What I Learned from Apprentice

Washington University grad David Karandish, the youngest contestant on the Martha Stewart show, was fired after six tasks

By Francesca Di Meglio

The Apprentice Martha Stewart is set for its two-hour Dec. 21 finale after a season of lackluster ratings. Even if the show never quite caught on with viewers, one participant said he was satisfied with the experience and would do it all over again. At 22, David Karandish, a 2005 graduate of the Washington University of St. Louis, was the youngest contestant on the show and got fired after six tasks.

Having graduated with a degree in computer science and a second major in entrepreneurship from the Olin School of Business, Karandish was already an accomplished businessman as an undergrad. He owns Expo Group, a financial services firm that connects mortgage brokers with online applicants, and Encore Consulting, an Internet advertising company, both based in St. Louis. As a high school student, Karandish developed AIM Talk, a plug-in for AOL Instant Messenger that allowed audio IMs.

He recently chatted with B-schools channel editor Francesca Di Meglio about today's business world, his future, and meeting Martha (see BW Online, 10/28/05, "Can Martha Tidy Up This Mess?"). Here is an edited excerpt of their conversation:

How did you end up on The Apprentice Martha Stewart?

I went to a casting call at Washington University and I made it through all the rounds. Next thing you know I'm in New York. I found out [that I'd be on the show] toward the end of May. I finished up a final exam in New York. It was pretty cool wrapping up the semester and finding out I'd be on The Apprentice.

What did you think of the experience?

The experience on The Apprentice was completely amazing. We got to go on all of these interesting tasks and meet [Stewart] and other interesting people from across the country.

What was it like meeting Stewart?

Martha is a dynamic personality. She comes across, I think, being largely one dimensional on her shows. But she has a lot of personality. She's witty, tough, but at the same time fair.

What was it like to be fired?

Nobody likes to get fired. But it came after six grueling tasks, running all over the place, not sleeping, trying to sell wedding cakes, and doing all of these crazy things. On the one hand, I was disappointed to lose. But on the other, I had given it my best shot.

What was your downfall?

I would say during the negotiation task I needed to speak up a little more and not use a laptop. Basically, I needed to know my audience.

How did your education play into your performance on the show?

I think going to business school can give you the analytical tools to help out with certain aspects of the business world. At the same time, there's a lot of real-world experience that you can't get from any kind of school.

Are you considering continuing your education?

I would consider an MBA at some point in the future. But I would hope that I'm successful enough in business beforehand that it won't be necessary.

What did you learn from the experience?

I learned to work with people of different backgrounds with different points of view in a business environment.

Have you kept in touch with people from the show?

I keep in touch with people by e-mail and occasional phone calls.

Have you brought any of these lessons with you to work?

I have seen how important it is to get the right people on the bus before trying to come up with the right idea.

What could have been done to improve Stewart's version of The Apprentice?

I don't think [NBC] should have ever run two Apprentice shows at the same time. Who wants to watch two Survivors at the same time? I don't. I would have run one or the other and not both.

What business trends are unique to your generation?

I would say that my generation faces a new era of connectivity between people. I was just reading an article on news from India that came across an RSS reader on my Google desktop. Hundreds of years ago you were lucky to get news from a couple of towns over.

People who are able to recognize that we live in a global society and that there are big opportunities -- not just in the U.S., but all over the world -- using technology to connect people are the ones who are going to be successful.

Who would you say is your role model?

In business, my professor Ken Harrington [director of Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and senior lecturer in entrepreneurship at Olin]. He's been a great mentor by helping frame how to analyze ideas and what it takes to get an idea from a conceptual phase to reality. Also, he's underscored the importance of networking and connecting people, and that's why the entrepreneurship program has done so well under his leadership.

What is the best piece of advice that you've received?

Stay focused. You have to have criteria for deciding which business ventures to pursue and which ones to wait on or discard. If you're trying to do everything and you don't have good evaluation tools for deciding what the likelihood of successes are for individual businesses, then you'll have a difficult time managing your time.

Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

The best advice I can give is to network and meet more people than you could ever imagine.

What are your methods for networking?

Word of mouth, friends of friends, going to conferences of the industries in which I'm interested, and contacting people that I find on the Internet. If I find a business that I'm interested in, I drop an e-mail or give the leaders a call. You'd be surprised what people will tell you if you just ask.

You keep a blog on davidkarandish.com. Why is it important?

Your blog is the new online résumé. A blog lets a person describe himself, connect with others in the same industry, and gives people an avenue for discussion. It's a place where people can discuss an industry, trend, or idea, which is impossible with a resume and other traditional forms of employment verification.

What is your ultimate goal?

I'd like my legacy to be creating opportunities for other people, connecting people, and then using financial gain to benefit the lives of others.

Any plans for other reality shows?

Not anytime soon. Now it's time to work on building additional business ventures.

Di Meglio is B-schools editor for BusinessWeek Online