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Reality or Fantasy? Pt2

In the first part of this post, I introduced you to the new stage of my life as a father, my experience of sleepless nights and my sudden obsession with BBC iPlayer as a result of it all. I mentioned that one of the ways I overcame the challenge of sleepless nights was to work through the night and occupy my time with my favourite TV shows, one of which is ‘The Young Apprentice’.

Moving on from where I finished in the last post, I mentioned that after watching the entire last season of The Apprentice, I questioned ‘how real’ the whole idea of ‘The Apprentice’ show was. Don’t get me wrong, I do love the show as it is a great way of harnessing the Business skills of young people, giving them hope and also helping them to realise their potential. For any young person involved in the show, having the opportunity to be mentored by Lord Alan Sugar is a great addition to a CV or an experience of a lifetime.

For those who may not be familiar with the concept of the show, The Young Apprentice is a show where 12 young people aged between 16-17 are put through different exercises over an eight week period. The tasks test their business skills such as sales, negotiation, design, teamwork etc. The young people are divided into two teams and one person is eliminated from the losing team at the end of each task.  By the end of the eight weeks. the last person standing in the process is declared the winner and is given £25000 funding towards his/her Business idea.

One of the main reasons why I do question the concept of the show is that I think it gives viewers the wrong idea about the process of starting a new business. During the show, Lord Sugar stresses that he wants to show the young people that starting a business is not complicated and it is in fact very easy as they would find out through the show. He stresses that he started his own business from scratch, buying and selling products and he wants to show the contenders and viewers that they can do the same.

Now, I have no problem with the statement or his reasoning. One thing that I do have a problem with is the process which the young people go through for each task. For example:

1. The money needed to produce the product or service for each show is given to them by Lord Sugar: In reality, there is no Lord Sugar to give you funding towards your business idea when you are starting off. From my experience of working with start-ups, the biggest obstacle faced when starting a new business is the lack of capital. Therefore what this show portrays is that money will just be handed to you on a plate when starting off a new business is far from the truth. In most cases, small business owners are finding innovative ways of acquiring the start-up capital needed to launch their business such as crowd funding, savings, investors, bank loans etc. If you think you have someone waiting to just give you money to pursue your idea, then you are living in a fantasy world. I must mention that there are grants and loans available for young people who are looking to set up new businesses.

2. Lord Sugar gives the young people all the contacts needed to produce the items, distribute the items and even provides the venue to sell the items when needed. e.g. market stalls, shop fronts etc: When starting up a new business, another problem faced by start-ups is lack of contacts for distributing and selling their products or services. You may write a great book, develop the next big product or even have a great service but if you do not have the means of getting your product or service out to your customers, then it will not go very far. One thing that The Apprentice does show viewers in my opinion is that all you need to do is come up with the products or service and you can easily find the right contacts that will distribute your products. In the show, once the young people design their products, Lord Sugar would have already made appointments for them to meet large distributors or buyers in the UK who would potentially place orders for the products is they like it. From my own experience, one of the hardest stages of a business is making the right contacts to get your products out there and again this show gives the impression that it is as easy as applying cream to your face. If you are Lord Sugar and you have built these contacts, it will be easy to pick up the phone and call Tescos or Sainsburys to stock your item but if you are John Doe from down the road, be rest assured that you will need to work hard to make the right contacts.

I could go on and mention some other issues that I have picked up from this ‘reality show’ but I will stop here as I do not want to paint the wrong picture about the show. I do think it is a great show for aspiring entrepreneurs and you can learn key business skills by watching it, but do not make the mistake of thinking that starting a business is as easy as being ‘spoon-fed’ by Lord Sugar. It is a grafting process that requires more than someone holding your hands and giving you everything you want. You need to be mentally, financially and resourcefully prepared before you take the journey.

In another post, I will talk about some of the key factors needed to successfully launch a new business but in the meantime, do watch ‘reality TV’, but understand that it does not necessarily depict real life experiences.

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