The Apprentice insider: Matthew Riley

The Daisy Communications founder tells us about his experience of helping Lord Sugar in the Apprentice final, and gives us some top tips on pitching the perfect business plan

Lancashire-born Matthew Riley has worked in the communications industry since the age of 16, and founded three successful enterprises before starting his current business, Daisy Communications, in 2001. Daisy has reached annual turnover of £100m in just 10 years, while Matthew has earned a string of personal awards; in 2007, he made headlines by winning the Bank of Scotland Corporate Entrepreneur Challenge, and going on to receive mentoring from Sir Philip Green. He is also a former Growing Business Young Gun .

Following Sunday’s thrilling final of The Apprentice, Startups spoke to Matthew about the experience he gained in helping Lord Sugar assess the candidates’ business plans, and the ways in which a start-up entrepreneur can plan for success.

First of all, Matthew, congratulations on your role in The Apprentice. What was the standard of the finalists’ business plans like?

The quality of the business plans really was poor. I hope that in the next series they will get people who have taken advantage of some proper business advice.

What most impressed you about the winning candidate, Tom Pellereau?

I think the fact that Tom had already invented a product and taken it to market. He just needs someone to help him deliver and capitalise on the platform he has been given.

How viable did you feel the Apprentice finalists’ propositions were?

Tom had the only viable proposition – in the form of the curved nail file, not the chair! I agree with Lord Sugar, the day I have to check all my employees for back pain is the day I give up.

Susan Ma needed to get the fundamentals right and look to slowly grow her business, as opposed to going global overnight. She needed to look to grow her business and conquer the UK first, and then go on to think about further growth.

Which aspects of the pitching process did the candidates handle particularly well, and which could they have improved on?

I think all the candidates should have presented their business plans in a much simpler manner than they did. A good example was Susan – she should have been at the forefront of her product. I didn’t understand what the product was, or what she wanted to achieve.

All the contestants could have been more succinct in how they presented. They all wanted to go national, global, bigger, when really they should have been looking at establishing their businesses and building a growth plan.

How did your own experience of pitching to Sir Philip Green influence you in running the rule over the Apprentice candidates?

It was a unique experience with Sir Philip Green, and one that probably couldn’t be replicated. I could empathise with how this year’s candidates felt, as I know how important it was for me to win the Bank of Scotland award, not just the £5m interest free funding, but also the mentoring from a true figurehead in business.

That’s the main thing for Tom Pellereau; it’s not just about the money. It’s the contacts and the experience that Lord Sugar will provide. That experience would prove invaluable to anyone, and that is why I would encourage young and budding business people to put themselves forward for the show.

Given that The Apprentice offers its candidates major financial backing, and the support of high-profile mentors, some would say the business environments it creates have no relevance to a typical start-up. How do you feel about this?

I disagree – look at the scrap metal episode. Anyone can hire a van for a day, drive around, locate scrap metal and sell it on, rather than sitting there complaining that they don’t have the resources to do so.

Tom has obviously got a head-start; however by observing him and the entire show, I am sure thousands of businesses will be set up off the back of watching The Apprentice.

Finally, very quickly, what are the skills to master when pitching to a top investor?

You have to be confident, you have to be quick, you have to know your numbers, and you have to be believable.



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