Though her intelligence and “credibility as a candidate” was frequently praised, Vana Koutsomitis narrowly missed out on winning this year’s final of The Apprentice when Lord Sugar chose to invest his £250,000 in Joseph Valente’s plumbing firm instead. The billionaire businessman ultimately deemed DatePlay, Koutsomitis’s innovative gaming-meets-dating app, too risky a proposition because it would have required further investment before it had chance of turning a profit. NME gave Koutsomitis a call earlier to askher thoughts on the series and find out what’s next for DatePlay.
How are you feeling about just missing out on Lord Sugar’s £250,000?
“Well, I’ll give you the scoop. I’m still moving forward with DatePlay and I’m making sure I keep my head held high. I really feel like we both won. I really feel like we’re both going to make our businesses a success, just in different ways. I think that finding an investor is kind of like matchmaking: you have to date a lot of people before you find the right match, and you have to be 100% sure before you marry the person. I think that Joseph and Lord Sugar had that 100%, whereas with Lord Sugar and me, we were still at 95%.”
What was the 5% that was lacking?
“I think the 5% that was lacking was related to risk uptake and further fundraising. I think Lord Sugar is more of a traditional investor – he’s used to investing his money, then seeing a return. So he wasn’t really thrilled about me going to raise more money after his initial investment, which is something that’s super-standard in the tech world. Companies [in the tech world] tend to go through a seed run and then go to venture capitalist firms for further investment. For me, it’s something that everyone does in that industry, but it’s maybe not something that he’s ready for yet.”
Do you think you could have done anything else to persuade him the risk was worth taking?
“No. I think I did my absolute best to persuade him and again, I think it’s similar to dating: you shouldn’t have to convince someone to marry you; you should both know that it’s the right thing.”
When do you think you’ll have the DatePlay app ready for us to download?
“Well, you can check out the website now at DatePlay.co and I’m hope to have the app ready in two months. I know that’s not long, but I’m the kind of person who really wants results and I’m determined to make this happen, even if that means a little less sleep from now on.”
At what point in the process did you realise you actually stood a chance of winning?
“I just took it week by week. I wasn’t someone who came in with this unrealistic confidence thing: ‘I’m gonna win.’ I approached it from the standpoint that any week I could get fired, so I should try my best every week. I think that’s the thing that gave me an edge. I was able to put things in perspective so every week I tried to adapt. I think the moment I really knew I was a strong contender was the property task. I was told that day that I’d sold the biggest single item in Apprentice history and that was something that shocked me, I was like, woah.”
The way you dealt with Richard, who could be pretty overbearing at times, impressed a lot of people too.
“There were times where I wanted to lash out and speak up to him, but I always tried to keep my cool, because in stressful situations you don’t want to add more tension. You just want to dissipate the problem. It’s tough to hold your tongue when you have something to say, but I think it was actually the best tactic for dealing with Richard. And I’m really proud that Richard and I were able to overcome those difficulties in order to make a really great advertising campaign in the final task.”
Was your relationship with Joseph pretty cordial going into the final?
“Yeah, we’re friends. He’s a great guy, really smart, and I think he has great things ahead of him. We are so different and our business plans are so different that we ended up not seeing the whole situation as a direct competition. We didn’t feel like we had to fight each other all the time. Joseph always says that one day he’ll use DatePlay, and I say that one day I’ll use his plumbing company. We’ll definitely keep in touch going forward.”
Do you have any major regrets from your time on the show?
“Not really. I think the biggest challenge came from not having watched The Apprentice before, because I genuinely had no idea how things worked. But actually, that’s not something I regret because I think it gave me a really clean and clear approach to the process. I wasn’t trying to play any games, I was genuinely just trying to get on with the business competition.”
Were you completely clueless?
“I was really like a fish out of water. I was just so confused by everything. I didn’t even know you had to pick two people to go back into the boardroom with you. They were like, ‘So who would you bring back into the boardroom?’ And I was like, ‘Everyone.’ They were like, ‘Um, no, do you even understand the format of the show?’ So at the beginning, I definitely had a lot of details to take in!”