Jeff Lee talks a mile a minute and no wonder — his days are jam-packed.
The entrepreneur has not one, not two, but three jobs, all related to his lifelong passion for beauty and fitness. Lee, who is the cofounder and chief executive officer of Dibs, is also a certified fitness trainer and a beauty pageant coach for elite contestants in the Miss Universe and Miss World competitions.
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“If you look at the dawn of civilization, the pursuit of beauty and fitness are some of the earliest things we have in the archeological records,” Lee said, during a recent interview — a rare moment of sitting still. “Fitness and beauty are tools people use to feel better about themselves in the world. As a society, we feel that our standards have been unfairly imposed on us.
“I agree with that,” Lee continued, “but I think the pursuit is virtuous and adds joy to our lives.”
In terms of beauty, that philosophy has led to Dibs, the brand that Lee cofounded with influencer Courtney Shields and Tula Skincare founders Ken Landis (who also cofounded Bobbi Brown Cosmetics) and Dan Reich. The L-Catterton-backed makeup brand, whose most popular products include Desert Island Duos blush and bronzer sticks, launched in 2021 and is estimated to have sales between $15 million and $20 million. Lee declined to comment on the figures.
When he’s not running the business, chances are Lee is running. Or doing burpees, or lifting weights, or getting some squats in. The executive is a certified fitness trainer under the auspices of the National Academy of Sports Medicine, a credential he earned while pursuing his MBA. “I wanted to learn the science and process behind it,” said Lee, who also achieved his goal of working out in every Equinox gym around the world— all 90 of them — in 2017. He has since added all subsequent openings to his tally and is up-to-date on all 110 locations.
Lee was not always so physically minded. A self-described nerd, he entered Stanford University as an overweight teenager. “I discovered I was in school with Olympians. They were great at what they did and they were kicking my a** in the classroom,” he laughed.
It was then that Lee began working out, all the while pursuing his undergraduate and then law degrees, and coaching beauty pageant contestants during his spare time. Lee had always been fascinated by pageants, and started blogging about them during college. That caught the attention of a father of a contestant, who hired Lee to coach his daughter. “Miss Universe and Miss World are contests of skill, not beauty,” said Lee. “There is a mindset that determines whether or not you win.”
Confidence is the key component — whether in the interview portion of a pageant, the talent section or even the ability to exude assurance while standing in a bathing suit in front of a billion people, he said.
Today, Lee counts as clients pageant contestants from China, Venezuela, Peru and Indonesia, as well as Nabiha Syed, CEO of The Markup and winner of the 2023 NAACP/Archewell award, noting his specialty is helping clients “get fitness into their very busy lives, so that they’re able to maintain it on their own.”
Lee himself works out six days a week, cycling through days of weights, high-intensity training and aerobic activities, and kinetic movement like mountain climbers, high knees and active planking. He sleeps for five-and-a-half hours a night, and takes 15- to 45-minute naps daily as needed.
It’s a lot — and Lee wouldn’t have it any other way. “I think that as humans we have a fundamental urge to be better, to be more of something and to derive your happiness from it, whether it’s the urge to study, to work out or to beautify yourself,” said Lee. “That’s what adds true color to our life, beyond just the need to sleep and eat.”
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