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'You don't need a role model, you need a strategy'

Eric Collins is the star of the new Channel 4 TV series The Money Maker, which sees him meet British businesses that need his help. He’s a successful businessman and investor who has been named one of the UK’s top 100 BAME leaders in technology by the Financial Times. He is also on the board of Tech Nation, a Government-backed organisation that helps UK startups.


Simon Baines, from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU)’s student and graduate enterprise team DMUworks Enterprise & Entrepreneurship, sits down with Eric to find out more and get his advice for would-be entrepreneurs.   
The first thing that struck me about The Money Maker is this is a business show that goes against the grain and has real heart. Was that very important to you?

It’s very interesting that you say that because yes that’s one of my reservations with shows which put business on television, quite often they’re wrapped up in humiliation and the entertainment factor… the manner in which people who are trying very hard to make a business work are often portrayed I would say in not the most favourable light. The UK is made up of 80% of small businesses, people like Prymo who you see in the first episode. These are people who work really hard and make a modest turnover per year and to say that those people always make bad decisions or do silly things and to laugh at their efforts is just not what I’m interested in.
I’m interested in what is good about the organisation, what is effective about the entrepreneur, the business owner and helping them to capitalise on that. I think that’s an outcome that helps everyone. We as a nation are in a situation where there are a lot of people who need a solution and it’s good for these businesses, it’s good that they are employing young people and developing their careers…. All of those young people coming out of hospitality, being furloughed and not having hope and then you have Prymo who are taking them on board and supporting them not just in a job but in a career, it is transformative.  That’s the way I like to do things.

The relatability of this show is a big factor too.  The bit early on in episode one where Jasen confuses being successful with being very busy – I imagine that’s very typical isn’t it?

Oh yes, it’s not just business owners though it’s all of us at home.  I’m at home doing all these things, I’m taking a lot of energy to tread water and that’s something we all have to recognise. Years or weeks later we realise, wow that really was not the most productive period!  You know it’s about getting more fit, getting more sweet, meeting people, learning more… and instead I treaded water. You know the thing with time, it’s not going to come back. You won’t get more of it, so don’t waste time on things that are not helping your business. That’s an important lesson for any entrepreneur, but also for all of us.

One thing running through the whole programme is the investment aspect, and are you or aren’t you going to invest in the business you are working with.  You talk all the way through about it being all about the numbers… are you ever ruled by heart?

I am a person who goes through life with objectivity, you know that warm feeling you get? Often I get that because I translate or transpose something onto the other person that reminds me of myself. You know those feelings as a young guy that someone overlooked you or you put reliance on family members who disappointed you. I recognised that with Jasen at Prymo for sure.  
The problem is, if I’m ruled by that warmth then I’m helping them to keep making the same mistakes again. What I find is, although I really feel for people and not yell and scream at them and not call them incompetent, in terms of analysing the business and thinking about the capital I put into these businesses… and there are probably ten thousand of those… my resources are not infinite and I have to be ruled by head. Or else, I end up in a situation where I’m a charity as opposed to a business. Charities are very important, but they’re very different.  My head generally rules out over my heart.

It helps if they’re really likeable like Jasen though! You just know viewers are rooting for these people. Is that the same for the other episodes?

Yes I think so, because when you start digging into these companies and these people the backstories become so compelling.  You do root for people. We like to root for champions, but we also like to root for the underdog.  It’s just people who steer off course and if someone like me can come in and put them back on course or even more so, put them on a better course then that’s what I’m all about. Prymo are better than even they thought they were.  
That is the real opportunity and that is why I believe the audience have been so responsive not only to the entrepreneurs but also to the type of interventions I am recommending. I think they can see they are really helping the organisations to be different and to make more money and to benefit the stakeholders like the apprentices they take on, and the audience responds positively to that.

We’re living in this fast-changing world right now and I picked up on the unconventional recruitment process you recommended. Do you think the process of shortlisting, then interviewing across a table has had its day?

Absolutely. I’m glad you notice this. You know this was a short few minutes in the programme but actually very important. For organisations not to go on subjective criteria to select people and continue in the same cycle of hiring what I often think is the wrong people who will end up cycling through the organisation very quickly.  If we adopt these sort of structures that allow people to test out ‘are you good at it?’ give them something to do that you can evaluate.
So you’re not evaluating the conversation you had over a coffee, but to see them actually do something and then tie that person to their output.  So it’s not someone I have an affinity with first and then I’ll make their work product ok, instead, you look at their work product first and then see whether that person could work as part of the team.  That helps to break down pattern recognition, I see myself in them and the people I’m hiring over and over again. This opens the door for people who are very dissimilar and can transform businesses and make them run much better, work much harder and eventually which is what I’m looking for, make them more profitable.  

It’s fascinating, especially with these young people and the young entrepreneurs coming through at the moment.  I know so many students suffer from confidence in taking their business ideas, it’s an ongoing challenge isn’t it?
Yes I don’t know what happens along their paths, I just don’t know what is causing people to need to ask for permission… to be worried about or scared of presenting their full selves, to be timid about saying ‘this is what I want to do’… and the way I consolidate it is to say to be reactive in their approach, to do things passively, send out resumes, hope they go to someone in the organisation that recognises them from the other five thousand resumes they receive… people need to be more deliberate in their activity, more confident and more prepared. Which organisation actually works with you?
Use a strategic approach not a scattergun approach, know that the organisation or an individual in the organisation is someone you can connect with.   The people coming out of university this year, this will differentiate them.  The other thing is I don’t know if people have access to those sorts of strategies that they can follow. They don’t need role models, they need strategies.  So they can see ‘oh, that’s the way to do it’.  If their friends haven’t done it, their family hasn’t done it, their neighbours haven’t done it, how would they know the right way to do things?  They need to be able to observe other processes and take from that.  Then apply it.   That’s what I really hope people will take away from The Money Maker as well, the strategies they see applied.

This is definitely a show that you could show to students, which perhaps again sets it apart from other business shows we’re all familiar with, right?
Right.  You’ve hit on another good point. We’ve been very focussed on making sure there is more to this and then pure entertainment.  These businesses on The Money Show are entertaining, but in addition, we have a website that is officially about to launch and it’s and people can go and get additional advice.  Dell is part of that, Channel 4 are, the production company are and I am. What we’re doing is giving to the people who can’t come on the show, the opportunity to get the best advice in the world on how to run a business and that’s there for the taking.

You’re also writing a book about some of the themes we’ve discussed, aren’t you?
Yes it’s available to preorder, Transworld Books is the publisher and it’s called ‘We Don’t Need Permission’.  These young people you’ve been talking about, this is for them.  Jeff Bezos did not need permission from anyone to start Amazon. You don’t have to ask someone ‘is this the right idea?’.  You should certainly check in but you don’t need permission.  This programme, we don’t need to ask if we need to do it, we do it and let the audience find it.

This really resonates, you get people going to business advisors asking for permission all the time right, asking if they should take an idea forward. That’s not what people need is it? They might have the next amazing idea you haven’t even considered.
That’s correct, absolutely, ab-so-lutely. That is my view completely. If we do that, we’ll change the world. Stop asking if an idea is a good one. Stop asking if the idea will work or what might go wrong with it or looking for reasons to do it. Just get started, you can learn along the way.  We’ll make lots of mistakes but we can continue to move forward. That tenacity is the key to a great business idea.  Look at Jasen from Prymo, he got knocked down, faced bankruptcy, gave up everything and now he has a million pound turnover with so many new employees and he’s generated as fascinating opportunity and a pipeline and I am telling you he’s in a position now to make it fly.
What’s next for you?
We have four episodes and if we get people to watch it, then we will be able to make a second season and we can go out and work with more entrepreneurs, invest some money, help them transform, create some jobs and some income for a whole bunch of stakeholders. That is my focus alongside building Impact X Capital and all of them are in the same area, trying to make sure we are building the next generation of huge, successful businesses.

Posted on Wednesday 19th May 2021

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