Toronto nutritionist Meghan Telpner has made a name for herself—and built a seven-figure one-person business—posting well-researched health and wellness information on a quirky site that reflects her passion for vintage clothing, outdoor life and family. Now it’s escalating.
With many people getting frustrated during the pandemic and now continuing to enjoy the joys of doing things like home cooking and facials, her posts on topics like “My Ultimate Home Spa: Rituals and Product Reco,” “Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Muffins,” and “Meal And Snack Ideas For Airplane Travel” — have attracted more and more fans.
The same goes for her candid opinions on controversial topics such as “5 Reasons Nutella Should Be Banned From Your Breakfast Table,” “Is the Beyond Meat Burger Healthy?” “Tampons: The Dioxin Glyphosate Vagina Cocktail” and cosmetics, as in “Is Arbonne Really As Pure And Safe As They Claim.”
“There are a lot of people who are more health conscious and realize that they need to take more ownership of their health,” says Telpner. But many face roadblocks, such as the high cost of food, he finds. “It shouldn’t be so hard to live well,” he says.
Telpner, who jokingly refers to herself as a “nutritionist,” started her business in 2008 after suffering a health challenge of her own: a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease in 2006, following a trip to Africa. She left her stressful advertising career behind, became certified as a nutritionist at the Institute of Holistic Nutrition, and made several gradual lifestyle changes—such as eliminating gluten and dairy from her diet and using an infrared sauna— which allowed her to live life in remission from Crohn’s, which causes inflammation of the intestinal tract.
At the time he started the business, the world was stuck in the Great Depression and many people were looking for inexpensive, DIY ways to live a healthy life. Working alone until 2011, when she hired a full-time assistant, she launched her first online course, the three-day Green Smoothie Cleanse, in 2009 and wrote two cookbooks. UnDiet (2013) and The UnDiet Cookbook (2015). In 2014, it introduced the Culinary Nutrition Academy, where students can learn healthy cooking techniques. Its main revenue stream is the Academy’s 14-week certification program. The primarily online program now has approximately 3,000 graduates in more than 75 countries. By 2018, the business, which generally had revenues in the range of CAD$1.5-2 million per year, had grown to a team of three.
This year, Telpner presents The Clubhouse Community for Academy alumni and other general members of the Meghan Telpner community. Purposefully positioned outside of social media, it features monthly live events such as cooking demonstrations and roundtable discussions on topics of community interest, such as homeschooling and zero-waste living. “It’s a hub for people to continue to learn and build connections around shared values,” he says. “You’re empowered with skills and knowledge, and you connect with people to really inspire, support and learn from you.”
Telpner and her team created the community after noticing that many Academy members renewed their access to the program each year. “I felt like they wanted to keep the commitment.”
It also introduces a teaching resource portal, which allows graduates to purchase access to cooking classes and workshops, enabling them to run their own classes in their communities.
With these new products and services in the pipeline, Telpner wants to make sure she can maintain her low-stress lifestyle. To make sure she could execute her vision at a high level and still have plenty of time for her husband Josh, also a nutritionist, and their preschool son, she realized she needed to hire a bigger team. She used a functional accountability chart—a tool that looks at the work that needs to be done in a business and the characteristics and skills of the best person for each job—and gradually grew the team to seven people, in addition to herself.
“I felt that if we could clarify who should be on the team so that everyone could work in their area of brilliance, it would create a more successful work environment,” he says. “Everyone now has very clear roles. Giving everyone time to think about what they are doing is part of the big picture. We can be more strategic and thoughtful about how we execute everything.”
Despite the global labor shortage, she found new team members through word of mouth and the company’s email list, social media and Culinary Nutrition Academy graduates. “We didn’t have to go to any agencies,” he says.
Having a group has allowed her to travel with her family now that Canadians are free to do so. A recent trip was to Costa Rica. She found that her team members were eager to step up in her absence. “The less I work, the more responsible my team becomes,” he says.
To keep the team cohesive, he asks all team members based in the Toronto area to work under one roof once a month. They play trivia games, have “Elixir Chats” where they try her signature recipes, macrame workshops, group art therapy workshops and similar events. “We have fun things on the calendar so we get to know each other and bond,” she says.
So far, it has turnover in only two places, in 2021, he says. One person left to start a business and another took a job with a much larger company.
He expects continued growth, with the current economic environment similar in many ways to the one in which the business first emerged and the interesting consumption of local food, wellness and the DIY movement continuing to grow.
“Everybody wants to learn things from scratch again, and they’re into gardening and making sourdough,” she says. “I think people will continue to do that. When finances come into play, it’s much more economical to do it yourself and you can find joy in it.”