The Apprentice S10 Ep2: Unwearable tech

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.

There’s no mercy from Karren Brady, Lord Sugar and Nick Hewer in the boardroom after another catastrophic performance (Image: BBC)

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.

Robert’s decision to duck Lord Sugar’s ‘suggestion’ that he should be PM was what politicians might term ‘a courageous decision’ (Image: BBC)

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.

Nurun may have been a weak PM but her team did her no favours by rail-roading her into leading them (Image: BBC)

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.

Off-key pitches

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.

Daniel didn’t quite live up to his self-proclaimed billing as a “selling machine” (Image: BBC)

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.

Boardroom Brouhaha

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.

Lauren’s critique of Nurun and the team’s strategy proved to be spot on (Image: BBC)

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.

Mark was critical without being rude and articulate without being shouty – an early front-runner? (Image: BBC)

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.

Scott ducked accountability throughout the task and deserved to be fired (Image: BBC)

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.

Task analysis

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?

The Apprentice season 10 reviews

Ten years of selling

6 Comments on The Apprentice S10 Ep2: Unwearable tech

  1. I asked last night whether the teams knew where they were pitching when they designed the garments and from the boardroom discussion it is clear that they did. In which case you have to ask why no one at any stage seemed to target the product to the market. That is an interesting problem though: as you say, John Lewis is “too safe” for wearable tech, and I am not entirely convinced that it would fit with JD Sports “value” image. Firebox was probably the best target. Having said that, the boys rejected both ideas that would have had some interest for JD Sports.

    I think that the main problem for both teams was working out what was possible in the technology part of the task. Heart rate monitors and heat-sensitive colour changing textiles are easy and doable, and although I will criticise the girls for trying to get all the ideas in one product, these two could have combined in a workout top (rather than a stripe on the trousers). The idea that you could put a monitor on the front of a jumper was absurd – how flexible is the screen of your laptop or phone and more to the point, how expensive? The fail in the jumper really followed from that – it became creepy as the images were stored rather than simply displayed.

    That is all detail and passed, but what remains is the incredible incompetence of both teams. I am not sure whether it is the casting (or do I mean selection) process that has found more argumentative and dominant candidates than ever or is there a change in the dynamic caused by adding just two extra team members? But with everyone trying that bit harder to make themselves heard the cacophony increases exponentially. There are still several candidates who have yet to emerge from the shadows and one or two who wisely slipped back into the crowd a bit after the first task.

    • Year after year we see teams making the error of designing a product without considering the needs of the customer (by which I mean retailer) in mind.

      Remember four series back when Liz Locke was praised to the rafters for the best pitch ever, pitching a baby product to Kiddicare? She didn’t receive the massive order because she pitched so well (although she did) – she won because the team had selected the perfect product for the perfect retailer.

      A good idea was essential to this task, of course, but the strategy should have been to come up with a product which appealed to both JD (mass market, fitness related) and Firebox (niche but selling early adopter style products). John Lewis was always a red herring based on store numbers and customer demographics.

      Also, because the task was judged on number of orders rather than value, the teams should also have given consideration to the price point of their product. Layering on lots of extra features seemed like a good idea at the time, but it would only have pushed the retail price up and therefore decreased the likely volume sales, which in turn would have influenced the buyers when it came to considering orders. No one is likely to take a risk on ordering 2,500 of a product at a retail price of, say, £400 (which, let’s say equates to a buying price of £200 – so £500k of inventory). But they might take that volume of a product which retails at £50 (so buy price £25 or £62.5k of inventory.) Basic business sense.

      As for whether the increased number of candidates affects team dynamics – probably, yes. Having five in each sub-team means there are four voices to challenge the team leader rather than three. And the fact that the producers seem to be selecting more ‘big’ personalities every year only makes things more difficult. Of course, we only get to see the flashpoints in the broadcast edit – I suspect that for 90% of the day the teams are just quietly getting on with it. At least, you have to hope so!

  2. The girls’ product was a nightmare and deserved to lose, and would have lost in any normal year! I recall that a camel is a horse designed by a committee and that is exactly what happened with the coat. I suppose that we have to be grateful that they stopped where they did or it could have had a beer chiller and corkscrew built in.

    I think that more voices to challenge the team leader is an interesting one. With smaller teams the PM, or sub team leader, may have one ally which means that a team of three will give him a natural majority. That still works, just about, at four but at five not only do you not have a majority but you also have the potential to have an opposing faction. Anyway, on to task three and things will perhaps settle down a bit now. Just hope that the candidates price the oils for the scented candles properly and don’t mix up cedar and sandalwood, or anything.

  3. Louisa Radice // October 20, 2014 at 1:30 pm // Reply

    I was a bit annoyed that both the voiceover and Lord Sugar described Imperial College as simply “a leading centre for science and technology”. It’s a university, dammit! I guess if this had been Series 7 we’d have had Susan Ma asking “is that where stuff like feet and inches were invented?”!

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