Many people are wondering who this new character that hit TV screens actually is? If it weren't for his almost Boris Johnson type appearance, his initially unimposing demeanour would make it easy to let him pass under the radar. Yet it was Nick Holzherr who took control of some quite considerable egos (one candidate actually referring to himself as “the reflection of perfection”) and led the team to victory. His overconfident statement prior to the show's start; “I'm a natural leader, I like to lead teams and I can lead (a) team into real success” most likely didn't win him many fans. However it can't be overlooked that, in the first task, he backed his claim, and he did it in style. Whilst this alone is not enough to back up his other equally confident claims, it nevertheless begs the question, is Nick as good as he says he is? Is he the real deal?
His childhood was split between two countries, having been born in the UK, his family then moving to Zurich three months later where he spent the next 7 years, after which his family returned. His entrepreneurial streak was evident early on in life, selling lost golf balls back to golfers at the age of 9. From there he continued to move through his education fairly swiftly; taking his degree at the Business School at Aston university. It was during this time that he developed his more entrepreneurial side; co founding SIFE (students in free enterprise), which aimed to get students involved in enterprise. It did this by enabling them to work on projects to improve economic development in the west-midlands region. Needless to say, it became an immediate success, becoming one of the largest societies, and partnering with Birmingham city council. So far so good.
It wasn't just out of hobby that he began to explore ideas. In his placement year, he was stuck “in a glass building” at a global investment bank in Germany; “it was boring, I hated what I was doing”. Not having the best time, sketching business ideas became a form of escapism; “(during this time) I thought I could come up with some really interesting ideas”. It was here that he came up with his “go go coffee to go” scheme. Essentially what they do is sell the coffee to customers, but sell the cup itself as advertising space for clients “generating income from both sides” enabling cheaper prices for the same quality coffee. This ingenious scheme won the American-German Business club's business plan competition. Confidence in himself was undoubtedly buoyed by success with SIFE, but success with the coffee scheme was a new step. What was present in this scheme unlike with SIFE was a tangible product, and shifting this belief from person to product gave him the courage to pursue it further.
It was from pursuing this business idea that his journey into enterprise began. Having ordered 20,000 cups from China, finding a spot to store this that was near their campus (their target market) presented quite a challenge. Nevertheless, they managed to find a friend at their university who was kind enough to store it. This experience showed him that, whilst it is difficult to find investors willing to give money, cutting costs by getting stuff cheaply, or free, is much easier. There was also another snag on the sourcing side; having rented office space in September, various delays in production and transportation meant that they didn't arrive until January. Nick, looking back, almost wanted to quit; “We (and my business partner) had so many times last year when we thought; shall we just give this up”. However, having invested almost £40,000 pounds, they didn't give up on the business, and started trying to think of different ways of making money from the advertising end.
From this, their idea for their latest venture was born. Using QR codes, which are 2D digital barcodes that can be scanned into your mobile, people can load up more information about the advert. The popularity of this idea quickly became apparent; “We had loads of people coming to us saying, guys, we really like this, can you do this for us”. However, expanding on the idea into a business is a skill in itself, and it was only through the experience he gained earlier that he was able to utilise it's potential. In line with his “getting what you can for free” rule, he managed to secure free office space through the Birmingham E4F business incubator. Today, the initial idea has been transformed into a “content management system for mobile phones” where the user can scan the code on the business card and load up a profile, which links to the person's Facebook, Twitter, Skype etc. All this wouldn't have been possible if they didn't keep at it when times were tough; which was something he didn't learn in business school.
Nick has come a long way since selling those golf balls to (admittedly somewhat naïve) golfers. He now offers consulting and guest speaking services, is working on many other business ideas, while at the same time appearing on one of the UK's biggest business shows. In particular, the claim that “I've got lots of ideas, I know how to whittle them down into ideas that will work and I've got what it takes to make them actually happen” succinctly captures what his learning experience. Since the age of 9 he hasn't been afraid to explore these ideas.
At university, he perfected his ability to explore an idea to it's fullest and come up with a concept that can work, winning him the competition. However, it was his initial failure with Go Go Coffee that taught him the difference between a good idea that works and one that doesn't. Just like he backed up his leadership claim in the apprentice, his life experiences back up this one too. In short, Nick Holzherr is the real deal, and I'm sure we'll hear more about him in the future.
[Editor's Note] Milos Bezanov is a second year student currently studying International Politics at King’s College London.