Shaper: Jon Wright

Show aired on 28th October 2017

Transcript

Elliot Moss
That was Brown Eyed Handsome Man from Nina Simone. Good morning, this is Jazz Shapers, I am Elliot Moss thank you very much for joining me. Jazz Shapers is the place where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul and right alongside them we bring someone who is shaping the world of business and we call them a Business Shaper. I am really pleased to say my Business Shaper today is none other than Jon Wright and if you don’t know his name you will know what he does and you’ll know his name by the end of the programme because Jon is one of the co-founders of Innocent Smoothies and much more now and also one of the co-founders of JamJar Investments; they make natty investments in very interesting companies that will do very well I’m sure – lots coming up from Jon today. In addition to hearing from him you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya, some words of advice for your business and then we’ve got the music and its fabulous today; Tony Bennett is in there, Bill Withers is too and so is this one from Roberto Fonseca.

That was Roberto Fonseca, the Cuban pianist I’m sure you knew that and the track was called Family. Jon Wright is my Business Shaper as I billed earlier here on Jazz Shapers and Jon is one of the co-founders of the Innocent family. We’ll talk about friendship in a moment and also one of the co-founders of JamJar Investments and JamJar Investments as I said is a vehicle where they put it together so that they can invest in young companies. Jon thank you very much for joining me.

Jon Wright
Not at all, pleasure to be here.

Elliot Moss
Now the Innocent brand for people of a certain age, well most people now across the UK actually and probably more broadly is one of those brands that’s redefined the way that business was going to be done and to me what I recollect is just the language of selling stuff became human and became normal and I connected with this drink at the time in a way that I probably never had before. When you kicked this business off, the first business was that the intention? I mean what were you thinking as you set up that market stall and started selling smoothies?

Jon Wright
Well we probably weren’t thinking too much. We were three friends who thought this was a great idea but didn’t have any experience in the industry and so we were just doing things the way we would do them ourselves the way we would do things for each other, the way we would do things as friends and so in terms of when it came to what was written on the packaging I remember sitting with Richard in front of the computer and we put the logo on the front and put all the legal stuff down one side and there was a big bit of space on the other side and we kind of looked at each other and well what are we doing to put here and it’s like well I don’t know what about you know, hello thanks for buying this, and kind of off we went.

Elliot Moss
When you met and you guys met at university over twenty, I think it was over twenty years ago now.

Jon Wright
Oh probably.

Elliot Moss
We’re getting old, we’re getting really old so you met Richard and you met Adam and many people won’t know the story but the three of you connected as friends. You all went off and did your own thing after university, you went to Bay in the management consultant, Richard went into the world of advertising and digital, the beginning of digital advertising. Adam I don’t know about but you’ll tell me. At what point did the three of you connect and say we want to do something. I mean obviously people know some of the folk lore around the stall and stuff but there obviously were conversations before that happened. How did it all start?

Jon Wright
Well we met in the bar the first night of our first term at university so we kind of clicked from day one and kind of connected with you know kind of our views on life and throughout university we were doing stuff together we were putting on nights where I produced the kind of the posters and Adam would DJ and Richard would be out with the kind of the tickets and things so you know we knew we worked together all through university but then went off into different careers. Adam went to McKenzie and then into the Virgin group. But we were living together and spending a lot of time together and had a conversation that was just going round and round which was well look we know we worked well together at university we’re all doing well in our careers but if there was any time just to take a massive risk this would be it and if so you know what would we do.

Elliot Moss
And the what would we do how did it get insert, I know what we’ll set up a smoothie company, I mean that’s a kind of random thing to think about.

Jon Wright
Yes so it was getting in a car, we were going to the Alps for a snowboarding weekend and so nick a car from Richard’s ad agency to put a few thousand miles on it to drive to Val D’Isere and as we drove through the night it was like well wouldn’t it be good to do something. Well okay let’s spend this weekend trying to come up with an idea and so it was all very innovations catalogue I don’t know if you remember those things. The inserts you used to get in the newspapers all whacky kind of cat feeders and tie racks and everything and it was like come on lets come up with something that makes people’s lives a little bit better and a little bit easier and yeah the fruit smoothie was the third idea in the list. We were all you know twenty six year old guys with unhealthy diets and something we wanted was something that made it easier for us to do ourselves some good and we thought of the fruit smoothie which I had seen out in the US because it was beginning to start there and then to our great shock we couldn’t find a reason not to do it. It was you know, oh god we’re going to end up doing fruit smoothies, and you know how fortunate that was.

Elliot Moss
Indeed how fortunate that was. Stay with me for much more about how fruit smoothies have changed the lives of Jon and his co-partners and indeed many of our lives as we look back over the last ten/fifteen years. Time for some more music though before we go back to Jon and it’s the one and only Tony Bennett with The Best Is Yet To Come.

The imitable sound of Tony Bennett with The Best Is Yet To Come and I think the best is yet to come because Jon Wright’s my Business Shaper, he is the co-founder of Innocent Smoothies and he’s also the co-founder of JamJar Investments. We were talking about the late night drive to the ski border, the snowboarding weekend and we got to the point where you said, uh oh we are going to have to do this thing called the fruit smoothie world. A week later you reconvene, you’re in a board room apparently. Tell me a little bit about how you divided up what you were going to do, who was going to do what, how did you decide that?

Jon Wright
Yeah so a week later it’s our kind of first proper meeting and to make this all serious we nabbed the board room at my old office so we’re kind of sat in these leather chairs kind of spinning around pretending to be Executives but really having no idea what we’re doing and it’s like the one thing we thought is if we’re going to do this and there were three of us what is each of us going to do and so we wrote down all the bits we could think of of the business and I had done manufacturing at university so I knew how to make things so it was kind of obvious the bit I was going to look after and Richard had come from an ad agency and so he was going to do the marketing and Adam was keen to do the commercial stuff and it was like wow we all want to do different bits and nobody wants to do each other’s bit. Now there was some stuff around finance and HR that kind of got kicked around and no one was quite sure where that was going to land but kind of the three things that were going to define the business you know we each wanted to get our teeth into and I think for me that was the sort of one of the magic moments.

Elliot Moss
Absolutely critical in a partnership and when people talk about partnerships they think about one or two people but obviously there’s three of you and that’s, I mean it must have made a big difference to have the substance across three critical parts if not the fourth and the fifth that you just eluded to. I recall many years ago meeting Richard and he said you’d think it would have been really easy to raise the money that we needed to get going. It wasn’t so easy and thinking about life now and funding and things just tell me a little bit about what you encountered then and how you got over it.

Jon Wright
Well I realise how now as an investor putting money into people who are in our position I realise how naïve we were in our approach because you know we had nothing really apart from an idea and no track record and so we were going out trying to raise money off the back of we’re going to come up with a great fruit juice and we’re going to come up with a great name and it’s going to be really successful. Will you give us some money to go on this journey to try and sell it into Tescos and compete against all the other drinks out there and quite wisely everybody said no you know that you can’t between the three of you you can’t even decide who’s going to be chief so how are you going to get this thing going at all and it got right to the very end where we had been through all the pitches to all the different groups that you can do. We’d written to and met all the banks. We had, you know we’d done everything from A to Z and the final thing we did was send out an email to everybody we knew saying does anybody know anyone rich? It was kind of like a final Friday night hoorah of let’s just see what happens and we got one response and that one response was a chap who I had worked with who said I know this guy called Maurice Pinto and I think he would actually like you guys and we met Maurice and fortunately for us Maurice did like us and said I would like to back you and then almost as an afterthought said by the way what are you doing and we went, oh we’re going to do this fruit juice to which he went, oh lord but I’ve kind of implicitly said I’m going to back you so I’m going to see it through. So we got one positive response and that was all we needed.

Elliot Moss
And do you think that that people before business plan ethos has stuck with you. I mean here we are now 17/18 years later since that moment, since Maurice decided to put the money in and as he said, oh lord when he realised it was fruit smoothies and there are issues with refrigeration, all the other things like that people must have thought. Is that still the way you look at things?

Jon Wright
So what Maurice showed us in that first meeting we relearn every single day with the investments we’re doing with JamJar. You know we’ve now invested in thirty odd start-up businesses and when we sit down as a team and look at the ones that are flying versus the ones that are struggling it’s nothing to do with the market or the idea or competition or anything like that. The distinguishing factor is the team and you know we have to keep reminding ourselves what Maurice did was you know it’s that team of people that’s going to be the difference between success and failure more than anything else.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me to find out more about Jon Wright and what he’s learnt along the way, he is the co-founder of Innocent and also co-founder of JamJar Investments. Latest travel in a couple of minutes and before that some words of wisdom I hope from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya for your business.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss. Every Saturday I’m very lucky I get to meet someone who is shaping the world of business who is doing something extraordinary and over the last few years I’ve met a number of brilliant people. If you would like to hear any of those interviews go into iTunes put in the words ‘Jazz’ and ‘Shapers’, you’ll find a lot there. CityAM.com is another destination and so is British Airways High Life. Today Jon Wright is right in front of me and he is the co-founder of Innocent Smoothies as well as the co-founder of JamJar Investments. They make investments in businesses but as we were talking about earlier really they talk about and think about the person in front of them and the team. So cast your mind back now and the business is now going. You’ve got your first investment in Innocent. On the journey, in those first few years were there moments when you went, when you looked at each other, your mates and said this just isn’t a runner we need to stop.

Jon Wright
I think one of the powerful things about there being three of us was inevitably one of us would come back from something or have had some experience like this isn’t going to work you know, this is the end of the line there’s no way out of this but having two other partners chances are at least one of them might be feeling positive and could kind of pull you up and find a way through. I mean one of the challenges we had was we were setting out to make a drink that was 100% fruit you know no industrial shortcuts, our whole idea was why aren’t drinks like you make them at home and as we set out to do this you realise why everybody did it in a certain way. Why they put concentrates or shelf life extenders or sugar all of this kind of stuff in and the only way we could do it was going to cost an absolute fortune because it was high quality fruit handled very carefully and we looked at it and said, you know I came back and said looking at the costings this just isn’t going to work, we can’t put a product out there that anyone is going to be able to afford and that will work as a business and at the same time Richard had come back from a meeting with some designers who had created a beautiful looking bottle. So I was sitting there saying people will never pay what you need to pay for this and he came back and said well look if it looks like this maybe they might and you know so there were those moments of despair and then you know you could break through them.

Elliot Moss
In terms of breaking through generally and innovation is an often used word and its rarely applied accurately in my opinion, I’m sure you’ll agree on that point, how did you as the product guy as it were, as the manufacturer ensure that that innovation remained the backbone of the business. I mean overcoming that initially challenge that you just talked about where you managed to square up price with quality along the way how did you make sure that you still had that lunacy of the vision way back when.

Jon Wright
I think we were just trying to keep the company open and get ideas in from everybody so you know nobody had the rights to their new ideas or kind of new thoughts so getting the team involved, being really porous to everything that our consumers were saying, you know Innocent was all kind of about transparency and being no different on the inside of the business to what we projected out and getting people to come into Fruit Towers and just be connected to everything that’s going on and you know a kind of mentality in the business that everything that kind of passed through your hands as it left you it had to be in a better state you know you’ve got to move it on, make it better, keep changing it. You know if you’re sending out the same email every day or dealing with the same spreadsheet or producing the same thing that’s no good, every time it’s got to be that little bit better. You know you can innovate everywhere everyone thinks innovation is about the product and the thing you’re making but it can be about the way the business operates, the way you run the meeting, the way you talk to people, every single thing you can you know, kind of make that bit better.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more from my Business Shaper today Jon Wright, co-founder of Innocent and JamJar Investments. Time for some music right now though it’s Bill Withers with Ain’t No Sunshine.

That was Bill Withers with Ain’t No Sunshine. I’m talking to Jon Wright and just in case you hadn’t heard earlier he is the co-founder of Innocent Smoothies. I’ve said it a few times today Jon.

Jon Wright
You know now.

Elliot Moss
I do now if you didn’t know before you do definitely know now and he’s also co-founder of JamJar Investments. The other thing, we were talking about innovation just before, the other thing that’s juxtaposed innovation is discipline. It’s all very well having a farm full of wonderful creatures fertile with ideas, how did the manufacturing engineer in you ensure that there was discipline, that there was process because people often don’t think there’s a tight correlation they go if it’s free and easy it’s one thing, if its disciplined it’s not free and easy. I mean tell me a little bit about how you manage that because you must have industrialised the innovation?

Jon Wright
I guess this was one of the great kind of tensions we had between the three of us. My role was unfortunately to be a bit of a kind of Captain No and let’s keep it simple and wouldn’t it be wonderful to be running say Red Bull where you have one product in one can that’s the same everywhere over as opposed to us where we’ve got lots of different recipes and lots of different packaging and you know and kind of huge complexity and so it was that kind of healthy tension between kind of new ideas and the innovation but also being ruthless about stopping the stuff that wasn’t working and saying well if we’re going to get complicated that way we’ve got to be brilliant at handling that complication and make sure we’re simple somewhere else so you know, continuously pushing.

Elliot Moss
And the three of you obviously at some point in the mid-2000s must have thought, hold on a minute we’ve now got through the tough bit, we’ve got our funding, we’ve got a model, we’re managing to combine innovation with discipline, sales start going up, you’re now moving towards the end of the 2009/2010. At what point did any of you start thinking about potentially realising some value, potentially where money becomes a thing because the money I imagine when you first started as twenty six year olds was like well this is crazy anyway it’s never going to work. You start to realise it’s going to work what does that make you feel, if anything?

Jon Wright
We had an ambition when we set the business up of this could get to a few million pounds kind of turnover and then by the time we got to 2007 it was over a hundred million pounds so you know vastly in excess of anything we’d ever dreamt of and so I guess there were questions at that point about well you know I’m still living in the same, renting the same small flat how do I get myself something a little bit better and so we took some money out of the business that year and in fact this was you know, when you make decisions sometimes they can be at the wrong time and we took some money out of the business that year. We decided to expand internationally at the same time and of course you know 2008 the year we went into was the year that everything changed for everybody in terms of the economic climate and where people were spending their money and actually at the same time Tropicana who was the other big juice company or was the big juice company in the UK decided to launch into smoothies, spent more in the three months of their launch than we’d spent in the ten years of ours on marketing got into more stores in those three months than we’d managed to get to in the sort of ten years we’d spent building it up just at the time the economy crashed. We were investing overseas and had taken money out of the business. You can deal with one of these but when they all happen at the same time, you are in a bit of a pickle.

Elliot Moss
Lucky we’re still here and obviously it was alright. We’ll find out much more about how you made sure it was alright and that will be my final chat with Jon today. Plus we’ll be playing a track from China Moses that’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

That was China Moses with Watch Out. Jon Wright is my Business Shaper just for a few more minutes. We’ve been talking about Innocent and a little bit about JamJar Investments. Just really briefly I want to jump to the end of the stage of the Innocent story that most people know, you sold the majority stake in your business in 2013 I think to Coca Cola. How did it feel because it strikes me talking to you that money is a by-product of whatever you were doing and that it genuinely wasn’t the point but if it wasn’t the point at some point in 2013 you would have had quite a lot of money to look at and say well that was the result of something we did. How did that make you feel if anything? Because I’ve asked that question before to people and had really a diverse range of answers.

Jon Wright
Well I guess by 2013 we’d been running the business for fifteen years and it was clear that the future of the business was taking it globally, taking Innocent to other countries and rolling it out and part of it as the three of us looked at each other and thought well this is doing this in lots of other countries and that’s interesting but it’s not our thing. We were just at the time of having young families and getting more anchored to home and did we want to become those kind of globe trotters and the thought was well no this is a time for a change and a different pace of life because it had been pretty intense for those fifteen years.

Elliot Moss
And was it, I mean I imagine you were tired in a way and as you said going again and almost replicating the model having to fiddle a bit but you kind of knew what it would look like to having the money there in front of you, liberating? Strange? Alien? I mean were you connected at all to the number?

Jon Wright
Yeah I mean I guess throughout my life I’ve never, you know when I was working I never really connected my pay packet to the job I did. I kind of did the best of my job and made sure I was in a job I was going to enjoy doing and then the money came alongside that and was good enough to you know mean I could continue to focus on doing that so there wasn’t that kind of tight connection but I mean, Christ I’m so fortunate now to be in a comfortable position and then to be able to put some of that money to work helping other people like Maurice did with us.

Elliot Moss
And let me ask you about that because we’re now in the JamJar world which is an investment business as you said and you’ve backed a lot of interesting business. Do you always put yourself or does it happen anyway, you put yourself in the shoes of that young person you’re talking to and if so what benefit is that to the young person in front of you?

Jon Wright
Well I think you have to try and avoid doing that because it’s the entrepreneur’s business and they’re going to do with it what they’re going to do. You’ve got to back them to run it the way they want, in the direction they’re going. If you have put yourself in their shoes and have different thoughts for it that isn’t going to happen. But I guess what we can do as investors is we are guys who have been on the whole journey so yes we are investors but we know what it feels like when you’re confronted with those decisions and those you know big turning points, how it feels and what the outcomes can be.

Elliot Moss
You strike me as a humble guy, Jon and how have you continued to retain that humility because many people in your position would say well I did this, I made that, I’m now the guy, never doubt myself. It strikes me that actually you would say well that might be alright but I’m not sure. How have you retained that sense of?

Jon Wright
Because you get so many things wrong all the time and it’s the, you know it’s all those mistakes that you reflect on and you keep relearning the same lessons and especially you know early stage businesses are so tough and the success rate is so small that the majority of businesses that you back, that you’re super excited about, that you think are going to take over the world, won’t and so you are reminded day in/day out just how wrong you are about everything.

Elliot Moss
Listen it’s been an absolute pleasure to talk to you today. I appreciate your time. Just before I let you go what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Jon Wright
So it’s the theme from Starsky & Hutch by The James Taylor Quartet and the reason I chose this was it was the first band I ever saw, the first gig I ever went to at The Junction in Cambridge just after the three of us had kind of got together in that first term at university.

Elliot Moss
And you’ve been friends ever since.

Jon Wright
We have.

Elliot Moss
Thank you so much here it is just for you.

The James Taylor Quartet with the theme from Starsky & Hutch. The song choice of my Business Shaper today, Jon Wright. Importance of team was absolutely critical in the creation of the Innocent business. The focus on innovation juxtaposed with discipline in the way they navigated that as they built their business and the focus on people and people first approach as Jon looks to invest in new businesses as they look to grow in the same way that Innocent did for him and his team. Really brilliant stuff. Do join me again same time, same place, that’s 9.00am next Saturday here on Jazz FM. Meantime stay with us coming up next its Nigel Williams.

Jon Wright
Jon co-founded innocent in May 1999 along with two friends, Richard Reed and Adam Balon. Innocent now has revenues of £250m and sells in 15 different countries across Europe. Jon and his two co-founders sold their controlling stake in innocent to Coca Cola in 2013 with the business valued at over half a billion dollars and they remain on the board as minority shareholders.

At innocent, Jon initially ran the supply chain, developing the businesses processes and systems. When it expanded internationally in 2008, Jon became UK MD and COO of the overall group.

Since innocent, Jon has co-founded JamJar Investments, again with Richard and Adam. JamJar backs early stage consumer-facing businesses.

Jon and innocent’s awards include winning E&Y’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year; Britain’s Greatest Business at ITV’s Great Britons Awards; National Business Awards’ Small/Medium Business of the Year, and Orange Innovative Company of the Year.

Jon is married with three children and is a trustee of the innocent foundation that gives ten percent of innocent’s profits each year to charity.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

“To our great shock we couldn’t find a reason not to do it. It was, you know, oh god we’re going to end up doing fruit smoothies…”

“…we’re kind of sitting in these leather chairs, spinning around pretending to be executives but really having no idea what we’re doing.”

“Innocent was all about transparency and being no different on the inside of the business to what we projected out.”

“You can innovate everywhere. Everyone thinks innovation is about the product and the thing you’re making but it can be about the way the business operates.”

“It was that kind of healthy tension between new ideas and the innovation but also being ruthless about stopping the stuff that wasn’t working.”

“We had an ambition when we set the business up that this could get to a few million pounds turnover. By the time we got to 2007 it was over a hundred million pounds.”

“I’m so fortunate now to be in a comfortable position and then to be able to put some of that money to work helping other people.”

“Yes, we are investors but we know what it feels like when you’re confronted with those decisions and those big turning points, how it feels and what the outcomes can be.”

“The majority of businesses that you back, that you’re super excited about, that you think are going to take over the world, won’t and so you are reminded day in/day out just how wrong you are about everything.”