International Women’s Day

Female Founders Empowering the Health Industry

Former Radio Presenters Lisa and Alana Macfarlane are now co-founders of ’The Gut Stuff’ – A brand that is empowering the healthy lifestyles of its consumers. It’s an accessible, educational brand that is changing the way people feel about gut health. This International Women’s Day we are delighted to be speaking with the Mac twins about their roller-coaster ride from Guinea Pigs to successful Entrepreneurs!

To start us off Alana, for anyone that doesn’t know your business, what is The Gut Stuff?

I guess the first product we have is all the content and education, our website is full of content from top experts across the world who give their advice on all things gut related! This is free and accessible to everyone and by far the part of the business we are most proud of!

We have a book launched globally, and another one launching this month – adapted for many different languages which is hard to translate with a Scottish accent! Alongside this we also have diaries that we made with, nutritionists, dieticians and GPs that are for people to log symptoms and particularly those who find it difficult to speak to anyone about their digestive issues and generally just for people that want to “tune in”. You can also find planners, recipes, fermenting kits and even fridge magnets!

Then, maybe what we are more well known for, is our fibre bars. One of the main reasons we wanted to go into food was to make gut health mass market and bring it out of what felt like a middle class, niche category and we wanted to bring it to a format that people were familiar with. In hindsight launching a food to go product in a global pandemic was a bit tricky but never mind!
We NPD’d these for a year and wanted one of the highest fibre contents on the market and to taste brilliant, as our mum said, ‘these don’t taste like bird seed’, which is great, that can go on the pack!

Now we’re moving into other NPD that we’re rolling out, but the main thing we wanted to try and do was to create a category, yes that’s new, yes that’s really forward thinking, but always with great price points and accessible messaging that everyone can have access to. We want to pop up in places that people don’t expect a gut health product to be. We are in WHSmith Travel for example, people don’t expect that, and we want to continue to surprise people with this.

It all sounds very exciting, how is it all going now Lisa?

It is not what we would have ever imagined!
When we started it in 2017-2018, we just thought it would be a blog and a website for our pals and that’s basically why we started it. Our friends would say that one minute we were interviewing people for our radio show and on the Brits red carpet and the next minute we were at Reading University talking about probiotics! Our response was simply “It’s just that gut stuff, just that gut stuff!” Genuinely we thought if our pals knew a lot of the stuff that we were learning with the research, we wouldn’t fall foul to the cabbage soup diet! On the other hand, our dad died of a heart attack in his 50s and if he’d known even a fraction of the content that we were posting hopefully he would still be here. We never thought when we set it up that it was going to be a massive category in food and health, we were driven initially by a passion for all the information we were learning and how it could make real change.

There was (and still is) also that fire in our bellies that the wellbeing industry is very much a middle-class luxury and the people that need information the most in terms of health and nutrition, weren’t getting it. That is what got us up in the morning and now it’s snowballed and here we are! We are also now a B Corp which is brilliant. It is good for businesses to be committed and focused on the environmental impact, as founders you have to be accountable for it all. It’s a very formal process it’s not just a stamp.

Alana, do you think you would describe this idea as a lightbulb moment or was it a long time in the planning?
Yes, I think it was to be honest. When we were going through the studies with Tim, they were two months long and we were just the guinea pigs! Our obituaries will probably make sense though because Lisa was supposed to study medicine at university, and I was supposed to do Business and Law, in the end, Lisa went to drama school, and I wanted to be a dancer – so we just did the pop culture bit first and then reverse engineered it. It does look like a choice, and there definitely was a crossroad at one point, but in a series of long-term small decisions, we didn’t suddenly wake up and think we are going to be entrepreneurs! We did however have signals that we had entrepreneurial spirit, I owned my own performance school, Lisa was a theatre producer so if you charted it all out it does look like it was supposed to happen, but it certainly wasn’t planned this way!
Obviously, you are related to each other and have a very strong personal bond, that’s very clear to see. Lisa how has that effected business decisions or the path that the business has taken? You make it look so easy!

It’s not always smooth sailing and then once you throw a baby into the mix as well (Alana has a 5-month-old daughter!). We sometimes have to separate our relationship as sisters to the business and that’s the tough bit, because we are hard on ourselves and each other, but I also think that drives the business brilliantly. From a business perspective, it works incredibly well because Alana is amazing with numbers and can whizz her way around a P+L, whereas I like creative, strategy, innovation, and sales. This is probably because we are actually mirror twins, if we were one person, we would be a good human! Adobe tested us once and my personality was all innovation and Alana’s is all execution, so it works. As being one of two founders, I can’t imagine being a founder by myself because all we do is pick each other up off the ground and it’s having that person to share the successes with, alongside the hard parts too.
Is it difficult to separate business from home Alana?

It’s impossible, I think it’s a founder thing, you think about work all the time! We have started to carve out time for each other and say “let’s have a margarita and talk about life” but then it just comes back to work! We tried along the way to separate it, for example, WhatsApp is for personal use and Teams is for work but ultimately, we do have a cycle where we talk about work too much and then have to pull it back. We are trying and it’s always a journey not a destination.

One thing that’s really helped, is the team growing. Suddenly there are 10 of us in the team and we’re strict about them turning their phone off when they’re on holiday and not answering us or anyone else if they message (which they don’t do but anyway!). You must be considerate as they obviously don’t own the business and they don’t need to be on call 24/7. It’s not easy but we are getting there!
Lisa when you were younger, did you ever think you would be where you are now?

No! I didn’t even know what a CEO was, I didn’t know anyone who had started their own business, no one within our circle had even left Scotland! I think one of the serious problems with women and social mobility is visibility, I didn’t have anyone around me that I could see had started their own businesses – I think I probably thought I would be a tap dancer or something! We were always performative, our heads and grades wanted us to be doctors or lawyers, but our hearts were in performance, so I think we’ve managed to do a good mix of both.

You mention you didn’t know anyone that was a CEO or a founder of a business. It’s clear there is a lack of gender diversity within senior leadership positions. Do you think there is anything that can be done to enable opportunities for more women to reach the top?

I think changing hiring processes and initiatives is one thing, but what happens before that in schools, needs to come first because it’s all to do with confidence. When I first went to speak to my guidance teacher, I wanted to be a doctor and the first thing she said to me was “have you thought about speech therapy”. I had the confidence to reach for the stars, but I was knocked down. It’s that self-deprecation that can be great and realistic but also, we should have that unshakeable self-belief. A childhood friend of ours Jillie, was a Commonwealth Badminton player and it’s being able to have the confidence to see people around you who have done it, and for you to think you can do it too. (Billy Connolly also has a brilliant thing about this!). I think that’s what is missing, you can set up as many initiatives and cherry-picking exercises to get people into new positions which is also what needs to happen but if the people don’t have the confidence to step forward then it makes it difficult.

The perception of women is that they are emotional, well I think that’s good, we need emotion in business! I think being a female founder, you notice different things and realise certain discrepancies in policies. It surprised me. For example, when people are on maternity leave, you are not meant to come into the office (except for KIT days) but some people still want to be involved in the business. We have a policy where those on maternity leave can come in on a Friday and get a download from the team. This is what women leaders will hopefully start to keep spotting. Gaps in policies, or policies that are archaic; how can we be flexible with these? How can we change things for the better?
Was there a woman in your life who was inspirational to you Alana?

Our mum, she is incredibly resilient. She brought us up with our cousins, (shared childcare with our Auntie, while they both worked part time) four of us under four. After having my baby, I have no idea how they worked and looked after 4 children on their ‘days off.’ We have this conversation a lot, about women who maybe can’t work, or choose not to work, and for some reason we always celebrate the women that are in the job roles, but I think it is important that we look to the people who have the bravery and sacrifice to give up their careers for their kids. It is seen as an admission, or a step down to do that but actually it’s a step up, they are giving up all their needs for the kids. Mothers are judged whatever they choose to do but the fact of the matter is, we/they’re all inspirational.

Our mum’s friend Joan as well, who is just the most positive person in the world – Lisa and I have an imaginary friend that we introduced to the team “Positive Polly” who we message about on Teams when things go wrong, we ask “What would positive Polly say?!” It really works! Joan is the ultimate positive Polly and is always looking for the best in any situation and that is what being a founder is all about, you just have to find the positive in the bad stuff, because the bad stuff comes all the time.
Founding a business, as you say, is not smooth sailing, what challenges have you both faced throughout your journey with The Gut Stuff? Have you ever had the thought to give up?

{Lisa} Yes! In a way though, you never give up the fight until it’s really done, I shouldn’t call it a fight because its more like the Yellow Brick Road, you are paving your own path and it is a learning curve. That is the best way to describe it actually, Dorothy on her path, it’s tough when she is going along but she meets pals along the way that make it easier. She has many challenges, but she has those challenges with a team, and it can feel very isolating but now with the team, when something goes wrong, we all go for a walk, or we all have a cup of tea. We figure out what we are going to do! Involving the team in all aspects of the business is great, you have lots of other brilliant brains and I think a lot of founders probably try and sit and solve the problems by themselves because they don’t want to signal that something is wrong.
It definitely hasn’t been easy, we haven’t done it before, stuff falls out the sky and you just learn every single day. Now we have the weight of the world on our shoulders as we have other people’s careers and livelihoods along that journey as well.
If you were to start again, is there anything you would do differently?

{Alana} Yes, but it’s hard. You have to write your points down in a very clinical way because I think the decisions that you make are the decisions at the time. You could say I wish I thought of the gross margin growing quicker, or I wish I had focused on this hire sooner or targeted this retailer, but it would have to be so clinical that you don’t feel emotionally attached to it. That is difficult anyway because a lot of the decisions you make are emotional and particularly in a start up! For us, I could say I wish we hadn’t spent all that time of the education section because it hasn’t bought in revenue but equally that is the heart and soul of the business so it’s very hard. I also firmly believe ‘what’s for you won’t go by you’ so there is absolutely no point in beating yourself up on what has went before, that being said it is also important to learn from our mistakes, that’s what helps us and the business grow.
What advice would you give someone Lisa, who is just starting the journey of becoming a founder?

Make sure you have people around you that can pick you up. People that are nothing to do with your business and don’t care about it because you need that perspective. Focus also on your wellbeing, we have had many occasions where we have been doing 14-hour days and we were no use to anyone because we are completely frazzled! You have to be practical, and you need things to bring you out of the business, you need a reset button.

And do you think that reset button is still important now?
{Lisa} Absolutely! I flew to New York last week for four days and when I got there, I was all over the place! I was completely out of my comfort zone; it was like day one all over again! I didn’t have Alana with me, I didn’t sleep well on the plane – it really bought home that we all need to reset. You have to make sacrifices with your social life, not being able to go to weddings and parties for example, so the one thing you do have to nourish yourself, is the things you are in control of, for me that’s bedtime, I am very strict with this!
Now that you are starting to get settled, you’ve launched online in America, you are a B Corp business, do you think you will attract different people to your brand, from a retailer perspective and also attracting certain talent?

{Alana} I think it was different for us because we have purpose baked into the business anyway, but I think across the board it has attracted different consumers and retailers. Being a B Corp is a framework where people know you’ve done the work so in terms of employees and recruitment, I do hope it will start to drive expansion. It’s a brilliant thing but it shouldn’t be the end stop, we all need to now start to work towards the next step of what we can do.

You’ve done fantastically well and really started to make an impact on the food and health industry, what is next!?

{Lisa} Well, we are currently launching online in the US which is really exciting. We are also expanding our retailers, but I can’t tell you who at the moment so watch this space! Launching new NPD, we have more rolling out with our community, lots of exciting stuff there. This year we just want to make sure we can build on what we have done already, getting out and about, sampling and doing all the things we haven’t been able to do. Events! That’s the real bread and butter of this business. Have book launches – we launched two books in lockdown, The Telegraph best seller and we just haven’t done anything about it. Having a community and audience that drives where we go with the business, is important for a small company like ours – it’s reviewed quarterly, and we talk about what we all want to work on what we want to achieve. We are growing, we are up 428% since last February which is mad considering we are still relatively new. Technically we only launched in the second half of the year so its mad to think that we are just a 6-month-old business.

One of the most important things is how we can continue to communicate to people and how we can continue to pop up in places that people least expect. We are fighting for people’s choice, to make a cultural change and get people to think about their health in a different way. This has to be more than a point of sale.

If you want any more information about The Gut Stuff and how they are empowering gut health in everyone – check out their website HERE! Go on……gut readin’.










By Harriet Sutton | 8th March 2022 |

If you would like to find out more about the services that Lime Talent offers, contact us here.