Jil Larsen | founder, Magic Mix Juicery

"The most important thing about starting a business is believing in your product. You need to have the desire to do anything in order to bring that business to life. I knew the product I had created wasn’t just about me feeling good; it made others feel good too. I was determined to get it into people’s hands and help make them healthier and happier."

What do you need to get you through each day?

I like to start my day by walking my dog, Fredrick. We go down by the water near my apartment in the Financial District for some zen-time.

Who inspires you?

Steve Jobs was a huge inspiration for me on how I designed my store. Similar to the Apple store, I want my shop to evoke a sense of transparency, purity and authenticity. We have an open floor plan—you can see the kitchen right from the register and watch as your order is being prepared.

Favorite quote?

Treat people the way you want to be treated.

Briefly describe your business and inspiration for it.

I own Magic Mix Juicery, an organic raw food and cold press juice bar in the Financial District of New York City. The inspiration for Magic Mix Juicery came out of my own necessity to heal myself.  I was diagnosed with a skin pigmentation disease and as a result, became tired and depressed. I needed to find ways to treat my symptoms, and more importantly, the root cause of my illness. When I was first diagnosed, I started to look into western medication as an alternative to the bleaching creams and strong medications I was being prescribed.  A friend, who was suffering from severe psoriasis, was being advised by a biomedical nutritionist to make significant changes to his diet—to eliminate dairy, meat and eggs. I visited the same doctor and slowly began eliminating things from my own diet—which forced me to think about how to live a more healthy lifestyle and, in turn, heal myself from the inside out.

What was the tipping point for realizing you had a good business?

I had friends who bought juices from me when they saw the change it was helping to make in my life. Then I realized there was both a market and an interest for the product, and that it would benefit others. I felt that I was filling a void—that there was nothing as pure as the product I was creating. That’s when I decided to take it from being something that I did for friends and myself in my kitchen, and transform it into a business.

How did you figure out how to take your idea and evolve it in to a business?

I had a full-time job as a legal secretary, and decided to quit and dedicate myself to getting healthy. It took me a while to figure out the business aspect of taking what I had created and turning it in to a business. I didn’t have a business background at all. I literally started researching, reading books – everything from how to write a business plan to how to start a business. I used the money I had saved as half the capital. I was lucky enough to find an angel investor who both truly believed in my product and experienced the benefits himself. He agreed to fund the other half of the business.

In hindsight, there were so many things I didn’t think about when I was starting out that are so costly. I knew our biggest cost was going to be the rent for a retail location, but I didn’t take in to account the permits, engineers, inspections, legal costs, construction and everything else that goes along with opening a retail shop.

How has your passion fueled your business?

The most important thing about starting a business is believing in your product. You need to have the desire to do anything in order to bring that business to life. I knew the product I had created wasn’t just about me feeling good; it made others feel good too. I was determined to get it into people’s hands and help make them healthier and happier.

Which challenges did you face as the Founder of your own business?

I struggled for months to find a retail space—something that is very difficult to do in Manhattan. At one point when a lease fell through, I questioned if the business was going to work. I called my mom—my emotional support—who reminded me that I was providing a benefit to the world around me; that the business was bigger than just me now.  Something clicked for me and there was no turning back.

Another struggle was being a woman. I was young, walking in to corporate environments and talking about big numbers.  I wasn’t taken seriously and people assumed I had a partner. I would get flustered, then angry.  Now, I’ve learned how to approach these situations so they work for me. I’m more confident in my ability and my product, and people respond to that.

Which aspects of being a start-up entrepreneur do you like and/or dislike?

I love that I learn something new everyday. I have opportunities to experience and create. My business is my baby, so I’ll do whatever it takes to grow it and make it the best it can be. At the same time, the responsibility never ends. My business is always on my mind and it can be hard to detach from it.

Do you have a mentor?

I don’t have a mentor, but my stepdad has been a business owner since he was very young. I go to him with all my business questions. It’s really nice to have the backing of someone who really believes in you. He made me realize I didn’t necessarily need a partner just because I felt overwhelmed. He always reminds me that I have the ability to do it on my own.

What lessons have you learned along the way that you wish you would have known at the beginning of your start-up career?

At first I hired based on intuition; I hired extensions of myself. I had to learn to let go and not feel like I needed to fix and solve everything. Today I seek strength and knowledge in my team. I’ve matured, and in letting go, I’ve allowed my team members to grow, develop their own strengths and recognize their weaknesses. I’ve also become stronger—I’ve learned and taken on things I never thought were possible.

What has been a key to your success?

I try to interact with my customers every day. It’s important for me to get their feedback and gather insights about what people like and dislike. This helps me figure out what needs to change or improve.

What has been your best strategy for selling your product or service, and what have you learned along the way?

When I first opened Magic Mix Juicery, my mom was visiting and we were running around getting everything set-up. I had unrealistic visions of lines out the door on that first day – and it just didn’t happen. What I’ve learned is that you have to pound the pavement and work every day to promote your business. You have customers who come and go and you still have to be approachable, get out there, and talk and educate people about your product. That’s the only way they are going to know you exist. It’s so awesome that people love coming to my shop. They come for more than just the juice and food – it’s the energy, vibe and the lifestyle.

There are so many gyms, studios, commercial and residential buildings in my shop’s vicinity. I talk to the managers and owners, set-up tastings and establish partnerships with retailers to build awareness and get people to try my product. I also rely on social media. That’s not my forte so I’m lucky to work with a talented intern to help push the message out.

What are your plans for scaling the business?

My priority in the beginning was creating a presence in the neighborhood. Things are now running smoothly and it’s giving me the opportunity to focus on growing the business. I love having this opportunity to create again—something I haven’t had the chance to do since the beginning. We’re now in the process of rebranding, expanding the product line and getting it into other retail locations.

What is your biggest fear as an entrepreneur?

As an entrepreneur, you never know what’s going to happen next. One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that there is a solution to every problem. I’ve become comfortable with not having immediate answers. I’ve learned not to freak out, and instead, take time to figure out the solution. It does exist—even if it might take me a little bit to get there.

What do you do outside the office to help you stay creative/productive?

Being with my dog helps me relax. For me, it’s become less about what I want to acquire in life and more about the feeling I want to have at the end of each day. Taking walks with my dog makes me feel whole. I believe everyone needs to find their balance by adding in the good and crowding out the bad.

What is the biggest mistake you have made in your business to date, and how have you moved past it?

Everything happens for a reason. Even the mistakes become good things. I signed a lease, and it was a major set-back when it fell through; but now I have an amazing space with a great vibe.

What is your advice to other women who have an idea for a business?

Find a network of supporters. It’s so important to have stability and to know that to succeed or fail, those supporters will be there for you. Surround yourself with friends and family who share your vision and who want to see you succeed. For me, it’s my mom, who’s always believed in me. I’ve also hired a tribe of amazing employees who’ve been with me from the start, and are still with me today. They share my vision, and want the business to be the best in can be.