Winner's Story : James Caan Challenge
I recently won a competition through MyKindaCrowd.com to venture inside the Dragon's Den and spend a week in early November at Hamilton Bradshaw, James Caan's company. Rather than testing our chivalry though, the competition required a business plan for a hypothetical business project; selling t-shirts on Oxford Street.
Six participants made it to the final and were invited to pitch their proposals to Hannah Caan and her team at the Hamilton Bradshaw HQ in Mayfair. Every pitch was impressive, so I was doubly delighted to win on the day. The week itself was an action-packed experience; every day was spent at a different company with back-to-back 30 minute meetings with everyone from interns to CEOs.
Monday was with the Start-Up Loans company, which offers funding and support to young start-up entrepreneurs, in partnership with the UK government.
It's an exciting time right now because the whole team is working hard to further develop their core services in order to provide for as many young people as possible, and their first grantees are beginning to show their business potential! It was interesting to hear about their ideas for raising awareness about their services and to learn about their process for selecting and working with delivery partners around the country.
Gemini Search was my second port of call, where I met CEO Alia Majed and learnt about her ambitious plans and overall strategy. I heard about the company's history over lunch with co-founder Ross Taylor and spent the afternoon with each of the sector departments. It's an exciting time for Gemini - the digital recruitment sector is growing fast and Gemini is moving with it!
My third day was at HCIG, one of the biggest companies within the HB group. HCIG is a recruitment company and has several subsidiaries of its own, often developed as 'joint ventures'. After learning more about these joint ventures from one of the Directors, it's evident that Mr Caan's catchphrase 'investing in people' is very practical. In addition to growing organically via increasing employees and sales, James and his companies partner with talented individuals or teams who are experienced in their sector (most often recruitment) by providing them with the investment and infrastructure they need to facilitate rapid expansion. The concept seems to be working; Gemini Search is one example.
On Thursday I met James. As you would expect, he didn't have long, but did showed a real interest in my own businesses and kindly offered to put them on HB's suppliers list. His daughter, Hannah, was also very encouraging and we spent a couple of hours over the course of the week discussing her role and current projects (she's currently advising the Startup Loans company). Like them, a common factor among HB employees was a clear passion for their job. Everyone I met there, from accountants and lawyers to property developers and web designers, was excited about what they were doing. Their office environment was friendly and open, but also calm and efficient with an undercurrent of swift-moving activity as everyone pushed ahead knowing that they each had a role to play in moving multiple companies forward.
My final day was at HB Prime Advantage, which provides specialist services to SMEs looking to grow and exit. The whole team was a lot of fun and this teamwork was a real strength, working together to meet their targets. I sat in on a sales call and a meeting with two possible clients to understand how HBPA facilitates the relationship between their clients and their business experts. It was particularly interesting to learn from CEO David Taylor about his plans for expanding the company through a franchise model.
The week flew by quickly despite my packed daily schedule and after my goodbyes I reflected on what I had gained from the experience. The success of the joint venture model certainly reiterated the importance of working with good people, and it would be nice to think that I could get back in touch with some of the people I met, but probably the most important effect was to re-inspire me to work even harder on my own company after having a clear vision of what successful business really looks like. Emerging from the Den with these treasures, I'm grateful to both MyKindaCrowd and James Caan and his team for a most remarkable week.
Iman Fadaei lives in London and runs several startup businesses: www.ahadesign.co.uk, www.ethical-art.com and www.positive-ideas-design.com. Find more competitions at www.mykindacrowd.com and learn about James Caan's businesses at www.hamiltonbradshaw.com.