Equi London is an authentic creation thanks to the duality of expert nutritionist Alice and city professional Rosie. Friends for over a decade, journeying through university years and into the hectic London lifestyle together, both Rosie and Alice have remained close friends from day one. Never being ones to miss out on the fun, they lead busy lives, burning the candle at both ends yet always with a firm eye on their health regimes. Continually searching for easy solutions to look and feel their best, their endless shared passion and quest in finding quality supplements that really work led them to create their own range of perfectly supportive nutritional supplements.
What inspired you to start a business?
The motivation to take the leap and start Equi came from us both seeing a problem that we knew we could fix, and one that we were both very passionate about. Both of us have always been ambitious and hardworking, but we came at it from different angles. Business has always fascinated me and I knew from an early age that I would eventually start my own; it was just a matter of the right idea and timing. The City had been a goal of mine since school, and after studying Economics and the obligatory internship with an Investment Bank, I went straight into it working as a trader at a Hedge Fund and then in equity sales at a US bank.
Though I enjoyed my time there, after 6 years the prospect of further progression within the bank didn’t tempt me. I wanted the challenge of creating something from scratch, the satisfaction of seeing it do well having given it my all, and the freedom of working for myself. I also wanted to start a family, and as my plans for motherhood were approaching, it was the right time to create a job that was more on my terms, allowing me to juggle being a mum whilst also being challenged professionally. My daughter was born last November and though it has been quite demanding working on Equi through pregnancy and with a new baby, I definitely did the right thing.
The other nudge for me was spotting a real gap in the market after witnessing and experiencing how much the corporate world can take it out of you. I always had a firm eye on my health, cramming in 6am workouts a couple of times a week, always grabbing a healthy lunch, making sure I was drinking enough water and taking a couple of supplements, but the high pressured, long days, boozy client dinners and busy social life were starting to take their toll. Without realising it, I had become a ‘tired’ person, but when you’re on the desk with everyone else feeling the same foggy head in the morning, 3pm slump in energy, low concentration, poor sleep, picking up colds often, long hangovers – you think it’s part of the norm when in fact it isn’t.
After a break out of bad skin – another side effect this lifestyle can pose – I started to take note of the effect it was having on me. I was lucky enough that my closest friend happened to also be one of Harley Street’s expert nutritionists. Alice and I met at University over a decade ago and whilst I went straight into the city, Alice took a further degree in nutrition and set up her successful clinic, specialising in skin health and burn out – something that is all too common in central London. Alice prescribed a range of supplements to help cure my problem skin and within a month, not only was my skin healing, I felt the best I had done in years. My energy levels were high, I could concentrate for the whole day, my digestion was great and I was sleeping well. I just felt fantastic and it was only then that I realised how below par I’d been feeling – and how there was a strong business opportunity.
The supplements Alice had given me were only available through practitioners or specialist websites, were unbranded and sold in single forms – so you needed to have gone to see and expert to know what to take. Working on a trading floor of 1000 people, most desks would have at least a couple of pots of vitamins on them, so I knew there was definitely a demand for effective supplements and we quickly realised that there was a real gap in the market for readily available supplements that actually work and make a real difference to how you look and feel. Supplements get a lot of bad press for being ineffective and we tend to agree with this – most mainstream products don’t give any noticeable changes and use cheap ingredients that don’t tend to be very useful to the body. Products claiming to be ‘everything you need’ often fall short in a big way, simply delivering small does of basic nutrients that work superficially rather than on a deeper level. Though there were some good products on the market, that wasn’t anything that was as comprehensive as what we knew was needed to make a difference, that was also formulated for real people living busy city lifestyles…and not living on a beach with the time to cook perfectly nutritious meals every day.
Though I had a successful clinic on Harley St and loved consulting, I was always keen to apply my knowledge in different ways. Whether it’s writing, advising start-ups in the health industry or developing menus, it helps to keep your job fresh and varied, whilst also building your professional skill set. As a consultant I was already self-employed and had been since I graduated. I had always had the type of work ethic that meant I could motivate myself to get up and work on weekends if needed, and to set achievable goals for myself, so working freelance suited me.
At around the time Rosie had bad skin, I had been approached by a couple of companies wanting me to either formulate their products or put my name to them. Many companies hire a therapist to do this, often bringing on others to write the literature about it, or blog for the website – which can confuse the tone of voice. I also wanted to be more involved with a supplement brand and have a stake in it if I was to formulate the products using my knowledge and my approach, which I have personally cultivated over my years in practice. None of the ones that I spoke to had products or brands that I really believed in, and so when we came up with the idea for Equi I didn’t have to think twice!
Having a nutritional therapist as one of the business owners is such an important asset to Equi. I knew the supplement industry very well but had always struggled to find an effective easy, one stop product for my clients – instead regularly prescribing numerous products that required compliance and a lot of dedication. Unsurprisingly, when it takes time and is expensive, people don’t stick to with it long term, and I was finding that clients would find it tricky to keep up with taking a large range of pills and powders.
What is the greatest challenge and the greatest reward in being your own boss?
There are times when we both miss the security of a regular pay check and the structure of office life, but like any job, there are pros and cons. It’s the middle of summer and holiday time as we write this, but our current situation sums up our position. Rosie, being sat on a beach in Mykonos is surrounded by holiday-makers reading magazines and novels, whilst she sits with a laptop, a couple of calls scheduled each afternoon. Similarly, Alice is on a boat in Menorca with wifi so she can get up early and work in the mornings. We peak throughout the day as needed, regarding various customer and retailer queries and are always on emails. Being able to dictate your own schedule is essential for us, especially as Rosie also has a baby, and Alice other ventures.
There are times when we certainly can’t be this flexible, indeed there have been, and continue to be many occasions in which we are totally overwhelmed with work, meaning that life – social, family, fitness and rest – has had to take a backseat. This can be the same for any job, but when it’s your business the pressure is on and you care too much not to put your back into it.
Learning to switch off is an important skill and one we both struggle with. That said, when you’re working on something that you are incredibly passionate about, it is fun and doesn’t feel like work, so we’re not complaining!
What motivational tips can you give to our members about goal setting and managing both successes and failures.
We have always been big goal setters, even at University we were both clear on where we wanted to be in the next 5 years and luckily both achieved it. When we started Equi, we were committed to keeping our goals a prominent focus. Although having the confidence to set and work towards high reaching goals, we would also say that being flexible and dynamic is vital. We weren’t planning on going international until the second year of trading, but when Net-a-porter wanted to launch us in the US after 2 months of being live, we went for it even though it meant putting other things on hold whilst we invested time and money in making it happen (having to work with several legal and logistical elements). We’re already in talks with retailers throughout Europe and in Asia and though we weren’t planning on doing this so soon, the opportunity is there and it might not come around again so we’re going for it. Something that we don’t think we’re particularly good at is pausing to take stock of what we’ve achieved so far. For example we hit a revenue target pretty quickly which had initially seemed a long way off, but just carried on with the next piece of work we were involved with. That is something we should definitely get better at, but I’m not sure there will come a day when we’re fully satisfied.
When things don’t work out as planned we are quite resilient. Being big believers that everything happens as it should, if something doesn’t come off first time round, we wouldn’t necessarily class it as a failure and would deem it as not being the right time or that something better is around the corner. That has been true for us so far and we make a conscious effort to trust our instincts, which rarely let us down; to be patient, positive and not to take no for an answer.
That’s not to say that we don’t regularly analyse and assess, its more the fact that we don’t let it negatively effect us and certainly don’t take it personally.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a business owner?
Apart from the fact that there is always work to be done, one of the biggest challenges any business owner has to face is how to surrounding yourself with the right people. We are very fortunate to be doing this together, as old friends we know each other so well and truly understand our individual strengths and weaknesses – which luckily compliment each other perfectly. We will support and challenge each other to get the best out of ourselves and there have been many moments when if either one of us had been doing this on our own, we would have really struggled to keep motivated.
The business is 100% our own but outside of that, we have had to work with some key people, such as our branding agent, PR, web designer and suppliers. Finding the right people to work with and knowing when to walk away from those who aren’t doing the job as well as you’d like has been a real challenge. We have had a couple of bad experiences where we should have cut sooner than we did, which has ended up costing us both time and money (as well as being enormously frustrating!) but we’ve learnt to trust our gut more and have the confidence to be more vocal. No one is going to love your business as much as you do, but there are some amazing people out there who, with time and effort you can definitely find, with whose input can enhance your business even further.
What are your tips for scaling a business and how do you plan for and manage growth?
It sounds very obvious, but product is key. We see so many businesses (not necessarily just in nutrition) cutting corners with their products and hoping that gimmicky marketing or flashy packaging will be a good enough substitute. There are countless business blogs and books explaining how easy it is to market ‘OK’ products with the internet and social media. We are dead against this and the quality of the products has been top priority for us since day one. We wanted to create products that worked, that helped people look, feel and perform at their best so that they would love them, continue to use them and tell all their friends about them. If we’d have cut corners, opted for lower quality or smaller doses of ingredients, we might do well in the short term, but in the long term – forget it! Although our unit costs have been bigger initially, we gladly took the hit as we knew that there was the demand for what we have created and that in time, economies of scale would kick in.
Though we’ve only been live for a short time, we already have built up a dedicated international customer base for which Equi is a firm fixture in their daily routine – many tell us they are feeling the best they have in years. The genuine testimonials on our website attest to this and make all our hard work and risk taking completely worthwhile.
We have also been committed to growing Equi in the right way, which has meant saying no to certain retailers who we didn’t think were the right fit for the brand. Although the aim is to sell and grow the business, we know that creating the right brand image requires selective positioning so partnering with the right retailers, such as Net-a-Porter, is paramount. Although saying no to some sales has cost us in the short term, we’re positive it will pay off.
What does the future hold for you?
We want to continue to establish Equi in the health market as a brand that doesn’t put pressure on people to live or eat in a certain way and provides effective supplements that do what the claim to. We know how tricky it is to consistently eat ‘clean’ and would never deny ourselves an occasional burger or couple of drinks – far from it! Though we fully condone eating well and having a balanced view on health, we think it’s about time the health industry became a little more forgiving and realistic about the typical city lifestyle. With Equi, we’ve developed consolidated ‘one-stop’ products that support the body in the face of a busy modern life, delivering a comprehensive, expertly formulated hit of nutrients (each daily scoop of the powder mixed with water is the equivalent of taking 15-20 pills) so that people can trust their supplement regime is sufficient, leaving time for them to focus on everything else they’ve got going on.
We’re also pushing on with retailers in Europe, the US and Asia which is keeping us very busy, as well as kicking off R&D for our next product; a mental performance blend. Though Fundamental is incredibly energising and great for concentration, we want our next blend to be even more powerful – perfect if you have a busy social life, family and workout schedule to juggle, and want to stay focused, positive, pin-sharp and productive at work. Watch this space!