I remember my senior year at Brentwood clearly; it was only four years ago, after all. We were that class of infamy of which perhaps you’ve heard–2018, who squandered Splash to the juniors, among other things. I remember every football game I played under Coach Ford, the carpool rides with stops at Belwood before school with my siblings, and relishing Wednesday sleep-ins.
I also remember spring break of that year, 2018, when I had the good fortune of visiting Fiji on an unassuming trip with my family. There, I befriended some local Fijians and one in particular, Benji, introduced me to kava for the first time. We sat on a beach on the south coast of the main island, sipping out of coconut shells watching the sunset. Kava is a sacred ingredient in Fiji and among much of the South Pacific, and has been used for over 2,000 years for its relaxing properties.
I was amazed by kava and how well it worked–I felt a real, tangible anxiolytic effect that I hadn’t experienced before from anything else. My curiosity burgeoned, and I started to research the ingredient. Non-habit forming, no hangovers, all-natural, and traceable directly to the source.
I declared to my family that same night at dinner–you can ask Lucian, Kiki, or Zain–that I was going to create a “relaxation drink” company and figure out how to make kava big.
It’s been a long road to this point. I will never forget bringing kava back to LA with me in Leilo’s earliest stages–before there was a Leilo in fact, before we hired anyone, or got a distributor, or incorporated as a company. My friends at Brentwood–Jonah and Myles in particular, I remember–couldn’t stand the taste of it at first and told me I was nuts.
I played volleyball senior spring. I was horrible, and my friends Finley and Will who convinced me to play were marginally better at best. We only won a couple of games that year and were a veritable goon squad of a team–sorry Coach Ryan.
I started experimenting with kava extracts in smoothies. Then, horchata. Spring eased into summer; I graduated from Brentwood and prepared for freshman year at Columbia.
I kept refining my concept and iterating in college. At the end of my freshman year, I decided to take the plunge and commit to what is now my business, Leilo, wholeheartedly. I worked my butt off running the company and getting through class. I’m skipping a bunch here; it was an arduous journey, to say the least. Thankfully I survived and was able to graduate from Columbia a semester early this past December.
Leilo has 7 full-time employees now. We’re in over 700 retailers and hit shelves at Erewhon just this month. People resonate with our story–they like the idea of a clean relaxation drink amongst all the caffeinated clutter on shelves–and we’ve been lucky enough to be featured in outlets like Forbes, PopSugar, and People.
There really has been a lot of luck involved. There has been a lot of hard work, too. And tough decisions, stressful moments (the irony), and plenty of moments of doubt.
It’s crazy though–I have to tell you–nowadays. People call me CEO and the “Founder of Leilo” and talk about the story like we’ve arrived. In my mind, I’m not much different from that Brentwood senior with a chip on my shoulder because my friends thought my idea was silly, the kid who made kava-horchata after volleyball practice in the pavilion.
You’d be surprised what you can accomplish if you put your head down and work. Not on something with a due date or a grade or a score when the clock runs out–on yourself and your ideas.
Lots of people said I was too young, and I rejected their hypothesis. In reality, I was far too young and had lots to learn. Thank goodness I started so early…
What I’m trying to say is this:
You’re more ready than you think you are, and you’ll only begin to be ready when you start to think you can be. Don’t be afraid to hold onto the dreams you have now, and maybe even think about developing them as you take this next step in your life.
I don’t know about Brentwood’s motto; I can’t attest to it in its entirety.
But I can say with certainty that if you start curious, and stay curious, you can run an upstart relaxation drink company and get to tell your siblings “I told you so” at dinner.
Good luck and go get 'em :)