Being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean you always have to go it alone.
Not that Lindsey Epperly has a problem doing things herself. Far from it.
The summer before her junior year at UGA, Epperly walked into a travel agency to pick up a brochure. She struck up a conversation about her study abroad experience through Grady at the Cannes Film Festival that spring and walked out with a job. She spent her weekends selling travel packages at bridal shows across the Southeast. That gave her the idea to start a travel-related business and the confidence to pitch it at UGA’s Next Top Entrepreneur contest.
Epperly AB ’11, an English major, was the only non-business major to compete in the 2011 competition. She finished second but was told by the judges that she didn’t need their help. She was already well on her way to success.
“That gave me a lot of confidence to push forward with this idea of creating my own company and doing it on my own,” Epperly says.
The ink was barely dry on Epperly’s diploma when she launched Vacations by Lindsey. It’s a feather-light name that she chuckles about now—one that she rebranded in 2014 to Epperly Travel, a luxury agency that offers planning with a personal touch.
Cut to 2018.
Epperly’s client base had grown, and her immediate family was growing too.
Epperly met Jeremy Sulek when they were still UGA students. A finance major, Sulek BBA ’12 walked on the Georgia football team and played linebacker for two seasons.
Sulek and Epperly stayed in touch after graduation, getting together for dinner or drinks as their schedules allowed. They didn’t start dating until one of their friends—in the most rom-com-esque way—quizzed Sulek on why he hadn’t asked her out on a real date. Things progressed from there. But Sulek noticed the toll the job was taking on Epperly.
“Lindsey had created this incredible business, but she was getting burned out,” Sulek recalls. “She was a one-woman show and she had all these great ideas, but there were only 24 hours in a day.”
When he asked her to spend the rest of her life with him, that was the easy part. His idea about them working together? Maybe not so much.
“I told her that I really worked well with systems and operations and finance, all things she didn’t like,” Sulek says. “I could learn under her and give her the freedom to follow through on everything she wanted to do.”
But Epperly was skeptical.
One day, while discussing plans for their wedding at Starbucks, Sulek even brought his resume. Epperly left it on the table.
But Sulek didn’t give up. The same week they got married, he quit his finance job and stepped in as the company’s COO with Epperly as CEO.
“We got married and then I forced her to hire me,” he jokes.
Epperly remembers Sulek’s job pitch slightly differently. “Oh, I would have hired Jeremy,” she laughs. “We decided that while we’re young and we don’t know any better, we’ll just learn how to do this: side by side, good, bad, and indifferent. It’s worked out for us.”
Setback and Successes
The business continued its upward trajectory and even joined the Bulldog 100 list in 2020. Then COVID hit. Travel may have stopped, but Epperly and Sulek didn’t. They created an industry support effort called Nourish and invited as many travel professionals as they could find—including competitors. They shared business plans, industry contacts, and other helpful hints to keep spirits up.
“We opened up all of our meetings and just encouraged others to join the conversation,” Epperly says. “Let’s use this as an opportunity to be stronger on the other side.”
People are traveling now in greater numbers every day and the agency is keeping pace. Over the summer, the company acquired another agency, Jetset World Travel. Now they have more than $25 million in annual sales with more than 50 employees. With the addition, they decided to rebrand again and keep the Jetset World Travel name.
“Over the years, I’ve scaled Epperly Travel from a one-woman show to an entire team,” Epperly says. “The rebrand is a direct reflection of how we’re going from ‘me’ to ‘we’ in the organization. It’s no longer just a solopreneur journey; it’s all about elevating our team for the betterment of the world around us.”
Clearly, Epperly is no longer on her own, personally or professionally. Business is booming, and their family is growing as well with the addition of a daughter last year.
“We are so happy to be doing this again,” Epperly says. “There is a level of humanity to our work and the relationships with our clients are special. We have a whole new batch to work with now, and we are very excited.”