Apprentice finalist Nick Holzherr is walking on Air
To look at Nick Holzherr’s LinkedIn profile is like looking at one of a retired, successful businessman.
However at just 30 years old, Holzherr is already a serial entrepreneur and after a stint on the BBC’s The Apprentice, his latest venture Air.com has well and truly taken off.
Holzherr first showed entrepreneurial flair as a child when he sold lost golf balls back to golfers. A few years later, and still a teenager, he set up his own web design company after his father bought him a computer at the age of 13.
“I was a huge geek, and I spent a lot of time on it. I taught myself everything in terms of website design; everything I learnt was self-taught,” he tells BusinessCloud.
It made the budding Birmingham-based entrepreneur realise the future was tech and although it got him to the final of The Apprentice, it didn’t stop him from hearing Sir Alan Sugar say “you’re fired”.
More about that later, but for now the businessman is focused on Air.com which was featured by BusinessCloud as one of the UK's top 101 Tech Start-up Disrupters.
At a young age Holzherr had already set up a couple of companies, from a student society called Inaxus whilst at university, to Querky, a QR code company where he employed four staff members.
It was only then that a friend suggested he apply for The Apprentice.
Working his way from week one all the way through to the final, Holzherr may not have bagged the £250,000 investment from Lord Sugar, but certainly learned some valuable business lessons along the way.
“The process is non-stop,” he says. “You’re surrounded by six to eight cameras every minute of the day. The tasks are so varied and quick, it’s extremely time restricted. I forgot anything I had ever remembered or been taught because it was such a whirlwind.
“It’s an incredible opportunity though, you get to work with companies, work on products, pitch to massive businesses – something you might do over many years in a lifetime, but never in such a short space of time.
“I got to the final, which is brilliant for me and the business I pitched. It really helped launch the business and it was hugely instrumental in the success we’ve had.”
Nick meeting the Queen
The series was won by Ricky Martin with his pitch of a specialist recruitment consultancy, but Holzherr was determined to prove Lord Sugar wrong.
So along came his next business, Whisk, a web and mobile app that combines recipes and online shopping using artificial intelligence, allowing users to purchase ingredients for recipes in just a few seconds.
“I raised a total of £1 million for Whisk following my time on The Apprentice,” he says.
“It’s working really well, and we’ve just recently launched the biggest publisher in the UK. We’re growing fast, 500,000 recipes around the world have our technology embedded in them and we work with seven of the biggest global retailers, including Tesco and Ocado.
“We charge a monthly fee to people who use our platform; we have an ad server that allows publishers to target specific ingredients and we charge that on a CPM basis.”
With the UK’s artificial intelligence sector booming, the tech entrepreneur believes it won’t be long until it has touched every industry.
“Artificial intelligence is transforming businesses,” he says.
“We will see a massive step up in usability, user experience and utility of every bit of software. The danger is previously humans were using it for the more mundane tasks; however I think we will see artificial intelligence software eating much more into what people are doing. It’s inevitable.”
Holzherr’s next business was Helium, a venture builder with a globally distributed team of experts in building tech start-ups.
“Helium was born about a year ago and we now have a very large technical team with a great deal of expertise,” Holzherr explains.
“We identify market opportunities for tech businesses, build them and hire world-class teams to scale them. We collaborate with founders of early-stage start-ups whose missions we believe in and help larger companies with innovation projects.”
Helium’s first product was launched in March – Air.com.
“Air is a platform designed to help SMEs rid themselves of time consuming admin, making it easy to deploy workplace-improving practices,” he explains.
“There is a real problem in HR as there are thousands of features and every business wants different ones. That then creates a problem where you’ve got a platform that’s over complicated and too difficult to use.
“So our approach is a hub and spoke model – the hub is people records, and then the spokes are add-ons, and companies can add certain bits that all connect seamlessly.
“So for example you can add time off, sickness, holidays, conference days, expenses, and HR reports so you can make sure you know who is in the business and the gender split etc. You can choose as little or as many spokes as you want. It’s all tailored to each business and their needs.
“We’ve got over 500 businesses signed up already. The way we see it growing is more and more customers. There is a never ending list of additional spokes that we’re building; things are always changing in HR which is great for us. The more we build the more we can offer users.”
As a serial businessman, Holzherr is a little different to most CEOs and offers his employees a slightly different way to traditional office working.
“I love travel, so I offer my employees a remote working culture,” he says.
“They can work from anywhere they want. My CTO is in Scotland, my designer lives in Birmingham but works from Austria over the summer and I’ve got a lot of people in Russia and the US at the moment.
“Anyone can go and work anywhere in the world they want. We don’t mind what time they’re on as long as they get the job done.
“I’ve actually just come back from a month of remote working in Vietnam, Australia and Japan.”
With a plethora of successful businesses in his back pocket, Holzherr’s advice to budding entrepreneurs is simple.
“Test your idea with real users, not your mum or your friends, and figure out how you will acquire users. Once you’ve tested it and it’s successful, nothing should stop you.”
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