Joseph Valente: From The Apprentice To £4 Million TurnoverPosted 15 May 2018 Apprentice winner Joseph Valente is using his story to stand out in a noisy world. Linda Whitney reports
Don’t let former failures stop you starting a business. So says Joseph Valente, who despite being kicked out of school went on to win The Apprentice and found Impragas, a £4 million turnover business. He’s now listed by Forbes’ European edition as one of its top ‘30 under 30’ in the industry category.
Struggled with authority
Joseph explains: “At school I wanted to do things my way, but the national curriculum has no space for that. It’s designed to turn out employees not entrepreneurs.
“I struggled with authority and couldn’t sit still for five minutes. Finally I was expelled for insubordination. Ironically, a lot of the characteristics that got me chucked out were helpful when setting up in business.”
With an alcoholic father and a mother who worked three jobs to support the family, Joseph turned to trading to raise his own money: “I sold football cards, stickers, sweets, clothes and trainers. I got a buzz from it and it gave me an eye for a deal.”
It also gave him a respect for entrepreneurs. Introduced to a local plumber, he offered to work for free for a year, before being taken on as an apprentice.
“I wanted to be the best plumber I could be,” Joseph says. “Unlike at school, I was always on time, happy to wear the uniform and really respected the boss.”
By 21 he was a qualified plumber and gas engineer earning £38,000 a year, but realised to make more he had to increase business.
Own boss at 22
Then Joseph’s mum gave him a copy of Sir Alan Sugar’s autobiography. “I was inspired to set up a business of my own,” he says.
He started Impragas in 2012, aged 22, specialising in gas boiler installation. From starting off alone in a van, he has grown the business to employ 45 staff. Based in his home town of Peterborough, it now covers 50 per cent of England and Joseph plans to cover all of England by 2020.
He’s founded the Impragas Elite Network, a group self-employed installers can join: “It allows them to work under the Impragas banner, but they must meet Impragas standards.
“We set key performance indicators to drive performance, so it gives us a foothold in new areas with the right quality of people, paving the way for further expansion.”
In 2015 he beat over 60,000 other applicants to get on to The Apprentice and went on to win it. The prize included a £250,000 investment from Lord Sugar, who became his business partner and mentor.
What’s his advice to other small and medium-sized enterprise owners when entering business competitions and awards? Joseph says: “Be who you really are and believe in your personal values - it will help you stand out. I said I wanted the money and the cars that came with success and I never backtracked on that.
“Be bold and confident when you’re filling in award application forms and in interviews. Show why your business is best - if you don’t believe that, who else will?”
Like many of today’s successful young entrepreneurs, Joseph is turning himself into a brand. He has started The Joseph Valente Academy, an online subscription platform offering mentoring, learning modules and motivation events to people founding or running start-ups. How is it different from other mentoring offerings?
Joseph says: “I’m not a Branson or a Lord Sugar, but I’m still in my 20s and many young people want to see a younger entrepreneur who has become successful despite a problematic background. They can identify with that. Mentoring gives you a different perspective on business issues and can save you from a lot of mistakes.
“I didn’t have a mentor for my first three years in business and I lost money because I got carried away and set up too many companies. A good mentor would have taught me discipline and brought me back down to earth.”
To those who might consider him arrogant to have set up as a mentor so soon, he says: “It’s a fine line between arrogance and confidence. There’s nothing arrogant about saying you’re the best, if you believe you are. Many people feel afraid to say that because they fear being judged, but failure to show that you believe in yourself will hold you back.
“There will always be people who love you, as well as those that hate you, so it’s best to ignore the naysayers - they are not going to be there when you succeed, so ignore them.”
Fear of failure
He emphasises: “Societal pressures make people afraid of failure, but it holds them back. If the worst happens and you fail, you can come back and start again.
“Starting a business is like embarking on a marriage. Some go well for a few years and then come to an end and the partners move on to another marriage. In other cases, you marry at 20 and stay together for life.
“Every marriage is different, as is every business, which is why it’s vital to be yourself. You are the DNA of your business, so use yourself and your story to stand out in a noisy world - all SMEs should do that 100 per cent.”
Joseph’s tips for turning yourself into a brand
Turning yourself into a brand can boost your image and sales, Joseph says. Here’s how to do it effectively:
- Social media is the starting point when boosting yourself - and it’s free.
- Choose a platform, such as Instagram, a video blog or something else that suits your style and reaches your target audience.
- Keep your messages coming. Content must appear regularly on a long-term basis in order to get noticed.
- Create an image unique to you or replicate the style of someone else who has been successful in turning themselves into a brand.
- Collaborate cleverly. Work with other companies, brands and influencers, so their followers see you and your network is automatically boosted.