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My first boss: Jessica Sepel, JS Health vitamins founder

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·5-min read
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Jessica Sepel launched her popular range of vitamins from her two-bedroom home in Sydney in 2019
Jessica Sepel launched her popular range of vitamins from her two-bedroom home in Sydney in 2019. Photo: JSHealth

Jessica Sepel's fast-growing JSHealth Vitamins empire has netted her an estimated £243m ($306m) fortune and a place on Australian Financial Review's 2021 Young Rich List top table.

The South African-born nutritionist moved to Sydney with her parents as a young teen before acquiring a Bachelor of Health from Sydney's Macquarie University and creating her global community to educate a long-term approach to health. She is a three-time best-selling lifestyle and cookbook author, as well as one of Australia's most popular wellness experts.

The JSHealth App, a subscription-based platform featuring healthy recipes from her clinical nutritionist practise, was launched in 2018.

My parents, Nicky and Glenn, have been the biggest influences on me and they were really my first set of bosses. I saw them grow and shape their own businesses and how to manage people; you can’t really learn that in school or university.

The blessing was that they gave us the freedom to do what we wanted to do and encouraged us to follow our passion without any expectations of becoming a doctor or lawyer.

My dad had his own business from the age of 18, first running a sports betting book in South Africa and now helping my mother run their wholesale interiors business.

Read more: My first boss: Nick Wheeler, founder of shirt maker Charles Tyrwhitt

I was never given financial support to launch JS, but they did help to pay for my first employee which I will never forget. They didn’t understand how a blog and publishing ebooks in the early days could potentially be successful, while my father thought that being a nutritionist was about running a private practice or working in a clinic. He encouraged us to be safe financially and there was an element of risk taking.

We never had a business plan when I launched with my husband. It has always been organic and I'm an accidental boss in so many ways. I never imagined I would have to manage anyone.

Failure and rejection is just part of the company journey. The financial failures really wisen you up to help propel you forward. We tried to launch an app, a cereal range and there was constant rejection with the vitamins in the early salvos. But listening to my customers has always been key to success ever since I had early blog followers and started to grow a community.

Jessica Sepel launched her popular range of vitamins from her two-bedroom home in Sydney in 2019
Jessica Sepel launched her popular range of vitamins from her two-bedroom home in Sydney in 2019

My husband and I are now like rocks where we don’t react to challenges that come our way. It has become the norm in our journey to put out fires. People often give up when tough challenges arise, but this is the most important time to keep still and focused, as often something amazing lies at the end of it.

It has been an imperfect, unpolished journey. People have this expectation of running a business that it’s all glamorous, but it always has its ups and downs.

I’m worried about the world we live in today. I struggled with my body image as a 13-year-old in a time where there was no social media. Even though there might be more exposed support today, there is still such an influx of comparison and pressure to look a certain way. One of the reasons why I wanted to create JS Health in the first place was to help women understand that there was a better way to be kinder to your body or to be a certain size and appreciated.

I’m in an industry that is about my passion and I started it by myself without males dominating. I was able to be free and didn’t have to be anything else. In the vitamin space now most of our competitors are male and I had to be taken seriously to make it in this industry.

I now oversee a company of 35 staff, with only two men, who believe that females are nurturing and have a lot of capacity.

Jessica Sepel appears on US television in 2019
Jessica Sepel appears on US television in 2019. Photo by: Nathan Congleton/NBCU Photo Bank

When I started in the wellness space there really wasn’t any opportunity for me and it only really became trendy about a decade ago. There was no real way to create an app, an eight-week programme, a book or create a supplement.

Mum and dad work side by side as I do alongside Dean, my husband, whose lawyer parents also work together. You could say that has been inspirational for us and we have been able to fall upon their wisdom and the issues faced by running a company, even though they have come from a more conservative, traditional background.

Read more: My first boss: Anne Boden, CEO and founder of Starling Bank

As a husband-and-wife team I am pretty strict that work doesn’t get all consuming. I have a strict 8pm shutdown where I delete email and social media apps from my phone. We do a 20-minute night walk, a moment to break us away from the day where we maybe swap ideas but we don’t talk shop.

He finds it hard to switch off and puts pressure on himself. I guess because it is a fear of failing and that he doesn’t want to put his foot off the pedal and we might lose what we’ve built. As a founder, you never feel stable – anytime could be your last day or week – and he will say that it’s impossible to fully switch off as there is so much responsibility. But I am showing him there is a better way. I guess I am quite a strict wife.

JSHealth Vitamins has launched in the UK at over 400 Boots stores as well as Harrods Beauty, Selfridges and direct via JSHealth

Watch: Why do we still have a gender pay gap?

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