The winner of the 2011 series of the hit reality show is the seventh protégé to be chosen by former Amstrad boss Lord Sugar but, crucially, the first to be rewarded with an investment opportunity. And unlike the previous six winners, Pellereau is not merely an employee of Sugar, but a business partner.
So when, last week, the first product devised by the duo (or more notably a team of designers, testers, PRs and marketers) hit the shops to a wave of publicity, it seemed only right to borrow a tranche of time from the mad professor-cum-occasionally reluctant businessman.
With £250,000 of funding behind him, Kingston-on-Thames born Pellereau has designed and created the Stylfile – a collection of three specific nail files that he describes as “revolutionary” – and, we assume, not just in the sense of drawing out an interest in cuticle care from his East End adopted father figure. But away from the flashbulbs and the whiff of PR perfume, the product’s launch capped a remarkable 12 months for the 32-year-old who had all but given up on his entrepreneurial ambitions.
“It was a real serendipity moment,” Pellereau tells Business Matters, explaining his decision to apply for last year’s show. “It was late on a Friday night, and I heard a radio advert saying ‘this year The Apprentice is different; this year it’s about starting a business, the prize is a £250,000 investment – applications close tomorrow’. And I’d happened to have had one of the worst weeks of my life which, looking back now, was rather convenient.
“I’d basically decided that my dream of being an entrepreneur and an inventor was over and I should find myself a proper job. So on the weekend when I was supposed to be putting in applications for ‘proper jobs’, as it were, I ended up instead putting in my application to The Apprentice.”
Prior to that life-changing decision, Pellereau was struggling to make headway despite a first class Honours degree with a Masters in ‘Mechanical Engineering with Innovation and Design’. The conversion from relative failure to his very public success story has left the charismatic Pellereau bristling with excitement as he discusses the working process that made the Stylfile a reality.
“It’s been an incredible year. I’m chuffed with how it has turned out. There is so much work just to make sure that the product is of a really high quality, that it does exactly what it says, that it works beautifully, that the shape is perfect, and that the packaging explains the product – even the little basic things like ensuring that the barcodes actually scan. All these simple things are there to trip you up at every hurdle… if you let them. I’m so chuffed because we have certainly had some problems. It’s been a sharp learning curve, and very quickly I realised there was no handbrake on this idea.”
Those problems were more often than not solved by Lord Sugar. An infamously difficult taskmaster, the former Tottenham Hotspur chairman lived up to his belligerent persona behind closed doors, often turning his ire on Pellereau.
“I’ve been yelled at by Lord Sugar a number of times for… how does he put it… ‘being a bit naive’”, he confesses matter-of-factly. “He’s certainly not made it easy. He gives me regular kickings and he’s working me hard. But it’s most definitely worth it.”
The concept that the winner of last year’s The Apprentice would go into business with Lord Sugar aroused much interest, and reignited a show whose appeal was threatening to lessen. And Pellereau is keen to stress the hands-on approach his business partner has adopted on the project.
“He’s done much more than just put the money in. He’s been there the whole time. I work in the same office as him, we have regular communications on email and he’s very good, very rapid at answering questions. He’s been very much involved, interested, and has provided his expertise and advice.
“The rewards from winning The Apprentice really come in three parts. Firstly you get experience; you get direction. Secondly, you get the investment and in these times that’s crucial. And thirdly, you get access to this team – financial people, designers, IT support staff – and working with Lord Sugar I am able to pull in all these resources. That helps hugely.”
So would Pellereau consider Lord Sugar as his boss or his business partner?
“That’s a good question. He’s made it very clear that this is my business. I’m going to run this. He is available if I have questions, and he has pulled some people in at the right time. The reason I went on The Apprentice in the first place is because I held my hands up and admitted I didn’t know everything. I’m a long way from that still despite what’s happened in the last year. I went on because I respect his viewpoint, his opinions, his experience, and so I’m here to listen and learn from that.
“One of the first things I learnt was certainly one of the most important – to always think about the consumer. Whenever you’re making something, just purely focus on what the consumer wants; how you can make it easier, better, and of more value to the customer. Don’t bore people with production or logistical issues you might encounter – the consumer doesn’t care about that stuff. They just want a really good end product, so always be on the side of the customer.”
Whilst wary of getting ahead of himself – “this is a small venture and I have to be careful not to bury it in new things; I have to focus on making sure this becomes a success” – Pellereau is nonetheless tentatively looking to the future, even if every step forward comes with a warning from Lord Sugar. “He’s made it clear that if the money runs out then the party is over. That’s quite sobering.”
What works in his favour is the originality of the product which, unlike, for instance, Levi Roots’ ‘Reggae Reggae sauce’ brand, doesn’t need spin-offs and extensions in order to retain consumer interest past that initial launch surge. Not that Pellereau wants to hold back…
“It’s a product in its own right and a fine one, in my opinion,” he offers. “Hopefully it will turn into a long-term thing and can sustain itself, but certainly the goal is to keep on creating and offering products that solve problems for people. I want this to turn this into a business that people in Britain can be proud of.”
And, well… if he can make Lord Sugar proud, he’ll certainly have been doing something right.