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I Built And Sold An Empire To A Private Equity, Only To Buy It Back And Make It Stronger Than Ever

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.

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8min read
Politics

Do 2020 Presidential Candidates Still Have Rules to Play By?

Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.


When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.

2016: What rules?

Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.

Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.

And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.

And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?

Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.

Digital policies for 2020 and beyond

While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.

Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy

Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:

  • If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
  • While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
  • If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
  • Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
  • Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?

Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.

Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply

The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:

  1. Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
  2. Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
  3. Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
  4. Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
  5. Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
  6. Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
  7. Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
  8. Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.

Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles

Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.