Adel Villalobos is founder and chief executive of Lief Labs, a full-service manufacturing company for dietary supplements and vitamins. His company supports product development from first concept to manufacturing for a variety of nutraceuticals and other wellness products. Villalobos has a degree in nutrition biochemistry from California State University – Northridge.
What inspired you to start your business?
In school I had a passion for biochemistry. And I also had a passion for nutrition and how the foods we ate and the nutrients we took in functioned in the body. The first company I worked for happened to be in the dietary supplement space and they were what I eventually modeled my organization after – except that we don’t have a brand, (while) they were a brand that manufactured their own product. The passion of the owner of that company, I would say was an inspiration.
Do you like being your own boss?
Do you ever think about trading it for a steady paycheck?
In the early years it’s lonely. You feel that nobody understands you and nobody sees your struggles. If you’d have asked me this in the first six years, it was very lonely and it did feel like I was my own boss. But I’m going say I had it wrong. It took me six years to realize that my bosses were the people that I served, and the clients that paid me. So it went from being lonely and thinking that I was my own boss, to maturing and realizing that I had lots of bosses. … When I was struggling, trading it for a paycheck never crossed my mind. When I was able to make a decision without a struggle, I chose my passion and I chose to be in control of my destiny.
What’s the biggest challenge your business has faced? And how did you deal with it?
Managing the growth. I grew from five employees to over 300 employees. The human element becomes my biggest asset. For me, not being able to get people to achieve their professional best, or their personal best, is a mental struggle. And now it has become much larger at this scale. So the struggle is managing your workforce, who’s your biggest asset, but is also one of the biggest struggles.
Has being Hispanic affected your business?
Being Hispanic, to me, I think, doesn’t affect the way I run my business. But it has positively benefited me. I do believe that the Hispanic community has grown. And I do believe that I’m put in a position where people come to me for advice for people, young people come to me for advice and support or elected officials who have become more and more Hispanics, come to me for advice. Business leaders come to me for advice. It’s a positive and makes me want to embrace being Hispanic more. I was born in the U.S., but my parents were both immigrants. Interestingly, I think a lot of times we feel that being a minority you don’t have a voice. I actually feel the opposite. I feel it has given me a voice. So I do use my voice to try to maintain a balance with business leaders, the community and elected officials. I feel that being Hispanic has given me a voice and I feel like I’m fortunate.
How has the pandemic affected you and your business?
The pandemic raised a lot of health concerns for the general population. Being healthy is important and I think the issue in the U.S., the trajectory of health mindedness had been growing, but the pandemic expanded that rapidly. It expanded our business and we grew during the pandemic. That’s great. However, it also created lots of challenges. It has disrupted the supply chain, the labor force was disrupted for a multitude of reasons. So even though we grew as an organization, it presented some new challenges for us. Again, I’m going to say: when we overcome these challenges, I expect us to be stronger as an organization.
What advice would you give someone who wanted to start their own business?
One would be to start early, as early as you can, because time is on your side. The sooner you start, the sooner you go through the struggles. The other one is you have to enjoy what you do because the struggles will come and if you have a passion for what you do, the passion will drive you. Giving up is the easy path. Do not give up. Take it until you feel like you’ve gone and exhausted every single avenue because the triumph will be much more worth it.