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What real entrepreneurs think of The Apprentice

Spoiler alert: one thought it was “pretty realistic”, one took a balanced view, and one felt personally insulted.

While many of us were sat on our sofas crying “I could have done better!” at episode two of the new season of The Apprentice, actual business people were getting very hot under the collar. 

On its sixteenth season – the show has been running for an impressive 17 years – the show’s formula has remained pretty much the same, with two teams taking on a new business challenge to prove they are worthy of being Sir Alan Sugar’s next business partner (an upgrade from the original prize of an apprenticeship with the Lord).

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Episode two saw the teams, still divided by gender into the Men’s Team and the Women’s Team, tasked with creating a brand new children’s electric toothbrush, complete with interactive app. The Men’s Team went down a magical wizarding route, designing a brown, ‘wand-like’ brush that was ultimately compared by many to “a turd”, while the Women’s Team decided on a space-themed concept, with a logo of a grinning tooth. 

After last week’s loss, the Men’s Team were high on the testosterone of something to prove. Team leader Aaron, who runs a security business, put himself forward despite zero experience in the dental care or children’s sector. Heading up the Women’s Team, sustainability business owner Francesca who has said, “I’ve never lost anything, I always win,” did indeed bag a win for the Women’s Team. 

But was it deserved? We asked three real-life entrepreneurs what they thought of the polarising show. 

Katie Cope, 34,  Manchester, founder of marketing agency Keppel Leopard Creative

Image: Katie Cope

What were your first thoughts on the challenge and contestants?

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I was sitting there saying “I wouldn’t hire any of them!” I wouldn’t like these kind of employees in my company, if something goes wrong we need to look at it as a team, not who did what wrong.

I have a seven year old, so thinking about the Women’s Team’s app, he wouldn’t really know what was going on in it, it needed more instruction to teach him how to brush. And that tooth icon was scary, it was terrifying actually. 

And the Men’s Team’s brush, I wouldn’t want to buy something that looked like a turd for my seven-year old. Even if he wanted me to buy it I wouldn’t. 

What does The Apprentice get wrong about being an entrepreneur? 

When I was employed, I would have put it higher in terms of thinking that’s would be like in business. But now I work for myself, I know it’s nothing like this. 

On the show you have to get it right the first time. The Women’s Team only succeeded because they seemed willing to take on feedback and adapt their product for the client. The men were really reluctant to change anything. They needed to bow down to the expertise of the client and change the colour of the toothbrush – we all need to agree it looked like a turd. 

But business you have to fail and then pick yourself up again.

What does it get right? 

It’s really entertaining to see how fast something can be done. They’ve got such a small window to achieve something so to see it go from start to finish so quickly makes for good TV. 

What would you have done differently? 

I think I would have been a bit more creative because that’s where my expertise are. So I’d do better in terms of creativity, but working with them, I would struggle. 

You can see their frustration; they’re all very clever, very smart business people, but they’re used to having their own way, and because as business owners, we are the boss.

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Koye Adesanya, 28, London, founder of clothing brand Mojo Kojo 

Image: Koye Adesanya

What did you think of the contestants? 

I definitely wouldn’t employ Aaron. I think Aaron’s a strong leader, and that’s a good quality for any entrepreneur, but he wasn’t really listening to his colleagues’ points of view.

I liked Navid, he seems like he’s soft spoken but he made some very good points during the group season, but I think because he’s soft spoken he may be overlooked. But I would like to work with him in the future If I had to choose.

As someone who has designed a product yourself, how accurate was last night’s design challenge? 

Yesterday’s episode was pretty realistic, I can’t lie. You can definitely learn about some business from it. 

Trying to think what wasn’t realistic about it, because you do go to buyers, you do pitch your product, you do have to create a product which involves creative direction, you do try and pick who would be best in different teams. The only aspect of it that isn’t realistic is the boardroom.

When they were pitching their products, that’s something I’ve done with Urban Outfitters. I’ve been to their head office and stood in front of them just like in the show, trying to get them to buy my product. They stocked my collection in 2019 and last year we were stocked in a store in Australia which was pretty cool. 

Would you ever apply for the show? 

My dad’s a bit of an Alan Sugar you know, in terms of he’s quite blasé with what he says but speaks the truth. But I’m not like that, I do tell people the truth but I try not to hurt people’s feelings. 

I’m very creative. Designing the app – there were so many blunders in terms of creative direction – but I’d be quite good at that. I know how to make a good product and how to influence people to buy it. It’s a game isn’t it, and I like to win.

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Richard Osborne, 46, Northampton, founder of UK Business Forums

Image: Richard Osbourne

What did you think of the products the teams came up with? 

The Women’s Team’s app made no sense but it had a bit of energy about it. And the Men’s Team, they’re not the brightest tools in the tool box creating a product that looks like a turd. I was sat at home cringing. 

I would agree with Sir Alan’s decision for the Women’s Team to win, but when you’re comparing terrible with not quite as bad, not quite as bad won.

You’ve got twenty years experience in business, was anything in last night’s episode realistic? 

I used to be a really big fan of the show and I actually got to know some of the contestants in the early days. It had a way about it that meant you could relate to them. But I could have given up watching last night’s episode after 10 minutes.

It’s like a cringey team building exercise, like the boss saying, “come on everyone, let’s make a crane out of bread!’ 

And you would never pitch boys against girls, men and women work well together.

Is there anything aspiring entrepreneurs could learn from the show? 

It seems to be less and less about business acumen or education. You can’t watch that show and learn about business, you watch it for the cringe factor.

Shows like this encourage people to start their own businesses. More and more people are starting their businesses each year, and you’ve got this program glamourising it. 

To the show’s producers, please stop painting an image that this is what people who run their own business are like!

Could you have done better? 

I can’t believe these people are really as un-business savvy as they are. I’m very confident I would have done better, but I wouldn’t go on the show.

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