Category Archives: The Apprentice

Re-inventing umbrellas and corkscrews in the Business & IP Centre

Squid_LondonIt never ceases to amaze me how innovative our customers in the Business & IP Centre are. In just the last couple of weeks I have been helping visitors who have re-invented the most iconic of household products, the umbrella and the corkscrew.

It started when a young man came up to the enquiry desk to ask if I could help find market research on the UK umbrella market. Sadly, the well-known publishers we hold such as Mintel and Keynote don’t tend to produce reports on niche markets like these. But a bit of creative researching led to some useful information on some of our other databases. I was of course curious as to why he wanted to know this information, (I would like to think this is part of what makes me a good information professional). “I guess you are going to tell me you have invented a new form of umbrella”, I said. His response was, “That is correct. I came up with the idea many years ago, and have now decided to patent it”.

As a heavy user of umbrellas to and from work (sadly they are necessary part of life in this rain ‘blessed’ nation), I can’t wait to see what his solution will be. The only real innovation I am aware of is the patented wind proof umbrella. Although an honourable mention should go to Squid London with their colour changing model, who just happen to be one of our Success Stories.

ScrewpullThe next encounter was with an older customer who wanted to find sales figures for corkscrews in the UK. Once again, we were not able to locate a market research report on this niche product. However we did manage to locate a few articles estimating sales and covering trends in the market.

As something of a gadget man I was interested in hearing about his corkscrew invention. But he wasn’t in a position to go into details at that point. However he did say that his idea was remarkably simple. I was left wondering if it will be any better than the ScrewPull system which is my current favourite. This involves the use of a low friction screw to penetrate the cork, combined with a mechanism that pulls it out of the bottle in one continuous movement.

By coincidence the previous evening Stephen Fry had been showing off what must be the most complicated and expensive corkscrew ever invented, on his Gadget Man television show.

 

higgs-corkscrew

Higgs Corkscrew

 

The Apprentice hits the mark with gourmet street food

Lucky_ChipThis evening’s Apprentice shows the show’s researchers have their ears to the ground with regard to the latest trend in street food retailing.

Pop-up shops selling gourmet fast food is all the rage in the trendier parts of London these days.

Luckily the Kings Cross development area is just one such place, with its Eat Street, just up the road from the updated eponymous station, and literally across the road from the recently opened University of the Arts.

I have been lured over to this new venture on numerous occasions, despite the relatively high prices compared to traditional fast food outlets. But the food has always been worth it, with a notable spicy burger which had a real bite to it.

As was pointed out during this weeks Apprentice episode, branding is a key element of any enterprise, and some of the stalls in Eat Street certainly have memorable names. My favourites are Daddy Donkey, Well Kneaded Ltd, Yum Bun, Hardcore Prawn, and Eat my Pies.

tongue-n-cheekHowever, I think that Tongue ‘n Cheek needs to find a way make its delicious sounding underrated meat cuts and Italian inspired street food treats, such as Ox cheek with caramelized onions and polenta, a bit more accessible given the queue size I observed the other day.

These names certainly compare favourably to the Apprentice team’s choices of Gourmet Scot Pot and Utterly delicious Meatballs.

Update: August 2012: I’m now a regular at Eat Street as their days and stalls expand all the time. I’ve just had probably the best burger I’ve ever tasted from Tongue ‘n Cheek. It was their Heartbreacker Original burger, made from Ox heart and dry aged beef burger, spicy chimichurri sauce, water cress, cheddar and sour cream. And it tasted amazing.

Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Question Time for Entrepreneurs 2011

GEW_logoTonight as night as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week we held another great Inspiring Entrepreneurs. This time the topic was Question Time for Entrepreneurs, and was a chance to grill our assembled panel of experts.

Emma Bridgewater, Chairman and Founder of Emma Bridgewater Ltd, Vernon W. Hill II, Co-founder and Vice Chairman of Metro Bank, Lara Morgan, Founder of Pacific Direct Group Ltd and Company Shortcuts Ltd and Tim Campbell, Founder of the Bright Ideas Trust.

Jonathan Moules, enterprise correspondent at The Financial Times, was in charge of moderating the team.

Emma BridgewaterEmma Bridgewater admitted her business was more home counties than ‘wild west’.

You will have to go through tough times. So even if you don’t feel strong enough, when it is your company, you feel differently about it.

You will surprised how creative you can be in business when you first start out and have no money.

Having to think about accounts was something unpleasant, but necessary.

Her value add, was to make modern dishwater friendly pottery.

‘We have spent ‘shed loads’ of money trying to protect our designs. I don’t think it is possible to protect them.’ The next new design is the key to success. And your brand.

Vernon W Hill IIVernon W. Hill II managed to extend his five minute introduction into an impassioned 15 minute talk about the amazing success of his banking ventures.

Be aware of the brand hierarchy: Basic brands,
Emotional Brands and Legendary Brands. When you reach the top stage you have fans not customers.

You need a clear business model that differentiates you from the competition. The culture of your company must be unique but matched to your business model. Your business execution must be fanatatical

In the US they gave away 28 million pens, and they were trying to get the number up. They let dogs in on the theory that if you love my dog, you must love me.

Metro Bank have 90 percent customer satisfaction rate, Barlcays has minus 35 percent.

Emotional brands create massive value. Look at the example of Apple who grew from a five percent market share less than 10 years ago.

Are you really emotionally and equipped to go down the entrepreneurial road? Ask yourselves does your product or service add value? What is different about you? Successful entrepreneurs start with the end result, not the process of getting there. In the UK we concentrate too much on the technicalities.

He went through 15 years of the press saying ‘this won’t work’, so having a thick skin is essential.

Ninety percent of people they see looking for investment don’t have a business plan, they just have hope. Not good enough! If you don’t have convincing numbers to raise money you will fail.

‘My problem is dealing with the government every day!’

In the US they were recruiting 6,000 jobs a year, most came from existing staff contacts. If they didn’t smile in the first interview then they were out.

Lara MorganLara Morgan.

The ability to just keep going is vitally important. Jack of all trades and a master of one, where you recruit others to fill in the other roles required.

She worked on her own for two years, morning, noon and night. Her first recruit was a ‘gobby’ hocky player who had the ability, and could be taught the skill required.

Be aware that you can recruit people if you are creative as employers, find out what will lure someone in other than money.

You can actually learn lots of good stuff from books. This is a solution Lara has applied on many occasions.

Understanding finance was a painful part of becoming a successful business. You don’t need to to do the numbers, you do need to understand them.

Finding the right staff, means being utterly rigorous in you recruitment process. Make sure you test skills, because there is a lot of flannel from candidates. Check with your receptionist for their behaviour. Maths, English and culture tests are key. Invest time in this and you will be rewarded.

It took several years to work out what our USP was. It became representing the best products to the best hotels. A key to this was understanding the market place and the competition better than anyone else.

There are very few new ideas, so you just need be aware of how you are different and better.

Tim CampbellTim Campbell

There is a huge value in mentors and advisors. Having a wise head behind you will help solve some of your issues. Having a loyal team with you on your journey will be a key to your success.

Entrepreneurs need to learn to rely on others to deliver the expertise required for the business.

You may need to extend your sales technique to family and friends in order to raise capital for your business. However, business angels are sitting there waiting to find ideas to invest in. There needs to be a better way to bring these two together.

You can’t expect people to invest in your idea if you aren’t prepared to stand by the loan, or put in your own money.

Employing people who don’t have the same passion as you do, is the biggest problem. Managing them out is incredibly difficult. You need to be incredibly clear about what you want from your recruits.

Don’t compete on price, there will always be someone cheaper.

Intellectual protection can be a very costly route to protect something that may not be unique enough. Speed to market is your best protection.

You can learn from other first mover’s mistakes.

The time to pull the plug on his business, was when he realised he could not get the 2,000 outlets needed to reach the minimum size. There is an inner voice you can hear when you go to sleep at night. Listen to it, and to advisers you trust.

There is nothing wrong with a lifestyle business (small scale).

 

Video now live here, Question Time for Entrepreneurs 2011 by BIPCTV’s channel

Question Time for Entrepreneurs 2011

by BIPCTV’s channe

The Apprentice episode 7 – Can engineers be successful entrepreneurs?

Covered-MagLast night’s Apprentice show was as entertaining as ever, although it had extra appeal to the over 60’s and ‘lads’.

In my previous job I created and edited our staff newsletter, so this weeks project of producing a free magazine was of particular interest.

As is always the case with The Apprentice, the teams were given almost no time at all to come up with the concept, the title and some content, including a photo shoot. The next day they then had to sell their ‘finished’ product to three media buying agencies.

Team Venture sensibly went with the over 60’s market as this is now a fast growth area, thanks simply to demographics (see my blog on The growing grey market in the UK). The others more predictably went with the ‘lads mag’ target audience. Although they didn’t seem to be aware that this has been in decline for at least five years (see our YouTube video of Loaded founder James Brown).

Team Logic initially planned to go for something tasteful and business related, rather than the clichéd girls in their underwear approach. But, somehow they ended up with something quite tawdry. It may have had something to do with their project leader Natasha Scribbins‘ belief that ‘porn sells’, or perhaps the lure of a catchy headline, with ‘How do you blow your load’, being the most memorable.

The teams struggle to come up with decent names for their magazines, the 60+ one was called Hip Replacement (it was supposed to be ironic), reminded me of our struggles when creating our staff newsletter.

After a company wide competition, with some very poor entries, we ended up with the uninspiring name of ‘The Insider’. I also remember all too well the hours we spent toiling over our story headlines. If it hadn’t been for my colleague Christine, who it turned out was something of a natural sub-editor, our headlines would have been almost as cringe worthy as those on The Apprentice.

Once again the winning team were as surprised as the viewers at the outcome. In this case one of the media buyers decided to go for an exclusive with the tasteless ‘lads mag’, giving them a massive winning margin.

glenn-wardAnd on the losers team was Glenn Ward, whose misfortune was to be a software engineer. As Alan Sugar said ‘I have never yet come across an engineer that can turn his hand to business’ so Glenn was fired.

This seems a rather biased approach to the selection process, but as Nick Hewer explained on the follow up show You’re Fired, Sugar has twice given engineers companies to run in his business empire, and they both times they failed.

This seems a rather un-scientific sample to base his decision on. The names of Bill Gates of Microsoft, Steve Wozniak of Apple Computers, Bill Hewlett of Hewlett Packard, Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google,  show that software  engineers can indeed be successful business leaders.

Linking Marketing and Sales with Kimberly Davis

Kimberly_DavisHaving previously covered social media (The Marketing Master Class – Social Media for Business), Kimberly Davis kindly invited me along to the third in her Marketing Masters Series. And this time the topic was Linking Marketing and Sales.

Kimberly started with a very simple definition; Marketing is anything that represents your company.

Marketing vs Sales
–    example of a football team – team is the marketing effort – the striker is the sales
–    Better if different people due to different goals
o    Marketing – long term – brand building – consistency – impersonal
o    Sales – short term – translates interest into a sale – personal (one to one)

Fear of sales
–    If your product is good, you are doing them a favour by telling them about it.
–    It’s is just a conversation – not a sales pitch
–    People buy from people they know, like and trust

Company name
–    You should be able to say what you do in two words
–    Forget witty tag lines that say nothing
–    Example – Campbell’s condensed soup – Sasparilla marketing detoxification

Target market
–    Forget your gut instinct – you can’t sell to everybody
–    Who is your ideal customer?
–    Create a profile for them – age, race, interests, position, salary etc

Selling the right thing
–    What is going to make you the most ROI (return on investment)?
–    Are you selling the right thing to the right people?

Identifying need
–    Where does it hurt for your customers?
–    Solve a problem
–    People buy what they want, not what they need.

Focus on the benefits
–    What are your benefits?
–    What problem can you solve?
–    How can you make their life easier?

Unique Selling Point
–    What are you USP’s?
–    Be ‘the only …’
–    Focus – If you try to be everything to everyone, you will be nothing to no one

The Elevator Pitch
–    It is the most important thing in your marketing strategy.
–    You have twenty seconds to make an impact.
–    Can you clearly articulate what you do in that time?
–    People will decide whether to file or forget you based on this.
–    No more that two short sentences long.
o    Who, what, why when and how?

Communication
–    Find the right words to use
–    Keep it simple
–    Focus on fears and needs
–    Read it out and hear how it sounds
–    Test it on lots of people and get feedback
–    Ask them to say it back to you to see what they remember

Kimberly’s elevator pitch for Sarsaparilla:
50% of marketing is wasted. Sarsaparilla is a marketing consulting and training agency that specialises in marketing purification – the process of detoxing your marketing, protecting you from The Flash, Fluff and Fakers, and helping you make more money with less.

Sales across the Marketing Umbrella

Branding
–    How you create trust with your customers
–    You brand must be protected at all costs
–    Make sure everyone sticks to the same elevator pitch
–    Gives a consistent experience
–    Under promise and over deliver
–    Forget Richard Branson as a role model – He has more failed than successful business

Business cards
–    Don’t use cheap or free cards – it shows
–    Make sure you have a proper email address (not @yahoo.com) – makes you look established
–    Write down where you met on the back of cards you recieve
–    Keep your card’s content simple
–    What impression does your card make?

Literature
–    Brochures flyers are a waste of time in Kimberly’s opinion
–    Instead just give people your card

Social Media
–    Most people look to social media for information – not to be sold to
–    20% of all tweets are about business
–    LinkedIn search engine optimisation
–    Free download – 10 Ways to Use Social Media for Business – www.sarsaparillamarketing.com

Merchandise
–    You do not need stress balls or pens – not a good use of money according to Kimberly

Eshots, flyers, emails etc
–    Don’t always take, learn to give
–    It’s about building a relationship
–    Don’t SPAM people
–    Add Value – keep it short and simple, and interesting
–    MailChimp gives you up to 2,500 emails for free –

Website
–    Data capture – emails and phone numbers should be visible
–    Download offers in exchange for contact details
–    Don’t over use stock photography – professional personal are better – see where images are being used on tineye.com.
–    Videos – a brilliant way of experiencing your product or service – much less expensive than in the past
–    SEO – don’t pay for rankings – don’t use Flash only sites
–    Linking with other websites moves you up the Google rankings
–    50% will only look at your first page – so make sure it contains your elevator pitch

Testimonials
–    Get others to sing your praises
–    Find out why people don’t buy from you – then work out what would overcome that resistance
–    Keep them short – headlines are best
–    White papers and case studies for more in depth
–    Consider selective use of videos

Advertising
–    Generally not a good investment
–    Need to have a call to action – give people an incentive to buy or contact
–    Promo code to enable tracking
–    Coupons

PR
–    Getting other people to say it for you

Networking
–    Time to use your elevator speech
–    How to get in out of a conversation – ‘I don’t want to keep you from networking with other people here’… Don’t be too obvious
–    Business Cards
–    Carry a nice pen – cheap pen = cheap company
–    Think beyond the person in front of you – they may know someone relevant
–    Ask for what you want – they may be able to help
–    Pay if forward
–    5 minutes per person

Ways to measure your return on marketing investment
–    Take an inventory
o    List of clients and what they buy from you
o    Review you client profile
    How many
    Average spend
    Repeat clients?
    Their profile – hobbies, interests etc
    When they buy
    Why they buy
    Survey with SurveyMonkey
o    Do your market research – not with family and friends
o    Gives you a starting point for measurement

Creating a process (funnel?)
–    Your customers journey to your product
–    How do you get them to say ‘yes’

Positioning
–    Don’t be sucked into discount advertising that is not targeted at your customers

Permission Marketing
–    People don’t want to be marketed to
–    Much more open if you get them to come to you
–    Generate interest
–    Example of Sun and Wind in competition too get a man to take his coat off. Persuasion more effective than force.

Incentivise your customers
–    Free downloads
–    Upgrades
–    Gifts

Data capture
–    Building your database
–    Landing page
–    Collecting business class
–    What are you doing with the list?
–    Grow list organically

Generating new leads
–    Tradeshows, events, contests, social media
–    Buying databases is not straightforward

Ask why people aren’t buying
–    Overcoming obstacles
–    Ask why they won’t buy
–    An opportunity to show you can overcome these

Cost of customer acquisition
–    Calculate – x calls, x leads, x meetings, = x sales
–    Let other formats do the work for you – advertising, website, social media

Retention / Customer service
–    Don’t forget about your existing clients
–    Increasing sales through your current clients
–    Repeat business
–    Get current  customers to increase quantity, frequency and price

Multiple revenue streams
–    Don’t have all your eggs in one basket
–    Make money in your sleep

Reminders
–    Surveys, announcements, newsletters, special access
–    90 days or less
–    Remember to give as well as take

Experiential marketing
–    Sampling your goods and services increases your sales success

Pricing
–    Don’t fall into the trap of lowering your price in a recession
–    Clear pricing structure and clarity
–    Group into easy to understand sections
–    Be transparent
–    People don’t buy based on price
–    Don’t cheapen yourself with sales
–    When it doubt, put prices up

Referral and Affiliate plans

Stop selling and allow people to buy from you

Find a mentor
–    30 thousand businesses will fail this year because of lack of knowledge or experience

A Hobby or a Business?
– Plan and then take action

 

Kimberly’s keynote speaker for the final slot of the day was Sharon Wright, who’s claim to fame is delivering the best pitch in the history of Dragons Den.

–    Took one day off in the first year of developing the idea.
–    Single parent entrepreneur
–    ‘Think big and you will be big’
–    Decided to start with the biggest BT
o    2 hours of negativity
o    6 Sigma proof required
o    Would be virtually impossible
o    Had never been done before
o    One positive – the product had legs

–    First paying customer was with Cromwell tools – told them BT was a buy (a bit cheeky)
–    From creation to market within 6 months
–    Strong self belief is 1st important ingredient for business success
–    Aim was to be the best presenter on Dragons Den – achieved this goal
–    Preparation (2nd key ingredient for business success)
–    Practiced her three minute pitch 100 times a day for three weeks
–    Read all of the Dragon’s books to help choose which partner to go with
–    After the show was aired Sharon received 7,000 emails
–    Was now working 22 hours a day, seven days a week.
–    Loneliness of starting a business (3rd key ingredient)
–    As time went on her self belief began to drop
–    Met Tony Larkin at the British Inventors show who offered to invest in her
–    Sharon has now sold her Magnamole to an American company keeping a 10% holding.

–    The most important lesson learnt was to trust her instincts, and get a business mentor. You are often too emotionally close to your business to make objective business decisions.

–    Story reminds me of one of my earliest blog posts on Dragons Den
Dragon’s Con.

Sharon’s book ‘Mother of Invention – How I won Dragons Den, Lost my mind, Nearly lost my business and ended up reinventing myself’, tells of her personal struggle as a single mother, inventor and entrepreneur.
It has been reviewed on my colleague Steve Van Dulken’s Patent Search Blog.

The Apprentice Series 7 – the rise of the entrepreneurs

the_apprentice_180x180My relationship with The Apprentice series has been something of a roller-coaster ride since it started in 2005.

I have to admit that I didn’t get to see any of the first series, and regret not having watched the wonderful Tim Campbell succeed without comprising his values. I say wonderful, because he went on from winning the first series to become a friend and supporter of the Business & IP Centre in our early days. And I was fortunate enough to get to know him during this period. He has since gone on to found the Bright Ideas Trust, to help young people turn an idea into a business.

I did avidly watch the second, third and fourth series (the ‘Headless chickens’ shopping trip to Marrakech being my favourite episode. However, I became increasing disenchanted with both the egotistical nature of the candidates, and the appalling behaviour on display each week. From backstabbing their fellow ‘team’ members, to outright lying in front of Allan Sugar.

However, with this seventh series the producers have decided to ‘refresh’ the show with a new angle. Instead of the winner spending a year working with Lord Sugar, something neither party would relish I suspect, they get £250,000 to start a new business on his behalf.

So instead of a group of somewhat dysfunctional, insanely ambitious corporate wannabes, we have a group of insanely confident aspiring entrepreneurs and an inventor.

This brings the show into my bailiwick, as our main activity in the Business & IP Centre is to help entrepreneurs and inventors achieve business success.

Already, during the first three episodes, I have spotted ways in which we could have helped the contestants avoid disaster. So, I have decided to cover each show, and identify where our information or services could have made a difference.

During the first episode we were introduced to the contestants using a set of pithy sound-bites. And already I spotted Helen Milligan who desperately needs to attend our workshop Your Life, your Business, with our amazing business coach Rasheed Ogunlaru. Why? Because anyone who says “my social life, my personal life don’t mean anything to me. I live to work, that’s all I do”, Episode 1 (50 seconds in), really needs to get some perspective on their life.

In the second show, we saw the two rival teams, Venture and Logic, develop mobile phone Apps. In this case a couple of hours researching our eMarketer database would have given them plenty of information about the hot trends in this rapidly developing market. Instead their decisions were made in a vacuum and based on their own ideas of what might be popular.

The third episode was all about buying a set of items for the recently refurbished Savoy Hotel, finding the best quality at the best price. As is so often the case with The Apprentice, the producers ensured the contestants were under pressure by giving them one day and just a set of Yellow Pages. Surely I wasn’t the only one to be saying, ‘where is their laptop?’ With the help of Wikipedia they could have discovered what a ‘cloche’ was and where to buy one . They could have used Google Maps to ensure the most efficient route around the required shops, avoiding schlepping from North to South London and missing the deadline. Or perhaps finding their nearest cash and carry branch.

With access to our Kompass database they would have been able to source and locate the producers of just about any product, and start finding out prices, to give them an edge when negotiating with suppliers.

Tom PellereauAlthough Alan Sugar has already ‘fired’ three of the contestants it is difficult to tell who is going to make it through to the final at this point. However, I really like Tom Pellereau, the lone inventor in the group. His refreshing honesty and lack of political chicanery, may be his undoing in the Board Room, but I sincerely hope not. Perhaps I am to naive in thinking that, just like in Series 1, the good-guy might win.

You can read about Tom’s inventions on Steve Van Dulken’s Patent Search Blog