Every day, on my way to the office, I pass the house that I lived in, with 17 other contestants, while filming The Apprentice last year. It is a daily reminder of my experience on reality TV. I probably define "reality television" differently than someone who was on Made in Chelsea or Big Brother. My experience was transformative. Not only did I learn key business tools, but I dove deep into my own strengths and weaknesses - fine-tuning how I operate in a professional setting.
Image Source: BBC
When I pitched my business plan for DatePlay, I thought it was a shoe-in. DatePlay, the gamified dating app, was well thought out and I had done extensive market research. But when I came in second place, my instinct was to just quit and move on. Grappling with rejection is difficult but even more so when you are in the public eye. I couldn't get over the fact that millions of people watched me come in second place.
Within a month, I changed my mind. I was determine to make DatePlay work. I wasn't going to let this hiccup stop me! Why? Because of what Lord Sugar taught me in the competitive, intense process of The Apprentice.
Here are the three biggest lessons Lord Sugar Taught me:
1. It's not personal, it's business!
When I started working in banking, I was 22 years old and I took everything personally. I focused on relationships and emotions, rather than hard facts. This was not wise but I didn't realize the mistake until I went on the show. Lord Sugar told us from day one that the process would be grueling. He taught us the importance of staying strong and remembering not to take things personally. Business is about using your head and making smart decisions.
Every task, we would finish up in the board room, where Lord Sugar would review our performance. This exercise was extremely valuable because it would help us pinpoint the failures we made and the reasons that the tasks did not go as planned. We were forced to examine our performance and we were put under a microscope. This taught me the importance of being objective in business. It's not about feelings or emotions. It's about hard facts. Examining where you failed and learning how to improve and more forward. This is something I apply in my daily life while working on developing DatePlay.
2. Know your market.
Lord Sugar is a "mass market" product kind of guy. He likes to make things for the masses because of their purchasing power. When were were on tasks in The Apprentice, we learned Lord Sugar's preference - but he didn't undermine the value of having a clear target market. In the second week, I insisted that the team create a shampoo that targeted women in their 50's and 60's with a campaign about anti-aging for hair. Even though Lord Sugar thought the branding was terrible - which it certainly was - he didn't fire me because he saw that I tried to understand the market and create a product according to their needs. This is one of the most important takeaways from the show that I utilize on a daily basis. You might think you know what your market wants. But you can't know unless you ask. The Apprentice process had us constantly doing focus groups and this is something that I do now for DatePlay. It's all about testing your hypotheses!
3. Listen. And don't speak unless you have something valuable to say.
One of the most difficult things about The Apprentice was getting your voice heard amongst all the noise. When we started the competition, there were 18 people competing for the partnership with Lord Sugar. What did this mean? That everyone was trying to get his attention. Everyone wanted to have their voice heard when we were in the board room. What I realized very soon into the process was that he was not listening to the people who screamed the loudest. Lord Sugar values careful thought and speaking when you have something to say. We had a few "class clowns" who always tried to be funny or make jokes, but these weren't the people who gained Lord Sugar's respect. On the other hand, we also had people who would try to blame others for their mistakes by contriving complex stories and trying to legitimize their faults. Again, Lord Sugar wasn't interested in listening to their commentary. He taught us the importance of listening when it's time to listen and speaking only when you have something valuable to say.
Overall, Lord Sugar was an excellent boss. Why? Because he explained the goal of the task clearly at the beginning of each week, and then he gave us performance reviews in the board room based on how well we reached his targets. This kept us all focused throughout the process. Competing for a business prize was exhausting and simultaneously being on television just added to the pressure. We learned the importance of keeping your eye on the prize.
Lord Sugar's Apprentice process taught me a great deal, but most importantly, he led by example; staying humble and focused while maintaining passion for he does.