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Dear Entrepreneur? A letter from Richard Reed of Innocent

Cover of Dear Entrepreneur by Danny Bailey and Andrew Blackman
Dear Entrepreneur, our latest book, is a collection of more than 70 letters from successful entrepreneurs with the advice they wish they?d been given when they were just getting started. We?ll be running words of wisdom from the likes of Alyssa Smith, Boginabag and SuperJam over the next few weeks.

Our first letter comes from Richard Reed of innocent drinks (pictured above, right), who explains why it?s important to keep the main thing the main thing and why you should always allot more time to projects than you think.

Dear Entrepreneur,

In 1999 I started a smoothie company called innocent with my two best friends, Jon and Adam. Thirteen years later, we are the number one smoothie brand in the UK (and across Europe) and each week we sell more than 2 million smoothies, turning over more than £200 million each year.

Over the years we?ve discovered a great deal about starting and running a business, having ideas and thinking differently, building a brand from nothing, and which fruits taste nicest together. We think our ideas are pretty universal. They could apply to any business, and we?ve got a few here to share with you (we?ll probably leave out the fruit-based ones ? you can look in our recipe book for the best smoothie combinations if you?re interested).

We?d wanted to set up a business together for ages and one day decided to get on with it. So we began thinking about areas where we could identify a problem, and then how we?d solve it. Our first idea was The Amazing Electric Bath. It was going to be brilliant. Until its one small, but insurmountable, flaw dawned on us ? having water and electricity in such close proximity to each other wasn?t the greatest idea after all.

After that, we thought about what we?d like to buy but couldn?t. We realised there were lots of people, just like us, who wanted to be healthy but found that it wasn?t actually that easy when you?re young and busy and rushing around all day. Pretty soon we hit upon the idea of natural fruit smoothies.

There was already a brand called PJs selling bottled smoothies in the UK, which was a good thing as it meant a market for smoothies definitely existed, but also presented us with the challenge of how to make ours better than theirs.

Always keep the main thing the main thing

One of our most used phrases is always keep the main thing the main thing. This means to understand why you?re different and not let that slip ? our main thing has always been that we would make our drinks the natural way. PJs used concentrates, which may have been easier and more profitable, but ultimately meant a compromise on taste and nutritional quality. Every decision we made back then, and make now, is based around keeping the main thing the main thing.

Once you?ve got your idea, it?s important to actually begin. We?ve been pitched enough businesses in our time to know that most people have an idea for a business. But the majority don?t even begin working on the opportunity, mainly because the whole project seems so intimidating.

Basically, it?s hard to see how you?re going to build yourself a global multibillion-dollar business when you?re sat in your kitchen nibbling on a biscuit.

Start small, but do get started

But the cliché is true: every business in the world started small. M&S began life as a market stall and YouTube was started by two friends in a room above a pizza takeaway. Even in today?s heavily competitive world, little can still get big. So my advice is simple: start small, but do get started. There?s nothing like taking the first small step to help get you over the initial fear and inertia that surrounds creating your own venture.

Once you?ve committed to action, you?ll find momentum comes from the pitter-patter of those first baby steps. We continue to ?start small? with any new initiative we embark upon, be it establishing ourselves in a new country, launching a new product, or testing out a new marketing campaign. It allows us to be more entrepreneurial ? we can test ideas quickly and without breaking the bank. And then if we see potential, we put serious money behind the initiative to accelerate growth and make the most of the opportunity.

Have a sense of purpose

Once you?ve started, it?s important to make sure everyone?s in the same boat and has a sense of purpose. Right from the beginning of innocent, we were clear about one thing: we wanted to make it easy for people to do themselves some good ? and set up a company we could be proud of.

This purpose has helped us create five innocent values that we use all the time. A few years ago, we sat everyone down and asked them their ideas on what innocent was for and against. One version had us being against guns and pro-cheese. Certainly true, but not so relevant on a day-to-day basis. Collectively, we decided that our values are to be: responsible, entrepreneurial, generous, commercial and natural.

We now use our values as a filter when recruiting people (if they don?t personally resonate with our values, they?re not going to get the best out of innocent and we?re not going to get the best out of them). We develop people in line with our values, and we reward people living them. In short, we take them seriously.

Everything takes longer than you think

So we had our idea for what innocent would be and stand for, and we were desperate to get going. We then quickly realised that everything takes longer than you think. It may seem obvious but it?s so easy to get over-optimistic and carried away thinking that things will happen instantly. More often than not, they don?t. Whatever length of time you think it?s going to take, triple it, and then add some more. We gave ourselves one month to get innocent up and running, and it took us nine ? and as a result our finances were pretty tight.

Looking back, I?d recommended staying in your existing job for as long as you can. Not only do you retain a source of income, but assuming you don?t take the mickey too much, a workplace can provide resources, contacts, opportunities for market research and most, importantly, free sandwiches and coffee. It may mean working yourself to the bone, but there are many business ventures that never got off the ground purely because the founders could no longer support themselves.

Listen

Finally, I would say that it?s important to listen. Businesses that don?t listen end up failing. In order to gather information from the people that will make your business work, you need to stay in touch and put out as many feelers and sensors as you can. Everything you do should suggest an attitude of availability and a willingness to listen. Each and every method is valuable, even the less engaging and more traditional ones, because taken together they give you access to the minds of the people that are buying your product.

Fundamentally, no matter how tough it?s been, no matter how many times we?ve been told ?no? or ?it won?t work?, not for one second has any of us regretted the moment we set up innocent full time. If you?re thinking of setting up your own business, we couldn?t recommend it highly enough.

Good luck,

Richard Reed

Co-founder, Innocent Drinks Limited

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Compiled by Danny Bailey and Andrew Blackman, Dear Entrepreneur: Letters from those that have made it and are making it happen is a collection of more than 70 letters offers their personal insights, anecdotes and business lessons for new business-owners. It?s a great read and it?s available as both and ebook and a paperback from the Enterprise Nation shop. Just click on the link below.
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