Margot Huysman on the Apprentice candidate who might just turn himself into the next big thing in technology.
A dazzling smile. Hair to die for. Oh, and you might recognise him as a candidate from this year’s Apprentice. 26-year-old Nick Holzherr, who is based in Birmingham, may not have secured Lord Sugar’s approval, but he did win the heart of thousands of young ladies around the country and the interest of many for his new business. What remains to be seen is whether Holzherr can convert his dollop of fame into useful marketing for his business ideas.
Nick was born in the UK before moving to Switzerland to live there for seven years. With an early interest in business, Nick went on to study International Business at Aston University. While there, he founded Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE). The group enabled students to test out their entrepreneurial and business skills. “It allows students to hone their business skills,” says Holzherr. “It was great experience for doing something innovative and getting a real sense of enterprise.”
During his third year, Nick worked for Deutsche Bank. The market was unpredictable, with periods of ups and downs, and Nick found himself adrift during a quiet time. He realised he wanted to go into an industry which was moving faster and where he wouldn’t find himself waiting for something to happen.
He started working on an idea for a coffee business. The concept was to sell ethical coffee on the go. Along with a friend he’d met at university, the business was launched and named “Co-Go Coffee To Go”. Cups were custom-manufactured and had adverts printed on them.
While working on the business, Nick came across QR code technology, and decided to add it to the cups. After adding the codes to their own business cards, the idea transformed itself into a business of its own and soon they offered the service to other companies.
While the coffee business gave Nick the opportunity to gain some business experience, he soon realised the company was not scalable and lacked the twist they had wanted to imprint into the business from the beginning: it had become just another coffee company. “Selling great coffee, mind you,” Nick is quick to point out. The business was sold and Nick looked for something else to work on.
“I’d say I was always pretty into technology at school. I used to spend time as a teenager hacking. Non-malicious hacking, though, nothing illegal.” Yet apart from his limited A-level classes and a few lectures at university, focusing mostly on technology in business, Nick did not get proper training in technology. That did not stop him from wanting to launch a tech business. He was attracted to an industry in which a good idea can grow very fast: “It just feels like the perfect industry for a really scalable business.”
Although Nick is not a programmer or a developer, he does have an understanding of market needs, thanks to his business background. Nick found himself attending a hacking event in Birmingham, where he met his current business partner. Both men were on different teams and this was their first encounter.
During the event, Nick’s team was trying to build a program enabling someone to take a picture and it being automatically linked to eBay. The idea never went any further due to programming constraints: it simply could not be built. “People really liked the concept, though, and we could tell the idea was popular,” he says.
They two kept in touch and decided to work on the idea of planning meals and an app that would enable users to source ingredients online, automatically. The idea needed fine tuning, and some improvements, but the ambition was there and both saw an opportunity to tap into a big market. Whisk, Nick’s current start-up, was born.
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Why participate in the bear pit of The Apprentice? Simple: “We already had a business plan, which would go on with or without Lord Sugar’s investment, so we thought we could only benefit from the media exposure.” Considering the ambition of the project, Whisk would need supermarket chains and big brands to cooperate. Having the media talk about the business – and possibly even having Lord Sugar’s endorsement – would make that process a lot easier.
And although Nick – and Whisk – may not have won the cash prize and the opportunity of becoming Lord Sugar’s business partner, he did achieve his goal of getting publicity and getting onto the public radar. Within 24 hours of the final episode being aired, brands were getting in contact for possible partnerships, and the app appeared in the list of top lifestyle apps of Apple’s App Store.
The application, which will be available as a beta from the end of July, will let you select recipes from wherever on the web and offer a selection of shopping carts on different food e-shops. As you use the app more often, it will keep a record of what is in your pantry and will make recipe suggestions according to your tastes and the ingredients you already have.
Although Lord Sugar did not see the potential of the business, suggesting that Nick seek funding in the US, the British public may well prove him wrong. Tech bloggers have so far been responsive to the idea, as have their mothers, who see in the app a great way to save time on drawing up a shopping list and planning for meals.
The company is now funded, and Nick appears to be in with a shot at success, which is a great deal more than can be said for most people churned out by the show – even those who win. The immediate future for Nick and his team, for the next few months at least, will consist of building and improving the platform to make it even closer to users’ expectations and needs. Nick will also be penning a few guest columns for The Kernel – about which more later.