Cake, cash and life after The Apprentice
What does it take to be an entrepreneur? When Alana Spencer was crowned Lord Sugar’s apprentice, it was just a twist in a bigger tale. She tells The Day about how it all began and life since.
“When I was in primary school I was absolutely adamant that I was going to start a car washing business,” Alana Spencer reminisces, “but my mum wouldn’t let me do it; it was obviously a bit weird going and knocking on strangers doors. I think I was about eight.”
That entrepreneurial streak only grew. As a teenager, she traded at car boot sales and sold homemade cards, before setting up a chocolate business at 17.
“As far as I can remember, that feeling of excitement when I would actually sell something is what I did it for,” she says. “I’m not the most academic, so that was the satisfaction I’d get I suppose, rather than getting A*s.”
However, Spencer’s teachers were certainly impressed with her skills as a chocolatier. She once left a sample box in the staff room and ended up with £1,000 worth of orders. “It was really exciting,” she recalls, “but then getting all of these chocolates out was a whole other kettle of fish.”
She soon changed focus to cakes and, after a few years of baking and selling, found herself competing for Lord Sugar’s investment on The Apprentice.
“It was really tough,” she says. “You make silly mistakes, because everyone’s tired. We were all genuinely up at 5, out the door by 5:20, and not back by midnight.”
Being surrounded by “big characters” added to the pressure: “all of a sudden I felt I completely lost my voice… every stage I expected to go home, but then I won.”
The fame was “exciting” at first, but reality soon dawned: “it does die down very quickly… then it’s knuckle down time — crack on with the business.”
Her cake company now goes by the name Ridiculously Rich, with Lord Sugar a 50-50 partner. “He’s a mentor,” she says, “you’ll always get a quick and honest answer from him — how you see him on TV is pretty much how he is in real life. I learnt very quickly not to waste his time.”
Having hit her year one target, her next plan is to recruit a wave of cake-selling ambassadors — or “cakepreneurs” as she calls them: “it’s quite funny watching Lord Sugar trying to say that.”
What does it take to be an entrepreneur?
“Don’t lose focus.” Spencer says: “there have been so many times when I have wanted to give up — times when I was sat on my kitchen floor sobbing because things are not going as you want. That happens, it’s just business, and it sucks. But actually, the good times and the wins and the big deals make it all worthwhile. So don’t lose focus.”
“It’s really important to reinvest,” she continues: “this is something I’ve learnt recently. Before I did everything on a budget because I was chasing that weekend cash win rather than looking at the bigger picture… it is so important to invest in branding and marketing.”
- Would you like to be an entrepreneur?
- What is your dream job?
- Imagine you have been asked to set up a food-based company. What sort of business would you set up? What products would you make and how would you market them? How would you keep running costs down, and increase profits?
- Do some research into the UK food industry. What different sectors are there, and which one is the biggest and most valuable? What sectors do you think will become bigger in the future? How could a young person be entrepreneurial in this sector?
Some People Say...
“Know your product and your industry. You can only get so far on the blag.”Alana Spencer
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- According to the Federation of Bakers, the UK bakery market is worth £3.6 billion and is one of the largest markets within the wider food industry. However, craft bakery brands like Alana Spencer’s Ridiculously Rich make up only 5% of the industry’s total value.
- What do we not know?
- How the market for ready-made baked goods will change in the future. One factor to consider is that home baking has rocketed in popularity in recent years — partly thanks to the success of the TV show The Great British Bake Off. Figures from Harris Interactive show that 19% of Britons were baking on a weekly basis in 2016. A poll by The Grocer the following year found that this figure had jumped to 34%.
- Refusing to be persuaded or change your mind.
- Spencer does not come from a family of entrepreneurs. Her mother is an artist and her father is an academic.
- The transition from chocolates to cakes was primarily made for business reasons: “There is a lot of money to be made in things that are made for consumption right away, and are not such high end products,” Spencer says.
- Lord Sugar
- Sir Alan Sugar is a British business magnate and media personality worth over £1 billion. He grew up in East London and left school at 16, spending time working at a greengrocer and selling electrical equipment out of a van. He made the bulk of his fortune with the computer company Amstrad.
- The Apprentice
- The British TV show first aired in 2005. Entrepreneurs compete in a series of challenges to win investment in their business.