There are a number of analogies between success in sports and success in business. In either, you need a strong team, a keen understanding of the competition, and a willingness to take risks. And, perhaps most importantly, you need drive. A winning athlete or coach, like Yanni Hufnagel, is motivated by an inner fire that can’t be taught in business school. It’s the relentless drive to succeed, and it’s the secret ingredient behind many athlete — and entrepreneur — success stories.
Yanni Hufnagel, Founder and CEO of the beverage startup Lemon Perfect, was motivated by that relentless drive when he was a basketball coach and recruiter for college-level men’s basketball teams. And he’s brought that drive and determination to leading his health-conscious, environmentally friendly lemon water startup which he’s determined to grow into the next billion-dollar beverage business.
The basketball court proved a perfect training ground for Yanni Hufnagel to sharpen the skills he would need as an entrepreneur in the competitive beverage market. Following a coveted internship with the New Jersey Nets, his basketball coaching career officially began at the University of Oklahoma, where he was a graduate assistant coach for the men’s basketball team. Later, as a member of the Harvard Crimson men’s basketball program, Hufnagel gained national recognition for his skill at spotting and recruiting top players. There, he was dubbed “one of the most relentless and energetic recruiters in the game.” During his time at Harvard, Yanni Hufnagel played a key role in developing NBA legend Jeremy Lin who led the NY Knicks to a winning season and sparked fan frenzy across the globe.
Yanni Hufnagel’s successful coaching career led him to the staff of the Vanderbilt Commodores in May 2013, and, in 2014, the University of California Golden Bears, where he helped recruit NBA star Jaylen Brown, currently of the Boston Celtics, to the team. During a 10-year career coaching college basketball, Hufnagel’s teams reached the NCAA Tournament six times.
When he turned his attention to launching a new beverage startup in 2017, Hufnagel brought with him that sharp eye for talent and skill at developing a winning team. As Lemon Perfect’s CEO, he seeks out team members who share his enthusiasm for health and wellness, who are innovative thinkers, and who approach problems with a can-do attitude.
Yanni Hufnagel knew from the outset that he would need focus and determination to make Lemon Perfect a success. As many as 85% of new food and beverage startups fail in the first two years because they are not able to scale, unable to adapt, or have not developed an innovative business model. Yanni Hufnagel learned key lessons from his coaching days that have helped him to lead Lemon Perfect to beat the odds. He’s navigated a crowded beverage marketplace by capitalizing on his brand’s strengths, understanding his competitors, and clearly communicating the advantages of Lemon Perfect to health-conscious consumers.
During his coaching days, Hufnagel saw a real opportunity for an alternative to sports drinks that provided hydration, antioxidants, and electrolytes needed to rebalance the body’s pH, without all the sugar, additives, and chemicals known to be detrimental to health. The idea for Lemon Perfect was born in Hufnagel’s own kitchen, where each morning he squeezed his own fresh-made lemon water for its health benefits—including a Vitamin C boost to help the body fight infection and digestive benefits. And Hufnagel wasn’t alone. Celebrities and top athletes, including Beyonce, actress Jennifer Aniston, Olympic diver Tom Daley and legendary quarterback Tom Brady, have all publicly touting the benefits of drinking lemon water daily.
But the college athletes who Yanni Hufnagel coached, and consumers who wanted healthier alternatives to sports drinks, didn’t have easy access to lemon water drinks.
So Yanni Hufnagel did his research and pulled together experts to start making the first lemon water beverage brand. His mission from the outset was to “democratize drinkable wellness,” so he started with the best ingredients — USDA-certified organic lemons hand-picked in Southern California. Lemon Perfect’s lemons are cold-pressed using high-pressure processing instead of heat to maintain the lemons’ many nutritional health benefits. The beverages are high-pressure certified. And Lemon Perfect meets other strict certification standards that health-conscious and eco-conscious consumers care about. The drinks are certified vegan, gluten-free, and non-GMO Project verified. The company is also a member of 1% for the Planet, contributing at least 1% of annual sales to environmental causes. And Hufnagel knew that great taste was essential. The beverages come in four refreshing flavor options that tap into consumer taste trends — Just Lemon, Blueberry Acai, Dragon Fruit Mango, and Peach Raspberry. All the flavors are organic.
Still, to build a winning beverage brand, Hufnagel knew he needed more than just a great-tasting drink. Hufnagel has managed to beat the startup success odds by focusing on building the brand as a whole. He’s given Lemon Perfect an eye-catching design, clear packaging, and vibrant colors, including, of course a summery pop of yellow, that stand out just as well on social media as they do in the retail coolers.
In a testament to Yanni Hufnagel’s winning instinct, Lemon Perfect has drawn both industry praise and eager investors.
Lemon Perfect was named “Best New Product” at BevNET’s Best of 2019 Awards, and the startup recently closed on a $6.6 million funding round with investors including NBA stars Nick Young of the Denver Nuggets and Blake Griffin of the Detroit Pistons, and Jordan Schultz, insider, and analyst for ESPN.
Lemon Perfect is already widely available in stores across the country, including in Target, Whole Foods, and on Amazon, and Hufnagel is on track to expand Lemon Perfect to tens of thousands of locations by next year. Beginning with his basketball days, Hufnagel has learned the value of taking risks and trusting his instincts, and he’s built a team that is poised to take Lemon Perfect to one of the hardest-to-reach achievements: big success in the beverage market.
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 Yanni Hufnagel’s 10 years coaching college basketball, his teams reached the NCAA Tournament six times.