In 2010, Annie Lawless was a law student stuck in a deep depression. Unable to find joy in her current situation, she pulled the trigger and quit.
“Dropping out felt like a pretty big failure,” explained Lawless. “So much so I didn’t even tell my parents until after the fact because I was ashamed that I set out to do something and didn’t finish it or see it through.”
The La Jolla, California native eventually realized instead of following the path she thought she wanted, she instead should pursue the things she’s was passionate about.
Lawless suffered from chronic eczema as a kid. She was diagnosed with Celiac disease at an early age and was forced to learn quickly that the foods humans consume not only impact how they look, but more importantly, how they feel.
Her passion for nutrition led her to become a certified holistic health coach and a yoga instructor. She started pressing her own juices for herself and clients, which led to the launching of Suja Juice. Suju is now one of the largest organic juice companies in the United States and has been named one of the top 3 Most Promising Companies in the country for the last two years.
In 2015, Suja sold a 30% minority stake to Coca Cola at a $300 million valuation.
Annie is still a driving force behind the brand but has also launched other products and businesses on her own.
When did you first realize your business idea was going to work?
When we launched in Whole Foods it was very up in the air…would we be well received by that demographic or would it be a disaster? After 6 months, sales showed great success and they were interested in bringing us into more and more stores as the year went on. When a company as smart and credible as Whole Foods validated what we were doing and wanted to work with us in a larger capacity that just kept getting bigger, we knew we were on to something.
How many times did you fail before finding something that worked?
I dropped out of law school before following my passion for health and juicing and that felt like a pretty big failure. So much so I didn’t even tell my parents until after the fact because I was ashamed that I set out to do something and didn’t finish it or see it through.
What does it feel like to see a million dollars on a bank statement?
It was pretty surreal! Although nothing about my life has really changed. I think that’s the thing about being an entrepreneur. You’ve never really “made it” or feel like you’re done. I felt like “cool, this is amazing I have this money, but let’s keep moving.”
How long did it take you to make your first million and what is the biggest piece of advice you can give to a new investor on how to get there as fast as possible?
It took me about 4 years from the time we started Suja to this recent partial sale to Coca Cola and Goldman Sachs. My advice to a new investor is to not try to make fast money and get in the game for the long haul. Plan to weather the storm and see an investment through good times and bad. You will never get into something and see a clear path to success or feel it’s a sure thing. But to have big reward, you have to take risk and face the challenges that will inevitably present themselves along the way.
If you could tell a person new to investing one piece of advice about investing or money management, what would it be?
This may seem risky, but I have actually found great security in trusting my gut and getting involved in things I really believe in and feel something for. Of course, you want to back that up with sound, thorough research in the space you’re going into, but ultimately you have to follow your heart and what excites you. You can listen to others advice and get guidance from financial advisors or market experts, but ultimately, nobody really knows at the end of the day what is going to happen. I would rather lose my money on my own mistakes than listening to someone else’s wrong advice and being sorry later. At least in those cases you can feel good about the decision you made because it was yours, and learn from it for the future.
Name one mistake you made with your money?
I haven’t made any big mistakes because I have chosen to invest the money I currently have in some pretty conservative funds that aren’t as susceptible to market highs and lows as a traditional stock and bond investment structure. As I continue in my career and make more money, I will play a little more aggressively and do some more fun and risky things, but for now I’m very comfortable.
Did you set out to become a millionaire or did you have another goal?
No! And that’s exactly why I think I became one. If you seek money or get into something to become wealthy or successful, you are far less likely to get there. My goal was to live my passion everyday and be happy doing something I loved. In the beginning, I made nothing juicing, but I was happy and I hadn’t been happy with my life in a while so it felt right. I truly believe if you are passionate about something, you will be successful because you will work extremely hard on that thing and put more effort and energy into it than you will into anything else.
What’s the one assumption strangers usually make about you?
That I’m a dumb blonde, that things just come easy for me, or that my dad or a boyfriend must have helped me along the way. I’ve been on my own since I was 19 years old and I guarantee you, I have worked just as hard if not harder than anyone else in the game. Just because I’m a girl and I happen to be young doesn’t mean the world cuts me any breaks. If you want things to happen for you, you have to go out and make them happen. It’s plain and simple and that’s a universal law that applies to everyone. Nobody, including me, is exempt from that.
Is there a book, movie, quote who changed your life?
It’s a piece of advice I received when I was 24 and that is to “Always play in the game of life. Don’t sit on the sidelines.” Whenever I’m nervous about doing something or feeling insecure or unsure, I just remember to get out there and play in the game. I can’t win if I don’t play. Sure, I might lose, but I’ll probably have fun playing and learn some valuable lessons for the next game.
How important is a mentor?
I wrote a blog post with my thoughts on having a mentor, but the short answer is that it’s not very important. This idea that is constantly shoved down our throats as college students and young professionals that networking and seeking out a mentor is this necessary and uber important thing that will make all the difference in your success is a crock of BS. And I feel like it sort of perpetuates this cycle of working for someone else or feeling inferior because we’re always feeling like someone “above” or “ahead of us” in our field is somehow better, wiser, or more worthy of their role than we are. You are your own mentor and you have everything you need inside of you, you just need to trust yourself and allow yourself to own that power.
Do you think in the future it will be easier or harder to become independently wealthy?
I think it is becoming easier all the time because young people have more and more examples of what following an unconventional path looks like. It’s much more accepted to take an entrepreneurial path than it was 10 or 15 years ago when kids just went to school then went to work at a 9-5 for a company. In the last decade, millennials have done some amazing things and created extreme value in the world in a variety of spaces.
“In the beginning, I made nothing juicing, but I was happy and I hadn’t been happy with my life in a while so it felt right.”
Name a specific characteristic a person needs to have to become successful?
Persistence. You can’t give up or be wishy washy. You have to keep pushing, keep working, and keep moving forward. Success doesn’t come easy or everyone would be successful, so it takes persistence and perseverance through the not so great days when everything is going wrong to push through and make your dreams your reality.
If you could start with nothing and do it all over again, would you?
100%. The fun is in the journey.
If there was no little to no money involved with what you do, would you still do it?
Absolutely, and I did. When I first got into the cold pressed juice space, there was no retail market for it in mainstream grocery. I didn’t perceive making much money. At the most I thought we could have a sizeable home delivery service.
Name one mistake you made in college that you learned from in business
In college, I was a lot more conformist than I am now. I was a follower and lacked the confidence to trust myself in my decisions. In business, it’s what you do differently than other people and what you can bring to the world that is fresh and new that sets you apart and leads to success.
Chris Illuminati is a senior editor with BroBible. If you feel your personal story deserves to be told, reach out to him here.