Young Apprentice – Britain’s Future Entrepreneurs Revealed

Apprentice – Britain’s Future Entrepreneurs Revealed.

If the motley crew revealed in part one of BBC’s Young Apprentice represents the cream of the UK’s future Entrepreneurs, it may be time to emigrate. Over the next 8 weeks we will get to know these individuals a bit better, but on last night’s showing I thought I was watching the wrong show; more Big Brother than The Apprentice. The title’s changed from the last series (Junior Apprentice), and in my mind at least Young Apprentice has connotations of Star Wars. It was the Emperor (Lord Sugar?) who used the term when trying to persuage ambitious Jedis to The Dark Side. Maybe the change is deliberate…

The editing may have been cruel, but the personalities on show last night were, for the most part, not attractive (hence the Big Brother reference);  James, Northern Irish, economist. Gbemi, gobby fashion designer; Zara, film mogul; Ben – Richard Branson fan; Harry Maxwell, pushy and Harry Hitchens, nice guy; Mahamed, small but with a great line in sharp suits; Lizzie and Lewis, scousers; Hannah, nice girl; and Hayley and Haya, mostly anonymous.

And so to the first task, which involved making ice cream and selling it. The teams were set up along gender lines, but who would stand up to be the first Project Manager (PM). It is interesting to hear all the aggressive sound bites from each candidate; you could reasonably expect everyone to want to be the leader. But no, it fell to “nice guys” Hannah and Harry H to step forward in the absence of any other volunteers.

Both PMs attempted to be democratic and good listeners, but it was like herding cats. The real personalities immediately started to emerge amongst the teams. James made an immediate impact – as highly opinionated and annoying to everyone else. Having agreed on team names (Kinetic for the girls; Atomic for the boys) they set about making frozen products. The girls came to a consensus quite quickly, but the boys descended to bickering. Harry did a good job of remaining calm, especially as James disagreed with everything! James came up with a pirate theme, with a contribution from Mahamed. Harry M was good with the numbers and came up with profit targets and aiming to make 60 litres of ice cream. Meanwhile, the girls demonstrated an inability to do basic maths (“Three fours are twenty eight”) and guessed at an amount to make. They then instructed the other half of the team to buy specific amounts of the fresh fruit (through dubious negotiation). Suffice to say, the girls got the wrong amount of fruit (didn’t listen) and the team had to write off 3o litres of product. Gbemi refused to go back to get more fruit and Hannah was unable to assert her authority.

The boys chose Southend to sell their product, but economist James suggested selling well below the market prices. The price they chose was still too low, and this was to prove to be a crucial mistake. The girls went to Chessington World of Adventures, and were forced to mark the prices up, and include some built-in upselling (sprinkles, cones), to compensate for the material they had to throw away.

In the board room, it was revealed that the girls had made the better profit and won the challenge. Harry was forced into deciding who to bring back. It did not prove to be a difficult decision, with Mahamed and James competing to take full credit for the failed task. It was tough for Lord Sugar to decide which of these prats should go. In the end it was sharp dressed man Mahamed who was fired, but it was a close thing. in fact,  James was warned by Lord Sugar that he was on the radar. I can’t see him lasting long.

So, who are the early favourites? Both PMs did well under trying conditions, and Harry M, despite some horrendous sound bites, showed good business sense. He also managed to avoid any obvious mistakes and is my early favourite. He certainly impressed Lord Sugar

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The Dragon’s guide to writing a Business Plan

The Dragon’s guide to writing a Business Plan

Six simple steps from the Dragons Den.

There is an old saying in business;

“Fail to Plan or Plan to Fail”

This week, The BBC broadcast the Dragon’s Den guide to writing a Business Plan. This 6 point guide offers some top tips to getting investment for your business idea. Here they are;

1. Set Realisitc Targets

Don’t just pick a number at random as your sales or turnover target. There needs to be some evidence of the financial targets you are suggesting. Do your research, and look at the trend over the last year, 3 years, 5 years, both for the market you operate in and your own company. This should give some indication of future opportunites in your market.  In the programme the 2 guys behind The Wand Company (a remote control shaped as a magic wand) presented solid evidence of future orders as well as their current success, and were able to negotiate a great deal with Duncan Bannatyne. The pitch was spot on, as they were able to present targets with confidence and backed by evidence. In fact, their research was so good that they were able to choose not to take up Duncan’s offer.

2. You make it happen

Commercial acumen is important, but your self belief is key

“Once they like you the Dragon’s will view everything you say positively”

If you don’t believe in your product, why would the Dragon’s? The example given – Masque-Erade showed that confidence and belief, coupled to good forecasting (see 1 above) can be a recipe for success.

3. Get the numbers right

An extension of point 1.

“Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity”

Know your business essentials. These figures need to be at hand, and delivered confidently. Deborah Meaden is particularly hot on this, and has torn apart many an entrant to the den. Any decent bank manager would do the same.

You need to understand the Balance sheet, and Profit & Loss as these are the fundamentals of the business, or no one will want to invest in you.

The example of the camper duvet company showed that not knowing your numbers can cost you. They secured a Dragon (Hilary), but they had to give up 26% equity, rather than the 10% they wanted. Had they been better prepared they could have got a better deal.

4. Price it right

This is the opposite problem to that above- over estimating the value of their business, so you look deluded. The example given was Applied Language online translation services. Success came because they had got the value of their organisation spot on.

5. Timing is everything

“The right idea, the right product at the right time”

Obvious really, but hard to get right. The example in the show – online antiques valuation site “Value my Stuff” secured investment from Theo and Deborah because they reasoned that in a recession, people will want to sell their antiques. One year on this proved to be shrewd. The timing was right. The explosion of good quality camers on phones made uploading photos to the internet easier than it was even 5 years ago.

6. Know when to give up

Back to being realistic. A dud is a dud, recognise it and move on. It is good to have self belief, but not to delude yourself. Look at the evidence objectively, and know when to move away. Example of the Zigo baby cycle – massive previous investment of over a million and losing massive amounts. Dead in the water. One year on, they still have the businesss, but one of the partners, Steven,  now has an online price comparison site for funerals.

So there you have it, the Dragon’s guide to Business Planning.

The best example of a Business Plan from Dragon’s Den is Imran’s ITeddy. Imran knew his margins, and had a sustainable business model with opportunities to innovate. He secured a deal with Peter and Theo and is now busy developing new ideas for his ITeddy company. That is the final lesson;

“Don’t stand still – innovate or die”

Selling ideas to Dragons

Selling ideas to Dragons

The latest 5 point guide from Dragon’s Den to succeeding in getting a product to market was presented on BBC last night. Here’s what they say, with a few thoughts of my own added in.

1. Keep your ideas coming

Put simply, the more you ideas come up with, the more chances you have to succeed. Basically, don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Alternatively, if you are not prolific, it helps to be creative.

In the programme, the example given was Mark Chapkins; the stereotypical mad inventor. Mark presented lots of ideas at his Dragon’s Den pitch. Only Peter Jones was interested and with his help Mark has now achieved a turnover of £250 in 3 years. He now writes books on celebrity inventors and is employed by the Science Museum “inventor in residence”.

Of course, to  have a “good” idea, you need to be able to identify s problem and come up with the steps to solve it. See point 5 below.

2. Don’t forget to dream

Be optimistic. Brainstorm all of the positives about your idea before you pull it apart. A good technique to do this is to use  “second position” to see how realistic your idea is. That is, look at it from the perspective of end users or potential investors.

3. Do the paperwork

Protect your idea. Register the patent, if possible, but remember “patent pending” is not yet a patent. Can you get copyright on your idea? Deborah Meaden is particularly keen on this, and has pulled apart many a good idea because the paperwork is not right. Next week they are looking at Business Planning, so more on this topic then.

4. Think outside the box

Frame the problem you are trying to solve in a different way to come up with a unique way to solve it. Again, use “second person” perspective to aid this. The programme gave the example of “mad inventor”  Rupert Sweet-Escott. He invented a wind turbine chimney pot. This has proved successful in Japan, achieving £270K turnover.

However, Duncan Bannatyne disagrees – he prefers a more pragmatic, realistic approach saying  improving on an existing idea is a safer option for those not gifted with original thinking. The example given was the Magic Whiteboard Series, which improved on flip charts as a portable self adhesive alternative, achieving  £2M turnover in last 3 years.

5. Be your own worst critic

Your product needs to solve a problem (this is the opportunity) worth solving (this converts it to a need) See my FREE e-book for more information.

Your idea needs to work and there needs to be  a market for it.  Bad examples presented to the Dragons included; edible greetings cards for dogs, anti-wrinkle cap, and Derek Cousins Flow Signals – traffic signal safety light. Each of these were either difficult concepts to understand, and were not taken up by the Dragons. The Flow Signals were described as  “the worst invention to be brought to Dragon’s Den”.

So, there we have it a 5 point plan to get your ideas to product and to market.

The best example of meeting all of the above criteria (missed by the Dragons) was Tangle Teeze (to fix Tangled, Knotted , Hair). Poor presentation ( especially the demonstration) combined with a lack of market research scared the Dragons off. . The inventor took their advice and was approached by many distributors following the programme. The product has now sold over 1.6 M items, wirth £2.3M turnover with international sales. Now that is success to be modelled.