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By Genna Byrd of Start DC

Startup to start noticing seems a little disingenuous for JRINK Juicery, Shizu Okusa and Jennifer Ngai’s cold-pressed juice company, because this startup has become something of a D.C. brand. Let’s consider this piece a “Startup to Keep Noticing”.

Okusa and Ngai started JRINK while working full-time at the World Bank. About six months later, in January 2014, they made the leap to full-time entrepreneurship. They use a cold-press process, with a high pressure hydraulic press, to extract juice without breaking down vitamins and nutrients. There is over a pound of produce in each bottle of JRINK, making them ideal supplements for District residents trying to clean up their diets. Other health-conscious customers use JRINK for juice cleanses or as meal (or coffee) replacements.

In the two years since its co-founders became full-time, JRINK has grown exponentially, with five current stores and another set to open early this year. The company also has a killer social media presence and has recently expanded into warm nut milk “lattes”.

Of course, JRINK’s base remains its fruit and vegetable juice menu, with names like Wake Me Up, a vibrant blend made with orange, carrot, grapefruit, and ginger, and the protein-rich Build Me Up with almonds and cinnamon. Clean Me Up 3, a detox juice with turmeric and cayenne pepper, is my reigning favorite.

I chatted with Okusa to learn more about how JRINK got started and to find out her advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.


The path to JRINK

Okusa met and befriended Ngai, her future co-founder, when they were both working in finance at Goldman Sachs in New York City. Over time, the pair realized the frantic Wall Street lifestyle was not a fit and, in 2013, moved to D.C. to work at the World Bank. While there, they started making juices to have a portable, healthy snack to bring to work. Okusa says juicing allowed her to tap into her creativity, and she enjoyed making tangible products by hand.

Okusa and Ngai shared the juices with friends and began developing new recipes. It was the start of JRINK. They conducted a market assessment and confirmed a need for pressed juices in D.C. Okusa notes that she thinks the company was unique in D.C., but wouldn’t have worked as well in New York City’s market, which was already saturated with juice shops.

The co-founders reached a tipping point. They worked 9-5 at the World Bank and dedicated nearly every other available hour to their growing business. JRINK, Okusa says, was becoming full-time. In January 2014, Okusa and Ngai officially quit their day jobs, wrote a business plan, and focused on growing JRINK.

Funding + establishing the brand

Many young businesses struggle to secure funding and become ‘known’. To start JRINK, Okusa and Ngai invested their savings and scaled back their lifestyles to continue investing in the business. Okusa believes it is important for entrepreneurs to be invested in their businesses and have skin in the game.

Grit and business savvy are two qualities that Okusa credits for her success as an entrepreneur. In the early stages of growing a business, she says, there will be a lot of no’s. Before JRINK had its own storefronts, the co-founders approached local stores to stock their drinks and it was challenging to break in. Many people said no initially, but grit helped her persevere. An entrepreneur “cannot take a ‘no’ personally,” Okusa explains. “Mellow on it and grow from it.”

Business savvy is also critical. Okusa says it’s important to let numerical analysis and not just passion inform business decisions, such as JRINK’s market analysis before launching in D.C.

Lessons Learned

1. Relationships are crucial. Starting a young business with a co-founder and business partner has helped Okusa “be a better person.” She says she’s become much better at both giving and getting feedback since launching JRINK.

2. Know when to ask for help, and listen more. With soon-to-be six stores throughout the greater D.C. area, Okusa notes that it is difficult to get buy-in from all employees unless you ask for it. It’s important to put your ego aside and admit when you need help, when you’re are wrong, or when you don’t know something.

3. Be true to yourself. According to Okusa, it is important to be aware and true to oneself. At JRINK, she says, “We always want to be ‘us’ and to be authentic.”

Make sure to check out our Cold Press Juice Cleanse Diary from 2015.