Shizu Okusa & Jennifer Ngai

 

Shizu Okusa &
Jennifer Ngai

 

Co-founders of Jrink


Washington, DC

 

 

Just like Rent the Runway’s co-founders, there are a ton of women who have leapt into the uncharted, often-insane world of entrepreneurship. We’re inviting these risk-takers to be part of a community we’re calling “The Real Runway:” a collection of voices to motivate and inspire your own runway, whatever that may be.

 

It all started with… really, really, really long hours

 

Friends Jennifer Ngai and Shizu Okusa were working insane hours for the World Bank in DC. They spent so much time at their desks that in order to get the nutrients their bodies required, they juiced like mad. And while juice bars were popping up in many U.S. cities, the two realized that the craze had yet to hit DC. So they joined forces, quit their stable careers and launched Jrink. Within one year, they opened four locations, an ecommerce site and delivery service. Find out how swapping finance for food helped these dedicated women discover their truest selves.

 

 

On Jennifer: Dress, Nicholas. On Shizu: Dress, Narciso Rodriguez; Earrings, Luv AJ

 

 

 

People seem to join the finance world for security. What made you two think differently?

 

Jennifer: Job security nowadays is a privilege to have, and Shizu and I fully understand what we were trading in when we first started JRINK. But the opportunity to really create, innovate, and challenge ourselves was worth the risk.  We think most people in their 20's (or at any age for that matter) crave that. We thought: in five years, if we look back at this moment, will we be proud and content with the decision to stay or to pursue?  The answer was the latter, so we mustered up all the courage and took that leap of faith.

You have to take big risks to gain big rewards. I would rather work 80 or 90 hours a week for myself than for a large corporation that can replace you very easily.
— Jennifer Ngai

 
Clutch, Clare V.; Dress, Gabriele Colangelo; Cuff, Campbell

 

 

 

Did you always know you would make great business partners?

 

Shizu: No, we had no idea. But Jennifer and I were friends first, so it was easy knowing that I could trust her. I think that the most important thing when you decide to start a business with someone is knowing that you can trust one another. Everything else rests on top of that foundation.

 

 

What was your transition like, leaving a large corporation for your own business?

 

Jennifer: We built Jrink from the ground up. We put our savings into it. We were in the kitchen all day and handling the delivery and customer service ourselves. We did the very dirty, unpleasant and sometimes menial tasks that we never did sitting at computers. I am now more empathetic to various sides of the world that I hadn’t seen before. Being able to control my destiny has really helped me stay encouraged to do what I do. Plus, at the end of the day, me leaving to go into a startup was my choice. That’s a privilege. I can’t throw this away and I can’t mess it up.

Working for a startup is not easy, but I get to dictate my own future.
 — Shizu Okusa

 
On Shizu: Dress, Elizabeth and James; On Jennifer: Dress, Gabriele Colangelo; Clutch, Clare V.; Cuff, Campbell

 

 

 

What was it like trying to bring the juicing trend to DC? Did you face a lot of closed doors?

 

Jennifer: You have to have thick skin to survive as an entrepreneur. Everyone is going to say no and you have to figure out whether it’s a definitive no or a working no. If it's the former, go onto the next one. If it’s the latter, try to build a relationship in order to turn “no” into a “yes.” When people do say “yes,” you have to prove that they made the correct decision.

 

 

What’s your experience been like as women on this entrepreneurial journey?

 

Jennifer: I never walk into a room and go, “Oh my god, I’m the only woman here.” If you don’t make it an issue for yourself, it’s not an issue. You deserve a seat at the table. Shizu and I don’t bring the woman issue to light and we assume that everyone who walks into the world is an equal player.

 

 

Have your styles changed since leaving the finance world?

 

Shizu: Both of our styles have changed completely. I wasn’t given the latitude at my old job to express myself through style, so I don’t think I even had a chance to develop it until we started Jrink. Now we have the freedom to wear whatever we want.

 

 

Tote, Rebecca Minkoff; Necklace, Oscar De La Renta

 

 

 

What’s the payoff for you both?

 

Shizu: In the corporate world, there were so many rules around what you’re supposed to wear, how much face time you have to put in, and how many hours you’re working. We finally were like, “Screw it.” It was liberating for both of us. Jrink allows us to be more honest with ourselves and take ourselves less seriously.

Juice happens to be the functional product behind our passion and our creativity. That’s what everyone wants in a job, right? People resonate with us on that level — not just as a juice company.
 — Jennifer Ngai

 

 

 

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Photographed by April Greer

 

July 2015