7 pearls of wisdom

I will make my apologies now that none of this blog is my own material. However I make no apology for sharing it – as I hope it will be useful for others. In fact, I'm grateful to the hugely inspiring Richard Reed, Co-founder of Innocent Drinks, who delivered an enormously enjoyable, humble and wise speech at the InnovateUK conference yesterday, and from whom all of the following pearls of wisdom are taken. Thank you.

Richard shared seven key things that have helped make his business a success. These are not just relevant for innovative start-ups and SMEs, they're relevant for every organisation as they're based on common sense and being a decent human being - perhaps this is why they appealed to me, as they’re both qualities I hold in high esteem.

1. Keep the main thing, the main thing – do one thing and do it well, in fact try and be the best at it. The slide on the screen showed a picture of a huge building shaped like a basket, which happened to be the headquarters of an American company that makes baskets. Amusing, but proves the point - if you want to be the best at something, focus on it.

2. Start small, think big – Believe it or not, Innocent started selling their smoothies on a market stall. Here’s their description of how Innocent was born from their website:

“We started innocent in 1999 after selling our smoothies at a music festival. We put up a big sign asking people if they thought we should give up our jobs to make smoothies, and put a bin saying 'Yes' and a bin saying 'No" in front of the stall. Then we got people to vote with their empties. At the end of the weekend, the 'Yes' bin was full, so we resigned from our jobs the next day and got cracking.”

Richard certainly advocates for letting the tiny ideas happen. He cited 'The Big Knit' as one such idea. A social marketing partnership with Age UK where volunteers were encouraged to knit hats for Innocent drink bottles in the winter and 25p from each bottle with a hat would go to the charity. The first year saw 3000 hats…several years later they were looking at 2.1million.

3. Employ entrepreneurs – don't compromise on your recruitment. Great people want to be surrounded by more great people. So, employ great people and then give them ownership and autonomy, as this creates genuine employee engagement. Innocent have a rule when it comes to decision-making...if you're 70% sure, go for it. Giving people ownership over decisions empowers them, developing loyalty and commitment.

4. Create a community – an organisation is made up of people and it’s people that drive it. So, start with your values. The right values provide a sense of mission, which in turn, creates long term value for the business. Everyone is clear what they are working towards, which makes them productive. Take a zero tolerance approach to those who don't live the values.


5. Chase beauty – make people WANT to buy your product. If there is innate desire built within your product, people will like it and want it, sometimes even before they’ve realised what it is.

6. Be ethical – the Innocent mantra is ‘leave things better than you find them’. Their ethical values run through everything they do: natural drinks, ethical ingredients, sustainable packaging, a resource efficient business, legacy (i.e. giving something back to the poorer nations of the world).

7. Work the details – the little details can make the difference between success and failure. Richard gave the example of taking Innocent orange juice on to supermarket shelves in cartons in response to customer demand. They ended up removing them soon afterwards, as sales were not high enough to warrant the effort. A few years later they tried again, but instead of a carton, they used a plastic bottle. This time it was a success. Same product, same logo, different container, totally different result.

Richard believes that even small changes in the use of language on the packaging can make a big difference. For example, ‘enjoy by’ rather than ‘use by’, or ensuring there’s a sense of humour running through the information on the label and how it’s communicated.


If you’d like to watch Richard’s whole speech you can find it on the InnovateUK website

I’ve always known Innocent is regarded as an exemplar organisation as far as employee engagement is concerned and now, having listened to Richard Reed speak, I can see why. Check out their website to get a bit more of a flavour (ha ha!) of how they operate. 

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