Saira Khan was propelled into public consciousness in 2005, as runner-up in the first series of The Apprentice. The enduring image of Khan is that of her striding round the streets of London, armed with a megaphone, selling so aggressively that only the very bravest could refuse her wares.
But with a fledging business to look after, Khan’s transition from salesperson to entrepreneur is well underway. And there’s no sign of the megaphone. Six months working at Amstrad has taught Khan “selling isn’t about ramming the product down somebody’s throat, it’s about building relationships.”
Her business, Miamoo, produces premium skin care products for babies, and launched in October 2006. “It’s taught me so much about business, it’s incredible,” she says, mentioning a learning curve involving getting to grips with PR, marketing, book-keeping, forecasts and patents. A hands-on approach then? “Well, I have firm ideas about what I want,” she says. “I’ve been responsible for the packaging, for formulating the product; I worked with chemists and manufacturers testing it, I’ve worked with my designer and I’ve come up with the names.” Unwilling to give up media work, she’s working 18-hour days. But, as she says matter-of-factly, “that’s the reality for someone setting up in business.”
So why do it? Why not stay in sales; something the whole country knows she’s good at? She explains: “My dream, even before The Apprentice, was to have my own business. I always compared myself to my bosses, and realised if they could do it, so could I.” This self-belief is what led to success on The Apprentice, and a six-month stint at Amstrad. But this experience helped convince Khan she was an entrepreneur at heart:
“The only thing I can say about my experience with Amstrad was that it made me realise exactly what I don’t want to do. In those months I didn’t have a fantastic time; selling computers isn’t really what I’m about.”
She also noticed Amstrad didn’t promote the relationship-building side of sales. “It was still very much – ‘we’ve got a product, you’ve got to buy it’, and it was all based on price. And I don’t think that’s what the new generation’s about.”
“I was getting a bloody good wage at Amstrad, Alan Sugar really looked after me, but it’s not about the money, it’s about lifestyle and satisfaction.”
Satisfaction is what Miamoo is providing. Being very choosy about stockists to preserve the premium brand image means Khan’s prepared to make a loss in the first year, but things are looking good. The products have received a lot of coverage, helped by Khan’s profile but, while admitting her minor celebrity does open some doors, she stresses she tries not to play on it. “I believe that in order for me to be a genuine entrepreneur, the product and the brand have got to be good, and that’ll speak for itself.”