How TechCrunch got onto The Apprentice… just.

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Well, TechCrunch readers, we thought we owed you an explanation as to why the hell we got onto the BBC TV show The Apprentice last night, and here it is (see below for video).

Back in September last year I was contacted by TalkBack Thames TV, the independent production company that makes The Apprentice for the BBC. They said they were going to make the creation of a smartphone app a task on the show and would I be a judge. “Why the hell not?” I thought, and a date was set for filming.

One issue: They wanted to film it in my “office”. Since I don’t really have an office, other than some random desk I work at from the startup co-working space TechHub, we had to do the pitches there.

What happened next was pretty funny. All the pitches were shot “as live” (so not stopping and starting to change things) and were actually fairly quick. Both the boys and the girls teams were in there for roughly 5-10 minutes. They would stride in, in their typical Apprentice style job-interview-suits, stand in an awkward line, set up a big pitch board, and roll out a hashed-together pitch.

For the pitches I sat next to Nick Hewer, Lord Sugar’s right hand man. (We had a great chat about Twitter, as it happens).

At this point I made a fatal mistake for all TV shows. I sat there largely mute, as I was so shocked that all they’d come up with was two ‘sound board’ apps which just played sounds that I barely said a word. I was scrambling around to say anything about these pieces of shit apps, other than grimace. When I did ask questions they were pretty business-like, and – given they were not tech people at all – I tried not to give into the temptation to grind them into the dust. So the only one that made the cut was this:

Me: “Have you thought about the marketing of it?”
Apprentice Guy: “We were hoping you could facilitatue us (sic.) with that”
Me (menacingly): “We’ll see…”

( You can watch it at 23.00 here. The show is only playable in the UK due to restrictions on the BBC)

Or you can check out the relevant part on YouTube at 8 minutes in here:

It was only last night that I realised that the TV show had taken the apps to other judges, which was a wise move as, dumbfounded, I’d said so little. As a result they managed to get some great rises out of my colleagues on Pocket Lint and Wired UK.

Out of the two that pitched, objectively speaking, the boys’ team was better. Although their ‘accents’ app was also pretty rubbish, they had actually thought about the potential for crowd-sourcing the content and allowing other people to upload accents. The girls’ team just came up with the line that people would take out their app and play it at parties ‘for a laugh’. Er… no.

With the pitches done, the apps went live that day. Interestingly, the apps were only developed (by the app agency Grapple Mobile, see here) on BlackBerry, Android and Nokia as those companies agreed to put apps live inside one day. Apple would have none of it…

In addition, the TV production people asked me if I could write about the app I thought was best so that there would be some kind of objective way to work out which app did the most downloads.

This put me in a quandary. You can’t just ask TechCrunch to blog about something – there has to be some real value there. But, I figured this was one-off and we’d be revealing the ruse eventually anyway (and I’ve updated the original post).

I won’t tell you who won – watch the show – but I will tell you which team’s app I blogged about: I chose the boys team’s Slangatang.

Next I set about writing the most convincing post I could muster out of this piece of crap. I think I did a pretty good job as it happens. Incredibly I even found a competitor app which had already launched which was trying to do almost the same thing. Isn’t tech wonderful?

I even came up with a typical VC pitch for them: Think ‘Audioboo for entertainment’.

Mad.

The post about the boy’s Slangatang app was duly cross-posted onto TechCrunch.com and to my surprise it got about four actual thoughtful comments. Incredibly, no-one called it out as being a terrible app with no future. But there you go – sometimes (ok, quite often) tech blogging can resemble an item from Private Eye magazine’s Pseuds Corner

The TV people asked me to take the post down – but I decided not to and there it stands to this day, a monument to craziness.

And it’s pretty funny that TechCrunch is now the one of the top results on Google for the word “slangatang.”

So there you go – our Apprentice story can now see the light of day. Am I hired?….