"Some people think of Innocent as a load of guys hanging out on bean bags"

Richard Reed, co-founder of Innocent Smoothies, talks fruit, innocence and a bad experience in a dog biscuit factory.

Although Richard Reed, co-founder of Innocent drinks, claims not to have dreamt of starting his own business as a kid, he does remember sitting in classrooms inventing new businesses. “I used to doodle in exercise books, coming up with names and drawing logos for imaginary businesses,” he says. And while he says he doesn’t remember consciously wanting to be a businessman, he tells familiar tales of childhood experiences.

At aged four he was selling rose water (“rose petals in water in a jam jar”) to neighbours and at seven he was washing windows for money. Then, aged 11, he hit on a lucrative scheme. “Near my gran’s there was a discount stationery shop that sold Smurf stickers for 3p each. I bought loads and sold them at school for 15p each. I haven’t made a mark-up like it since.”

And aged 16 a bad experience working a summer job in a dog biscuit factory convinced him to set up a business cutting lawns for neighbours.     

Innocent Drinks, he says, was born from friendship rather than an entrepreneurial drive.

“I wanted to start a business with mates. I wouldn’t have had the confidence or the skills to do it by myself,” he admits.

He met those co-founders, Adam Balon and Jon Wright, at Cambridge University where they worked together organising club nights. “We always talked about doing stuff and had a sense of how we worked together.”

Reed says a critical lesson for others in the Innocent success story is that the three founders share a strong set of values and principles, but have complementary skills. “The map of skills is such that where mine end Adam’s start and where Adam’s end, Jon’s start. We’d rather die than do each other’s jobs. But we care about the same principles. We really believe in getting stuff that’s delicious and pleasurable but that gives you vitality.” 

Reed says the three talk in terms of “being pulled towards” starting the business. “At its most basic my objective was to do business with my two closest friends. But it was more like a pull – this sense of wanting to do it. We never dreamt about how big it was going to be one day. It was just that we really wanted to do this thing.”

Reed says it is essential that those starting a business keep faith in their idea. “When we set it up we were 90% sure that it wasn’t going to work. Then everyone said it definitely wasn’t going to work. When you think it’s a ‘no’ and you hear ‘no’ 1,000 times, you start to think it definitely isn’t going to work. We kept going because there was the three of us. And there was part of us saying, ‘Yes, but, some people do manage it, so if not us, then who?’ That’s the positive voice people should listen for.”

Reed is adamant that the UK needs to value its entrepreneurs more. The story of his motivations for starting a business – he did it to impress a girl – highlights the way perceptions of entrepreneurs have changed. “I started Innocent to impress a girl who worked where I worked. As I was leaving to start Innocent and I told her what I was doing, she looked at me in horror and said, ‘You sound like a right Arthur Daley’. Being a businessman has gone from being Arthur Daley and Del Boy to Richard Branson, Lord Sugar and Dragons’ Den.”

But for all the positive change, Reed says still not enough people know starting a business is an option. “Business has got cooler but it is amazing how most people still think it’s not an option for them. We have this assumption that you have to work for someone else.” 

And Reed is clear that starting a business is open to all. “Being an entrepreneur is essentially about coming up with an idea and orchestrating people to do a series of things within a finite time. It is project management, but you have to think of the project. Everyone can do it. But only a small proportion will make it big. But you don’t need to make it big; just big enough to be in line with what you want out of it.”

It would help if more people left education with a better idea of what was involved in business. Too many people, says Reed, don’t have that. “Some people think of Innocent as a load of guys hanging out on bean bags or playing table tennis, occasionally making smoothies. The reality is that everyone here works their nuts off and we are ferociously on top of the detail and the data. You are not going to build a business this size without doing that stuff well.”

That understanding of what’s involved in running a business needs to be taught. “We need to teach entrepreneurship in schools. It needs to get into kids’ brains at 11 years old that it’s an option. An entrepreneur class should be compulsory. It is amazing what you learn at school compared to what you need for life and business. I send staff on training courses about how to make a presentation or how to negotiate or be personally effective. These would be great things to learn as a kid. It’s important to learn history and geography and all that, but there has to be room for personal effectiveness or time management. Why are we learning this stuff aged 30? What a wasted opportunity.”

Richard Cree is the Editor of Economia. This article originally appeared in Economia.

Innocent staff kick back, Photograph: Getty Images

Richard Cree is the Editor of Economia.

Photo: Getty
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Hyper-partisan Corbynite websites show how the left can beat the tabloids online

If I were a young Tory looking forward to a long career, I’d be worried.

Despite their best efforts during the election campaign, the Sun, Daily Mail, Telegraph and Express failed to convince voters to give Theresa May a majority, let alone the landslide she craved. Instead, Labour made inroads thanks partly to increased turnout among younger voters who prefer to get their news online and from social networks.

The centre of power in the media has been shifting to the web for years, but during the election we saw just how well a crop of hyper-partisan left-wing news sites are using social media to gain the kind of influence once restricted to the tabloid press.

Writers for sites such as the Canary or Evolve Politics see themselves as activists as much as journalists. That frees them to spin news stories in a way that is highly attuned to the dynamics of social media, provoking strong emotions and allowing them to address their audience like a friend down the pub “telling it how it really is”.

People on Facebook or Twitter use news to tell their friends and the wider world who they are and what they believe in. Sharing the Canary story “Theresa May is trying to override parliamentary democracy to cling to power. But no one’s fooled” is a far more effective signal that you don’t like the Tory government than posting a dry headline about the cancellation of the 2018 Queen’s Speech.

This has long-term implications for the right’s ability to get its message out. Research by BuzzFeed has found that pro-Conservative stories were barely shared during the election campaign. It appears the “shy Tory” factor that skewed opinion polling in previous elections lives on, influencing what people are prepared to post online. If I were a young Tory looking forward to a long career, I’d be worried.

Distorted reality

Television was once the press’s greatest enemy. But its “newspaper reviews” now offer print titles a safe space in which they are treated with a level of respect out of all proportion to their shrinking readership. Surely this must change soon? After all, the Independent sometimes gets a slot (despite having ceased print publication last year) for its digital front page. How is it fair to exclude BuzzFeed News – an organisation that invests in reporting and investigations – and include the Daily Express, with its less-than-prescient weather predictions?

Another problem became apparent during the election. Because the press is so dominated by the right, coverage from the supposedly impartial broadcasters was skewed, as presenters and guests parroted headlines and front-page stories from partisan newspapers. Already, some political programmes, such as BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show, have experimented with including news from outside Fleet Street. One of the newspaper industry’s most reliable allies is looking for new friends.

Alternative facts

The rise of sites spreading the left-wing gospel across Facebook may be good for Labour but that doesn’t mean it’s good for the public. This was illustrated on 16 June in a post by a relatively new entrant called the Skwawkbox, which claimed that a government “D-notice” – now called a DSMA-notice – might be in place restricting news organisations from reporting on the number of casualties from the Grenfell Tower fire.

The claim was untrue and eventually an update was added to the post, but not before it was widely shared. The man behind the blog (who gives his name in interviews only as “Steve”) insisted that because he had included a couple of caveats, including the word “if” in the text of his article, he was justified in spreading an unsubstantiated rumour. Replacing an irresponsible right-wing tabloid culture in print with equally negligent left-wing news sites online doesn’t feel much like progress.

Blood and bias

Narratives about the corrupt, lying mainstream media (the “MSM” for short) have become more prevalent during the election, and it’s clear they often hit a nerve.

On 17 June, a protest over Theresa May’s deal with the DUP and the Grenfell Tower fire made its way past BBC Broadcasting House, where a small group stopped to chant: “Blood, blood, blood on your hands!” Hours later, in the shadow of the burned-out tower, I heard a young woman complain loudly to her friends about money being used to fly BBC news helicopters when it could have gone to displaced victims.

The BBC cites the accusations of bias it receives from both ends of the political spectrum as evidence that it is resolutely centrist. But while many of its greatest critics would miss the BBC if it goes, the corporation could do a better job of convincing people why it’s worth keeping around.

Grenfell grievances

Early reports of the attack on a Muslim crowd in Finsbury Park on 19 June exhibited a predictably depressing double standard. The perpetrator was a “lone wolf”, and the Mail identified him as “clean-shaven”: phrases it is hard to imagine being used about an Islamist. Yet the media don’t just demonise Muslims in its reporting; they also marginalise them. Coverage of Grenfell contained plenty of references to the churches in this part of west London and its historic black community. Yet Muslims and the relief work carried out by local mosques received comparatively little coverage. Community issues such as Islam’s requirement that the dead are buried swiftly were largely ignored, even though a large number of those killed or made homeless by the fire were Muslim.

I suspect this may have something to do with outdated ideas of what north Kensington is like. But it also must reflect the reality that just 0.4 per cent of UK journalists are Muslim, according to a study by City University in London. The lack of diversity in the media isn’t just a moral issue; it’s one that affects our ability to tell the full story.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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