Career Exploration: Starting a Beverage Company with Hillary Lewis of Lumi Juice
For our Professional Advancement Course, we were asked to conduct an informational interview. I still don’t know what my future after Darden looks like: it could be a promotion at work, or maybe it’s a job in a new industry, or maybe I decide to start my own business. As part of that exploration, I decided to ask a recent Darden grad who went the entrepreneur route for an interview to learn more about the benefits and challenges of starting a business.
About a year ago I was listening to a local Charlottesville radio station, 106.1 The Corner, and I heard an interview with Hillary Lewis (Darden Class of 2013), who started Lumi Juice here in Charlottesville as she was nearing graduation. Much of what I heard in the radio interview has been covered in published interviews by the University of Virginia, Poets and Quants, Virginia Business, and USA Today. But after listening, I kept thinking launching a start-up in Charlottesville that sold something beneficial to society sounded amazing. Hearing the interview with Hillary was part of the reason I decided to apply to Darden, so I was definitely appreciative of hearing her story first-hand last Thursday. Turns out our interview also took place exactly two years after Lumi received it’s HPP machine:
Hillary has done an impressive job for such a short period of time, so good she was recently named one of the top 10 young entrepreneurs to watch by Syracuse University. In fact, she was up and running selling cold pressed, high pressure processed juice through RelayFoods and Whole Foods just six short months after starting. That included finding a warehouse, purchasing the juicing, processing, and bottling equipment, arranging a steady supply of organic fruits and vegetables, creating recipes, and arranging distribution. How she got there almost exemplifies what it takes to be successful as a start-up: hard work, tenacity, passion, and a firm belief failure is not an option. The results speak for themselves as Lumi is now on shelves at Whole Foods throughout the mid-Atlantic region, all 150 Fresh Market stores throughout the U.S., and various other locations on the east coast. Lumi is also using more organic fruit and vegetables than Virginia growers can provide, but still makes every effort to get its supply from as close to home as possible.
What makes Lumi Juice special is the cold pressed — high pressure processing (HPP) that avoids the use of heat pasteurization which can change the chemical composition of the sugars and nutrients in the juice. The process has “very little effect on low molecular weight compounds such as flavor compounds, vitamins, and pigments compared to thermal processes,” preserving the fresh taste as well as the composition of the juices according to an Ohio State University factsheet on HPP. And despite what may seem like a high price tag for the juice, it’s actually a value versus buying the large amounts of organic fruits and vegetables it would take to make the 10 or 16-oz bottles of juice at home (each 16-oz bottle can use up to a retail cost of $18 in fruits and vegetables). There’s plenty to be said about the cold pressed juice industry and it’s growing popularity; the reality is Hillary saw an opportunity to be an early start up in an emerging market and made it happen.
If you don’t live near a Fresh Market or a location where Lumi is sold, then you can still take advantage of an online ordering system that includes subscription and reward services! Lumi products are available to purchase from their website and are distributed directly from their warehouse in Charlottesville.
What I Learned from Hillary
Launching a business is hard work (obviously.)
While Hillary’s classmates were cruising along their last term at Darden, most likely with great jobs already lined up post graduation, Hillary was working extremely long hours putting the pieces in place to get Lumi to market ahead of the competition. It takes a lot of resolve to take an idea to launch, a no-quit attitude, and a firm belief your idea is going to sell. And Hillary made it very clear, if you can’t sell your idea, you’re not going to be successful. I loved Hillary’s willingness to meet with me for an hour. What I learned today is that Hillary makes most of this magic happen with a very small team. For instance, I have been impressed with Lumi’s social media presence; you can find Lumi very engaged on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. What I was amazed to hear was Hillary manages most of the social media work personally and even finds time to blog at The Juicy Details. When I think of the marketing, strategy, operations, and human resources that must go into running a business earning in the neighborhood of a million dollars of revenue a year, I imagine a pretty robust staff (likely because I work in the government where we have three staff for every worker–that may be an exaggeration but it doesn’t always feel untrue), but the Lumi team is thin. It’s clear Hillary has built a dedicated, hard working staff that believes in what they’re doing.
Be proactive in learning what you need to be successful.
While Darden has the organizations and clubs to encourage entrepreneurship (Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the i.Lab incubator, entrepreneur club, among others), preparing to be an entrepreneur is more about your own personal development and ability to seek out the information you need to proceed with confidence. In other words, Batten Institute isn’t going to teach me how to be an entrepreneur, but it may help me to develop a good network of experienced people I can turn to for support, questions, or guidance. In fact, Hillary first proposed a different idea to the i.Lab incubator and was not selected. It proves entrepreneurship is as much about the person than it is the education. From what I read, and now witnessed from Hillary, she had the right desire and drive to make it happen.
Surround yourself with people that are going to help you succeed.
Hillary gave the advice to have a good group of supporters that can help you get through the rough patches, such as showing up to Lumi at 2am with beer and forcing you to leave work and get some sleep! This is something I firmly believe in and even stated in my interview with Darden; I wanted to be surrounded by innovative people with the drive to succeed. And so far, I have not been let down by a single member of the Class of 2017 MBA for Executives cohort.
Stay true to your goals.
Hillary also demonstrates her commitment to Darden–in addition to meeting with me, she spoke at Darden the day before–and Charlottesville community. She partnered with a local grower to release a seasonal apple harvest juice that should hit shelves next week. So in addition to providing a healthy, organic product (that may be the perfect energy-drink replacement for athletes too!), Hillary is fulfilling one of her pre-Darden goals of providing a community service. If there’s one thing I’ll take away from my meeting with Hillary it may be to form a specific entrepreneurial goal and then make it happen!
Originally published at wanderingveteran.com on September 26, 2015.