Simple Sugars CEO and Founder Lani Lazzari

What were you doing at 11 years old? If you were anything like us, you probably spent the majority of your time with friends, watching copious hours of Lizzie McGuire and riding bikes around the neighborhood in endless, fascinating circles. An 11-year-old Lani Lazzari spent her spare time developing her first batch of Simple Sugars scrubs. Inspired by her own personal struggle with eczema, Lani wanted to create a line of skin care products that smelled pleasant and didn’t contain any of the harsh chemicals she had become accustomed to in products prescribed by her dermatologist. At 13, Lani continued to follow her entrepreneurial spirit by turning these natural, handmade products into a successful e-commerce business.

In 2013, Lani appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank and subsequently won an investment to expand her small business. Since then Lani has done just that, growing Simple Sugars into a popular product line. Her most recent venture has been partnering with Destination Maternity to offer maternity-safe natural scrubs to expectant moms. In doing so, Lani has given Simple Sugars a national retail presence in 575 locations. Oh! And we forgot to mention: Lani has accomplished all of this at just 20 years old.

To be so driven and focused on a career path at such a young age can put a person up for plenty of doubt and criticism. Despite this, Lani has continued to move forward with the kind of focus and maturity usually reserved for people many years her senior. Keep reading for more of the lessons Lani has learned, how Simple Sugars has grown over the past nine years, and further advice Lani has for others looking to start their own business.

Full Name: Lani Lazzari
Age: 20
Current title/company: CEO and Founder of Simple Sugars
Education: The Ellis School (High School)
Year you started your business: 2005

What was your first job, and how did you land it?
Well, technically I’ve never actually had a job. I started my first “business” when I was in 4th grade. I crocheted hair scrunchies and sold them out of my backpack at school because I wanted to save up enough money for an iPod.

How did you become interested in skincare?
I became interested in skincare because of my personal struggle with sensitive skin and eczema. I have had eczema since I was a baby, and growing up I was always at the dermatologist. Nothing they gave me worked, none of it smelled good, and everything was loaded with some pretty serious chemicals. Finally, I got fed up with this process and decided I was going to do some research and figure out how to solve my own problem.

You developed your first sugar scrub formula at the age of 11, which left you with a growing e-commerce business at the ripe old age of 13! What was it like to have that much responsibility and accomplishment at such a young age? Did you think then that your business would ultimately become your career?
I was serious about Simple Sugars from the beginning. It was my goal to make it a million dollar company by the time I was 21. When I was a freshman in high school I realized that I was seriously committed to growing my business and wasn’t willing to give it up for anything.

I had to make lots of tough choices as a teenager because I was pursuing a completely different path than any of my peers. People didn’t get it. They would say things like, “Oh, your business will probably help you get into a great college.” Some people still don’t get it. But I loved everything about running Simple Sugars and I still do. When you’re lucky enough to know what your passion is, especially at a young age, and you get to work at it everyday, it’s like a dream come true.

Years later, you pitched your business venture to the entrepreneurial panel of judges on ABC’s Shark Tank! How did this opportunity come about?
A producer from Shark Tank heard my story and reached out to me two weeks before my high school graduation to ask if I would consider applying. I never expected to hear back from them again, let alone actually make it on the show, but I knew I had nothing to lose if I submitted an application. They kept putting me through the application rounds, and after five months of contracts and audition tapes, they finally asked me to come out and film for the show!

What do you think made your pitch stand out to the judges to win an investment for Simple Sugars Scrubs on the show?
I think what stood out to the Sharks—and specifically to Mark Cuban since he was the one who offered an investment—was the fact that I had clearly worked extremely hard and knew my business inside and out. I wasn’t nervous when I went into “the tank” because I felt prepared for any question they could ask—I had been living my business every day for seven years at that point—and I think that came through to the Sharks.

How has your business changed since “winning” Shark Tank? How would you like to continue to see it grow?
Appearing on Shark Tank was absolutely amazing for Simple Sugars. In addition to getting the much needed investment money from Mark Cuban, the exposure was huge for us. Millions of people saw my pitch and thousands of them came to our website to buy. Our website business exploded overnight, and we quickly became one of the most popular companies to ever appear on the show.

In addition, one of the people watching was Chris Daniel, President of Destination Maternity. He realized Simple Sugars was an ideal fit for Destination Maternity, and wanted to have our products in his stores. This was huge for us because we had customers nationwide looking for Simple Sugars in a retail location and until we launched in all 575 Destination Maternity locations, we had no national retail presence!

Simple Sugars grew at an insane pace following the show (we went from two employees to 20 in just one week!) and we are still continuing to grow. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve created a company with a great and unique culture where people actually love coming to work. The goal is to sustain that as we get bigger and bigger.

Tell us about the Simple Sugars team. Do you have full or part-time employees? Do you work in an office space? Where are you based?
We are based in my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. All of our products are handmade at our facility, so our space is part office and part production space. Our team is made up of both part and full time people. We currently have 24 employees, but that number is growing!

Tell us about how you make Simple Sugars products. What is the process?
Simple Sugars products are formulated, created, and packaged at our facility in Pittsburgh. Everything is done completely by hand—from mixing the batches of scrub, to putting it in the jars, to packing it in boxes, and putting bows on.

There is no rulebook for starting your own business and no formula you can follow to be successful…You might have successes, you are definitely going to have failures, and you have to be willing to learn from your mistakes.

Owning your own business can be a huge risk financially. How have you handled this hurdle? What advice do you have for others who are trying to overcome the financial aspect of launching their own products or businesses?
Funding was always a huge obstacle for Simple Sugars. Up until our deal with Mark, the business was financed entirely on my mom’s credit cards (I couldn’t even get a credit card, let alone a business loan!). I think being an entrepreneur is all about taking risks. Nothing is safe when you start your own business, and the financial side is no different.

How can we buy Simple Sugars? 
Simple Sugars products are available online and in 575 Destination Maternity stores across the U.S. Using safe, chemical-free products is particularly important during pregnancy, not only for the mothers, but also for babies, because you are particularly susceptible to the negative effects of some of the chemicals commonly found in personal care products.

Our scrubs are also ideal for new moms because they are a one-step product that cleanses, exfoliates, and moisturizes in one easy step, leaving you with super soft, great looking skin. It’s quick and easy and gives you a spa quality skincare experience in your own shower in five minutes or less—and let’s be honest, those five minutes may be the only time a new mom gets to have to herself! All in all, the products were a perfect fit for the Destination Maternity stores.

What advice can you offer other small business owners?
I think a big part of entrepreneurship is being able to problem solve. There is no rulebook for starting your own business and no formula you can follow to be successful. You have to be willing to do what it takes to figure it out. You might have successes, you are definitely going to have failures, and you have to be willing to learn from your mistakes. No matter what type of background or college degree you have, there is always going to be a crisis, and it is going to be you who has to figure out how to overcome it.

A major aspect of beginning a new business is branding. Did you handle this in-house or contract it out? What was the creative process like? What was important to you when designing a look and feel for your brand?
I created our logo way back in 2005, and it has been the same ever since (So yes, I literally did it in my own house!). And luckily our VP (who also happens to be my mother) is a sales and marketing genius. We’re all about keeping it simple, so that has been a huge part of the Simple Sugars brand. We have also worked really hard to develop a very unique Simple Sugars voice and attitude. And of course, we’re all about the pink!

How did you attract a client base? Was it marketing or more word of mouth? 
We have a very passionate fan base at Simple Sugars! People try our products, get addicted, and then come back and buy over and over again. We see it not only in their orders but also on social media—I can’t tell you how many pictures we get tweeted to us from people who have been so excited to find Simple Sugars in their local Destination Maternity locations! Word of mouth is also extremely valuable to us. People are really excited about the products and the story and they want to tell people about it, particularly after they’ve tried the products and have seen for themselves how awesome they are. Nothing can top that kind of marketing.

Best moment of your career so far?
Wow, that is a hard question to answer, but I think it would have to be walking down Madison Avenue in NYC and seeing an enormous Simple Sugars sign in the window of the Destination Maternity store. It was like a dream come true!

What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would tell myself not to worry about not going to college! When I had to make the decision to not go off to school after graduating from high school two years ago it was a hard decision to make, but now it seems like a no-brainer. I have learned so much more by taking that risk.

Lani Lazzari is The Everygirl…

If I didn’t own Simple Sugar Scrubs I would be a:
Professional foodie

Go-to coffee order?
Grande nonfat iced caramel macchiato

Favorite holiday?
Christmas, because if I make it to the 25th then I’ve survived all of the insanity of the holiday season leading up to it!

If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
I would have lunch with Hillary Clinton, and I would order grilled cheese, because you can never go wrong with a grilled cheese.

My perfect day off would be spent:
Relaxing! I would probably start off with a massage, spend some time reading, and then bake/cook something really delicious.

  • JayFromJerz

    Is the product in a plastic or glass jar? Plastic jars can have BPA and other chemicals that leach out into the product. Nonetheless, this was a great story.

  • Really, you’re not going to make me believe someone started a business at 11!!! I’m all about stretching boundaries but this is just bullsh*t! At 11 I was playing with my Barbies and it was alright. Next week you’re going to serve us some story of a girl who married at 5 come on you’re just not credible.

    • Lidi

      Wow, no need to be so negative. Obviously she didn’t start the business alone, I’m sure her parents were very involved in making her idea a reality. She mentions in the article that her mom is a “sales and marketing genius” which I’m sure was a huge contributor to her success. She was obviously a very bright and mature 11 year old with supportive parents, kudos to her!

      • Yes kudos! I didn’t mean to sound negative to her, I know lots of kids sell lemonade, mow lawns, etc. I just hate the idea that lately all lifestyle blogs are saying we should all have it figure it out by the age of 20 and that if you haven’t a successful business than you’re nothing. I’d like to see an article about someone that hasn’t figured it out before a certain age, and that eventually did because I know lots of people who haven’t and I would find that more inspirational that something that still sells us the idea that we should be everything, perfect, and all before 25.

        • Lidi

          I can completely relate to what you’re saying, I’m in my early 30s and still don’t have it all figured out (it’s a very frustrating feeling to say the least). Contrary to your perception, I feel like The Everygirl features a lot of women who didn’t have it all figured out and ended up having a career change once they found their “calling/passion”. I don’t think they are trying to sell an idea that we should have everything figured out by 25, they are just showing profiles of successful women (all ages) in order to inspire and empower us all. I hope both you and I find our “calling” soon. Best wishes!

    • Brownskinnedeverygirl

      @Stephanie
      What do you think those kids at the lemonade stand are doing, and some of them are 6 years old-business! if steered right, that lemonade stand can grow on to become a full fledged business. It is obvious her parents/guardians were pretty much involved. But let’s not use that as a basis to discredit her entrepreneurial proclivity.

      • I understand that and I’m not discrediting her entrepreneurial sense. I’m just saying that I’m dispointed in EveryGirl, which is a site that I love a lot. What kind of message is it sending now that we should all be starting business at age 11? That if you haven’t by the age 31 then you’re a serious loser. But anyway I’m not, just totally over those articles that are just pushing it down our throat that we should all be Everything by the age of 20.

        • Brownskinnedeverygirl

          @Stephanie,

          Please cite where in this article or any other business profile that has been covered by the every girl team, the idea that we should be everything by the age of 20, and if you haven’t accomplished that by the age of 31 you are a looser. Utterly ridiculous. How you came to that conclusion is mind boggling.

          If anything, such a profile should serve as inspiration, for that teenager, 20 year older, 50 year older or even 11 year old, that kinda sorta k]nows they want to be in business, but don’t have someone their age to look up to who has done it!

          There are countless profiles of young women in their early, mid, late twenties, as well as early and mid 30’s covered on here.

          You are really exaggerating, like a lot, a lot.

    • Stephanie, at 7 I was selling old toys along with lemonade by the side of the road. By 9 I had a successful business and by 14 I made good money by selling thrifted items on eBay. Since then I’ve had many more successful small businesses – and none of them had any help or guidance from my mom or any other adult. I just create businesses when I’m bored and then move on to the next one. Some kids play with Barbies, some dream of business. Not one is better or less likely than another.

  • BeautymeetsBrains

    GREAT READ!

    http://wherebeautymeetsbrains.blogspot.com/

  • Brownskinnedeverygirl

    I am extremely proud and happy for her. At just 20, and charting her own path, that is incredible. Go on girl! Get it.

  • Scarlett Lillian / Decor Diva

    Oooooohhhh I loved her feature on Shark Tank! And this feature here! Totally inspiring story. Love her example of girl power for us girl bosses!

    The Decor Diva
    http://decordivastyle.com

  • Kat

    WOW! You go girl! Goes to show that some people are just born entrepreneurs.. This is an awesome story and at just 20 you are already shooting for the starts! Send this to Australia!! x x

    • I LOVE stories like this too – so inspirational! And yes, send it to Australia please!!

      Sam xx
      http://www.smart-twenties.com – how to make the most of your twenties

  • jenna @ just j.faye

    My sister discovered Simple Sugars at a local boutique in Sioux Falls, SD and became obsessed. Then she gave me some for my birthday and I became obsessed too. This is a great product with a great story behind it!

  • What an inspiring and empowering piece!! The best part is that she’s betting on herself — KUDOS!

    http://www.girlmeetsmarket.com

  • lwh13

    Brilliant! It’s so good to see a woman in a position like this. I love that your business is sustainable and sweatshop free – you have created jobs that people love – that is such an amazing gift. We need more girls who are entrepreneurial – it’d be awesome for you to share your story with young girls, or girls who have health issues so they can see their struggles as an opportunity. Wishing you the very best!

    Warm Regards,
    Alexandra
    http://www.littlewildheart.com

  • Celeste

    I really love reading these stories, it inspires me to do something I’m passionate about.