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“Build the plane as it’s taking off”: tips on partnership, pivots, and working through fear



At The Juicy Leaf, a colorful Los Angeles plant shop, Felix Navarro and Felipe Abrahão curate their space carefully—down to every last succulent, incense stick, and crystal.

As co-owners and partners, Felix and Felipe pride themselves on creating a nurturing, collaborative environment. They want customers to be wowed by the thoughtful terrarium and succulent arrangements, but also feel like they’re active participants in the creative magic. “It’s a place where people can come in and design their own [arrangement],” Felix said.

But when it comes to big decisions about their business, the pair’s mantra has been to build the plane as it’s taking off. Rather than stalling out of fear or waiting on perfection, they’ve embraced adaptability and evolution. Early in the pandemic, for example, The Juicy Leaf added a digital storefront to manage an massive increase in online orders and has become a go-to vendor for major studios like Netflix, NBC, and Fox.

As Felix and Felipe reflect on their small business journey, they shared three tips that have helped them attract loyal customers since 2007.

1. Don’t let fear run your business

There are all sorts of factors to consider when making a big decision in your business, but fear shouldn’t be one of them. Avoiding a key business decision may prevent you from taking the step that could lead to a well-deserved breakthrough. 

The Juicy Leaf started out of a garage, with Felix attending flea markets and swap meets for a few years. Eventually, it became obvious that the business needed its own location to develop into a distinct and independent brand. But as a former finance VP navigating a collapsing financial industry in 2006, Felix felt out his depth making that commitment.

“Going into it, I was terrified,” he said. “I thought [the rent] was insane back then, and there was nothing like what we were about to do. I was still very uncomfortable and scared because I was just like, ‘What am I doing?’ I know how to teach about state and federal lending regulations, but doing brick and mortar is a completely different animal.”

He pushed through with the support of his partner at the time, who reminded him that a storefront was an integral part of his vision—a space where he could help others curate their own piece of paradise. “My motto, which is a horrible motto sometimes, is build the plane as you’re taking off,” Felix said. “Because sometimes if you sit around and kick the can and think about it, it’s never going to happen.”

2. A solid support system meets you where you are

When Felix started The Juicy Leaf, he was the sole owner—and used to making all the decisions himself. That changed when Felipe joined four years ago. And while the pair communicated well in their marriage, they still had to adjust their working relationship so they both had an equal say in the business. “After that, I think the dynamic really changed where I was like, yeah, I have to let go,” Felix said.

Since then, their partnership has been an asset for The Juicy Leaf. While mixing personal relationships and work has its challenges, surrounding yourself with people you can rely on and collaborate with can also help mitigate the stress and pressure of owning a business. “I think we’re very different people, which can be challenging and good at the same time,” Felipe said. 

“Between the two of us, we are able to kind of figure things out [as we go],” Felix added. “He’ll slow me down, I’ll rush him, and somewhere in between, we meet.”

The early quarantine stages of the pandemic proved especially challenging, given the massive increase of time being spent together. Nonetheless, the two know that at the end of the day, they’re on the same team and can rely on each other for a job well done. 

3. A pivot can change your business for the better

Being flexible and open to change allows you to pivot when big changes (like a pandemic) happen on short notice. When COVID-19 first shut down storefronts in LA, The Juicy Leaf was only a brick-and-mortar. But rather than lose the business, Felix and Felipe took a crash course in e-commerce and started shipping their products instead.

“It was a total nightmare,” Felipe said. Suddenly, they had hundreds of plant kits to put together and ship from their small space—and figuring out the logistics was no easy feat. 

“We would be outside putting boxes together in the parking lot and any space that we could find,” Felix added. “Once the store was closed, we would literally line the store with as many boxes as we could.” 

Eventually, The Juicy Leaf moved to a new location to hone in on online orders and deliveries. While the new storefront attracts less foot traffic, it’s better suited to accommodate their subsequent growth—with more space to package orders. In the process, Felix and Felipe found that accepting change instead of fighting it set them on a path toward unexpected success, becoming a go-to vendor for corporate clients and parties.

Photos of The Juicy Leaf on Yelp; editorial by Jenna Spray and Emily Moon


These lessons come from an episode of Behind the Review, Yelp & Entrepreneur Media’s weekly podcast. Listen below to hear from Felix and Felipe, or visit the episode page to read more, subscribe to the show, and explore other episodes.

The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.

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