Eliot Jessep

Eliot Jessep is what you might call an accidental entrepreneur. 

At 22, he operates two successful e-commerce businesses, has worked in radio, sold calendars in shopping malls, done architectural and stage lighting, sold real estate, dabbled in broadcasting, and given talks to other aspiring young business.

Joking that he's "a terrible employee", his business and personal success story is made more remarkable by the facts he left school at 16, lost his mother Paula in a car crash, and has only recently been able to forge a relationship with his father.

Describing himself as "incredibly independent", he was in the workforce as a 14-year-old, and pursuing employment opportunities: "Schooling wasn't really for me, and we worked out pretty quickly that jobs weren't going to be for me, either…I'm a terrible employee," he says.

Add in the fact his mother had significant mental health issues – including redundancy from her job and then suicide attempts before her death in 2011 – and Eliot had to grow up fast.

"I'm genuinely surprised I didn't go off the rails, and a lot of my family are too," he says.

A vital influence on Eliot's life has been Jan Sosinko, a close friend of his mother and a woman who he now identifies as his god-mother (that's Jan in the pic with Eliot).

Jan has been closely involved with Eliot's two successful e-commerce businesses – one selling children's and adult's costumes, the other physical games.

"I've stuffed a lot of courier bags!" he laughs.

"But it's all kind of happened by accident. In 2013 I was getting into online marketing and e-commerce and thought 'oh, this is kind of interesting'. I read a book on e-commerce, clicked on to a top-selling product on Amazon, realised we couldn't get it in New Zealand… called 'Cards Against Humanity', a rather bad taste board game."

That led to a trial-and-error process on what could and couldn't be brought into New Zealand, social media freelance work and running an online games store with his friend and flatmate Carl Brandt. The duo shipped close to 4000 items through the online business ahead of Christmas in 2015, with couriers turning up every morning.

Learning as went, but is otherwise a self-taught businessman, learning from his mistakes and taking cues from other companies and businesspeople. 

It's led him on trips to China and the United Kingdom to source stock for both his businesses – although he quietly admits he is "not a gamer, and not into costumes".

Jan has become an investor to help develop the business, and has a significant financial share in both businesses, which continue to grow.

"We'll turn over close to $1million this year," he says. "There's lots of room to grow, and we're constantly improving our range."

The costume business offers more than 7000 products, with orders shipped out of a Melbourne warehouse. The games are stored in Hamilton, meaning he's more hands-on with the actual physical stock.

"I never looked at business when I was younger and thought 'I want to do that'…it's really just happened."

It's only in recent years he's begun to identify himself as a businessman, and while he explores growth for his current businesses (particularly in Australia), he is also eyeing new opportunities. He's begun to decline business approaches, but is happy to share his advice.

"Whatever I set myself to, I do well in," he says.

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Page reviewed: 12 Sep 2017 2:05pm