In 2018, Paul Lindley stepped away from Ella's Kitchen, the organic baby food brand he started and named after his daughter, to become a champion of children's nutrition and welfare internationally. After selling the brand in 2013 to Hain Celestial, seven years after founding it, he knew there were other challenges to face.
He has since become the UK chair of Robert Kennedy Human Rights and a Trustee of Sesame Workshop – the creators behind Sesame Street, and a counsellor for One Young World, among other things. He enjoys keeping busy, he explains.
“What I tried to do after Ella's Kitchen was step away and think about what really interests me in life. I've got lots of years left hopefully where I can make a difference and I focused on making business work better for our economy and for our society and what is the purpose of business and then trying to use entrepreneurship in non-business or not-for-profit business areas. Some fantastic stuff is happening with social enterprise. There's the circular economy and then with charities and some public policy I work on, so a smorgasbord of stuff but it gets me up every day and it's something new.”
Asked how he would advise companies identify their own brand purpose, especially during the current global uncertainties, Lindley cites his own story of starting up Ella’s Kitchen in which he felt a responsibility to help his children eat better as he found baby food was “so functional” and failed to serve the consumer group for which it was an emotional issue.
"We built a brand on a normal family and tried to make the serious issue of weaning and bringing up children more childlike and more fun and sort of not a company to a consumer, but a parent to a parent. That's the heart of what we tried to do with our brand. And to do that… when you're working with children or any brand, it validates the views and the values of others. You're not selling your brand, you're trying to validate other people to trust you to buy you, so trust is the key thing. And so, authenticity and trust are the things that I would say, you need to get right, every single little touch-point you have with anyone in the organization, in the organization or outside the organization.”
He continues: “Brands start from within the company and exude-out to consumers. You can't operate under a different set of values within your company and then say your something to the outside world. So it has to start inside the company and that means you've got to have a set of values that you use all the time for every decision, you are judged by them when you think nobody's looking and do you still do those values then? And you need to articulate them, you need to have a culture that lives and breathes them under a mission everyone believes in and everybody sees how their job is part of this jigsaw… it’s driving this whole machine that lights up the mission of the company.”
Lindley explains that when it comes to customer targeting, entrepreneurs need to take risks, but evaluated risks, and that when it comes to brands for children, sensitivity it paramount.
On risks he outlined: “You've got to identify the ones that aren't working quickly and adapt them by listening to the consumers about what's not working. So having systems within your company so that when someone signs up for emails and says that they're not happy with something that you can understand that, you can get back to them and then have a process within the operations and within the marketing that you can adapt if there's a pattern coming through and you can constantly learn. So it's constantly evolving. You put the power with the customer. It's not you telling the customer what they should want, you want them to listen to the customer.”
On which brands have built around their purpose, Lindley says he has admiration for both Patagonia and Tesla as of organisations that understand their missions and continue to reflect those.
“Businesses and brands that can change the way we feel about things and change our behavior are just awesome. I absolutely believe business is the best thing to change society. Business innovation, the way we can change culturally and create prosperity.”
Asked for what advice he has for business leaders operating through the world’s uncertainty, Lindley has an optimistic viewpoint: “Put yourself in the shoes that you once had when you were a toddler,” is his surprising response.
“Think of the endless opportunities that you thought of at four or five years old. We didn't know the rules, we were testing them, and we were discovering the world. So we had this imagination that was unbounded. We had free thinking that didn't stop because somebody said; ‘Oh, you've got to think about the margin. Now you've got to think about practicalities of how long it will take to produce that.
“None of that was in our minds at four or five years old. It shouldn't be in the minds of some of the people in our business now. And we made friends without working out what was in it for us. We had this determination, ambition, and we played, and we discovered the world in different ways. And we've got to do that within our businesses. We have got to be brave enough to be creative and to and to test things. And so what I say to any business leader is, you don't need to learn this stuff. This was all in you at one point. None of us learn to walk the day we decided we want to walk. It took 500 times where we fell over and hurt ourselves and cried. But we learned each time and the 499 times we worked out everything we learned, and we made it.”
Watch the full interview with Paul Lindley as part of The Drum’s Can-Do Festival, in which he also talks about his role with Sesame Workshop and further lessons and insights he has learned during his career.