Innocent Drinks Co-Founder reviews entrepreneurship with LSST’s CEO
By Kunal Chan Mehta | Article Date: 14 November 2017
Jon Wright was the co-CEO and COO of innocent drinks. He set up the business with his friends from a market stall in 1999. After 15 years they sold the company to Coca-Cola for north of £385m.The founders of innocent drinks and Jamjar Investments – from left, Jon Wright, Richard Reed and Adam Balon (Photo Source: JamJar, used with permission) Interview date: 15 November 2017
The innocent drink founders now run JamJar – a venture fund set up to help entrepreneurs be successful. The fund invests in strong teams with an idea that consumers will love. Just some of the popular brands it backs include innocent drinks, Deliveroo, Proper Corn and Graze.
LSST’s Founder and CEO, Mr Syed Zaidi, speaks with Jon about his recent venture and all things entrepreneurial. Mr Zaidi emphasises on Jon’s business stance in order for LSST’s students to garner and focus on his best practices:
You are the Co-Founder of innocent drinks, what are you up to these days?
After exiting innocent to Coca-Cola, we setup JamJar investments, an early stage venture capital funded focussed on consumer facing businesses. We now have about 35 businesses in our portfolio and I spend my time helping them in the way that is most useful to the founders, whether that’s being part of their board or just someone they can talk things through with.
What did you do at innocent drinks?
I was one of three founders and collectively we acted as a joint CEO. Each of us then had specific areas of focus. Mine was running the UK business and then ensuring that the whole operation knitted together. Adam Balon was focussed on international expansion and Richard Reed on building the brand.
How did JamJar come about?
Whist at innocent, entrepreneurs started to approach us for advice and money. We met some really interesting people doing great things and discovered that we could also be useful to them. When we stepped back from innocent the natural thing to do was to get more involved in this area. We get to spend time with great people and also have a much more flexible working life than we did growing innocent for 15 years.
Are you an entrepreneur first and an investor second?
Chronologically entrepreneur and then investor, and I think that has shaped the way we think. We naturally look at things from the entrepreneurs’ perspective which can be helpful for our founders. It probably makes it more challenging for us as investors as we convince ourselves too readily that every business plan can be made to work!
Raising money is a challenge – how does JamJar make it less of one?
Raising money is hard: innocent’s funding came at the 11th hour from our final role of the die. At JamJar we aim to give decisions quickly so entrepreneurs can focus on running the business not raising the money, and where the answer isn’t positive we want to provide useful feedback and point the business in the direction of an investor who may be a better fit.
JamJar backs innocent drinks, Deliveroo and Proper Corn – that is a diverse range of products. Does each work independently of the other?
The common thread through all our businesses is building a great relationship with the consumer and that’s the expertise we bring. However, there are common challenges for early stage businesses in all sectors so we can connect people together who are facing such challenges.
What is your advice for anyone wanting to start up their own business at LSST?
The greatest determinant of success is the quality of the founding team. So my advice is to get the right co-founders around you (three turned out to be a great number for us) and then invest the time in making sure you all want to head in the same direction – not necessarily the business strategy, but the type of journey you want to go on together and your expectations at the end of it. An aligned, complimentary founding team is incredibly powerful.
What is the one piece of wisdom that you would like to pass on to LSST’s students?
Whilst there is nothing like running with an idea as soon as you have it, don’t underestimate how much you learn from joining an established business. You can work on your plan in the background and find your co-founders all whilst learning how great businesses work.
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