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I Went to the School of Hard Knocks

A Slice on Jenni Lyons, Founder and CEO of Happy Leaf

Jenni Lyons has always been an entrepreneur at heart. From starting her own holistic health and life coach business to brewing kombucha, Lyons has taken her willful and “stubborn” spirit to create a healthy, non-alcoholic kombucha drink, Happy Leaf. Happy Leaf is now in multiple states, and can even be found on tap in select restaurants in Colorado. 

Lyons is no stranger to helping people and providing for them. She spent some of her early years as an Au Pair, working closely with families and children before starting her first business focused on holistic health and life coaching. During this time, Lyons was creating detox programs and taking clients on adventure retreats. “I would do all of the cooking, guide meditations and do health talks. We’d also get people out of their comfort zones and teach them how to be outside, what it means to just explore and drop the cell phones for a little while.” Lyons spent a few years with this business, traveling mostly in Colorado. “I’ve always been promoting and hopefully, doing my part to put real-life food out there in the world and trying to normalize it in our daily conversations and choices.” 

Combined with Lyon’s passion for health and love for kombucha, Lyons started brewing her own. While crafting her own recipe at home, she noticed people really enjoyed it. Lyons then started to go to farmer’s markets in Colorado to sell her kombucha and got incredible feedback. “As an entrepreneur, you’re like, ‘Oh, you like this? Cool, awesome.’ That’s kind of how it all started, it was snowballing so we just kept going with it.” Lyons notes it’s especially special to her because Happy Leaf wasn’t entirely planned. She never went to business school or even college, but it was rather a “fun summer project” for Lyons that took off really quickly. 

Colorado has been an incredible place for Lyons to grow Happy Leaf. With such a welcoming environment full of support for new businesses and young entrepreneurs, she has witnessed a tremendous amount of growth in the state of Colorado. “Immediately it was like everybody else who was making CPG foods and consumer packaged goods in our neighborhoods and community was immediately reaching out and saying, ‘Hey, let me help you.’ It was like an immediate family.” Although Michigan is Lyons’ hometown, she believes the “energetic frequency” of Colorado has helped grow Happy Leaf so much, to the point where if she started the company anywhere else, she doesn’t think it would’ve gone as far. 

Lyons describes herself as stubborn, so when she wants something, she does it herself. With the growth of Happy Leaf, Lyons has stayed true to her core mission with the company. In order to do so, that’s come with making decisions that were best suited for Happy Leaf. “We never actually took on large partners or investors… We used our little bit of money to go to the farmers market, then we took the money we made to make extra kombucha and brought it back the next week. We basically sold out every single weekend and took that money to keep making more [kombucha].” Lyons took on small investments when she needed new equipment, but never anything further. “It’s not that I don’t think there’s space for that [investments], there are a lot of companies that do it and it’s really cool and great for them. But I think Happy Leaf to me, was more or less of ‘let’s let it be what it’s supposed to and not get myself in over my head.’”

Throughout the past nine years of navigating the role of entrepreneur, Lyons has learned a lot along the way. As a founder who had no previous business experience, she remembers underestimating her product in the early days. Lyons advises young entrepreneurs to take the small things seriously and never underestimate how important it is. 

“I think it would’ve put me in a place of much higher confidence if I had taken those things more seriously as I was younger… I didn’t actually go to college so a lot of it was learning through doing so.”

“I went through the school of hard knocks.”

Learning how to be confident and believing in herself is something Lyons has had to learn as a female entrepreneur. Looking back on the early days of her career, Lyons faced a lot of stereotypes she didn’t know how to deal with. “It sounds very cliche because we as women have to keep saying it over again, but believe in yourself and stick to what you say… We have to hold our heads up high and we don’t have to pretend like we’re stronger than we are because we already are.” Now, taking her own advice, Lyons has stayed true to her company and personal mission and has surrounded herself with those who support her.

For Lyons, success is easy to define. Her goals in life were never to be rich, but rather to be present in the community. “It’s not about feeling constantly stressed and running around, not that I’m ever going to stop doing that. I think there will come a time where I’m able to step back and say, ‘Whoa, I built it, now I get to relax.’ A lot of it [success] has to do with the feelings of, ‘Are my dogs happy? Does my cat still love me?’ There’s a level of just being present and knowing that is a happy feeling.” Lyons will continue to allow herself to “really own” the role of an entrepreneur while continuing to grow the company. She loves serving the community and will continue to do just that while sticking to her mission with Happy Leaf.

Founder Bio

Jenni Lyons relocated to the Denver area from Michigan. She spent a few years as a life coach focused on holistic health, traveling around Colorado. Lyons then started brewing her own kombucha and selling her product at farmer’s markets across big cities in Colorado. Lyons is now Founder and CEO of Happy Leaf

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