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.
"There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before." -Willa Cather
A logical fallacy called bifurcation (yes, it sounds like a disease) is used to make people believe that they can only choose between two extreme choices: love me or leave me, put up or shut up, etc. In relation to my career and my love life, I was once stricken by this crazy malady.
I spent over a decade in and out of love relationships that undermined my career and drained my creative energy along with my finances. The key problem was that I was convinced that I had two options: be a kickass, and powerful professional who scares off any prospective mate or surrender to that deep and profound love such that my ambitions blow away in the wind. For years, my psyche ping-ponged between these two choices like that was the only game in town. But why?
Turns out we women are often programmed into thinking that we can't have love (at least that good, juicy heated kind) and any sort of real career. This is not actually that surprising given the troubled history that America has with women in the workplace. Post WWII, women were supposed to quit their jobs and scurry back home and leave the careers for the returning men. And if you think we've come a long way from making women feel they don't belong in the workplace, consider Alisha Coleman. In 2016, she was fired because her period leaked onto a chair!
But try to keep a good woman down, and well, you can't (Alisha sued her former employer). Given enough information we will always find a way to overcome our situation. As we teach in my practice, Lotus Lantern Healing Arts, we are all our own gurus. The light in the lotus just offers a way to illuminate your path.
So what was I missing so many years ago when I kept struggling between two suboptimal choices? The answer is the understanding that if I wanted to have it all, I had to start living right now as if I could. For me to be with someone who supported me having a fantastic career, I had to believe that that was actually one of my choices and start living that way.
Of course that is easier said than done (like most life lessons). So once I made that realization, here are the three key changes I made (and no they didn't happen all at once):
First, I stopped apologizing. Why the hell do women always feel the need to apologize for everything! (Sorry for swearing! Jk.) In particular, why do we have to feel bad about time away from the homefront? Remember Don Draper stopping off at the bar before heading home? I took a Madman lesson from him and stopped apologizing for my free time and let go of my usual rush to get back. Instead I focused on enjoying the transition, which was often needed to release the stress of work. Whether I was slow-driving listening to my jams and singing at the top of my lungs or stopping off for a pedicure, a little ritual went a long way to making me feel like a real human when I walked through the door.
Second, I let go of perfection in order to be present. I stopped stressing over a work deadline and instead rescheduled it to tend to my love life or postponed a romantic dinner because a juicy work opportunity appeared. In this way, I did not force an unnatural choice or one I did not want but really paid attention to what felt right. Instead of feeling subpar in each realm, I end up getting the most out of my time in both places.
Third (and perhaps most significantly) I began to welcome and expect encouragement from the most significant person in my life. I made it clear to my partner that I wanted insight and not criticism. And since I knew I needed understanding and not saving, I said, "Please help me look at my career woes from a different angle instead of offering me advice." Ultimately, I only accepted partners that truly supported my dreams and didn't let me play small.
Today, some of the most exquisite pleasure I feel comes simply from my partner witnessing me. Having a cohort who really appreciates my struggles, helps me integrate work and life, and enjoys the wins together can be mind-blowing. Likewise, when the shit hits the fan (again, not sorry!), it's really important to have a partner that can hold space for you and help you remember those wins.
It's a constant battle. Our culture still perpetuates the myth by pitting love and career against each other (ever see Fatal Attraction?). Men don't always get this message, but then we don't need to wait for them to get it. All we have to do it start living right now in the way we truly deserve and bring others along with us. When my friends see me and my partner together separately killing it in the career department and fiercely loving each other they say, "Your relationship gives me hope."