When it comes to business, one man stands out from the crowd. Lord Sugar is the ultimate rags to riches story; now worth an estimated £770 million, he built his empire from the ground up. Star of the BBC boardroom, very few entrepreneurs get the chance to call him mentor, but one business woman who did is The Apprentice winner, Yasmina Siadantan.
A small business owner herself, Yasmina set up a successful restaurant in Caversham with her brother before applying to The Apprentice in 2008, which she went on to win. After spending four years working with Lord Sugar, Yasmina moved to her new role as creative director of Start up Loans - a government initiative providing funding, mentoring and support to entrepreneurs, chaired by TV dragon James Caan. We caught up with Yasmina to find out more about the scheme, The Apprentice and of course, what it’s really like to sit in that boardroom.
So Yasmina, can you tell our users how your story begins, was business something you studied at school or learnt on the job?
Of course, after my A levels I worked in various jobs, but after a couple of years decided to return to the books and study Economic History with Population Studies at the London School of Economics (LSE). Thanks to my parents I’d always been interested in business and entrepreneurialism so while I was at LSE I made sure I took every opportunity available. I took extra courses on things like book-keeping and also attended a Business Link course to learn how to write a business plan.
What made you apply to The Apprentice?
I initially applied for The Apprentice as a bit of fun. The show gets 30,000 applications a series, so never in a million years did I think I’d make it through to the actual show. It was such an amazing experience; you are in this bubble for 12 weeks, without access to anything in the outside world.
What was it like living in the house?
Once you’re part of the show you don’t leave the house. You’re there with no mobile phone or money or credit cards, it’s as if your whole identity is taken away. It’s such a unique experience. Just like it is on TV, each task is either one day, two days or three days long and there are 300 hours of filming for every one hour show.
Honestly, is the boardroom as terrifying as it looks on TV?
Yes! And it takes a very long time to film those scenes – it can take all day actually. There’s boardroom one, when you go over what both teams have been up to. They keep both teams separate back at the house so you don’t find up what the other team has being doing until you go in there – the production team are very good at making sure that happens and you stay apart. Then boardroom two is where the losing team are battling it out between themselves to try and make sure you’re not in the final three. Boardroom three is when someone gets fired. So if you’re in the firing line, you could have spent your whole day fighting for your life in there.
That sounds horrendous! On the other hand, what was Lord Sugar like as a boss and a mentor?
I have a real affinity with Lord Sugar; he actually reminds me a lot of my dad. My dad is an entrepreneur as well and has always owned restaurants – both men are real wheeler dealers!
If you look at everything Lord Sugar has achieved over the last 40 years in business it’s hard not to be impressed. I learnt so much from him, he’s lived through recessions but has built up his own companies and on top of that he’s got a lovely family and grandchildren. He’s completely in touch with how the youth of today perceive business, that’s why he decided to do The Apprentice in the first place.
Moving on from the show, how did you become creative director of Start Up Loans?
I came across Start Up Loans while working with James Caan, who is Chairman of the company. I started working on the scheme 18 months ago and I have never looked back.
What is the best part of your job?
I love the fact I get to inspire people to change their lives every day. I’m really passionate about Start Up Loans and what we offer – I wish it had been around when I started my restaurant Mya Lacarte seven years ago.
Being a business owner myself, I’m in a unique position – I know exactly what our loan recipients are going through. In my role I’m really fortunate to get the opportunity to go out and speak to aspiring entrepreneurs as well as our loan recipients, I get to hear about all the amazing business ideas out there. At least once a week I think ‘damn, why didn’t I think of that!’
In your opinion, what are the most important skills needed when starting your own business?
It’s not really a skill but I believe the most important trait a new business owner needs is passion. You have to really believe in what you are doing, if you don’t, no one else will. Starting out on your own is really hard work and if you don’t have the passion and commitment, it’s very hard to keep going when times are tough.
What would you say are the benefits of starting from scratch?
You develop so many skills when building a business. The first couple of years running Mya Lacarte were a really steep learning curve; we had to teach ourselves everything. Before the business even opened we had to work out our branding, deal with builders to get the restaurant ready to launch, learn about the various legal requirements we had to adhere to, down to hiring staff. You can’t know everything to start but you pick up things along the way.
Finally, if you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self at the beginning of your career?
I didn’t know as much as I thought I did, it meant we took some wrong turns along the way. If I were to do it all again I would make sure I sought more help and guidance. One of the great benefits of Start Up Loans is that every loan recipient receives an expert mentor to help support them through the first year of their business. There’s a stat that shows 70% of small businesses that receive mentoring survive for five years or more. Sometimes mentoring can actually be more valuable than the loan itself.
Whether you are a new entrepreneur or an experienced business owner, a business start-up course is a great way to ensure your skills are boardroom ready. If you have the idea and would like to find out more about funding and mentoring Yasmina mentioned, make sure you have a look at Start Up Loans.