Editor's Spotlight: Q&A with Persona’s CEO and founder Jason Brown

Persona CEO: ‘Chase the shiny new technology that has a big price tag – that’s not always the best solution’

By Adi Menayang contact

- Last updated on GMT

Persona CEO: ‘Chase the shiny new technology that has a big price tag – that’s not always the best solution’

Related tags: Personalization, personalized nutrition

Is a lifestyle questionnaire ‘personal’ enough for personalized nutrition? Persona’s founder and CEO Jason Brown talks about growing a business in the personalized nutrition space
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Persona co-founder and CEO Jason Brown.

Until August this year, Persona​ went by the name Vitamin Packs. In its first year, it has raised almost $10 million in capital from prominent investors like L ​Catterton.

Persona’s success so far rides on the ever-growing personalized nutrition trend, which eschews a one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition and highlights how each individual’s lifestyle (from dietary habits to geographic location) affects how their body reacts with nutrients.

Updates this year, in addition to the big name change and rebrand, include the launch of a new app with daily reminders and on-call nutritionists, as well as a new delivery format—capsules filled with colorful small beads that open up so users can sprinkle it onto yogurt or a smoothie.

We caught up with Jason Brown, CEO and founder of Persona, to learn about what keeps him up at night, what role he thinks AI and algorithms play in nutrition, and how companies can stand out in the growing personalized nutrition space.

In the personalized nutrition space, consumers have the option to choose between services that offer testing (DNA, stool, blood) or services that simply take lifestyle questionnaires. How can the lifestyle-based personalization algorithms compete with biomarker-based ones?

At Persona, we don’t see it as one or the other – testing vs. questionnaire – but complementary services that can build a more holistic picture of each individual person. We’ve seen the uprising of DNA, stool, and blood test kits, and know our customers use them as well.

The latest iteration of our nutritional assessment now integrates with leading genetic testing products, including 23andMe, to better understand if our customers are genetically predisposed to specific health conditions. This helps us build a more comprehensive vitamin recommendation.

We still need the brains behind our proprietary algorithm to cull more than 10,000 peer-reviewed journal articles and the collective experience of our medical advisory board to delivery truly unique recommendations. What’s more, our assessment cross-references more than 650 prescription medications to help our customers avoid risky drug-nutrient interactions. You can’t get that data from a DNA test kit.

There have been several new companies in the lifestyle-questionnaire-based personalized supplements space. What is Persona doing to stand out, and is having trillions of possible combinations enough to attract consumers and repeat buyers?

I strongly believe that if we offer high-quality supplements delivered in a truly personalized and meaningful way, while giving consumers the tools they need to be successful, that they’ll know we’re a partner in their ongoing quest for long-term wellness. 

When I say meaningful, I really mean meaningful. We support the non-profit organization Vitamin Angels. For every purchase of Persona, we provide at least two children who are at risk of malnutrition a full year of vitamins. In early August, we held our first annual “Persona Gives Back” day – providing 50,000 children in need with lifesaving vitamins for one year. This program gives our business meaning and helps our subscribers pay forward good nutrition.

We are always listening to our subscribers. We get them. We know it’s difficult to always remember to take supplements.

This month we launched our new Persona app to give subscribers the ability to set daily reminders to take their vitamins while making it easy to connect with one of our on-call nutritionists in real time through a call, email or app chat. We haven’t found another app that has a daily reminder feature that automatically adjusts time zones as customers travel, so they can consistently take their supplements while on the go.

Our top priority is ensuring the health, safety and success of our subscribers.

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Screenshots from the new Persona app. Users can chat with a nutritionist, take the personalization assessment, and set daily reminders to take their supplements.

Tell me about the strategy you have to keep Persona evolving and stay relevant to consumer needs.

Our strategy to stay relevant and beneficial for overall health directly involves the consumer. With more than 450,000 completed nutritional assessments, the insights are endless. We are developing more than 40 new products to launch before the end of this year, all because we’re listening to our customers.  This month, we introduced two new product formulations, including a first-ever delivery format. 

Our new Sound Slumber regimen features a combination of three supplements that are used in rotation to optimize sleep patterns. Subscribers who report needing sleep support will receive melatonin (3mg or 300mcg capsules) and our Herbal Rest formula, which combines magnesium, hops flower extract and L-theanine to help the body relax. The supplements are sent in a rotating combination, keeping the body’s own ability to make melatonin in check.

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Persona's new Hair, Skin, Nails blend has Horsetail extract, collagen, and CoQ10. The bead-filled capsule can be opened up, its flavorless contents sprinkled over yogurt, smoothies, and more.

Our new Hair, Skin and Nails Blend contains horsetail plant extract, collagen and CoQ10 to provide the body the nutrients it needs to support overall hair, skin and nail health.

Our proprietary 3mg and 300mcg melatonin capsules, as well as our Hair, Skin and Nails Blend are delivered in capsules protecting mini-tablets of nutrients – the first of its kind delivery system developed for dietary supplements. These mini-tabs are free of taste, odor and artificial coloring. The capsules can be easily opened and the mini-tabs can be mixed into yogurt, smoothies or simply taken with water – tailored for subscribers who have trouble swallowing capsules.

Consumers are helping shape a new era of product development, leading to new patented product formulations.

As founder and CEO, what keeps you up at night?

I’d have to say that customer retention keeps me up at night. Being in the direct-to-consumer channel as well as a subscription model, makes customer retention even more critical to bottom line results. Add in dietary supplement use, which already experiences low compliance, and you have a recipe for one our biggest business challenges – how do we keep our subscribers on the monthly program, taking their daily vitamins.

Customer retention keeps me up at night. Being in the direct-to-consumer channel as well as a subscription model, make customer retention even more critical to bottom line results.

What has been the biggest challenge in growing Persona, and what have you been doing to overcome this?

One of the biggest challenges we have in growing Persona is expanding our team with the right skillset. In the beginning, we thought we needed to have the shiny new technology that everyone else was using – abandoning legacy systems that were built by our CTO, Prem Thudia, and his team. 

We learned early on that we shouldn’t chase the shiny new technology that has a big price tag – that’s not always the best solution. Fast forward to today, nearly a year since the launch of Persona (at that time it was Vitamin Packs) and we’ve instituted an agency model for digital marketing, branding, market research, public relations and so on.

We keep management and development of our technology and our customer care (all nutritionists) team in house to increase the customer experience, but we now have agency partners that are an extension of our team.

Have you taken the personalization assessment on Persona yourself? What supplements were recommended to you?

Absolutely – I’ve taken the assessment hundreds of times as we were developing it, and as we continue to evolve it.  My personalized pack includes:

  • Omega-3
  • Foundational Multivitamin
  • Vitamin D
  • Green Tea Extract and Cordyceps (supports energy)
  • Turmeric

Any final thoughts?

Since our launch in July 2017, we’ve seen tremendous growth – nearly $10 million raised and we have backing from the most prominent consumer-focused investor – ​L Catterton. None of this would have been possible without the talents and dedication of my co-founders, Tamara Bernadot (CNO) and Prem Thudia (CTO). We’ve been working together for more than 20 years in the health care and supplement industries, exploring ways to bring better quality and personalized nutrition to the market. We’re thrilled to give consumers nutrition through Persona.

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