"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.

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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.