Apprentice winner Joseph Valente reveals his Start-up Secrets: 'People have to like you to back your idea - the other candidates looked like idiots!'
Do you have what it takes to be Lord Sugar's business partner? While many remember the most recent series of The Apprentice for an alleged fight between candidates Charleine Wane and Selina Waterman-Smith, Joseph Valente stealthily made it to the final with his pragmatic approach to business.
Although fellow finalist Vana Koutsomitis' dating app spoke to Lord Sugar's tech expertise, he ultimately decided that his £250,000 investment would make more of an impact on Joseph's Impra-Gas venture.
The entrepreneur has used the cash to expand his business, which maintains and installs plumbing, heating and electrical products.
The Apprentice family: Show winners Mark Wright, Joseph Valente, Leah Totton and Ricky Martin with Lord Sugar (centre)
He hopes to bring the Peterborough-based business to London in the next five years and take on the likes of British Gas and Pimlico plumbers.
In this week's edition of Start-Up Secrets, Joseph reveals the 'horrible' side of The Apprentice, and his regrets over getting expelled at 15.
Who or what has most inspired you?
One of my biggest inspirations growing up was my uncle. He's very successful and I got to see two different lifestyles. My family didn't have much money - my dad didn't work and my uncle showed me the life you could have.
He was the managing director of a finance company and would come down three or four times a year from Birmingham in a Mercedes or BMW, and would have all the latest technology.
Alan Sugar was my second inspiration, and he was the reason I started the business. When I was 22 I read his book What You See Is What You Get and saw how someone could build an empire just through hard work, so he was a real inspiration.
CV: Joseph Valente
1989: Born in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire
2005: Expelled from school at 15 and started working for free with a local plumber
2006: Did a two-year plumbing apprenticeship course at Peterborough College
2008: Quit plumbing to train as a qualified gas engineer in London
2011: Took a career break and went travelling to Australia
2012: Inspired by reading Lord Sugar's autobiography, launched Impra-Gas
2013: Impra-Gas grew to five employees
2015: Beat Vana Koutsomities to win £250,000 on The Apprentice, becoming business partners with Lord Sugar
What is the one piece of advice you would go back and tell your younger self?
I would go back and tell myself to work harder at school and to not get expelled!
And to put more time and effort into learning about business and technology, because that is the future and it's a lot harder to teach yourself out of school.
But then the path that I have gone down has made me quite successful so far...
How did you manage to secure funding?
When I started Impra-Gas I got £20,000 through Tesco Bank personal loan. Going down the business funding route required a lot more detail and I wanted it now, so I applied and got a loan within a few days.
Then obviously my second round of funding was winning The Apprentice, which not everyone can do.
I have mainly invested The Apprentice money in our set up, bringing in a jobs booking and management system. We also have bought four new offices and purchased new vans and uniforms. We are expanding county by county - Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire and we are hoping to move to London in the next five years.
Fireworks: The 2015 series, which saw Valente win, hit the headlines for a fight between candidates
What advice would you give to someone pitching for investment?
Not to run before you can walk. I started without a plan and you need to put the time in at the beginning to build a solid foundation and have a process that you can build on.
It's a lot harder the way we did it - it would have been better to build a solid foundation before expanding too quickly. You can find yourself with a system for a one-man band but then you expand to 15 people and it's not suitable.
Worthy winner: Joseph with Lord Sugar
You need to pitch confidently and show you will work ridiculously hard and do whatever it takes to get there. Whatever you sell, you have to show passion, determination, and honesty.
The thing with [Apprentice finalist] Vana's idea is that it had potential but it was not something £250,000 could get off the ground - it needed millions. My company was a good solid business and it had a proven track record.
What makes a good business idea? How did you convince investors and business partners that yours would work?
I think what makes a good business idea is keeping it simple. People try to reinvent the wheel but you don't have to come up with a great invention.
Know your business, know your market. There is no point going in to something on a whim - you have to have some experience in that industry, that is very important
Show that you can innovate and pioneer, whether it's with a new system or new technology.
They need to like you and that comes from showing you're a real person. A lot of the people on The Apprentice act like idiots and they think it will make them stand out - but it just makes them look like idiots.
People were not very nice in there, it's a competition and people are very egotistic. It was a great experience but it's not a nice environment. It's not nice to live it for 11 weeks - it was horrible really.
'Vana's idea needed millions': Joseph on fellow finalist Vana Koutsomitis (second from left)
What is the most important quality you look for in a business partner or employee?
For me, it's all about trust.The second that trust is broken I lose all faith in someone and I can't work with them. They also have to be reliable, independent thinkers but trust is the main thing.
Lord Sugar has been in touch as much as I have required. I call on him from time to time but not that often. I have experience in this industry, and he has experience in business so I will ask him for help if I need him to look at a contract but I have a strong team around me, and we are working very hard.
What one change to legislation or policy would help your business the most?
A reduction in employers' national insurance contributions. In this industry, people find a a lot of reasons to use sub-contractors because they don't want to pay national insurance.
With a small business, it squeezes the life out of you. My workers are not self-employed but the industry pushes you to go for sub-contractors, as then you don't have to pay that additional 13 per cent on wages - which works out at a lot of money.