Innocent's Richard Reed: "If you have logic and reason on your side, keep going"

Richard Reed is co-founder of Innocent Drinks and Art Everywhere
Richard Reed is co-founder of Innocent Drinks and Art Everywhere

Innocent Drinks and Art Everywhere co-founder Richard Reed on what he's learned on his journey as an entrepreneur.

Something is either hot or not. It is fundamentally necessary to provide a product or service that has innate desirability. If you do, then your business system will be engaged in delivering and meeting the resulting demand. But if you make something that is second-rate, your business system will be mainly consumed with trying to flog a dead horse. The former option is more fun. As Steve Jobs said: "The most important thing was we made our products beautiful, Microsoft missed that." At Innocent, on our good days, we are a food and design company, led by how things taste and look. If we nail those two things, we succeed. When we lose sight of them, we fail.

The main thing is to keep the main thing. It is important in business, as in life, to know what you want. Answer this first, then make every decision against whether it helps get you there or not. Most people either don’t know what they want or don’t organise themselves and their resources to deliver it. To paraphrase the British rowing coach: "We made every decision against one simple criterion: does it make the boat go faster?" It worked.

You get more by being nice than being nasty. The media stereotype of successful business people is that they are ego-driven table thumpers, who exploit weakness and win by putting others down. In reality, leaders who build and nurture teams, set and live by high standards and are generous with praise and rewards make it big more often. As a case in point, the line in bold above is a direct quote from Carphone Warehouse and TalkTalk chairman Sir Charles Dunstone, one of the UK’s most successful billionaires.

If we want a great future, we will have to share it. We know the trends: population growth, rising personal consumption, dwindling resources. This inherent contradiction has yet to properly bite, but it will do so within our lifetime unless we radically intervene. Enlightened progressive businesses, stuffed full of ambitiously altruistic people, are the best shot we have at finding ways to increase collaboration and sharing, and remain peaceful, rather than descend into the violence and darkness the graphs show as inevitable. Business can con­tinue to help kill the planet or help save it. It’s up to us now.

Small denotes size, not significance. With Innocent, I came to realise that the small details, be they in the product, the marketing, the internal culture or the main strategic choices, were as significant as the big decision. Yes, the price and distribution has to be right, but the funny details delivered a point of difference essential for getting noticed and remembered.

Great ideas attract great people. I set up Art Everywhere, the UK’s biggest outdoor art show, on a simple proposition: let’s flood our streets with art. Everyone I pitched the idea to said yes and offered time, money and resources from the get-go, be it the UK poster industry, the country’s leading galleries and curators, London’s best creatives and entrepreneurs and the Great British public. The fact that it was kept pure and had no hidden or commercial agenda meant everyone could commit to it, emotionally and professionally.

Just because you lose the argument doesn’t mean you’re wrong. The business world is full of people who speak confidently and win many a debate, but that doesn’t make them right. Whether you are right or not comes down to the facts and realities of the matter. If you have logic and reason on your side, keep going, even if the meeting didn’t go as you hoped. Unless you are arguing with your wife, keep going if you know you are right.

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