Yanni Hufnagel, CEO of Lemon Perfect, on How to Build a Brand
Lots of people get excited about a new product or business idea and think about entrepreneurship as a possible career path. But unlike a traditional job in technology, sales, marketing, or finance, an entrepreneur has to be well-versed in every one of these aspects of his or her business. He has to work day and night, driven to make it succeed at all costs. He has to respond to requests and crises at a moment’s notice and must be the brand’s most vocal advocate. Entrepreneurship is not just a full-time job, it’s a full-time lifestyle. If the effort is successful, though, it’s one of the most rewarding career paths. It is a career path that the entrepreneur has brought into the world with his or her own tenacity and commitment. You have to believe in the value of your company and your product completely.
Before he became an entrepreneur, Lemon Perfect CEO Yanni Hufnagel learned a lot about commitment on the basketball court. As an assistant coach and top recruiter for leading schools like Harvard University, University of California, and Vanderbilt University, Hufnagel looked for players who displayed an uncommon tenacity in their approach to the game and who were equally serious about their academics. These players had a combination of great attributes; not just raw talent but drive and strategic thinking. These were players who could not only exceed expectations and push themselves the extra mile, but do it consistently and show up to put in the workday after day.
To succeed in entrepreneurship requires the same combination of traits, and the same unwavering commitment. Years of working with athletes gave Hufnagel insight into their mindset. And when he decided he was ready to launch his own product, a product he could fully invest his efforts and talents into, he decided that what the market really needed was healthier beverage options, for athletes and everyone else who cared about their health and wellness.
Sports drinks are ubiquitous on basketball courts and every other sporting venue, and while these drinks provide hydration and replenish lost electrolytes for athletes, they also come with significant added sugar and artificial food dyes.
Hufnagel decided to launch a better beverage; one that met the highest health and environmental standards and would give all health-conscious consumers a tasty way to rehydrate without the downsides. Lemon Perfect’s lemon water drinks provide necessary hydration, immune system-boosting Vitamin C, and electrolytes with zero sugar or dyes.
To become an entrepreneur and build a startup from the ground up, Hufnagel needed to have a product that he could stand behind, that was carving out space for a truly healthier alternative to sugary beverages. With Lemon Perfect, he committed himself not only to rigorous health standards but to strong environmental standards as well, something that was important to him and to his eco-conscious consumers. The drinks are made from cold-pressed California-grown lemons, certified USDA organic. The beverages are created using an eco-friendly pasteurization process that relies only on recycled water and electricity, and the bottles are made from BPA-free, recyclable plastic. In addition, one percent of Lemon Perfect’s profits are donated to environmental causes.
Leading a startup he could fully believe in kept Hufnagel’s enthusiasm high during the long days and nights necessary for building the business. Because he stood behind the product, he was willing to put in the long hours, he was eager to talk to potential investors about this promising new beverage, and he was enthusiastic about finding others who shared his vision. To get a new product off the ground requires constant dedication and legitimate enthusiasm about the value of that product and Hufnagel knew this. He was all in.
Even with an around-the-clock dedicated effort to building a startup, an entrepreneur needs to be resilient. There will be setbacks and uncertainties, there will certainly be reasons to pivot, and there will always be a need to evolve. Yanni Hufnagel developed resilience as a basketball coach and recruiter and has brought that skill to Lemon Perfect.
Lemon Perfect is now gaining traction in the beverage market but it took years of persistent building on the part of Hufnagel through industry events and investor circles. The startup launched in 2017 and by 2019, Lemon Perfect was named “Best New Product” at the 2019 BevNET Awards. But the startup was still limited by its cold chain distribution, meaning the original Lemon Perfect product required a temperature-controlled supply chain. In order to grow, Hufnagel had to keep innovating. This year, Lemon Perfect unveiled its new shelf-stable formula. With the revamped product line, the company was able to sign with distributor Big Geyser in January 2020, opening up huge new growth potential for the beverage company.
“We flipped the entire equation for the business on its head,” CEO Yanni Hufnagel told BevNet. “I quickly realized I can’t stand on stage and be authentic in our mission of trying to democratize drinkable wellness if we can’t get Lemon Perfect everywhere. And ultimately there just isn’t the route to market opportunities in a cold chain ecosystem.”
Lemon Perfect is already available at 1,500 stores across the nation and is expanding to major stores and retailers like Whole Foods, Target, and Amazon. Hufnagel knows that to be a successful entrepreneur, you have to work constantly at growth and expansion. He’s on track to have Lemon Perfect at 5,000 individual retail locations by the end of this summer, and in 10,000 locations by January 2021.
While that growth is exceptional, Yanni is continuing to innovate the product even as he focuses on growth, a key strategy for successful entrepreneurship. In addition to its four flavors – Just Lemon, Blueberry Acai, Dragon Fruit Mango, and Peach Raspberry – Lemon Perfect is soon launching a new line of sparkling beverages.
It’s a combination of skills and traits that leads to entrepreneurial success: round-the-clock commitment to the business, unwavering belief in the product’s value, resiliency, and innovative thinking. Hufnagel has mastered that combination and his dedication has made Lemon Perfect a beverage brand to watch.
About Lemon Perfect
Lemon Perfect is a naturally refreshing, zero sugar cold-pressed lemon water with antioxidants and electrolytes. Certified organic and full of flavor, Lemon Perfect is widely considered by industry insiders to be one of the most scalable, exciting and innovative emerging beverage concepts in the marketplace.
About Yanni Hufnagel
Yanni Hufnagel is the Founder & CEO of Lemon Perfect, a naturally refreshing, zero sugar cold-pressed lemon water with essential antioxidants and hydrating electrolytes. Certified organic and full of flavor, Lemon Perfect – named “Best New Product” at BevNET’s Best of 2019 Awards – is widely considered by industry insiders to be one of the most scalable, exciting and innovative emerging beverage concepts in the marketplace.
Founded in 2017 and backed by an extraordinary team of investors, the company’s mission is to democratize drinkable wellness by making Lemon Perfect accessible for anyone, anytime, anywhere.
Before starting Lemon Perfect, Hufnagel served as an assistant men’s college basketball coach, with stops at Nevada, California, Vanderbilt, Harvard, and Oklahoma. Hufnagel earned the reputation as one of the most dogged recruiters in America, consistently lauded for signing nationally-ranked recruiting classes. In Hufnagel’s 10 years coaching college basketball, his teams reached the NCAA Tournament six times.