"Just take the leap and learn as you go" with Lily Lopez
Lily Berman Lopez is the founder of Gut Garden (www.mygutgarden.com), a supplement company based on the innovative, functional medicine approach to gut health. Gut Garden’s hugely popular GoodGut Program has served thousands of customers since 2016 with one simple mission – to help you feel your best.
Can you tell our readers about your background?
My name is Lily Berman Lopez, and I am the founder of Gut Garden. I live in Chicago with my husband and one year old son. Before Gut Garden, I worked in marketing for professional services, focusing on the engineering and legal fields.
What inspired you to start your business?
I started Gut Garden in response to my own experience with chronic digestive symptoms that began when I was in my early 20s. About 10 years after my symptoms began, a functional medicine doctor helped heal my gut through a system similar to the one that Gut Garden offers today. Along the way, I learned about the importance of the body’s microbiome and its role in every just about every bodily function. Unfortunately, my diagnosis story, or lack thereof, is not that unique. The truth is that there are so many people walking around that simply don’t feel well. Gut Garden is what I wish existed when I was sick – an easy to follow road map to relieving digestive symptoms.
Where is your business based?
Gut Garden is based in Chicago, Illinois.
How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?
The Resistant Starch Prebiotic Fiber Blend was our first product. As a patient, it was something that I knew there was a need for. More and more studies were being published about the benefits of a diverse variety of soluble fibers for optimal gut health. I dove into the research and worked closely with medical professionals to develop the formula. We always knew that there would eventually be a full line with 5 steps, but we introduced the prebiotic (step #4) first. At the time resistant starch was something that was being talked about only among real gut health nerds, and we felt that it would help establish credibility for the brand. After about 2 years we were able to invest our profits from that one product to manufacture the other 4.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?
Having endorsements from medical professionals in all different forms of media has been very helpful for the business. In addition, having quality products helps grow the business organically and we see a large amount of repeat customers.
What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
Developing the formula was the easy part. Finding a quality manufacturer to take me seriously was much more difficult. We only had enough money to buy about 1500 containers at first and most of my calls to manufacturers went unreturned. It was really important to me that our manufacturer have a cGMP certification and strict standards for quality and testing, and generally those manufacturers have minimum order quantities of 10,000 and up. Eventually I found someone to take a chance on us and we’ve been with them ever since. They’ve been a great partner and now they’re producing 4 of our products.
How do you stay focused?
I balance working on Gut Garden with taking care of my one year old son. My husband has a job that is 50% travel so I really can’t afford any distractions. For me, having a solid morning routine is the key to having a productive day. I am not naturally a morning person so I worked really hard to train myself to wake at 5:45 and exercise before my son wakes up. Afterward I’ll make a smoothie with Gut Garden’s Collagen Peptides and go over my to-do list for the day.
How do you differentiate your business from the competition?
The supplement industry is hard! It’s very competitive and every day we are trying to stand out among companies with multi-million dollar marketing budgets. Research is very important for us. Each of our formulations is the result of a tremendous amount of research, and we want our customers to read and understand that research for themselves. We provide links to published studies that verify each benefit and health claim we make for every single ingredient.
What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?
I think educating our customers has been very important. For example, today, collagen can seem like a buzzword and an ingredient that can be found in everything from coffee to ice cream. Social media is full of testimonials regarding the improved appearance of hair, skin and nails. What is less well known (and Gut Garden’s particular area of interest) is how great collagen is for digestive health, and by extension, immune health (70% of the immune system is located in the gut). We talk about examples like this one because we want our customers to be informed about what they put in their bodies.
What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?
Just take the leap and learn as you go. If I had waited until I was an expert in the supplement industry, eCommerce, retail, supply chains, manufacturing, marketing, accounting, etc. Gut Garden wouldn’t exist. Make mistakes early and often. Hire great people that know what they’re doing and trust them to do their job.
What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?
Favorite App - Yelp. I love looking at pictures of food and reading menus.
Favorite Blog - Damsel in Dior. My favorite lifestyle blog. Jacey has great, simple style, and she mixes high end pieces with finds from places like Forever 21 and J Crew.
Favorite Book - Call me American by Abdi Nor Iftin. I just finished this so it’s still on my mind. It’s an impossible, fascinating story of a Somali immigrant and the best book I’ve read so far this year.
What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?
Amazon! We started selling on Amazon almost immediately after we launched. They’ve made it possible for us to reach customers across the US and Canada, which would otherwise have taken years. They also handle fulfillment of our orders so we can spend more time on marketing and product development.
Who is your business role model? Why?
I recently heard Sara Blakely (Founder of Spanx) on the How I Built This podcast and it was a great interview where she told the story of founding Spanx. I was really inspired by her. Like us, she had a hard time finding a manufacturer to take her seriously when she was first starting out. And she just hit the pavement with her product and sold sold sold.
What is your beauty routine? What are some of your favorite products?
I look my best when I can keep my diet clean, stress levels low, sweat a little, and have lots of laughs. Everything else is just extra.
How do you balance work and life?
It’s hard. Every week is different. My husband and I are a great team. When he’s gone for work, I focus more on my personal and family life. Weeks that he’s home, he picks up a lot of the household chores and childcare duties so I can devote more time to work.
What’s your favorite way to decompress?
Spending time with my son. Before you have children everyone tells you how hard it is going to be. But no one tells you how much fun it is! I love trying new foods with him, and taking him to restaurants and to the pool.
What do you have planned for the next six months?
We’re looking toward getting our products into more retail stores, and due to popular demand - expanding in Canada.
How can our readers connect with you?
You can find us on Facebook and Instagram @MyGutGarden