Lani Lazzari, a superstar in the business world at the age of 21. Photo by Brian Cohen.

At 21, Lani Lazzari has been running a business for almost half her life. When she started Simple Sugars, a body scrubs and skincare company in 2005, she was only 11 years old. Now as she enters adulthood, she’s a business veteran.

Hitting a 10-year milestone is no small feat—at any age. According to Forbes, 8 out of 10 businesses fail within 18 months. Lazzari has surpassed that many times over.

In 2012, Simple Sugars was asked to pitch in the popular TV show, Shark Tank. “It came at the right time; we needed capital,” Lazzari says.

Lazzari had just turned 18 when the show called. Her mother, Gina Lazzari, had officially transferred ownership to her as she became of age. “Problem was, banks were not eager to lend money to an 18-year-old with no credit history and we needed working capital to expand.”

Simple Sugars product. Brian Cohen photo.
Simple Sugars product. Brian Cohen photo.

Lazzari agreed to be on the show and successfully pitched her company, securing investment from Mark Cuban—one of the youngest to do so.

She was confident going in. “I knew my business—I have been running this business for six years and living it everyday. The hardest part was figuring out how much money to ask for.”

Acing the pitch was only the beginning. The true test was successfully scaling the business to respond to the “Shark Tank Effect”—the steep rise in sales following an appearance on the show. Lazzari and her team thought they were well-prepared: the show’s producers estimated that they would sell about $20,000 more the night the show aired. They sold that much—before Lazzari’s pitch ended. By the weekend, they hit the $600,000 mark and six weeks after the show, $1 million in sales.

Simple Sugars scaled this successfully and avoided the other side of the “Shark Tank Effect”—the sales dip after the high. Instead, Simple Sugars continued to grow. “We have been one of the most successful companies on the show—no one expected us to do as well as we did,” Lazzari says.

Three years later, Simple Sugars marks its 10th year in business and has grown from a local company to an online company that sells internationally and is in 700 retail locations.

But Lazzari notes, “We’re not successful just because of Shark Tank. There is a reason why we did so well—because of what we did before and what we did after. We had to go from two people to 22 in a week—we had to be able to handle scale and we did. Then we had to sustain the momentum.”

Lani Lazzari of Simple Sugars. Brian Cohen photo.
Lani Lazzari of Simple Sugars. Brian Cohen photo.

To what does she credit her success?

First, a good product. “The market that we fit in is truly underserved. We created a product that is needed, that is unique, and that people love.”

Lazzari adds that bootstrapping smartly is important. To gain press in 2009, Lazzari learned public relations on the fly, putting together her own press kit and national media tour—and gaining national placement in big name magazines such as Lucky, Glamour and Self.

But there’s more to her success story. She stresses the importance of creating a culture that makes for happy employees and allows for quality of life. “We have a different work policy that is very much focused on goals—we don’t tell our employees when they need to work. Instead, we jointly set goals and as long goals are met, team members set their own schedule.”

She adds, “We have a positive energy culture and a big list of core values—we want people to love their job and want it to enhance their life, not take it away.”

As it marks its 10th year, Lazzari is looking to continue national growth, strengthening the online presence, expanding its retail footprint and growing the men’s line, Smooth for Men.

And what does her mom have to say about the impressive success of her her company? Gina Lazzari credits her daughter’s approach to many of the strategies that Simple Sugars implements.“Most companies would say, oh wow, that is risky, we shouldn’t do that,” she says. “But Lani has no fear.”

Leah Lizarondo is a food advocate, writer and speaker. She is also the co-founder of 412 Food Rescue, an organization that seeks to eliminate food waste to make an impact on hunger and the environment. She is the Chief Veghacker, recipe creator and curator at The Brazen Kitchen, where she writes about food and food policy. She writes about the intersection of food, health, innovation and policy.