With his latest venture attempting to forever change the beverage industry, Jonathon Perrelli reflects on his entrepreneurial spirit and how he has the magic to make business happen.
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As a slideshow of pictures scroll by on a television screen, casting light across the dimly lit corner space of the office, Jonathon Perrelli can’t help but look, immediately switching subjects mid-sentence.
“Oh, and that’s Darryl McDaniels from Run-D.M.C. holding a LifeFuels bottle. Sorry, I keep getting distracted,” he says, laughing to himself.
As a founder of six companies on the verge of bringing his seventh, LifeFuels, to market, Perrelli knows how business works; he even refers to his kids as his “three little start-ups.”
Operating out of the fourth floor of a seemingly mundane office building in Reston, Perrelli waits patiently for his latest venture’s time in the spotlight.
“When most people visit LifeFuels they are surprised that we are building a consumer electronics product here in Reston,” Perrelli says of the beverage technology company he hopes will forever revolutionize the beverage industry.
“We call the platform a personal beverage maker,” he says. “Consisting of three parts, the bottle, FuelPods and an app.”
Working together, the elements create a brand-new health and wellness experience for consumers. With a LifeFuels smart bottle, users can create up to 45 beverages from three FuelPods stored in it’s base. Each pod contains functional ingredients to help with things such as daily vitamins, energy, recovery, mood, focus and sleep. The app, in tandem with the bottle, allows users to not only select and dispense custom drinks, but also to monitor consumption, improve their nutrition habits and shop for FuelPods.
“It’s the first of its kind from a consumer electronics or beverage standpoint,” Perrelli says.
However, LifeFuels isn’t just for star athletes or fitness enthusiasts—it’s for everyone.
“I’m not an athlete, but sometimes I’m tired after lunch,” Perrelli says. “LifeFuels provides a caffeine and energy [pick-me-up] at the touch of a button and keeps me going in the middle of the day when I need it the most.”
In fact, the idea for the company came from Perrelli’s own life—to help his wife maintain her health while pregnant with their third child in 2006.
“Managing health and nutrition for a family member was the genesis of the idea; managing wellness was the problem I was trying to solve,” he says.
With this purpose in mind, Perrelli began to study the market and question whether something like LifeFuels was possible. Turns out, it was the perfect idea.
“When I noticed my mom and her retired friends using Fitbits trying to achieve 10,000 steps, I thought, if mainstream consumers care about their output this much, shouldn’t they also care about their input?” he says. “Tracking input really does matter; we think the time is right.”
After attending a variety of conferences and trade shows, specifically the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Perrelli was convinced and, in 2014, LifeFuels was born.
“People visit Vegas to gamble and our exhibiting at CES in Vegas was a gamble for us, and it paid off,” he says.
In fact, just four years later at CES, LifeFuels found a strategic partner and investor in Keurig, the nationally renowned beverage brewing company.
Whether it be LifeFuels or any other business he’s been a part of, Perrelli knows that passion matters, and when paired with persistence and resilience, it makes for a great foundation.
“If a founding team believes in a product or service and the vision that they have for it, they can overcome so many obstacles on the way to achieving their mission. The human experience is not just about a measurement of success in dollars,” he says. “Do I care about that for the company? Of course, I want to make a return to my investors, that’s one of my top goals. LifeFuels is about much more than that. We hope to change the way people consume beverages forever.”
Graduating from Virginia Tech in 1994, Perrelli owes much of his success to his alma mater.
“The time I had there and the friendships I developed are priceless, in fact two of my closest friends are both investors in LifeFuels, and I am an investor in both of their companies,” he says. “We support each other with our time, talent and treasure, which is something we all circle back to Tech.”
Later serving as a delegate to the Global Startup Accelerator at The United Nations Foundation, Perrelli was able to broaden his world view and learn just how important shared knowledge is. He became involved with the United Nations because of his work in creating Startupland, a documentary that followed the stories of founders at five startups. Since its release, the documentary has premiered in over 75 countries and is accompanied by an online curriculum.
“I met some amazing people from all over the world and built great relationships with entrepreneurs who are having similar struggles in other countries,” he says. “Just sharing that little idea, that nugget of wisdom or tool with someone in another country, can help them in ways that you can’t even imagine. Sharing knowledge from positive experiences is great, but it is often the failures that we learn most from and should share with others.”
From experience, Perrelli highlights that many founders are known to be somewhat crazy—it’s what separates the best from the rest. For him, crazy is good, and in certain situations it’s needed.
“When people tell you you’re crazy, or that you have an idea that is crazy, but they’re the same people that ask if they can invest in the crazy idea, then you are on to something,” he says.
Despite getting sidetracked from time to time, Perrelli has found that focus, ironically, is one of his keys to success.
“We talk about keeping our eyes on the prize, and our prize is the LifeFuels bottle and our FuelPods,” he says. “The only way to reach the finish line is to stay hyper focused and we have the perfect team in place to make it happen.”
Sure, he may get distracted occasionally, he may even go off on tangents, but none of that matters. LifeFuels has his attention, and with that, nothing seems out of reach.
“I hope that LifeFuels becomes a product that people talk about like Google is for search,” Perrelli says. “That sounds crazy, but you don’t search on the internet, you Google something. You don’t call a taxi, you say an Uber’s coming. My point is that I believe people will refer to their water bottle by saying ‘I forgot my LifeFuels bottle and I need to turn around and go home to grab it.’ I hope folks leave their home with three things: their keys, their smartphone and their smart bottle.” //