If you thought the disasters of The Apprentice‘s opening task were just teething problems, then episode two was more like having all your wisdom teeth extracted at once. There certainly wasn’t much wisdom in evidence as Summit plumbed new depths with their efforts to produce an innovative item of wearable technology, resulting in this season’s first double firing as Robert Goodwin and Scott McCulloch were given their marching orders.
Passing the buck
Solar panels, hidden cams
Buyers who don’t give a damn
Wearables are all for show
Scott and Robert had to go
Week two brings us another early season Apprentice favourite: the product design task. Last year’s equivalent episode brought us both one of the best ideas ever – Alex Mills’ Foldo chair/table combo – and one of the worst, the Tidy Sidey, which was basically a box on wheels.
Here at least, as the teams are summoned to Imperial College, they are tasked with something a little more 21st century than flat-pack furniture: devise a piece of wearable tech and pitch it to three retailers to gain as many orders as possible.
Having been unimpressed with his arty-farty hot dogs in the opening assignment, Lord Sugar ‘suggests’ that aspiring fashion retailer Robert Goodwin should volunteer as Summit’s project manager. However, he immediately weasels out and leaves Scott McCulloch, who still has Karren Brady‘s remarks about having been invisible on the previous task ringing in his ears, to take up the mantle instead.
He gets off to a dismal start. When his idea of a diet monitor is pooh-poohed by his team, he immediately puts the onus on them to come up with an alternative which, taken in one context, is reasonable enough. However, it also comes across as a case of toys being thrown out of a pram – and it isn’t the last time he tries to shift accountability on to someone – anyone – else.
Despite winning the opening task, the girls are even less willing to put themselves in the firing line. Having changed their name from Decadence (a terrible play on words to mark ten years of the show) to Jemma Bird‘s Tenacity (a much better play on words), Nurun Ahmed is coerced into leading the team on the tenuous basis that selling scarves on a market stall qualifies her to lead a task designing a high technology fashion product. That sound you hear is that of a buck being passed.
Another day, another snafu
Summit agree on Sanjay Sood-Smith‘s personalisable selfie t-shirt, which wins out over Solomon Akhtar‘s activity-based LED leggings.
Meanwhile Tenacity combine Ella Jade Bitton‘s idea of a heated jacket with Lindsay Booth‘s suggestion of having lapels which can change colour to match the rest of your outfit. After focus group feedback, a solar panel phone charger gets added to it.
Lauren Riley worries – rightly so – that they’re trying to be all things to be all people. That’s not the most concerning thing about Tenacity’s progress, though. Nurun’s indecision leads to an exasperated Katie Bulmer-Cooke taking over their design meeting and insisting that they pursue all three features. They then try to design their jacket with the solar panels concealed underneath its shoulders. It doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that this would prevent them from working.
Mind you, Summit are faring little better as they discover their idea isn’t feasible in the time allocated. The sub-team, who are going round in circles because no leader has been appointed, call Scott, who firmly tells them it’s their responsibility to sort the problem out. That’s not so much passing the buck as the entire bank. As Nick Hewer notes:
In terms of chaos, over ten years this one is creeping very near the top.
And as Apprentice snafus go, that takes some doing.
Finally, with time running out, James Hill suggests a garment housing a video camera, and so the ‘Emoti-Shirt’ is born. (No, I don’t quite see the connection between the product and the name either.) It’s a truly terrible idea in so many ways, but it should never have come to this in the first place.
The following day both teams must pitch their products to three retailers: John Lewis, JD Sports and Firebox, an online retailer which specialises in innovative, quirky products.
Summit dissect their previous day’s performance. Scott receives critical feedback and immediately pushes the blame on to his other sub-team with an argument that wouldn’t hold water in a primary school playground. Sanjay accuses Robert – not unfairly – of back-seat driving and acting as project manager in all but name. It’s a bit like watching the boys in the Cafe of Broken Dreams while the task is still ongoing.
Tenacity sweat it out after receiving a message that their Little Smart Jacket prototype has been delayed, raising the spectre of having to pitch without a product. But it does eventually arrive, although to their surprise the solar panels are now on the outside of the jacket. Cue recriminations.
My overall sense from what we see of the pitches is that the girls are significantly better (or perhaps that should be ‘less appalling’) than the boys.
Tenacity’s multi-functional approach draws criticism for trying to be too many things – and their faint LED lapels are pretty pathetic. However, Bianca pitches their jacket’s three key features clearly. Nurun is completely out of her depth.
Summit stumble from one disaster to the next. At their first pitch, they discover that their video camera produces images which require a screen to be turned on its side to view. (To be fair, given the prototype nature of this task, that’s embarrassing but not fatal as it’s easily fixed.) Daniel “I’m a selling machine” Lassman admits he wouldn’t wear his own product in a public place. And Robert waves away concerns about the intrusiveness of having a camera in a jumper by saying that “privacy is history”.
Scott concludes that things have gone pretty well.
In the boardroom, Sugar learns about Nurun being pushed into becoming PM. Bianca Miller, whose business idea is to start up a specialised hosiery operation, tries to explain that she shouldn’t have led the team because it was a technology task more than a fashion one. That’s fair to a point, but it doesn’t then justify her claim that market stall trader Nurun was better suited to the job. Sorry, you can’t have it one way and then the other.
Bianca continues to dig herself a hole, saying she didn’t realise the solar panels needed to be external to the jacket to work. Really? No one’s expecting any of the candidates to explain how the Large Hadron Collider works, but this isn’t much harder to work out than saying that water is wet, is it?
Lauren concisely critiques Nurun’s failings:
Nurun tried to please everybody and combine everything in one product. This product was, in my opinion, too complicated.
Summit’s interrogation focusses on why Robert and Solomon declined to step up as PM. The latter’s rationale – that his expertise is in social media rather than hardware – isn’t unreasonable. However, Robert’s excuse, that his skills lie in selling high-fashion items in Mayfair rather than grubby high street wear, is more tenuous. Sugar accuses him of bottling it. He’s not wrong.
Nick doesn’t require the help of his Countdown co-presenter Rachel Riley to tot up Summit’s order book because they sold absolutely nothing. Zero. Nul. Zilch. Nada. Tenacity also struck out at John Lewis and JD Sports but earned an order of 250 units from Firebox – making it two wins from two for the girls.
The girls celebrate but Karren brings them back down to earth by noting that Lindsay and last week’s PM Sarah Dales were lucky to have won, as they didn’t shine at all on the task. For their treat, they go to Surrey Docks to fly with jetpacks – the closest many of them will come to being high-flyers.
Things are less fun in the boardroom, where Sugar saves Robert the pain of becoming the team scapegoat by summarily dismissing him without further discussion. In the Taxi to Obscurity, he says:
I didn’t agree with Lord Sugar today. Fashion is a completely wide remit, I want to go into super-luxury fashion. It’s a bit like saying you can ride a canoe but can you ride a £250,000 luxury yacht in the South of France, Cannes? They’re just not the same thing.
To which my immediate reaction is: yeah, whatever.
The remaining eight lads are packed off to the Alternative Cafe of Broken Dreams (La Cabana in Park Royal), where Mark Wright neatly sums up where they went wrong:
The concept was wrong. We had a camera in a grey jumper.
Back in the boardroom, Mark continues to land damaging shots below the water-line on Scott, who Sugar accuses of washing his hands of all responsibility. There’s a clear contrast here between Mark – who is calm, articulate and concise – and Scott, who is none of the above and isn’t helped by his dour, scowling demeanour.
The project manager isn’t the only one under fire. Nick notes that Solomon had a better idea but didn’t have the strength to drive it through. And James points the finger squarely at Daniel for messing up his pitch – there’s no love lost between these two.
After much waffling, Scott decides to bring Solomon and Daniel back in but Sugar sends the rest back to the Apprenti-Mansion with a flea in their ear, calling them all a shambles. He then leads Daniel on, making him think he’s the one for the chop – but it’s Scott whose card is marked as he becomes the third victim of the Digit of Doom.
A defiant Scott declares:
Lord Sugar accused me of hiding. That’s an accusation that I take very seriously. I don’t think I’m a hider. I put myself up for PM, didn’t I?
Yes, but then he completely failed to manage the project.
It’s hard to argue against either Scott or Robert’s departures. Both deserved to have their cards marked on the first task and neither did themselves any favours as Scott consistently passed the buck and Robert refused the leadership role only to take control at every opportunity.
With Robert’s business idea revolving around high-end fashion items selling at £5,000 each, it’s also not difficult to see why Sugar would be reluctant to invest in a plan that is both high-risk and well outside of his own experience and comfort zone. Dead wood.
Summit failed to learn from last week’s errors, where poor time management and contingency planning were critical factors in their defeat. Scott managed the team poorly and should have been more closely involved in ensuring they had a workable idea rather than allow the shambolic last-minute panic that ensued. Project managers need to put themselves in the sub-team where the most critical decisions are made – in this case, the technical sessions rather than picking out the base garment.
Both teams – Summit more than Tenacity, perhaps – also made a fundamental error in not tailoring their product with potential retailers in mind.
John Lewis, with a relatively small number of stores and a conservative customer base, was the red herring among the three. JD Sports, with over 800 outlets, would have been a good target for a fitness or health-related product (such as Scott’s original idea, or even Solomon’s) while Firebox, as an online retailer appealing to younger, early-adopting customers, were also an attractive proposition for something more innovative or edgy.
Where the smaller Firebox were never likely to order more than a few hundred units, JD might have potentially ordered a few thousand. So why did neither team develop a product tailored with them in mind? Poor strategy.
Next time: It’s time to even up the teams by mixing them up as Tenacity and Summit must produce their own home fragrance products. Who will come up smelling of roses, and who will end up kicking up a stink?