Building Your Business From the Ground Up ft. Annie Lawless

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Meet Annie Lawless creator of BLAWNDE and co-founder of Suja Juice! She took her business from the ground up and grew it into a massive success! Read all about her journey and how she built her empire!

Tell us a little about yourself and what inspired you to start Suja.
I was diagnosed with Celiac’s disease as a child before gluten free was a well-known concept and before gluten-free products were available in grocery stores. In fact, we didn’t even have natural markets like Whole Foods back then. I became obsessed with learning about food and nutrition after my diagnosis and taking charge of my health. I began juicing as a teenager, and it was the best way for my damaged digestive tract to easily absorb nutrients. I experienced more energy and vitality than I had ever felt and have stuck with juicing every day since then.

When I was 23, I moved to San Diego for law school. I knew pretty quickly it was just not right for me and that I did not want to be a lawyer. I started taking yoga at a studio near my apartment in La Jolla every free moment I had because it calmed my anxiety about school and gave me a sense of peace amidst my negative feelings. I loved being there so much that I started working and teaching at the studio. One day, a guy came in to take class and we struck up conversation because we were both drinking green juices we had made at home. We discovered a mutual passion for juicing, organics, and nutrition. We teamed up and started a local home delivery service throughout San Diego of organic, cold-pressed juices. Two local investors became interested in what we were doing and approached us about taking it bigger and making it a legitimate business. I knew this was what I was truly passionate about and left law school to follow that passion and live in accordance with my purpose.

What is the Suja mission and how do your products benefit people?
Our main goal has always been to democratize organic, non-GMO, cold-pressed juice and make it accessible and affordable for everyone. Juicing fruits and vegetables is a highly effective way to flood the body with nutrients in their purest form, including important vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. The process of juicing separates the juice from the fiber of the plant, leaving behind the structural matter (pulp) that can inhibit the absorption of valuable nutrients by the body. When you drink pure juice, your body quickly and easily absorbs all of the concentrated nutrition from the produce used and assimilates the vitamins, minerals, enzymes, phytochemicals and rich chlorophyll throughout your body.

What obstacles did you face as a startup and how did you overcome them?
We grew very very fast! When we launched, I don’t think we could have anticipated how quickly we would need to scale. There were lots of growing pains involved with running so fast to keep up in an industry that was very new to us, but you just figure it out as you go and take each day and problem one step at a time. We wanted to take the amazing opportunities that were presenting themselves, but it meant saying “yes” a lot when we really weren’t sure if we could meet the demand in question and then figuring it out quickly. Yes, it was stressful and yes, we had a lot of panicked moments, but it all worked out and is all part of startup life!

You also have your personal blog, BLAWNDE. How do you balance your work with Suja and growing your blog?
It’s definitely challenging to juggle my role in Suja and BLAWNDE because my blog is 100% me. I don’t have a team of people responding to emails, doing my graphics, editing my photos, or creating social media content. I never knew before starting my blog how much work goes into one blog post. But, I’m a big believer that if you love something and want to make it happen, you will find a way. I always manage to fit it all in even when I think I can’t because I truly love both Suja and my blog, and that motivation keeps me focused.

What is one strength you possess as an entrepreneur & how has it helped grow your business and your blog?
I have always known what I don’t know! I am very confident in my strengths and keep my focus on those. I am very easily able to ask for help and rely on people who are good at the things I am not. In a start up business, it’s impossible to do everything yourself, so knowing that and being okay turning to others who can do what you can’t will make your life so much easier and help you take your business to a much higher level than you could have on your own. I am a creative mind and excel in product development, generating ideas, reading, and writing, but I’m terrible with numbers and details. I don’t let my ego get in the way and try to be great with numbers and details. I focus on the creative aspects of the business that make me happy and where I can contribute the most value and let others do the things I’m not great at.

By reading the comments on your blog posts, you have a very dedicated following. How did you build such a strong community of readers?
Authenticity! I keep my blog purely ME and don’t post about anything that isn’t genuinely something I believe in. Whether it’s my take on a dietary philosophy, personal struggles I’m having, or something as simple as what I’m wearing, I keep it all real and true to who I am. Your readers know when you’re being fake or pushing out sponsored posts for money. My following comes back to read my blog and engage with me because we have an honest relationship and they feel invested in my life because they are part of it.

Coca-Cola recently invested in Suja. What are some things you keep in mind when partnering with new companies?
Keep your original mission in mind and understand if your new partner will ultimately help you achieve that mission while keeping your values and ideals intact. At Suja, our mission from day one has always been to get a bottle of organic, non-GMO, cold-pressured juice into as many hands as possible. When partnering with Coca-Cola, we put lots of consideration into the decision to do so. We had to make sure that they had no intentions of wanting to change the key pillars of our company that are a huge deal to us and our consumers. These pillars are 1) organic and non-GMO; 2) Minimally processed; 3) Transparent on our product label and in our business; 4) Health and wellness driven with a strong focus on innovation. After talking with Coke, we had so much piece of mind and were extremely satisfied and happy that they want exactly the same for Suja as we do. Accepting a minority investment from Coca-Cola allows us to leverage their distribution network and to expand our production to meet growing demand, without changing anything about our juices, which will always be organic, non-GMO and HPP’d blends of cold-pressed juice and purees. This all ties back to help us achieve our mission from the beginning of getting a bottle of organic, non-GMO, cold-pressured juice into as many hands as possible.

In one word, characterize your life as an entrepreneur.
Interesting!!!

What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader?
I push myself on a daily basis and always strive to live on the edge of my comfort zone. For me, that’s where the fun of life is and where I grow as a human being and business person. I don’t ever want to become too comfortable or stagnant because I thrive when I’m creating, thinking, and doing. No matter what I accomplish, I always want to be hungry for more. Pushing myself out of the things I know and what feels “safe” continually opens new doors of opportunity in my life and allows me to share what I learn in the process with others who may need a bit of inspiration.