#SWAAYthenarrative
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I Built And Sold An Empire, Only To Buy It Back. Here's Why.

4min read
Business

My entrepreneurial journey began pretty much like any other: with a dream. It was the late 80s and we were living in Florida, surrounded by acres of citrus groves (my husband is a fourth-generation citrus farmer). I was a new mom, pulling my young daughter Natalie through the orange groves, just thinking about the fact that there wasn't any fresh, authentic juices available that I could comfortably serve my baby daughter.


At the time, there were only mass produced, preservative-laden and over-processed juices, all coming from a stable of large, established brands.

My dream was to change that.

I've always been careful about what I eat, truly believing our bodies treat us the way we treat them, and I knew other mothers and families who felt the same way. That morning in the orange groves, I realized that I needed to fill this void in the market, for me and others, and so the dream of Natalie's Orchid Island Juice Company was born.

At first, it was a small operation. I installed two 1,000-gallon stainless steel tanks and a juicer I had picked up from a local producer, founding the company in the back half of a fresh fruit retail store. I had to borrow a nearby butcher's refrigerated truck to deliver our first order, but I made it happen.

Soon I was calling in my brothers to help. All of us were passionate about working our business plan to its fullest and soon demand for our juice was sufficient to expand our operations. We went from two tanks to eight tanks, four employees to almost fifty. We moved into a new location, expanding our sales presence to other states and eventually going global. All the while, we held true to my original vision of supplying our customers with authentic, minimally processed juice made exclusively from fruits grown in Florida.

My dream quickly turned into our family's reality. Natalie's Juice Company was a complete success; we were a hit with customers looking for an authentic alternative to the processed juices offered by mass-marketed brands. I always say, we began producing clean label juice before it was chic.

Now getting to this level hasn't been easy. I faced many challenges in those early days, especially as a female CEO trying to build a unique brand in an industry dominated by men with a corporate culture that hadn't changed for decades.

For many entrepreneurs, the ultimate business goal is getting to an exit strategy: a profitable sale to a larger conglomeration that's been attracted to your financial success. At the time, Natalie's was truly a family-run business. We had done it all—taking no outside funding or even any debts. By this time, the juice industry became interesting to private equity investors, and we were approached by one who saw great value in our business. The private equity firm explained to us that, with their help, Natalie's could reach the next level.

So, in the year 2000, we sold our juice business to a large firm that promised to help us achieve even greater heights.

However, I quickly began to question our decision to sell the company we had worked so hard to build up, especially to people outside of our family. There was an immediate departure from the company's original core values, and we wanted more for the customers who had grown to know and love our brand. These people counted on our brand for their families' nutrition, and all of a sudden that brand wasn't delivering like it used to.

By 2003, we did something most companies don't do—we bought our company back! Once we did, we immediately returned to our original core values and mission: producing the best-tasting, authentic juice on the market.

So, what did I learn from this experience?

Don't Stray Away From Your Roots

When I decided to sell, I still thought I had the company's best interest at heart. The new owners promised to take the enterprise to a new level, a success beyond our wildest dreams. But I should have had confidence in the fact that we ourselves could drive that level of success—and eventually we did! We should never have questioned our abilities or strayed away from the core values that had served us so well.

When You're Passionate, No One Knows Your Business Better Than You

Since growing this business from the ground up, I've been an engaged participant in all aspects of the enterprise, from financing and marketing to R&D and taste-testing. If you truly love what you're doing, don't let anyone try to convince you they know better. Have faith in your choices, especially when they have been working!

Faith, Family and Friends are Your Best Business Partners

None of this journey could have been accomplished without the talent, care and passion of my family and friends. Their support has been a great pillar of strength for me, but without faith in myself I never could have taken the first step towards starting this business. You cannot undervalue any of these factors when making choices in your life.

I had the rare opportunity to correct a misstep in life and take back the company I built and loved. Today, Natalie's is once again a thriving family-owned company. We were recently named to Inc. 5000, which lists the "most inspiring" companies of 2018, and last month we launched a new line of cold-pressed, functional, holistic juices that represent the next generation of the Natalie's brand. The future remains bright, and my experience as an entrepreneur has taught me that an exit strategy is no-good if it takes you away from doing what you love.

​4 Min Read
Business

Please Don't Put Yourself On Mute

During a recent meeting on Microsoft Teams, I couldn't seem to get a single word out.


When I tried to chime in, I kept getting interrupted. At one point two individuals talked right over me and over each other. When I thought it was finally my turn, someone else parachuted in from out of nowhere. When I raised and waved my hand as if I was in grade school to be called on (yes, I had my camera on) we swiftly moved on to the next topic. And then, completely frustrated, I stayed on mute for the remainder of the meeting. I even momentarily shut off my camera to devour the rest of my heavily bruised, brown banana. (No one needed to see that.)

This wasn't the first time I had struggled to find my voice. Since elementary school, I always preferring the back seat unless the teacher assigned me a seat in the front. In high school, I did piles of extra credit or mini-reports to offset my 0% in class participation. In college, I went into each lecture nauseous and with wasted prayers — wishing and hoping that I wouldn't be cold-called on by the professor.

By the time I got to Corporate America, it was clear that if I wanted to lead, I needed to pull my chair up (and sometimes bring my own), sit right at the table front and center, and ask for others to make space for me. From then on, I found my voice and never stop using it.

But now, all of a sudden, in this forced social experiment of mass remote working, I was having trouble being heard… again. None of the coaching I had given myself and other women on finding your voice seemed to work when my voice was being projected across a conference call and not a conference room.

I couldn't read any body language. I couldn't see if others were about to jump in and I should wait or if it was my time to speak. They couldn't see if I had something to say. For our Microsoft teams setting, you can only see a few faces on your screen, the rest are icons at the bottom of the window with a static picture or even just their name. And, even then, I couldn't see some people simply because they wouldn't turn their cameras on.

If I did get a chance to speak and cracked a funny joke, well, I didn't hear any laughing. Most people were on mute. Or maybe the joke wasn't that funny?

At one point, I could hear some heavy breathing and the unwrapping of (what I could only assume was) a candy bar. I imagined it was a Nestle Crunch Bar as my tummy rumbled in response to the crinkling of unwrapped candy. (There is a right and a wrong time to mute, people.)

At another point, I did see one face nodding at me blankly.

They say that remote working will be good for women. They say it will level the playing field. They say it will be more inclusive. But it won't be for me and others if I don't speak up now.

  • Start with turning your camera on and encouraging others to do the same. I was recently in a two-person meeting. My camera was on, but the other person wouldn't turn theirs on. In that case, ten minutes in, I turned my camera off. You can't stare at my fuzzy eyebrows and my pile of laundry in the background if I can't do the same to you. When you have a willing participant, you'd be surprised by how helpful it can be to make actual eye contact with someone, even on a computer (and despite the fuzzy eyebrows).
  • Use the chatbox. Enter in your questions. Enter in your comments. Dialogue back and forth. Type in a joke. I did that recently and someone entered back a laughing face — reaffirming that I was, indeed, funny.
  • Designate a facilitator for the meeting: someone leading, coaching, and guiding. On my most recent call, a leader went around ensuring everyone was able to contribute fairly. She also ensured she asked for feedback on a specific topic and helped move the discussion around so no one person took up all the airtime.
  • Unmute yourself. Please don't just sit there on mute for the entire meeting. Jump in and speak up. You will be interrupted. You will interrupt others. But don't get frustrated or discouraged — this is what work is now — just keep showing up and contributing.
  • Smile, and smile big. Nod your head in agreement. Laugh. Give a thumbs up; give two! Wave. Make a heart with your hands. Signal to others on the call who are contributing that you support and value them. They will do the same in return when your turn comes to contribute.

It's too easy to keep your camera turned off. It's too easy to stay on mute. It's too easy to disappear. But now is not the time to disappear. Now is the time to stay engaged and networked within our organizations and communities.

So please don't put yourself on mute.

Well, actually, please do put yourself on mute so I don't have to hear your heavy breathing, candy bar crunching, or tinkling bathroom break.

But after that, please take yourself off mute so you can reclaim your seat (and your voice) at the table.