“From Avocation To Vocation: How I Turned My Hobby Into A Career” With Lily Berman Lopez of Gut Garden

There will be lots of ups and downs. High highs and low lows. It’s important to keep an optimistic attitude and not get too worked up one way or the other. As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing […]

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There will be lots of ups and downs. High highs and low lows. It’s important to keep an optimistic attitude and not get too worked up one way or the other.

As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gut Garden’s founder, Lily Berman Lopez.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

Sure, I grew up just outside of Chicago — in Oak Park, Illinois. I had a great childhood — despite bordering such a large city, Oak Park feels like a small town. It’s a diverse, progressive place with a lot of history. I knew all my neighbors and I have fond memories of block parties and really being raised by a whole “village.” It was that sense of community that I missed when I lived in the city, so in 2017, my husband and I purchased my childhood home from my parents.

What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?

My business backstory is that I got really sick with digestive problems in my early 20’s and wasn’t able to find relief until I sought the help of a functional medicine doctor about 10 years into my illness. Functional medicine taught me not only how to relieve my symptoms, but how to determine the root cause and heal my gut once and for all. I ultimately learned just how common this is — there are millions of people that have digestive symptoms that last 6 months or longer — and I created what I wish had existed during the 10 years that I was sick — an easy to follow road-map to relieving digestive symptoms. That is why I founded Gut Garden three years ago, in order to help others feel better.

There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?

I was driven because I knew that my products worked. I quit my marketing job and cleared out my savings account to manufacture the first product. I knew the company would do well, but what was the worst thing that would happen if it didn’t? I didn’t have investors to answer to so I could take my time and learn the ropes of an entirely new industry. And, I was only 35 when I started Gut Garden, so I had plenty of time to rebuild my savings account or get another marketing job if I needed to.

What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?

Just go for it! I’ve learned that being a business owner is hard work. But the outcome is so rewarding. The variety of workdays and the learning and growth you experience are worth it. And if it doesn’t work out? Starting a business is a really impressive addition to your resume!

It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?

Every day, we hear from customers who write to tell us that Gut Garden has changed their lives. That keeps me excited about the work. No day is the same. I’m as interested in health and wellness as I’ve ever been.

What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?

The flexibility is really nice. It gives me a chance to spend time with my son while he’s young at hours that he’s awake. The biggest downside is having to sometimes figure things out through trial and error. We’re a small company with a lot of combined experiences, but that doesn’t mean we have it all figured out. There have been instances where we made mistakes when trying to expand to new markets. The important thing for us was to move slow and learn from these mistakes before we partnered with investors.

Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

When I first started Gut Garden I knew nothing about eCommerce. I pictured having a small staff in an office packing boxes all day long. The truth is that in today’s world, there are so many other options for warehousing and fulfilling orders that we didn’t end up doing any shipping ourselves. This has freed up our time to focus on product development, marketing and customer service while our trusted partners take care of the shipping.

Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?

After working in corporate office jobs for 13 years, the early days of Gut Garden felt like a vacation despite all the hard work involved. I never wished for “real” job until shortly after my son was born in early 2018. Becoming a parent just rocks your world, and early months can be so isolating. Our team is spread all over the country and I really craved time with other adults. I ended up joining a startup community in Chicago that has been wonderful. I’ve loved getting to know other business owners and I’ve learned so much from startup founders in other industries.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

We made so many mistakes! As a consumer, you’re constantly being marketed to. You don’t really realize how difficult it is to get the right products in front of the right audience. In the beginning we had a “if we build it they will come” mentality, which in retrospect was so silly. I do have a background in marketing, but it was marketing in professional services which is totally different. Now we know — marketing is part art, part science, and it’s hard work, but absolutely the most important part of a successful business.

Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?

My son. What I want most for him right now is to have parents that are happy and fulfilled and enjoy being with him. I want to continue to show him that he can do anything he sets his mind to.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I feel happy every day knowing that the products I put out into the world have helped tens of thousands of people feel better and get their lives back.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. There will be lots of ups and downs. High highs and low lows. It’s important to keep an optimistic attitude and not get too worked up one way or the other.
  2. Learn as you go. No one goes into a business already knowing how to do everything. You will learn as you go and that’s OK. That’s the fun part.
  3. Success won’t come overnight. Having your own business is something that you need to put work into each and every day.
  4. Do your research. We may have shipped a few thousand dollars worth of products to a Canadian warehouse before we knew we needed a license from Health Canada to sell them there. The products may have expired before we were able to obtain the license. Lesson: do your research.
  5. The supplement industry is hard. Don’t expect everyone to play by the same rules and morals as you do. There is a lot of easy money to be made but if you reach for the low hanging fruit you will just crash and burn.

What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Ha, thank you for that! I think we need to clean up our food supply. Processed foods are destroying our microbiomes.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” I try to live this every day, and remind myself that making me happy is no one else’s responsibility but my own.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Joe Rogan. I absolutely love his podcast. He has interviewed so many fascinating people from all walks of life and he has such an interesting outlook on so many topics.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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