I had the pleasure of interviewing Leo Chen, CEO and founder of JUlaVIE– the world’s first at-home cold-press juicer. Chen is a Chinese-born, Western-educated entrepreneur who’s spent time living in Singapore and London. He has a long history in the beverage industry, which led him to being named a Forbes China 30 Under 30.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us about your journey to becoming CEO?
After graduation in 2008, I had a couple years of experience working with a pharmaceutical company. There, I gained knowledge in food ingredients, API and ended up supplying ingredients to some of the most recognizable beverage brands in the world. I strongly believe that people are drinking too many additives in their beverages and as a result, may be putting their own health at risk. So, since test is what the Chinese leve best, I started to develop a capsule machine (like Nespresso, Keurig) that brews tea, herbs and coffee using 100% natural ingredients. From there, we sat back and asked ourselves, how can we do the same with juice? With that, we made one big capsule type machine and JUlaVIE was born! A no-mess juicing machine that makes fresh cold press juice in your home. You go buy groceries and fresh produce that can then easily be made into whatever juice you want.
What is your definition of success?
My definition of success is being able to create something that is useful, loved by the world, and used to bring good to customers.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When we were working on perfecting our prototype of the bag/liners for JUlaVIE, we had one of our very early investors in our office for a visit and it exploded in front of him. The second bag was perfect and even with the initial issue, he still loved it so much that he invested that day.
What failures have you had along the way? How have they led you to success?
Even though we had a great start without Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns, looking back I believe we probably should have shared our worst case timeline along with our best case timeline. Unfortunately, we did not deliver to our backers as quickly as I would have liked, but I am proud of the fact that only a slim percent of our backers left the campaign when the delivery was late. However, we did learn the great lesson of how valuable communication is. People trusted us because they trusted me. Every week on Wednesday for over a year now, we do an update with a full rundown of what is happening. Even if it is not great news, we share it all with full transparency.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Listening to our customers is what makes us stand out.
We never set out to make the JUlaVIE juicing machine to make a lot of money, we made the product that customers asked for. They get to put their own ingredients in and make the perfect juice for their own taste with as little waste as possible.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Yes! We are working on a fruit pack that you can squeeze without buying a machine… just kidding! Right now, we are focused on improving the already great cold press machine so that it can have a stronger force, quicker time, and larger capacity.
Is your company working to be more sustainable? If so,how?
We use biodegradable material for the filtersand oursilicone bag can be reused up to 1000x. Eventually,we want to take a percentage of the revenue, and bring clean water to those who need it the most.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
● Find the right employees with same values
● Assign more responsibility and offer challenges
● Bring on “co-owners” vs. just employees
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I need to thank my team. During our most difficult period, we could not afford to pay some of the salaries.
After I had told everyone the situation, no one decided to leave the company and were willing to work several weeks without getting paid as everyone had believed in the product. Now that we are launching in the UK, US, China, Australia/New Zealand we are glad that those days are behind us.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I believe one of the most important things in life is healthy living; health is the one thing you can’t buy or get back. Making it easier to get access to juice in the home can play a really big role — encouraging natural options over artificially made food and drinks.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why?
● Spend more time hiring the people because the right people can make all the difference, especially in the beginning.
● Look at your customers as more than just customers since they are the ones you need to listen to and respect most
● Prepare for the long run because running a business is a marathon, not a sprint.
● Create a good work culture and enforce good habits from the beginning
● Focus your limited resources and always have a backup plan
12. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people,what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would love to see schools, nursing homes, hospitals and any place that cares for the young or more vulnerable to abolish sugar-based drinks in favor of fresh juice. Think about the difference it would make if your kids got their full serving of fruits and vegetables while in school or if sick patients’ sugary apple juice was replaced with real juice that’s been shown to have curative powers. Juice has the ability to do so much good for the body and we ignore it because it is not the most efficient, easy habit to keep up. I would love to be a part of changing that.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Hire people who believe in you and your product –
Startup life is a completely different experience to that of Fortune 500 companies. You have to wear more hats, expect more of each other and be prepared to take on the hard times along with the good. I try to put a lot of energy into not just hiring good people, but finding those that believe the way that I do about making the world a healthier place. The people that really believe are the ones ready to take on the big challenges, persevere through some expected hard times and push boundaries where necessary.
Some of the biggest names in Business,VC funding,Sports,and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world,or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with,and why? He or she might just see this.
Gwyneth Paltrow because she really was the first one to really take this idea of healthy living to the mainstream. Of course it helped being a huge celebrity, but she stuck to her guns through controversy, negative feedback and really used her celebrity to inspire a movement/lifestyle she completely believed in and brought her closer to fans. She really took it upon herself to push the agenda of healthy living with a dedicated team focused on making her curated approach digestible and attractive to consumers.