An interview with Richard Reed – a founder of Innocent smoothies
Innocent was set up by 3 university friends, Richard, Adam and Jon.
In 1998 they went on a snowboarding holiday and came up with the idea of making smoothies. They spotted a gap in the market for a product that was totally fresh, natural and that actually did you some good.
The boys set about writing a thorough business plan. They spent 6 months researching everything to do with smoothies, developing their recipes and asking their friends what they would like to see from a drink.
Many people told them it couldn’t be done; making a totally fresh and natural drink without using any concentrates or preservatives was unheard of.
“In life there are only two scenarios. You either let things happen or you make things happen. And if you’re going to be an entrepreneur you have to 100% make things happen.”
How would you describe your upbringing? Did you have a hero that you focused on that you wanted to be like?
I have been incredibly lucky with my upbringing. I was brought up in an amazingly strong, loving, caring, supportive and funny, very close-knit family environment. I’m very lucky in that respect, and recognise that actually according to statistics, there is a minority of people in the UK that can say that. I get on incredibly well with my parents and my parents get on incredibly well with each other, and I get on incredibly well with my sisters. I think that that is such a great start to life.
In terms of heroes, no, I don’t remember having heroes. I was never particularly massively into football or anything like that, so, er, Adam Ant…and then when I got a bit older, Prince. I guess they were the people I really rated. I was always unduly impressed with people in movies that went out with loads of beautiful American women and stuff like that, but I can’t think of anyone in particular.
What were you like at school?
Depends at which age. I was pretty normal up to the age of about eleven, and then from eleven to thirteen I was an absolute loser with no mates. I was really unpopular and really unhappy. Eleven to thirteen was a bad phase. Man, I’m telling you, at one point I used to run around the school playground by myself at lunchtime to make it look like I had somewhere to go, because I had no one to hang out with. I mean – I was Norman no mates. My best mate for the first year in my new school decided that he wanted a new mate at the end of the year, and I just didn’t have any other mates. By that point, everyone had formed their little groups.
Then the weirdest thing happened as I went on a school trip to Rome and Sorrento and I remember going to my mum beforehand, saying ‘I don’t want to go on the school trip because I don’t have any friends’ and she said, ‘Oh don’t be silly darling, you’ll go and everyone will be friends together’. I said to her, ‘I can assure you they won’t because I don’t have any friends’. And she said it was the worst day of her life, because when she came and saw me off and everyone got on the bus, as the bus drove off I was the only kid sitting by myself.
The weirdest thing happened though, halfway through that trip. There was this difference that everyone sort of had a few different exchanges and I came back from that trip as the coolest kid, and then it just got better and better and better.
How did you become the cool kid?
I don’t know. I think anyone who is cool goes through the uncool bit and anyone who is uncool goes through the cool bit. So I absolutely unconditionally was a loser for quite a while. I tell you, one of the things I think that happened was I thought, ‘If I can just say “Come on, let’s do stuff, let’s get organised”, and just try and create some energy around yourself rather than just sit there hoping’. You’re like, ‘Ok I’m a loser with no mates, but that doesn’t stop you going out and doing interesting stuff’.
I wasn’t always like that but I think the main thing was I started to have an attitude of…leadership sounds so pretentious, but just sort of trying to change things and make things better. Then certainly by the time I was getting to fifteen or sixteen I’d be definitely trying to organise holidays with my mates and band nights with my mates – hiring out the night clubs and pubs, all that sort of stuff.
Were you academic?
I was a stiff; I guess I must have been above average intelligence or I wouldn’t have got the grades I did. There were two types of people that got the straight A’s that I did. There were the people that worked their nuts off and there were the people that played frisby who still got straight A’s, and I was definitely a work your nuts off and get the straight A’s person. I mean, to this day I don’t know how much I overworked or not. I have never worked harder in my life than I did for GCSEs. I didn’t work quite as hard for my A-levels and not quite as hard for my degree.
In my GCSEs I caned it and I think I definitely over did it. Mind you, I didn’t get any A stars, I just got A’s, so I couldn’t have done that well – but yeah, I was a geek. I was stiff in terms of revision. I had a split personality: I would be the guy revising but I would also be the guy who was trying to smuggle the cider into the party.
Were you a young entrepreneur?
Aged four, I started making perfume out of rose petals and water and selling it for 2p – which is what everyone does, right? Then aged seven I started washing my neighbours’ windows for money. Aged eleven, I got told off at school for buying smurf stickers from a newsagent near my gran’s house and then selling them at school at an inflated price.
At sixteen I set up a business called ‘Two men went to Mow’, which was a gardening business. I had been working in a dog biscuit factory over the summer – you know when you sign with the local temping agency and you get these jobs? I was being paid £2 an hour at the dog biscuit factory and my job was to pick up the biscuits that fell off the conveyor belt and went underneath.
After a while of doing this, I was thinking ‘This is crazy, there has to be a more efficient way of doing this’, so I went to the foreman and said ‘Do you have a broom?’ He said, ‘You are the broom’ and that was the point I realised there has to be a better way of making money than doing this.
So, I set up a little business which was nothing more than getting some black and white photocopies at the local library called ‘Two men went to Mow’ that were written with my own hand. I did a crap drawing and I posted them in the letterbox of everyone in the village, offering myself as a gardening service for cutting lawns and weeding and stuff like that for £2.50 an hour – so already I was 50p better off. Because I turned up on time and because I worked hard and did a good job, and because £2.50 an hour is a pretty good rate for a gardener, there was a lot of demand.
So, then I got some of my other friends who had been working at that dog biscuit factory and paid them. I think they got more than they earned at the dog biscuit factory but less than I was charging for them, so I made about 25p or 50p an hour extra from them, and then when I got jobs that were outside of the area that we couldn’t walk to, I would sell the job on for £5 or £10 to a friend that lived in that area so that he could service them. So that meant that all my mates could work for ourselves outdoors in the summer, rather than picking up dog biscuits. I was sixteen then.
All three of you had a university education. How important do you think this is for someone with entrepreneurial ambitions?
Well, it really worked for us. Maybe because the people I set up the business with I met at university, so if I hadn’t gone to university I wouldn’t have met the people. I met a woman recently who grew up in a tough part of Glasgow and at age fifteen she had to leave school as her parents were ill and unemployed, and go out and work to make money to raise her young kids. She left school with zero qualifications and is now running a £40 million underwear business. So there are no hard and fast rules.
What I think the commonality between all entrepreneurs is, is that they make the most of the opportunities that they are given or that they come across, but they also seek out opportunities and then try and maximise and get as much out of them as they can.
So basically I was lucky as I was brought up in a good home, and that good home put me in a good school, and being in a good school, I think my personality tried to make the most of being in that opportunity, which let me go to a decent university. I definitely got the most out of that, and I don’t just mean on the academic side.
In fact I have always been brought up with my parents saying the surface side of university is the most important bit, and I absolutely maxed out on that as well. Plus I met these people, and plus I got a lot of experience of doing entrepreneurial things at university such as running nightclubs, DJing, doing promotions – that type of thing. And it allowed me to get a decent job, and from that decent job I got four years’ great experience and then I left and set up the business. So I’m sure I had the skills – the generic skills – to run a business, but I think that going to university and then going into a paid job improved the chances of success of the business we then went on to set up.
Would you say if you want to start your own business you’re better off going to university, or do you think that education isn’t a necessity for someone who has it in their blood to be an entrepreneur?
You absolutely do not need to go to university to set up a business. But going to university is a brilliant thing for so many different reasons that you only begin to appreciate while you’re there – and then you appreciate much more when you’ve left. It is the best three years of your life socially; you do learn more and expand your mind in terms of learning stuff – whether it’s geography or physics or whatever. It will just benefit your life going forward.
Even as an entrepreneur you have to learn things on a day-to-day basis, because you’re making things up as you go along. University is just about getting your brain more capable of learning stuff. I’m a massive fan of education. But you definitely don’t need it to set up a business. My G-d, it’s only ever going to help – and by the way, it’s a fucking brilliant laugh for three years. You’re going to work for fifty, and no matter how cool being an entrepreneur is, it’s not as cool as being at college.
If you were going to do anything then I guess you would do Mathematics. If you are numerate and you understand it and can add up – that helps in business. I guess an understanding of Economics is going to help as well, but I did a Geography degree and it hasn’t stopped me from setting up a business.
What lessons can students learn about business outside the classroom while they’re still in education?
Well I guess the biggest lesson is the most general one, which is: the more you put in the more you’ll get out. In life there are only two scenarios. You either let things happen or you make things happen. And if you’re going to be an entrepreneur you have to be 100% make things happen.
The more that you can get used to taking the initiative of doing stuff outside of school, doing stuff outside the classroom, making the effort – be it organising nights out for your friends, setting up chess clubs, organising a band tour with the band that you’re in – I don’t care what it is, but anything where you start going above average, taking on more, doing more, you learn more, you get great satisfaction, which therefore increases your likelihood to do more in the future.
When I look for people to come and join us at Innocent I look at their CV and I definitely look to see what their academic qualifications are, because I have to start somewhere in terms of filtering. I want smart people because smart people make better decisions but I also equally look at all their stuff at the bottom of the CV, which is all the stuff that they do outside of work. Either when they were at school or college, or in their spare time.
You said you start at the top of the CV with the grades etc. Do grades necessarily mean smart?
No. But I have never met the person. Once I’m in a room with someone I have completely forgotten about their CV. I have got 1000 people applying for a job, the only thing I have got to go on to begin with is their CV, so I have got to apply some rational thought and generally people that get straight A’s are cleverer than people who get straight E’s.
Not always, and it does only test a certain type of intelligence, but it’s as good an indicator as I have got. I definitely look for the straight A people but a straight A person who does nothing other than achieve academic excellence versus someone who has got an A and a couple of Bs and has a boat-load of stuff – if they were the captain of this and the whatever of that, I would be more predisposed to them.
The thing about business is that you actually don’t have to be academically that bright. It’s pretty fucking simple. I sometimes think the academic people are the ones that over complicate it and start theorising into a weird world when actually no, you just need to buy something and make it nicer and sell it onto someone – it’s not that complicated.
Would you interview someone with zero qualifications and a creative application?
Well, it absolutely 100% depends on how they’ve done it. Yeah, we have got people here that dropped out of college, so it depends on the person and the requirements of the role. One of most senior sales guys’ previous jobs was a snowboarding instructor. We look for the individual, for the talents and the attributes of the individual rather than which university they went to.
People do have crazy ways of sending in CVs. I’m not looking for attention grabbing, rather somebody that’s done something that’s unique and motivating and distinctive, and that’s relevant to the role.
For example, we were advertising recently for a trade marketing manager and their job was all about making Innocent stand out better in the retail environment. The person sent in a load of things that they’d done and made themselves that they thought were great examples of Innocent point of sale materials. And that stood out. We got them straight in for an interview, because they’re standing out in a way that’s absolutely directly relevant to what the job’s about. But the person that just sends in a goldfish in a bag just to stand out – I’m not interested. If people send chocolates then that’s quite good because then we get to eat chocolate.
Can you tell me a bit about the beginning of the company, any other ideas you might have tried before you hit on this one?
As I said, I had lots of different mini ventures at various stages of my life. In terms of the ideas we got to as ‘the three of us’, it was the three of us that said, ‘Let’s go into business together’ before we said, ‘Let’s go into making smoothies together’. We had a couple of ideas: the first one was an electric bath that would fill itself up to a pre-designated level and pre-designated temperature all at the touch of a button, which sounded great apart from when we realised that all the plans involved electricity and water in close proximity to each other, and then we thought that was a pretty bad idea.
We had an idea that we were going to rid the world of door keys. We were going to invent a thing that you kept like a credit card in your pocket, and when you got to your door an infrared scanner would read it and then your door would pop open automatically. I think they do exist and I wish I had one for my front door for every time I get home with my shopping bags.
But we didn’t know anything about the world and how we would convince people to start changing their whole door infrastructure, and it seemed so difficult. So we stuck with a bit of advice that somebody had given us, which is: if you want to go into business make sure you know your audience, and the only audience we could say we definitely knew were ourselves and our friends, and what we needed and what we wanted.
What we need is some non-preaching practical way of doing ourselves some good and to make it taste nice, and that’s what Innocent is all about.
Some people say ‘Stick to what you know’. How much do you agree with this statement?
Depends on what you know I guess! I think it’s not that different to ‘Know your target audience’. I think, ‘Know what you’re good at and do that a lot’.
How did you know what you were good at?
We knew we were good at understanding what we wanted because we were talking about ourselves. And we were saying we’d start a business where we’re the target audience, so we can understand what we’re supposed to be doing. And then we worked out that we had different skills that were actually very complimentary. I had more marketing experience, Adam had more selling experience and John had more operational experience. Those three things fitted together really nicely.
Where were you before this?
I used to work for an advertising agency, so at least I had some understanding of all the marketing.
Starting a business is a full-time commitment and risk. At what point would you advise someone to give up their job and go for it, and how much money should they have saved to fall back on?
You can’t answer that question because it is so different from individual to individual. What I’d say is that giving up your job is the easy bit. People think giving up their job is the sign of commitment. Actually the sign of commitment is when you’ve still got your job and you’ve given up your weekends and your evenings to do all the research and get the business plan together, to go out and test the market and make up the little samples in your kitchen, and going into the stores at the weekend. If you’re not prepared to do that while you’ve got a job and you say, ‘Oh, I’m too busy’, or ‘too tired’ then you’re not gonna to cut it as an entrepreneur. That would be my general rule of thumb.
So don’t give up the job before you’ve done the homework. And if you cant be bothered doing your homework while you’ve got the job then maybe…It’s fucking difficult setting up a business. There are a lot of hard lonely hours. A good way of testing it is whether you can be bothered doing the preparation work while you’re still working for someone else. Which of course is the best way of doing it, because then you have the resource and the skill and the money still coming in, and you don’t need to worry about where your next meal is coming from.
There comes a point when you can’t do any more because you’re taking the piss so much where you work, so you go down to half a week. I went down to 50% of my time, and then I took a two-month secondment – and then I never went back.
How important is researching the idea? At what point should a person stop researching and just start selling?
Well, you want to make informed decisions. We did quite a bit of research. I think the best business decisions are an informed gut reaction. What I mean is, don’t research things to death and expect the numbers to present the answer. The research will never ever ever give you the answer.
What it will do is allow you to understand more about the market and the conditions and the situations of the sector you’re going into. So, if you do research up to a certain point where you are educated well about that market, then you can use your gut reaction to make the decision for you.
Would competition of an existing product stop you launching a similar one?
What you have to do is you’ve got to work out if you can make it meaningfully different and better. Does the consumer therefore want what is different and better about yours? And have you got a way of getting that to market? If we see something that a competitor is doing that’s been successful we’ll say, ‘OK, that’s interesting, I wonder if we can do it better than them?’
When we can do it better, we go for it. When you’re in business you’re editing a thousand thoughts a day, saying, ‘Oh that company is doing that well, so I wonder if we should do that’ and ‘That company is doing that badly so we shouldn’t do that’.
How did you go about securing finance? Was it difficult and how did you gauge how much money you would need?
It was difficult. We went about it by going through all the different ways you can go about raising finance. None of which we knew about in advance, but we found out by asking enough questions. The absolute critical first thing you do is write a business plan. If you don’t know what a business plan is there are plenty of people who can send you information, but generally it says ‘This is my business idea, this is what it’s going to cost, this is what it’s going to sell for and this is how much money I’m going to make – and therefore I need to raise this much to make it a go’.
So we had our business plan written and we went to see banks and they all turned us down; we approached venture capitalist firms and they all turned us down. We were then told we needed to speak to private investors, who are rich individuals who invest in private companies. We didn’t know any rich investors so we sent out an email to everyone we knew which said in the subject box ‘Does anyone know anyone rich?’, and from that we got people saying ‘well I know so and so’ and ‘he knows so and so’, and so we sent the business plan to them through them, and to someone else through someone else. We then went and knocked on their doors and met the guy that likes the plan and invests in the company.
Did you know how much you were asking for?
By that stage, yes. If you’re going out asking for money you need to know (a) how much you want, (b) what it’s for, and (c) how much you or your company is prepared to give in return.
How many people did you approach for money?
We applied to twenty banks and got turned down by twenty banks. We were looking for an amount of money that was too small for the venture capital world, so we were restricted to private investors which was probably twenty people in total.
You said you were asking for something that was too small for venture capitalists. Is that because they are looking for huge scale projects?
Venture capital firms are these companies that invest and manage people’s money. Their whole business system is set up for investing in deals – they run from offices with pretty expensive people and they need to do a deal that is the sort of size they are going to make a big amount of money from. Typically you won’t get a venture capitalist firm investing less than half a million pounds. So if you are just trying to find £20k the venture capital world is not going to be interested in it. At that sort of level you’re either borrowing from the bank or you’re getting a private investor.
What was the start-up cost for Innocent?
We raised £230k and sold 20% of the company to get it.
Do you have preference or feelings about business angels as opposed to commercial bank loans?
Every type of finance source has its different strengths and weaknesses. We found a combination of debts from banks and equity capital from private investors. That was the best solution for us. The basic golden rule is that giving away equity in your business is going to be the most expensive thing you ever do, so only do it as a last resort. If somebody can just lend you the money and you can pay it back, while that brings with it a load of risk, it is much better as you have kept 100% of your business. So from the word go we had already given or sold 20% of our business.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made since you started?
I have this golden rule of ‘Test drive one before you order a load’. That can be anything from the chairs you get for the office to the fridges that we’ve bought. This all comes back to my biggest single mistake I made in my first year of business, which was ordering fifty fridges before I had even seen one of them. They were absolutely dreadful. They were supposed to be metallic silver, bright inside and keep our drinks nice and cold. They turned up and they were grey and plastic; they looked like bits of office stationery – they didn’t have a light inside and they didn’t keep the drinks cold.
When we put the drinks in there, the drinks fermented and the caps popped off. We put these out into our principal most posh outlets right at the beginning of the business. We looked like absolute muppets and it cost us a lot of money. So definitely, no matter what it costs, get the one, and make sure you test drive that before you roll it out. Be that if you are opening up one of five hundred restaurants, or as I say – even the office chairs.
We get one in and someone sits in it for a few days and then if they’re OK with it we order more. I nearly made the same mistake; I had a really beautiful looking chair, which was cream and leather, I thought, ‘Wicked – that’s exactly what our office needs’. I was going to buy ten of them but then I thought I would just buy one first. I tried it and after about two hours it was impossibly uncomfortable – which you don’t get from only five minutes in the store – so if I had bought ten I would have ten people going ‘Mate, I can’t sit in these chairs’, and that’s £2k down the drain.
Was there ever a point when you wanted to give up?
Never. Oh hang on, sorry, I’ve never once regretted doing it. There was a time when we had given up our jobs before we got to be selling smoothies…We thought it would take us a month or two, but it took us nine. During those nine months we ran out of money completely. We were eating breakfast cereal three times a day and we had no clarity at all about when we were going to get this running – if ever. There were times then when each of us individually said, ‘Shall we just call it a day?’ The other two would say, ‘Let’s give it another week’.
What is your attitude to what some people refer to as failure?
That it’s brilliant. That failure is just the different side to the same coin of success. It’s about taking an issue. I think someone who’s done something and failed is brilliant because they’ve done something. You can’t have failed if you haven’t done something first. So anyone who’s tried and then goofed up, that’s fine with us. At Innocent we celebrate it.
All we ask for is for people to be honest about it and share the experiences, because then we’re going to learn from it. Fifty people can learn from that mistake and we’re going to be stronger and better as a result of it. To not try is the unforgivable thing, to try and to get it wrong means you are just going to have learned from it, and as long as you learn from it and put those lessons into action next time then it’s great. In America they celebrate it! You can’t be a successful businessman unless you’ve had some businesses fail.
What are the main points you attribute your success to?
A focus. An ability to keep the main thing, the main thing. Drive, energy, a positive outlook, honesty and sincerity.
How long should someone carry on before they give up on an idea? Should you put a time limit on waiting for profits?
Well if you’re running a company and year after year after year it’s just losing money, at some point you have to say that there is something fundamentally wrong with this business system. In terms of how long you should give yourself to get a business up and running and get through those hard yards… by all means put a time limit on it, but expect the time for it to take to be nine times what you think it’s going to be. We said a month and it took us nine.
How important do you think it is to get commercial experience before starting a business?
Again, you don’t need to have done but I do believe it increases the likelihood of success. It doesn’t guarantee it and to not have it doesn’t guarantee failure to any extent, but we all are human, we all make mistakes. I will continue to make mistakes the whole of my life, as will you, but you probably make proportionally more at the beginning of your career than towards the end of your career.
One of the advantages of going to work in someone else’s company first is that you make mistakes at someone else’s expense rather than your own. It’s a very harsh way of looking at it but it’s true, and also when you’re in that job you acquire these generic business skills which you’re going to find useful that you would not have not got otherwise.
Can you give me a rough order of the steps you took from when you had the idea of the juices?
In February 1998 we were on a snowboarding weekend and we had the idea for the smoothies business. From the end of that weekend through to June 1998 we were doing research in the evenings and weekends. The research consisted of everything from asking people what fruit they liked, to writing business plans, to making up samples in our kitchens and taking them out to try and sell them in stores just to see if we could or not.
So you did all that while you were working?
We had six months of that and we became very confident that there was an opportunity. We didn’t know if we were going to be any good at fulfilling that opportunity but we could definitely say, ‘Look, there’s definitely a big demand for smoothies out there’. We gave up our jobs with the condition that we could come back after two months if it didn’t work.Then we would go about it full time, all working towards making our first big batch of smoothies for testing at this music festival in August 1998.
It worked really well, and on the following Monday we went and told our bosses that we weren’t coming back, and we went about setting up the business full time. That was the really bleak period because we thought we had done it once, we don’t need to do it everyday, but obviously doing it commercially without compromising your integrity is very difficult. We could have gone out to market nine times quicker if we had said, ‘Fuck it, let’s use concentrate juices’, but we were saying, ‘No, fresh fruit and only fruit’.
First drinks were in April 1999, so from the very first idea to actually being out on the market was actually fourteen months.
So it was research, which was desktop, and informal smoothies recipes and things.Then we did our market test which was the yes and no bins, then it was setting up the company full time, which was trying to find a way to get the product made day in day out on a commercial scale, trying to get all the other bits and pieces all together, like the packaging and the sales and distribution strategy. It’s all the nuts and bolts of the business. The third thing was trying to get somebody to invest in the business to help make it all possible.
What’s the most important question to ask yourself before starting a business venture?
I think there’s a big thing to be said for ‘Can I clearly and simply explain my business idea – and why it’s going to be better and more successful than my competitors’ – to my grandma in a sentence that she’ll understand’? If you don’t have that simple thought, you need that point of difference, that thing that ‘I know I can do it better because…’
One piece of advice you would give to young people in education?
Just make the most of your educational environment. Work your nuts off for your exams. Go and get wasted after them by all means, but resist the temptation during them. Do the revision – it’s really boring but it really does pay off. But also see your time while you’re in education as an ability to go and chase dreams and passions outside the classroom as well. Don’t see it as just the classroom. But also believe that the USP of your educational system is to get an education, so put that first.
One piece of advice to someone in an unhappy job with little money and what they believe to be a great idea?
Start writing a business plan, do the research, work out how you get it made, what it’s going to cost you, what you’re going to sell it at, where you’re going to sell it, who’s going to buy it.
What’s your one life principle you live by?
Make decisions you’ll be proud of.
Do you have any beliefs about money?
In a national study of happiness levels, Bangladesh came first and America came 56th. America is the richest country in the world, Bangladesh is pretty low down. That’s quite a trite point to make but I do believe there’s something in it. What I do believe is that the benefits you get from having money fall off after a relatively low point. Do you know what I mean? A cold beer on a sunny day is as nice as if you’re a millionaire as it is if you’re just a regular person.
Don’t let money be your motivation for setting up a business because a) you’re not going to pay yourself money, you’re going to be working a lot harder and pay yourself a lot less than you would get if you were working for someone else’s company, and b) whilst there is this promise of financial upside at the end of the day, you may never get there.
So do something you’re passionate about?
Oh, I think it really helps. I think a controlled passion is really important. An uncontrolled passion is hopeless because then you just make stupid decisions because you’re blinded by your passion. But to actually care about the thing that you do and to be proud of the thing that you do, I think that really adds value.
What motivates or drives you?
The idea of believing that the world is a tiny-weeny bit better after I’ve been here rather than a tiny-weeny bit worse.
Many successful people that I’ve spoken to say that failure is one of their biggest fears. Is it one of yours?
No. Being average is.
Did you ever have a life or business mentor?
There are lots of people I’ve drawn on for support, inspiration and advice. There’s one person in particular that got to me when I was in a very different mindset and really flicked the switch on in my head. He changed my point of view from ‘Everything is crap’ to ‘Everything is brilliant’. I think that if I hadn’t been in a room with that guy the day that I was in a room with him, then I don’t think I would have set up a business. He was pretty instrumental.
Who was that?
When I was working in advertising I was getting increasingly unhappy with what I was doing at the time, and I was sent on a training course which was run by an Irish guy called Patrick Mar. He was some chain-smoking foul-mouthed Irish guy who sat in front of the class, and I spent the whole time thinking ‘I can’t believe the agency’s paid good money for me to come and listen to this guy’. It was all about personal effectiveness, which wasn’t something I was particularly interested in.
I thought it all sounded a bit wacky and pretentious. He would say: ‘Give me examples of a situation you have to face at work and I’ll give you a way of dealing with it’. People would put their hand up and say, ‘So and so has been shouting at me’, and I put my hand up and said, ‘My boss is really enthusiastic the whole time’, and he just looked at me and said, ‘Well you’ve got the problem there; that’s not her problem’. It was like getting a slap round the face. I had a talk with him afterward and he said, ‘You may think your job is shit and you may hate everything about it, but that’s because you think everything’s crap.
If you were looking in a sock drawer and there were forty-nine black socks and one red one, if you’re just looking for black socks all you’ll find is black socks. But even if there is only one red sock, if you’re looking for that red sock, you will find the red sock. So I know it’s all crap and you hate it all, but just think of one thing that you like about your job, and then think about that. You may find that by thinking about that you feel a bit happier about it, and then you might be able to think of a second thing’.
It’s all about this thing where you get more positive and a few more positive people respond to you and you get more opportunities coming your way. It was so weirdly true. It was just this tiny little thing, that got bigger – and then these bigger leaps started happening. So I can absolutely take it back to that day and him saying that thing.
And did that spark off your attitude?
I think I rediscovered my original attitude that I’d buried for four years by being in a job that I wasn’t particularly proud of.
Did other people’s negative opinions ever make you doubt your idea?
How did you get through that?
I would just keep asking the question ‘why?’ or ‘why not?’ Because if people say, ‘No you can’t do that’, you just say, ‘Oh’. We went to see every single juice company in the United Kingdom and we found it was amazing. Senior people would give us time. So we were seeing the absolute big cheese people of these big juice companies who were telling us ‘This won’t work’, and he is the MD so he must know. But then you suddenly say ‘Why?’ And then you realise if you keep asking that, not always – sometimes there are some bloody good reasons . But most of the time they are just saying it because they haven’t thought of it, or they haven’t thought it through themselves, and they are just talking about the conceived wisdom.
It may be that it could work, it’s just that they haven’t done it like that before. Always ask why and why not when people say no. It makes you annoying but it means you get to the right answer.
How much do you attribute your success to constant perseverance and positive attitude?
About 100%. No, no, sorry – that’s not true. It was about 90% and 10%. Look, there isn’t much else to it. With entrepreneurship it’s about bloody-minded determinism. Cute thinking and a lot of luck. It’s about perseverance.
Is it true that you didn’t spend any money on advertising until recently?
Yes, well we didn’t have any money to spend. You have to use the creativity to replace the money. What we realised is that this is a good media space and a good advert. You know, it doesn’t cost anything.
To summarise everything we have talked about, can you give me five key steps to success for someone with a business idea?
A simple, clear, focused business idea with an understanding of why that makes it better than the competition, and what your key success factors are. A team of people that share a vision and have a complementary set of skills. A well-written, well-researched business plan that documents exactly what your strategy is, what things are going to cost, what you’re going to sell them at, how many and how you can measure the success, so everyone knows what they’re buying into. A ruthless ability to prioritise, knowing what exactly is the most important thing.
As a small business you’ve got limited time and limited resources, so you have to make sure you put it into the most important things first. If your business is all about fruit drinks then spending all your time making sure you have the best fruit drinks in the world. A boat load of effort and desire to keep going when people tell you no.
So you’ve hired where you’ve needed to hire and not expanded for the sake of it?
Yes, which has meant that we’ve been aggressive but we tend not to spend the money until we have got the money, and not hire the people until we are absolutely desperate for the people. Now we’re into phase two we’ve got to speed up a little bit. So we’ve got to be a bit more prepared to invest ahead of the curve and get people before that point.
Anything final you want to add?
I do believe that it isn’t for everyone but if you’re thinking about doing it and the only thing that’s stopping you is a fear of doing it, then I’d take a deep breath and give it a pop. You’ve got to mitigate against the down side; you’ve got to do it sensibly. This is not a call to people to be reckless and give up decent careers and invest all their time and money in some tin pot idea – but if you are genuinely motivated by this and you are prepared to spend the time to improve your chances of success by thinking it through properly, then my G-d do it.
I don’t think you can really lose; it’s either going to work and that’s brilliant, or it’s going to fail and you’ll have learnt so much that you will a) be better at your previous job, and b) you’ll be in a better position to have another go if you want to. I don’t think you can really lose as long as you approach it in a sensible manner.
Is the thought of working for someone else now inconceivable?
I have to say, it is pretty weird. I keep thinking if Innocent stopped working, what would I do? I think once you’ve seen what it’s like…Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of advantages of working in other people’s companies and there are some definite disadvantages of running your own, but for me having experienced both I prefer this as the option.