When Birmingham entrepreneur Nick Holzherr missed out on winning The Apprentice, he might have been looking forward to a few job offers and messages from would-be investors.
What he got was a torrent of tweets from teenage girls, some adoration from housewives and some pink pants.
The former Birmingham Young Professional of the Year (BYPY) winner has become something of a sex symbol on social network Twitter, and has been sent two pairs of pink Calvin Klein undies worth £50 from a gay fan.
But it is all business for the 26-year-old, who just missed out on the £250,000 investment from mogul Lord Sugar, and launched his new online firm Whisk this week – despite criticism from the multi-millionaire on the show.
His idea, outlined on national television, is an online system that allows people to convert recipes into shopping lists that can be bought through online stores with just one click.
Lord Sugar said: “It’s simpler just to go to a restaurant”, but Holzherr said he was not swayed as he had established a demand for the new business over two years of working up plans.
He also rejected his advice to head to America – favouring Birmingham as the home for the new company.
“In all honesty I don’t take Lord Sugar’s and his advisers’ comments that seriously,” he said. “I don’t mean that in a bad way – it is amazing that he has built an empire from very little and is one of the most successful businesspeople in the country.
“I have software advisers, who may also give me negative feedback, but have also given me a lot of positive feedback.
“We have shaped this idea for two years because of feedback.”
Holzherr survived the entire series of The Apprentice, which pits young executives against each other in a series of business tasks, with one being voted off each week. Despite missing out on the investment, he said he was not motivated by proving Lord Sugar, the founder of Amstrad and former Tottenham Hotspur chairman, wrong.
“I don’t think the Lord Sugar element drives me forward,” he said. “The main thing that drives me forward is I really believe in the idea. It is a useful idea which saves ingredients, which is a worthwhile cause, and it is a big challenge, which drives me as well.
“It has the potential to be a valuable company.”
Holzherr kept his cards close to his chest about Whisk – including the identity of his business partner.
But he admitted he was searching for investment around the £250,000 offered by Lord Sugar – albeit for a smaller equity stake than the 50 per cent he would have had to offer up.
He said: “It is flexible, but we do need around what Lord Sugar was offering. We may need more eventually but that is a good start.” He added: “We have a team together and investors, some in Birmingham and some in London, and we are finalising that at the moment.
“The more money you get the faster you can progress things – the bigger the team you have the quicker you can build it.”
Holzherr became an established young entrepreneur in Birmingham after finding success with coffee company Co-Go and Qrky, a company which makes business cards which link directly to the internet.
After winning the BYPY crown and turning a profit at the two businesses, he admitted it was a gamble to take part in the show, which is often associated with gaffes.
He said the 6am until midnight hours and pressurised environment encourages mistakes and could have a knock-on effect to credibility, but he was pleased with how he came across.
He admitted: “I take my credibility seriously.
“I am pleased to have won things like Birmingham Young Professional of the Year and, because my businesses don’t have a lot of history, your credibility is quite important.
“It was a risk going on The Apprentice because you are at a high risk of looking clueless.
“It is a show which is about entertaining the public. You don’t know what you are doing and you don’t have access to the internet or a phone, and time is short, so it makes things very difficult.”
Holzherr, who lives in the Jewellery Quarter, became something of a Twitter sensation during and after the filming of The Apprentice final, which saw wrestler and businessman Ricky Martin emerge victorious.
He was at one stage referred to as a cross between “One Direction and Boris Johnson” – which then trended on Twitter – meaning it became one of the hottest topics in the country.
He said: “The Twitter community are really behind the idea. I have had a huge amount of messages from young girls – who are telling me that their mothers are getting iPhones to use our service.
“I have been surprised by it – it has largely been girls from the age of 12 to 15 and gay people.”
Woman who took on Lord Sugar: Page 20-21