Joseph Valente was 15 when he got expelled from school. Now aged 27, he has worked his way up the plumbing industry ladder. He set up ImpraGas in 2012.
In 2015, he won The Apprentice. He went into a 50:50 partnership with businessman Lord Sugar, and won a £250,000 cash injection for his domestic boiler and central heating installation company.
What inspired you to set up your own business?
I was given Lord Sugar’s autobiography for Christmas by my mum. I read it and I thought: if he can do it, I can do it. I knew I was a good salesman, and I knew my industry well, so I decided to quit my job and set up my own company. I took out a £15,000 personal loan from the bank and used it to fund my start-up.
Who or what inspired your career?
My uncle. He was very successful in the car financing industry and was managing director of a large organisation. We didn’t have a massive amount of money growing up, but he was very wealthy, so I looked to see how he achieved that. I always wanted to have what he had.
What are the pros and cons of running your own business?
The pros are that you get to be the master of your own destiny. You control what goes on, what you want your organisation to do and how you represent yourself. I don’t like having someone to tell me what to do, so the freedom to create something special is very important to me.
The cons are that the responsibility is all yours. If you go it alone, sometimes it can feel like you are in a lonely place. I enjoy the pressure, though. I thrive on it.
What advice would you give other small business owners starting out?
Having a good business plan is very important. I didn’t invest in my business plan to start with, and I got to a point where I didn’t know where to go next.
Keep it simple – don’t get carried away. Otherwise, you can become a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. You need to get your core business into shape before you expand it.
Look for a mentor. Lots of free services are available from councils and organisations such as The Prince’s Trust. Get advice and support – going it alone is tough – do your research and know your market.
How do you find a good business idea?
An idea might come from your life experience. A lot of ideas come from people who work in an industry where there’s an inefficiency in the workplace that they can see a way of eradicating.
What have been your best and worst business decisions?
My best idea was to go into a 50:50 partnership with Lord Sugar – and to start the business in the first place. It has been tough, but it has changed my life.
The worst has been expanding too quickly without the correct process and systems in place. You become so busy that your systems are pushed to the limit, so you have to quickly restructure them while dealing with the business being really busy.
What it comes to your own finances, are you a spender or a saver?
Who or what has influenced your attitude to money?
My family has always been about saving and conserving money. But I believe money is there to be invested and spent on living. Their attitude towards it has made me think completely differently.
What do you invest in?
Pensions are a waste of time for me. I’d rather invest in something that has a good idea behind it, whether that is other businesses, property or stocks and shares. There’s no point relying on pensions and savings accounts.
Has your attitude towards money changed since winning The Apprentice?
No. I just want more of it. Money opens up so much. It helps you to grow your business, and research and develop products. Without it, you can’t move.
It’s the same in your personal life. You can’t go on a nice holiday, get a takeaway, buy a bigger TV or take your kids out for a treat, for example, without money. You’re very constrained in what you can do.
Have you made your first million yet?
Not yet. I will have by the time I’m 30, hopefully. No, not hopefully, I will make a million by the time I’m 30. I’ve got three years left to do it in. After that, I want to become a billionaire. Having money will in turn help my family. I want to have financial freedom, and money buys you time, which you can then spend with the people you love.
What would you do if money was no object?
What would you do if you lost everything tomorrow?
What's the biggest financial challenge for people in your age group?
I don’t think there is a challenge. I think people restrict themselves. I had no money or qualifications.
The biggest obstacle is developing self- belief and confidence. If people had more of this, they’d do much better. I believed in myself, and then I worked very hard.
What are your plans for the future?
To grow ImpraGas, look at other business investments and become successful. I’m always looking for that next goal to achieve.
Joseph’s top tips for small business owners starting out
- Get experience in your market or sector.
- Understand finances and margins.
- Build a contact base and network as big as possible.
- Don’t take every opportunity: look for the right ones.
- For fast funding, personal loans work well, and interest
- rates aren’t always as high as business loan rates.
- Look for an investor who could double up as a mentor.Borrowing from family is not always the best route to take, as it can cause problems – not that I’ve done it.