"I’m not taking on an apprentice!" Or so I thought (Part 1 of 2)

It was a day just like any other, except I was invited back for the second time to the LDN Group’s event that they were running. Tech City Stars and Future LDN are two parts to the LDN Group, they run 2 week boot camps for young people to help them with the skills they need to find new jobs, and more importantly they help them find apprenticeships. 

Back in November 2015 I was asked to attend an event, Dragon’s Den style pitches from the group of apprentices currently going through their 2-week Future LDN boot camp. It was a great experience that I truly enjoyed, however, when it finished I was neither here nor there. I was running my business, we had 5 freelancers/contractors currently working with us, and I really had no time or inclination to take on an apprentice. Time went by. 

In March 2016 I was asked back to be a Dragon. This time it was for the Tech City Stars group. I loved my first experience and more importantly, it felt great to be asked back to help give feedback to young people trying so hard to do something different to shape their futures. 
So I accepted the invitation. The team knew I wasn’t in a position to take anybody on at this point, but they were happy to get me involved and I was far too happy to comply. So there we were, in March, sat in front of a group of 30 potential apprentices, pitching ideas and business plans that they had less than 24 hours to prepare. The fun began! 

6 groups presented that day. It’s always fascinating to see what the next generation feels is important when it comes to products and ideas. One of the main themes of the day was Phone Charging devices. They can in all shapes and colours, kinetic, solar panelled and wireless. But ultimately 50% of the pitches were just that. Something to charge my phone. InterCharge, Sol and Kinetic each had a different spin on the same thing. 

Another group, Heartbeat, went with a wireless speaker set, which was awesome, until they dropped the “It will also wirelessly charge your phone”.  It was a nice idea, but didn't really do much other than combine a music player with a charger. My thoughts were, it’s ANOTHER phone charger. 

Then we moved away, and we were on to something. A dating app. Light My Likes. Who doesn’t want to find love in this crazy world we live in! There were a few flaws, but they were on to something, a slight twist on the Tinders of the world today. 

But there was one group that really wowed, as they we’re thinking outside the box. There idea was different. It was unique in that group of pitches, but more importantly it was actually an idea that I had explored a few years ago. They wanted to create a multimedia co-working space. Studios for music, photography and video that was accessible to everyone. 

I should mention that as Dragons, we have a green and a red piece of paper… It’s always hard to have to pick up the red piece of paper to say “I wouldn’t invest” but that day it happened more than I would have liked. This last group though had something about them. The passion and belief in the idea. Admittedly their financials were a little off (these things happen) but they had really thought about all the additional ways they could help to service their clients and build this as a business. 

The team had called themselves New Wave Studios, and by the end of their pitch, they had 4 Green Cards in front of them. The ONLY team that day to manage that. 

Why did it happen?

In my opinion, the team was lead by, encouraged by and driven by their “leader” (appointed 24 hours earlier), Nathan Jordan. I found out later on that when they were put together as a group, everyone contributed an initial business idea. They voted on it as a team. Nathan was placed as the head of the team and they started building the idea together. 

I asked a simple question “Who’s idea was this?", and Nathan came back with an empowering response “It was all of ours”! He expanded by explaining that initial idea was his, but the idea to incorporate X was thanks to person 1, Y thanks to person 2 and Z thanks to person 3. 

My mind started to go in to overdrive as I witnessed this happening. This was a 21 year old with NO experience of running a team showing real leadership qualities. This isn’t about experience, this is about the Emotional Quotient and something inside me made me want to know more and explore this further. 

One of the other dragon’s quizzed the team on finance (at least I think it was finance), Nathan stepped in for the team member who was struggling and gave a confident answer, which basically came down to “we don’t really know! We’re here for your input to help us take this idea further as dragons”. 

Another massive bonus. Being able to admit lack of knowledge, experience and know-how, whilst at the same time reaching out for assistance. I was perking up like a meerkat at this point, seeing something that I often felt I hadn’t found in previous bosses (“leaders" as they may have called themselves at the time) and I suddenly realised that there was something that needed to be done. 

New Wave Studios had won the Dragon’s Day event, but by that point I had forgotten why I had originally come to support it in the first place. I was now thinking how I could find a way to work with Nathan and help him develop his skills for the future.

More coming soon - Chris Bruno

Photo thanks to @jodonnellcoach on Instagram