Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Plumb lucky

Ten Things About... Week 12 - The Final

1. Guess who's back? Back again - Technically this episode was all about Joseph and Vana going head-to-head to earn that £250,000 start-up investment from Lord Sugar, but let's be real: the thing we're all here for in the final is the returning candidates who turn up to help, because we want to know who is bitter as and who is just flat-out incompetent. Obviously the ideal return would've been for Scott to return and stand there seething throughout, shooting daggers every time Lordalan walked up and making "you, outside, now" gestures at him, and of course for Selina to come back as well and end up on the same team as Charleine. Of course, neither of these things happened so every return felt like something of an anticlimax, even though a few of the selected candidates still held some promise: Richard (hooray!), Ruth, Gary, Natalie, Charleine, Mergim, Elle and Brett. Using the traditional alternating schoolyard pick approach (with Joseph going first after Vana lost a coin toss), Joseph picked Gary, Brett, Elle and Mergim, while Vana picked Richard, Charleine, Ruth and Natalie. I'm not trying to say that Joseph frankly deserved to lose the whole thing here, but having first pick and going for Gary doesn't exactly scream "astute and focused business mind" to me. As much as I'm loath to ever admit that Karren might be right about something, I think she summed it up pretty nicely when she said that Vana picked people who would be useful to her while Joseph picked people he liked. (I liked Ruth's observation that they weren't here to act under their own initiative but to serve the two finalists, or as she put it, they were "vessels of Vana". A shiny sixpence to the first person to suggest that as a team name next year.)

2. Business development - After the criticism they'd both received in the previous round, the first objective for both Joseph and Vana was to round off the edges of their business plans. For Joseph, that meant proving that he's not just a smalltime plumber and he has the brains, drive and commitment to expand his local plumbing business into a large national concern. For Vana, there was the slightly thornier task of proving that there was any money to be made at all from her dating app and that Lordalan's investment wouldn't disappear faster than Sam's clothes on Instagram. However, in the midst of all that they still had to design a digital billboard, film a promo video, and then pitch to a roomful of industry experts, and Karren.

3. App-y talking talking, app-y talk - Despite the show's best efforts to obfuscate the actual amount of work that needed to be done by both teams, it was clear that Vana had a mountain to climb whereas Joseph merely had a leisurely stroll up a slight incline. With that in mind, a considerable part of the episode was spent on Vana's efforts to establish whether her business idea was profitable or not. Unfortunately, she seemed to think it was more important to oversee the marketing and promotional side of things than to actually go and do this aspect of the job herself: first she sent Ruth, Charleine and Brett off to speak to the people at eHarmony, where they were advised to go for a fresh, non-cheesy brand (in other words, the complete opposite of the ad campaign that Vana was currently halfway through), advice that Vana brushed aside. Then, the following day, Natalie and Ruth were sent out to meet with some app developers to get an idea of how much it would cost. (One of the app developers was the spit of Barney Lumsden, convincing me for a hot second that this was in fact all taking place within an episode of W1A, which was a very strange feeling.) Vana wanted them to reaffirm her belief that she could get the app launched for between £30k-£40k, and one of them rather hesitantly said that it was certainly possible in theory to launch it for that price, but that apps are never a finished product and that it would soak up the initial investment soon enough. Ruth asked when they might see a return on the investment, and the app people told her that it would be a long time before any money would trickle in the other direction, and that they really had to look it at more as building a brand at this point. (It was at this point that the task was inexorably lost for Vana, I think, no matter how good her pitch turned out to be.) [And Ldalan didn't invest in apps when Nick wanted to do one the other year, so it was always risky... - Rad] Ruth and Natalie did their best to break the bad news to Vana but, being Ruth and Natalie, weren't quite able to specify whether they'd been told that the figures they were quoted included the marketing budget or not (Ruth thought not, Natalie thought it did), so Vana disregarded their reports once again and finally opted to ring the MD of eHarmony herself to ask for his advice. He said that it was possible for her to launch her business with the money that she had, but she would have to limit its scope somewhat and be aware that 10-15 dating apps go out of business in the UK every week. Vana, being Vana, just heard "it's possible".

4. What's in a name? - Coming up with a name for each company was deemed to be of the utmost importance by both Vana and Joseph, to the extent that they took a very personal interest in it. Vana was determined to get the words "play" and "date" in there, so despite having an apparently fully-formed brand in "PlayDate" last week, she decided to switch it to "DatePlay". I can only assume that someone informed her off-camera that this name had already been taken, because I can't think of any other logical or sensible reason for the reversal - while the former is a little too cutesy and juvenile, at least it's a functioning play on words, whereas "DatePlay" is just...nothing. I don't know, I give up with these people. Joseph, meanwhile, rejected "The Plumbing Co" and Mergim's suggestion of "Enerpluture" (a terrifying hybrid of "energy", "plumbing" and "future", apparently) before settling on Prime Time Plumbers. Despite Sarah Dales briefly popping in to point out that when written down it looked more like Prim Eti Me Plum Bers [I can't believe Not That Mark Wright has actually called his thing Climb Online in real life because I will never, ever, hear that as anything other than Clim Bonline - Rad], Joseph proceeded with this branding.

5. Ad nauseam - Both adverts and promotional videos were, of course, entirely terrible but in entirely separate ways. Marketing expert Richard came up with the idea of having a man and a woman playing on their phones with buzzwords like "go-getter", "professional", "hung daddy" (okay maybe not that last one) emerging, while someone (it could only have been Richard or Vana) came up with the idea of having jugglers under neon lights representing the inner workings of the app. Richard and Charleine ended up being the models, and both kept their wedding rings on throughout. Sigh. Still, at least there was an internal consistency to both her digital billboard and her promo video (same style, same actors, same overall concept), even if they were both a bit crap. Joseph, meanwhile, made a digital billboard that was almost entirely grey and not, as far as I could tell, animated in any way, and then got Elle, Mergim and Brett to make what Elle rightly identified as a "1970s porno" for their film. Things did not get off to the best of starts due to Mergim's ├╝ber-wooden acting and Elle's inability to get through a line without corpsing ("I'm trying! How can you not laugh at that face?!"), but between them and Brett The Porno Plumber, they eventually managed to get together something rudimentary but usable, even incorporating Joseph's eleventh-hour phonecall asking them to incorporate smart technologies into the ad somehow because he'd just been told that's what the people want.

6. Bigwig bonus - That knowledge came from Joseph's meeting with a group of company bigwigs from the plumbing industry on the second day. (Note to self: business idea for series 12, "big wigs".) Having been told on day one by a British Gas supremo that his major business idea - renewable technology - was still very niche interest and not something that the majority of his customers would be interested in, at least not within the next 15 years (which seems a bit of a stretch, I can count at least six hours with solar panels on the roof just walking around the block from my flat, and I don't exactly live in an upscale area), Joseph spoke to those in the know to find out what people do actually want, and the answer turned out to be smart technology - the ability to control your heating from your phone while you're out and about, or the ability to run a bath when you're not in (????????). Notably, Joseph actually attended this meeting himself, not only enabling him to ask the right questions and listen to the answers without trusting someone else to relay the information, but also enabling him to get the bigwigs to record endorsements to be edited into his promo video, and grabbing some business cards for when it's time for him to come a-pitchin'. Well-played, Valente.

7. Know your market - Since there's always a need for people to do pointless busywork on day three, Joseph and Vana were both required to send some of their lackeys out to do market research on the terrible adverts at London termini. Natalie, Ruth and Charleine were sent off to harangue strangers at Victoria in their capacity as the Vessels of Vana, while Elle, Mergim and Brett went to Liverpool Street to act as Joseph's Witnesses. Things did not go brilliantly for either team: nearly everybody that got polled for PlayDate was not in the market for a dating app (because they were in relationships, and people in relationships don't use those things *look to camera*) though the three single people Charleine found definitely said that they would download it and pay for it. Meanwhile, Joseph's billboard was so grey that nobody in the station even noticed it was there until it was pointed out to them, so that was three hours well spent.

8. Pitch perfect - While the whole episode felt like a slam dunk for Joseph most of the way through (Lord Sugar is his idol, he's pulled himself up by his bootstraps, his business plan isn't a transparent money pit), Vana put up a heck of a fight when it came to making the pitch at City Hall. Her presentation was brilliant - she was calm, confident, funny and personable. Vana's a hell of a public speaker, and she even handled the questions about her scheme's questionable profitability with aplomb. While I'm not sure she necessarily convinced people to invest in her business, I think she convinced a lot of them that they could do a lot worse than invest in her. Joseph couldn't quite match Vana for her sheer naturalness in front of such a large crowd, but that ended up working out in his favour: instead of trying to compete with Vana, he set himself apart from her by explaining his humble roots, his clear plan and his tangible business. He was never as articulate as Vana, but he always looked like he knew what he was talking about.

9. Boardroom blitz - Despite this being the most foregone of foregone conclusions, there was still room for one last round of sparring in the boardroom once everyone else had been dismissed. Vana made it clear that for her, the investment would be seed money to prove that her model works, and that she would need to secure a second round of funding at a later date - but she hoped that she'd proved at this point that she could persuade people of the validity of her idea. Joseph in turn batted a six by referencing Pimlico Plumbers (at least I assume that's who he was referring to, since those strange BBC product placement rules prevented him from naming them outright) and how they'd grown from similarly humble beginnings to a £14m turnover. When it came to infighting, Vana kept drawing attention to the relative modesty of Joseph's ambitions - she had international potential and could promise Lord Sugar a smaller piece of a much larger pie. Joseph had an answer for that, however: Vana was charging £40 a month (£40?!?!?!?) per person to use the app, whereas Joseph would be charging £50 per hour for a callout. Then he went in for the kill by outright stating that Lord Sugar's money would "evaporate" if he gave it to Vana.

10. And the winner is... - Joseph, of course. It was never in doubt. He feels like a strange winner in some senses, because he just seemed like a comedy wideboy in the first half of the series, one who would inevitably be fired by around week eight. He never seemed to have a breakout moment of becoming a star, he just held in long enough for everyone else to fall out of the running and had the business idea with the most potential. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Anyway, I think we're missing the most important point here: Joseph winning meant that Elle was on the winning team for the first time ever! If you want a happy ending, there it is.

So there we have it: a bit of a disappointing season overall, I thought, with some uninspiring tasks, uninspiring people and an uninspiring finale. But I daresay we'll still be back to do it all over again next year. Thanks for reading!


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