Lara Nikola

President Smart Sips Coffee


What inspired you to start your business?

I was inspired to start my business after having my first child six years ago. I was commuting two and a half hours a day and seeing my son for one hour a day when he was a few months old, and it was devastating to me. I always had an entrepreneurial spirit, knew one day I wanted to own my own business, and realized that the time was now. I named my company JG Innovative, after my son, Jake George and decided to take the plunge and start my company. While I had the drive to start my own company, I did not know what kind of company I wanted. I decided I wanted an e-commerce-based company, and I wanted a product that was a repeat purchase and one that I could insert some creativity into.

What’s your favorite career moment?

One of my favorite career moments happened recently. I got the opportunity to go on Good Morning America and pitch Smart Sips Coffee to the sharks of Shark Tank. I was so nervous, and fear public speaking. I had less than four days to prepare. I decided to dive into the opportunity and push my fear out of the way and instead focus on my pitch. I wrote a pitch and practiced it hundreds of times. I went to the GMA studio, unsure of what to expect, and successfully represented my company in front of the sharks, live audience and millions of viewers. It was a wonderful experience and one of my favorite moments both professionally and personally. After that appearance we received thousands of orders and hundreds of emails from across the country.

What challenges have you faced as a woman entrepreneur and how did you overcome them?

One of the most frustrating challenges I’ve faced as a woman entrepreneur is not being taken seriously. I have always felt like I had to convince someone I had a great company and that they automatically defaulted to thinking I was a mom with a hobby, not a mom with a business. I have been to meetings where I know I would have been treated different if I was a male.

I have worked to overcome this challenge by working with my women entrepreneur / business owner community and together we are making a change. Recently I was on a panel for an International Women’s Day Summit and had the opportunity to connect with my women entrepreneur community and celebrate the strides we’ve made together, and acknowledging the path we still have in front of us. I work to support my female entrepreneur community by volunteering, teaching and serving as a resource and working to empower and inspire girls and women.

What advice would you give to other women entrepreneurs?

I would tell my fellow women entrepreneurs that when someone says that you can’t do something, that is coming from their inner walls, not yours. Don’t let their walls stop you from doing something. Sometimes, we are the only ones that have faith in ourselves, and in the end we’ll prove them wrong.

What three traits define you?

I’m driven, creative and not afraid to make a mistake. I work not to make the same mistake twice, but as an entrepreneur you often have to risk to get a reward. If you don’t take chances, you’ll never step outside your comfort zone or grow, and mathematically you will not win/succeed in every chance you take. Just learn from each experience and use that to grow and go in the right direction.

What women inspire you?

My grandmothers inspire me. While they are no longer with us, they were strong and contributed to paving the way to where women are today.

How has being a WBENC-Certified WBE helped your business?

Being WBENC Certified has helped me build a network of incredible fellow women business owners. From that connection with like-minded women come the exchange of ideas, contacts, business and inspiration. It is also wonderful to be able to connect with companies that value doing business with WBENC certified companies and having a diverse supplier portfolio.

What do you love about being a business owner?

I love the ability to design the life I want. I am a mom and business owner, and I get to juggle the two so that I feel content. I also love showing my children that mommies can run a business. They will not grow up with a preconceived notion that defaults to them thinking dads are the business owners. They will know that women are just as capable.

What’s the hardest part about being a business owner?

The hardest part of being a business owner is separating work and home life. I’m connected to my business 24/7 and consistently have to work at ‘turning off’ work for a while and being present at home. It can really feel challenging ‘disconnecting’ and having clear-cut work hours vs. home/family time.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?

The best business advice is one I received from my father, a fellow entrepreneur, and it is simple. “If it were easy, everyone would do it”. That pops in my head when I encounter obstacles and challenges and remind myself that it’s not easy, and that it takes grit to get to the other side, and if it didn’t then everyone would have their own business.

If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?

I would read! I have been a bookworm my entire life, but now find it challenging to find time to read the fun books that transport you into a different world. When I do get time to read I find myself reading business articles that help me move the needle in my company versus the books that allow me to indulge in imagination.

What are you reading or listening to now?

I love listening to podcasts! I listen to How I Built This by NPR, Ted Talks and the NPR Ted Radio Hour podcast. I found the NPR How I Built This – Rent the Runway episode very inspiring.

Some audible books I recently listened to and loved are Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies. It helped me realize that I was an Upholder and that was the reason I react a certain way and think that everyone should do the same, but they have different tendencies. I was able to pinpoint the tendencies of some close to me and adjust the way I approach them in order to get the most effective outcome.

I also loved Kick Ass with Mel Robbins. I always thought of myself as a procrastinator, and one of the gems of this audiobook was realizing that was just how I handled stress.

What’s the best way to start your day?

I love starting my day with a cup of coffee followed by a walk on the Spring Lake Boardwalk while listening to a podcast. I come back inspired and ready to take on the day.

How do you unwind after a long workday?

As the mom of two little ones (a 4 year old and 6 year old) I don’t really get to ‘unwind’, but I get to immerse in playtime and lots of laughing.

Fill in the blank:

When I face a challenge, I... remind myself that there is a solution to every problem, and I need to just figure out what that is for this specific challenge.

If I could go back in time, I would tell myself… relax, it will all be fine. You don’t have to be so hard on yourself.

The one thing I couldn’t live without is… Italian food.

By this time next year, I will be… a better business owner.

The best thing that happened to me last week was… I had lunch with one of my closest friends, which I always say it’s like ‘chicken soup for my soul’.

To get my creative juices flowing, I… take a walk on the boardwalk and listen to inspiring podcasts.

Smart Sips

Smart Sips Coffee is an exciting brand of fun, unique flavored gourmet coffees, cappuccinos, lattes and hot chocolates. We put excitement into your 'daily coffee drinking routine' with flavors like Chocolate Peanut Butter, Brown Sugar Bourbon, Blueberry Cinnamon Crumble and so many more. With Smart Sips you can drink your dessert without the calories, carbs or sugar. Our decadent coffees are sugar-free, carb-free and 2 calories per cup.

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