Saira Khan: nobody’s apprentice

Feisty Saira Khan shot to fame in 2005 as a finalist in the TV show The Apprentice. She talks to SmallBusiness.co.uk about her baby skincare company, Miamoo, and why the glass ceiling for women in business needs to be smashed.

Would you say that being a woman was a factor in you not winning The Apprentice?

Yes I would. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Sir Alan Sugar. I did end up working for Amstrad for six months and I learnt a lot, but it is a very male-dominated environment. With all due respect to Sir Alan, he’s a businessman of the 1970s and is a little old fashioned in terms of gender. He has said that he is reluctant to employ a woman because of the maternity expense. As a businesswoman myself I fully appreciate that consideration. However, if a person is really good at what they do, then they should be taken on that basis alone.

What problems do women face when starting their own business?

Childcare is certainly a big issue. What I noticed from [presenting the TV programme] Mum’s The Business is that while many of the women I spoke to faced similar obstacles, they managed to overcome them through determination and passion. I think confidence and self-belief are the biggest problem for many women due to a lack of female business role models.

There is a glass ceiling in the corporate world. A lot of businesses don’t want to take a woman on in her late 20s and mid-30s with the potential maternity costs if she gets pregnant. I think that’s another reason why a growing number of women are choosing to become their own bosses.

Tell us about your business, Miamoo

I started the company two years ago because I realised there was a gap in the market for good quality skin care products for babies, although anyone can use them. It was launched online in 2006, but in September it will be available in select Waitrose stores.

How did you get the idea and did you conduct any market research?

I’ve suffered with dry skin all my life. When The Apprentice finished I was looking for something to get involved in and the idea just occurred to me after chatting to friends. As people who watched me on The Apprentice will know, I tend to follow my gut instinct. I’m not really interested in reading reams of data analysis. After speaking with my friends who had babies with similar problems, I looked at all the products available on the high street and then did a lot of research online.

The Apprentice has opened doors for you, but do you ever sense that people – or the press – are willing you to fail in whatever venture you undertake?

It has certainly opened doors for me, but only because I have also gone out there and taken advantage of the opportunities. It’s been a stepping stone. The work I got with the BBC after The Apprentice was because I had written to them with my ideas. Although people and the press have been very supportive of what I’ve done on the whole, it’s important to have a thick skin. As with business, it’s best to keep emotion out of it as ultimately the success of the company will speak for itself.

How have you financed the company?

With my media career – I just ploughed all my earnings into the company. In fact, my advice to people starting a business would be don’t give up your day job immediately. Businesses don’t bring in a lot in the first few years, so it’s too ambitious to expect profit straight away. Our turnover in the first year was £25,000 on 16,000 units. But it’s only now we’re in the second year that we are hoping to make a profit, but that’s all going back into the company.

What’s your attraction to running your own business? Would you ever get back on the corporate ladder?

No. Never! I need the freedom running your own business gives you to learn and develop. I couldn’t cope with the bureaucracy of corporations. Also, because I’m a mum, having my own business gives me a lot more flexibility.

What has been the most difficult part of running a new business?

I suppose it’s juggling a media career and having my own newborn baby. However, I would say to people thinking about starting up to be aware of cash flow. You can start a business with not much money, but it’s really important to have some money available later for PR and marketing.

What have you enjoyed the most since appearing on The Apprentice?

I’ve loved appearing in such a diverse range of projects. Beat The Boss (pictured) has been a lot of fun. It’s a children’s TV programme featuring three adults and three children who have to compete to come up with a new business idea, which is now in its fourth series. It’s really positive to be encouraging a new generation of entrepreneurs. I’ve also enjoyed doing more serious things such as the documentary I did last year about Pakistan.

What’s next?

I want to grow the company. It would be great to get the products in more high street shops like John Lewis and Boots. But personally, I’m really interested in taking business out of the boardroom and showing how it’s possible to have a lot of fun with business programmes.

It’s really important to encourage people who wouldn’t normally get involved in business.

Adam Wayland

Adam Wayland

Adam was Editor of SmallBusiness.co.uk from 2006 to 2008 and prior to that was staff writer on sister publication BusinessXL Magazine.

Related Topics

The Apprentice

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