Welcome to our new column, All In, where we sit down with some of the most inspiring people in the wellness industry to find out how they got their start, their successes and their struggles, and their top advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. Next up is Hana James, co-founder and Director of Community of Greenhouse Juice Co., one of the first cold-pressed juice companies in Toronto.
James talks to us about starting her business, shares her best advice for budding entrepreneurs, and gives us a sneak peek into Greenhouse’s next big product launch.
Can you recall the first inspiration you had to start your own business?
I was actually applying for medical school and working in a small, health-focused café before we opened Greenhouse Juice Co. I found so much joy in interacting with customers on a daily basis, discussing their health in relation to what they were eating and drinking, and I just knew that was what I wanted to do with my life.
What were some of your early challenges?
Our first real challenge was a relatively nice challenge to have: dealing with customer demand that we simply weren’t expecting. We launched on January 8, 2014, which happened to be right in the middle of one of the coldest winters Toronto had experienced in a number of years. We thought it would be a nice soft launch to prepare us for the spring rush. Cold was in the name of our product, after all. Within hours of opening our doors, our fridge shelves were completely cleaned out.
We doubled our batches for day two, and within an hour, not a single bottle remained for sale. It was an incredible experience. From there, we had to vastly increase production (and the size of our team), and even in those early days we could barely keep up with demand!
“There are so many strong female entrepreneurs in the health and wellness space who are killing the game, and the amount of support you receive from your sisters in the space is phenomenal.”
Were you also working a full-time job when you launched your business (as a side hustle) or did you go full-force into the new business? Would you recommend the approach you took?
I was fortunate enough to be in the position where I could go full-force into the new business. I think both approaches can work, but it really depends on the business you are running. With a brick-and-mortar like Greenhouse Juice Co., it really took all our focus and energy to make sure we were doing it right!
Greenhouse Juice Co. has three co-founders. Did you make a conscious decision to go into business with partners rather than solo? If so, why, and how has the decision to go that route been both rewarding and challenging?
Before starting Greenhouse Juice, I ran my own business, Café Shu, which I went into on my own. It was a fantastic learning experience, but I definitely made a conscious decision to have partners when entering my second venture. Having done both, I know I personally prefer working with partners.
Having the support of people who know exactly what you’re going through in business is priceless, especially when you’re all on the same team. Of course there are challenges, but with the right partners, those challenges become opportunities from which you can learn and grow.
We know you have one male partner in the business, but are there any challenges you have encountered specifically as a female entrepreneur?
There have definitely been times when landlords or potential partners have asked to speak to the “male” partner, but overall, I have found being a female entrepreneur incredibly empowering. There are so many strong female entrepreneurs in the health and wellness space who are killing the game, and the amount of support you receive from your sisters in the space is phenomenal.
Did you seek outside investment at the outset or as you grew, and if so, how did you go about that process?
It was with the support of the Government of Canada under their AgriInnovation Program, and the savvy of scientists from around the world, that Greenhouse Juice has been able to introduce our Light Filtration technology. It was a long and lengthy process, and involved filling out a lot of application forms, but all the late nights and the hand cramps were worth it.
Light Filtration is important for us as it has allowed us to extend our products’ shelf life, without compromising on taste, nutritional integrity, or our commitment to bottling in glass. This brings us ever closer to Greenhouse Juice’s mission: to offer widespread, sustainable access to plant-based nutrition of the highest quality.
What are some challenges you still face today?
As a growing company, there are certainly a variety of challenges, and these change on a daily basis. From the challenge of hiring as we grow, to those issues more specific to our business, such as product development, having the superstar team that we do makes facing these challenges much more manageable.
Launching – and then running – your own business can be overwhelming. How do you stay focused and on track on a day-to-day basis? What are some of your top productivity and organizational hacks?
The passion and love I have for our products is the main driving force that keep me focused and on-track. In terms of organizational hacks, I love lists! I’ll break down my lists into what can be achieved today, and what is more of a long-term project. In any business, and particularly in a new one, it is very easy to get bogged down with things that seem urgent but don’t necessarily further the business in any way. I try and focus on what is measurably important, and what I can do today to move the needle.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given as it relates to running your own business?
Know your weaknesses just as well as you know your strengths. (And then don’t be afraid to ask for help in those areas that aren’t your strengths.)
What’s the best piece of advice you would give to a woman interested in launching her own business?
Be persistent. Launching a business is not easy—and there will be many challenges and setbacks, but never let these deter you from your ultimate goal.
ABOUT GREENHOUSE JUICE
One of the first things we learn about starting a successful business is that you have to relieve a pain point for the public. What was the problem you set out to solve with your company and how have you solved it?
Cold-pressed juice is the perfect marriage of convenience and health; it simplifies the task of consuming more plants, more often, no matter how hectic our schedule. When we opened our doors in 2014, my partners and I had fallen in love with cold-pressed juice (and how it made us feel) on our travels, but it was not readily available in our hometown. We wanted to make plant-based health more accessible to the community where we all grew up. That was the heart of it: we wanted to share an amazing product that we loved with a city that we loved.
The juice business is an extremely competitive one. How does Greenhouse Juice continue to grow and innovate in order to stand out in the crowded marketplace?
As I touched on earlier, we have spent the last few years innovating in terms of shelf life. We knew that in order to produce with scale, ultimately making our products more accessible and widespread, we would need to solve the problem of an extremely short shelf-life.
Compromising on the nutrient content of the juices or the glass packaging was not up for debate, which pushed us to look beyond some of the other methods already out there in the industry. We have always made a commitment to the quality of our product, and I hope focusing on this as we grow and innovate has enabled us to stand out in the marketplace.
In the past few months, you’ve made some major changes, expanding into grab-and-go food and overhauling your packaging. Can you let us in on any secrets in terms of what’s next for Greenhouse Juice?
I think what I’m most excited for is our newest Almond milk. This will be the cleanest label on the shelf, with no stabilizers, fillers, or gums. It will be the perfect plant-based dairy substitute, packaged in glass. It also froths beautifully for teas or coffees.