Richard Reed shares his 5 golden rules for running a business

The Innocent co-founder gives an insight into Innocent’s success and how you and your business can emulate it

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Famous for their cow vans as much as their healthy fruit smoothies, the Innocent brand has become synonymous with good ethics and quirky branding. Started by three friends, Richard Reed, Adam Balon and John Wright, with the simple motto of making it ‘easy for people to do themselves some good’, the business has grown from humble beginnings in the trios’ kitchens to a multi-million pound empire.

After the founders sold their remaining shares to Coca-Cola earlier this year, it remains to be seen whether the ethics of the Innocent brand will continue to be as strongly upheld but a visit to Fruit Towers reveals a business with a definitive identity and a great atmosphere.

Despite taking a step back from the day-to-day running of the business, Reed is passionate about Innocent’s story, entrepreneurship and most importantly inspiring others to take that leap of faith and start their own business, so aspiring entrepreneurs and start-up business owners alike were invited to attend an Innocent Inspires event at Fruit Towers on ‘how to be your own boss’.

Speaking at the event, Reed shared five key lessons that he and his co-founders learnt on their journey from crushing fruit in their kitchens to becoming founders of a business worth roughly £320m.

And we thought we’d share them with you…

Lesson #1: Have a mission

“You need to have a clear vision and sense of purpose – it brings a massive amount of energy and direction to the organisation. It’s one of those things that costs nothing but creates so much value. In those down times, those late evenings and weekends think about the reason behind why you’re doing what you do. What’s your mission? It’s not about the money, you want to make money of course but that isn’t the main motivation, the reason your entity exists. Every single person in business has a unique contribution they can make to society and you need to identify yours.

Google exists to ‘organise the world’s information and make it universally available’. In one sentence it explains why they do what they do, and there’s something so powerful about having such a clear sense of purpose.”

Lesson #2: It’s the people, stupid

“You need to hire good people, people make a business. Identify your business’ needs and then find staff with the right skills and motivation; it really is the most important thing to get right.

It’s not about just taking people who are available it’s about being incredibly picky and choosy. Trying to get a job at Innocent is a nightmare, you have to get through so many hoops, but it’s important, because staff are integral to our business and we want to get it right.

You also have to not be afraid to let people go if they’re not contributing and adding value to your business.

It’s a mistake we made at Innocent – we didn’t let anyone go for the first couple of years because we didn’t feel it fit in with our brand as an ethical business – we had a 100% retention rate. It was only when I heard the head of talent at Apple speak and he said ‘you’ve got to get rid of the crap people’. Us British were sitting there shocked by his crudeness but it was a truth nonetheless. This very sweet woman put up her hand and said ‘what am I supposed to do if I don’t have anyone to replace the crap people with?’ and he just looked her straight in the eyes and said ‘honey, I’d rather have a hole than an arse hole.’

You can’t have people who are passengers. Sometimes you just need to exit the people that don’t deliver the doughnuts.”

Lesson #3: Start small, but do start

“The most important thing is to get started.

We started from a market stall, Marks and Spencer’s started from a market stall, the scale of it doesn’t matter – it’s the starting that’s important.

If it goes wrong, so what, you’ll learn, you’ll have a great experience and a great story to tell your friends in the future.

We started with £500 worth of fruit that we crushed in our kitchen, then moved to a market stall and then on to festivals and eventually at one festival we put up a big sign above the stall saying ‘should we give up our jobs to make smoothies?’ There was a yes and a no bin and we decided that if the yes bin was fuller at the end of the weekend then we’d give up our jobs.

And it got us started.

Don’t let perfection be the enemy of you doing something good. Just get your business out there. And just because you start small it doesn’t mean you won’t scale quickly.

Our woollen hats was an idea that I never thought would work initially [for each bottle with a hat that is sold 25p is donated to Age Concern] – I didn’t understand how we’d get the hats made. The person behind the idea insisted we’d get volunteers and whilst sceptical I urged him to ahead. The first year we had 3,000 hats knitted, the third year 80,000 hats and last year we had 1.6 million hats knitted by volunteers around the world. So it just shows you, from 3,000 to 1.6 million or from a market stall to Innocent – starting small is a brilliant way to start.

And the second and most important point is once you do start – don’t stop!”

Lesson #4: Do it your way, not the ‘right’ way

“All I can say is what happened to us, that doesn’t mean it’s the right way so don’t feel afraid to start your business in a different way. There is no universal ‘right’ way to start a business, every venture is unique and every situation is different.

One of the beautiful things about setting up a business is that you can make it the way you want it to be – you can do it with your values and your own rituals.

No one can tell you how to run your business.

For us it was really important that we had dumb jokes on our packaging – we liked the warmth and humanity of it. We put ‘enjoy by’ rather than ‘use by’. Once I remember putting on an ingredients list, two bananas, four strawberries and two plump nuns. A bad joke right, but harmless… Well, the next thing I know I have a call from trading standards asking about these ‘plump nuns.’ I explained that it was just a joke and of course no one would take it seriously but she replied ‘well we do, we’re launching a formal enquiry’. Eventually I had to go to a hearing and report to the board with my case. About 14 days later I got this letter and it’s my favourite letter I’ve ever received in business. It started with ‘Dear Mr Reed, you must either take off your reference to plump nuns or start putting them in your fruit juices…’

So I’m not advocating that but being fun is part of our brand and it helps us stand out. And on a serious side we’ve built this business from scratch based on our values and principles.

Do what’s important to you.”

Lesson #5: Be open

“Be open and communicate. Test your product or service on other people and be responsive to feedback.

Fruit Towers is always open and people are invited to come for tours and to try our products and let us know what they think. It’s important because it keeps us close to the most crucial people, the consumers.

Also having people walk around the office means we have to be honest, which is great.

If you’re open to feedback people will give you wilful insight which is key to the success of your business. You’ll understand what your consumer wants better than your competition does.

My favourite ever feedback was from an eight year old girl on a Quantas flight who wrote a letter and asked for it to be handed to the pilot. I think it shows you how consumers can tell you the most important thing to them. The letter read ‘I like to watch the clouds go by, I like the crew, I like the plane don’t f**k up the landing!'”

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