How This Entrepreneur Fought Her Depression and Built a $300 Million Business


Exactly five years ago, Annie Lawless was having a hard time getting out of bed. She was in law school and less than happy. Although she was doing great in all of her classes, she found herself in a deep state of depression she had never experienced before.

She knew something had to change. With no definitive plans, she quit school.

Lawless knew she needed to be inspired, instead of tired, by something. She turned to what she loved--nutrition. Diagnosed with celiac as a child, she studied nutrition as a necessity for her health. She learned how to consume the most nutrients by juicing, specifically through a cold press juicer--other juicers create heat during the process reducing the vitamins, minerals, and enzymes--and she's been experimenting with juicing ever since.

Lawless discovered that a friend, Eric Ethans, shared her passion for fresh, raw, and organic juice. They started to make creative juices concoctions out of their homes, buying all of the produce from natural grocery markets at full retail price. They sold the juice to their friends in the yoga community. She even hand-delivered the juices with her two-door coupe around town.

Demand grew quickly. The husband of one of Lawless and Ethans's customers, James Brennan, just happened to be a successful businessman. Brennan saw the potential and asked to be involved. Originally skeptical of receiving help, Lawless and Ethans soon realized they could use Brennan's experience when they were no longer able to meet customer demand. Brennan brought in NIKA Water's founder and CEO Jeff Church, and Suja was born.

Shelf life was critical to bringing the Suja vision of organic and non-GMO juice for the masses. The original process, using a cold press juicer, had a shelf life of only three days, an obstacle to national distribution. It would have been easy for Suja to use other technologies and compromise the health benefits. Instead, the company set out to find a solution that aligned with its mission and values. Suja found it could usehigh-pressure processing (HPP), which essentially crushes the possibility of bacteria contaminating the juice. HPP extended Suja's shelf life to over 30 days while maintaining all the health benefits of a cold press juicer, making national distribution possible.

In September 2012, just one year after inception, Suja launched in Whole Foods. It is now in more than 10,000 outlets and has an annual revenue estimated at $80 million to $90 million. This August, Lawless and her co-founders sold 30 percent of their company to Coca-Cola for $90 million and 20 percent to Goldman Sachs for $60 million, valuing the company at $300 million. The partnership with Coca-Cola will give Suja supplies at lower-costs, a new production facility, and a much larger distribution channel.

All this, and Lawless is not even 30-years-old. Wise beyond her years, her philosophies in life are something we can all learn from. Here are a few for your benefit. There are even more on her inspiring blog, BLAWNDE.

1. Choose love over fear.

Annie's family is in law. Staying in law school would have been a decision driven by the fear of disappointing her family. Instead she chose what she loves--nutrition. Sure, she might have avoided telling them she quit until she had a plan. This superwoman is human too. (I sure hope they know now. I don't want this story to spoil her secret.)


Where might fear be driving your decisions?

Are you stuck in a corporate job while you really want to be building your own business? What is the underlying fear(s)? Are you afraid to fail? Perhaps it is a fear of not having money to pay the bills? Once you identify the fear you can work with it and start choosing love. Read Dr. Robert Holden's Loveability to support you in this shift.

2. Listen to your body.

Lawless's depression was telling her what she already knew in her heart--that law was not her passion or path in this world. Your body is your compass. If you learn to hear what your body has to say, it will tell you when you are off track and need to make new choices.

What is your body telling you right now?

Are your shoulders sore? Perhaps you are worrying too much and carrying that weight on your shoulders. Do your feet hurt? It could be that you are afraid to step forward. Louise Hay's book You Can Heal Your Life has an index that lists possibilities for your consideration. It also gives you an affirmation to focus on to help make the changes. Just remember your body is unique to you and the index is only a starting point for exploration. The better you learn what your body is saying the more it will be your compass.

3. Take one small step at a time.

Lawless did not quit school to build a $300 million business in five years. Battling her depression, she took one small step at a time. As Lao Tzu said, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." By setting goals you know you can accomplish you will build confidence. Lawless says she continues to earn her self-esteem by successfully completing small steps each day.

What is one small thing you can do today in the direction of your dreams?

If you are building the courage to start your business, start with small steps. Register your domain name. Set up a coffee with a mentor. Prototype your product with a roll of duct tape! Whatever the step, commit and complete. And keep going. I recommend Robert Maurer's book One Small Step Can Change Your Life to support you in building this skill.

4. Surrender to the universe.

Capitalize on synchronicity. It is no coincidence opportunity came into Lawless' life when it did. The good news is Lawless saw the synchronicities such as allowing partners to bring gifts to the mix. This took trust, courage, and probably a little negotiation with the ego.

Where may you be able to benefit from surrender in your life?

Acknowledge synchronicity and practice by surrendering with something small to start with, such as letting someone else choose where you go to lunch. You may just find that you run into a long lost friend or next business partner by letting the universe guide you. For inspiration in surrendering read Michael Singer's book Surrender Experiment.

As Steve Jobs said, "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? And whenever the answer has been 'No' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something."

It's your turn. Choose love over fear. Listen to your body. Take one small step at a time. Surrender to the Universe. Who knows, you may just find yourself running a $300 million business too.
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