too, and were chuffed for him when he won through.

But perhaps the process was never about being the best business person – after all, Helen was unquestionably the best at doing "business" in the process – but perhaps it was about not contributing to stupidity and making your presence felt on collaborative group projects to demonstrate your role within the teams. As the roles filtered down at the end – Alan had a choice between the inventor, the operations person, the sales and marketing douche and the sparky, driven nit-wit with no clear discernible skills. Left with that choice, as a successful, excellent operations person yourself – there really is only one choice, irrespective of their performance in the final task.

Tom and Helen both did badly on the final task. Tom’s business plan was riddled with errors, didn’t mention his major margin product in it, he didn’t fight the case for workplace need before Lord Sugar (every large business’ health & safety requirements is having people fill out workplace health assessments these days), and was generally an affable twit. Helen’s idea was chronically bad; a re-hashed version of a concierge service wrapped in some nonsense about lifting Britain through recovery whilst really being contingent on a ‘recovered’ Britain in which idiots with too much money and too little time would outsource administrative trivia to an army of virtual assistants. My single biggest question about the Apprentice – were they allowed to use the Internet / computers? Surely a spreadsheet and a web-browse could have wheedled out 90% of the idiocy encountered across the course of the series.

The Apprentice process is exactly what it claims to be; it’s about finding the best business partner for Lord Sugar. It’s not about finding the best business person or entrepreneur in Britain – Lord Sugar already has one of those – himself.

For us? Adieu to Apprentice 2011 – it was fantastically entertaining television – and here’s to the next thing.

Entrepreneurial will, pt 2

Damian took issue with my perspective on entrepreneurialism as a thing for people with a more aggressive appetite for risk; that is to say, that a gambler (or someone with a ‘gambling personality’) is more likely to have a desire to (if not aptitude) for starting up a business.

His (reasonable) point was that – unless you’re fronting the capital yourself – you’re not gambling with your own money and therefore the ‘gamble’ is damage limited.

I think, however, that this misses a  number of strands of my view on the issue and – at the risk of stretching the metaphor – doesn’t take into account all the characteristics of a gambler. Specifically:

  1. The consequences of failure – reputationally speaking – are sufficiently high that whose capital you are using is largely irrelevant – true for gamblers and for entrepreneurs, although probably moreso for the latter.
  2. The passion required is high for both. You have to have absolute certainty that not only is this what you want to do, but you can make money from it. I have about 60 of poker losses this year; my friend Matt – a much better poker player than I – is about 600 up.  Neither of us are showing great ROI despite our enjoyment for the game.
  3. The commitment required to both is huge. Pro poker players are up all hours on Pokerstars and other online gambling networks, playing multiple tables and trying to grow their capital. I love my job – but I do also love that I can put it down when I go home, most of the time.

So I maintain my view that gamblers make the best entrepreneurs, although happy to be argued with further.

Successful entrepreneurs are the best gamblers in Britain

In this week’s Apprentice Helen faced Lord Sugar for the first time, and was exposed to his CV inspecting wrath. He made the point to the successful executive assistant that you don’t just wake up one morning and decide you’re a businessman. You have an idea, you have drive, you have passion, and you do it.

I’ve had a few conversations lately about what it means to have entrepreneurial spirit, in this day and age. Like Lord Sugar, I don’t think being clever, inventive, creative or even organised and hardworking are the core of it. Ultimately, to want to be an entrepreneur, the most valuable personality trait is that of a gambler.

You have to roll the dice.

That’s what it boils down to. Numeracy is important, creativity, a sense of strategy, the market and marketing, leadership skills – all key. But one of the reasons I’ve not started a business myself is the same reason that I rarely push all-in with deuces under the gun, even under punishing blind conditions – I don’t like the stress associated with that level of risk. And indeed, British entrepreneurial culture is far less forgiving of failed gambles in the business realm than other countries (like the US).

So is Britain’s ‘growth agenda’, in no small part founded on the idea that we’ll have a nation of burgeoning entrepreneurs, fundamentally flawed? I’m not sure. It wouldn’t surprise me, though, if the idea of taking a risk on a business proposition is less scary to the average Brit. We seem to have a culture of at least (semi-) calculated risk and we do see a lot of start-ups emerging around the UK.

What do you think?

The Apprentice

Lord Alan Sugar at Destination Growth '09 So prior to the current series, I’d never watched the Apprentice. The concept reminded me too much of some curious hybrid of actually working and interviewing for a new job through one of those awful milk-round processes where you have to do ludicrous, unrealistic exercises to prove your worth.

Amanda brought me round. As with football and celebrity, and occasionally Eastenders, The Apprentice has become one of those shared frames of popular reference. Everyone has a view on it; everyone gets caught up in the exercises, and for those of us who work in marketing… there’s a thousand lessons of what not to do painted every week.

This week, I have a new phrase for an undifferentiated marketing proposition. The "Every Dog." If anyone tries to pitch me a generic sounding service again, I’m just going to say "No thanks, that’s too every dog." It might even work.

Talking to a colleague today gave me an insight as to why there’s such a strong appeal to the programme. They do seem to find curious, dysfunctional groups of people to collaborate on these projects. The net result is dramatic, exciting, and ludicrous television, in which modestly intelligent people get on so badly that they fail, in many cases, to organise the proverbial piss up in a brewery. Which makes you feel good about your own merits, modest as they may be.

Lord Sugar; thank you for this feel-good television. It’s the best thing I’ve got from you since my Amstrad PC 2286.