For the latest video in our Success Stories series, Expert Market caught up with BBC Apprentice winner Tom Pellereau to find out what it takes to bring a new product to market, and how he found the experience of being a contestant on the show.
Like many young boys and girls, Tom dreamed of being an inventor. But while his peers were preoccupied with fanciful designs for space rockets and fast cars, 10-year-old Tom was busy engineering a collapsible candlestick for his gran to take away on her travels. And it worked.
This success sparked a lifelong passion for problem solving. “I had no idea it was a problem before”, says Tom of his latest invention, a system that reduces the washing and drying time for a makeup brush from hours to seconds. “Someone tipped me off, gave me this challenge.”
From the emphasis he places on the word, it’s clear that a challenge is something Tom relishes. He’s a man who sees opportunities, not problems. And it’s undoubtedly this mindset which led him to appear as a contestant on series seven of The Apprentice.
On thin ice
Affectionately nicknamed “Inventor Tom” by fans of the show, he had a shaky start, losing every task in the first five weeks and only narrowly avoiding being fired on two occasions. His saving grace in both instances was a strong performance in the boardroom. With his neck on the line, Tom showed an awareness sorely lacking in many of his competitors, identifying key flaws in his team's strategy and own performance. Lord Sugar was suitably impressed to spare Tom ‘the finger’ for now, but the general consensus was that he lacked the strength of character to win.
Week nine and a dodgy ‘emergency biscuit’ design nearly spelled the end for Tom. But like all great inventors he picked himself up off the floor and went again, presenting his idea for a new kind of office chair to combat back pain in the show’s finale. There was only one problem, his business plan made absolutely no mention of the word “chair”. But Lord Sugar wasn’t deterred; his eyes lit up with pound signs. What he saw in the young inventor was pure potential that needed only but a guiding hand.
Tom was crowned winner in front of a record audience of 10.4 million, becoming Lord Sugar’s first ever business partner from the show.
Getting down to business
With the £250,000 investment, the pair founded beauty accessories company AVENTom, which has since turned over more than £1.5 million. That makes Tom one of the most successful Apprentice winners ever. We were excited to see what we could learn from the man who’s been called a “non-stop ideas factory”...
The proof is in the profitability
No matter how great your idea is, if you can’t convince others that it’s going to make money then you’re going to struggle to get it off the ground. Follow Tom’s advice and have a working prototype to present to suppliers; or learn from his mistakes on The Apprentice and make sure your business plan is 100% watertight.
If you business plan centres around a physical product, consider how you could add to the range or expand it to include accessories. In 2016 Apple generated $10 billion in revenue from sale of accessories and supporting services alone, more than Microsoft’s total profit for that year. “You can’t just have one product”, says Tom, “you’ve got to try to fill the shelf.”
Bravado does not always win out in business
Tom is not your typical Apprentice winner. As he says in the video, it was an experience he found “pretty horrific”. But his success on the show is proof to all of us that you don’t have to be a bragger and a blagger to succeed in business - despite what some of his fellow contestants would have you believe.
Tom shone through because of his huge enthusiasm for inventing and relentless energy. Watch his eyes light up when he talks about demoing his product to someone for the first time and witnessing their astonishment when it actually works. “That [feeling] is amazing”, says Tom, “I live for that.”
Tom’s marvellous inventions
Since launching AVENTom in 2012, Tom has expanded the company’s range to include five core products.
Tom’s first invention to be brought to market. The eureka moment came while watching his sister file her nails and thinking: “Nails are curved, yet files are straight!”. And thus the Styfile™ was born.
The file’s curved board perfectly follows the natural curve of the nail - making the filing process a whole lot easier, especially when using your non-dominant hand.
Since its commercial launch in 2012, Tom has expanded the range to include: Infuse, the world’s first moisturising file; the Mani-pro three-in-one kit for buffing and cuticle maintenance; and a pocket sized version of the Styfile™ - for filing on the go.
The fastest and most efficient makeup brush cleaner in the west. StylPro™ reduces the washing and drying time for makeup brush from (up to) 24 hours to a matter seconds.
As part of the extensive testing process, Tom created a machine that could repeat the action of cleaning and spin-drying a brush 500 times.
Stylfile™ Gel Polish Remover Kit
This kit provides you with everything needed to safely remove gel nail polish at home - without damaging your nails. The USP is an ingenious set of reusable clips, which replace the fiddly foil wraps conventionally used by beauticians.
Tom went to great lengths to ensure the quality of his product, employing the services of the University of Manchester and their ultrasonic device to measure the thickness of testers’ nails before and after using Stylfile™ Gel Polish Removal Kit. The results showed little to no damage at all, and 100% of testers said they would use the kit over their usual gel polish removal method.
A simple and elegant solution to a common problem faced by parents: you want to trim your child’s nails, but you’re worried about trimming off a little part of them in the process.
The Nipper Clipper™ features a cleverly placed safety spy hole - allowing you to see exactly what you’re clipping, before you clip it. It even comes with a free distraction app to keep the little nipper busy.
The clipper uses a unique overlapping blade design, which slices smoothly through the nail without sending it pinging off across the room.
With a portfolio as strong as that and distributors as far afield as Australia, Thailand and, most recently, Japan, it’s likely we’ll be seeing a lot more from Tom and Stylfile over the coming years.
If his story has left you feeling inspired, why not check out more of our Success Stories below for insight from some of the UK’s top entrepreneurs.
You can find out more about Tom’s ingenious products here.