Rachel Lett

Rachel Lett is a certified chef and registered nutritionist. After her personal experience with cancer (in remission), she specialises in metabolic and gut health.

She is the CCO and co-founder of digital care platform Span. Span provides digital care for remission of lifestyle conditions and allows its members to chat with clinicians, book video consultations, order home blood tests and see the results – all in one easy-to-use digital app.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’m a gardener and foodie. You’ll mostly find me barefoot. I’m a devoted seasonal eater. I’m fascinated by how the body moves and I’m nearly always doing an n=1 experiment.

I grew up on a dairy farm in Ireland. After school, I became a certified chef from Ballymaloe Cookery School and then went to study Nutrition at Leeds University.

I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma three times as a child and then relapsed again as an adult, after 9 years in remission. I took a closer look at recent research and developed a personal nutrition/lifestyle plan. Now, I’ve been in remission for three years. So how is this related to technology – you might be asking.

Through my personal experience, I was frustrated by outdated nutrition guidelines and started exploring the digital world and how technology can help improve healthcare – which led me to Span where I’m the CCO and co-founder.

Our mission at Span is to deliver the best health outcomes to the 50% of the population suffering from lifestyle conditions and symptoms. Span’s care model has allowed 90% of our members to alleviate their primary symptoms, with some reversing their diabetes and now on the way to remission — drastically reducing a key risk factor for Coronavirus.

The next step on our journey is to empower businesses to deliver outstanding employee wellness and save thousands on lifestyle-condition-related absences. To be able to scale up, Span is currently running a crowdfunding campaign on Seedrs which has been a completely new experience to me!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, I wouldn’t say I planned my career. I’m a firm believer in following instinct, and this can swiftly change the trajectory of life. I generally don’t plan too far in advance but allow opportunities that feel right to lead the way. I think because of my illness, my career has been led by what makes me happy.

My interest in food was deeply rooted from a young age as I grew up on a farm. Through my illness, I became fascinated by the impact of food on physiology. Looking back now, it seems obvious that I would follow a career in food and nutrition, but I definitely had doubts about what I wanted to study. There is one piece of career advice that really helped me: “Ask yourself, what is the first section of the newspaper you go to?”, for me this was food and health!

Since studying, my career has been an extension of what really makes me tick. My work at Span is fulfilling on so many levels but a key element that brings me huge joy is the care.

My father managed his farm as well as being a software engineer, so I guess it’s not too far-fetched that I’m working with a health-tech start-up which is deeply passionate about good food!

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Relapsing with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when I was 26 definitely put a spanner in the works! I was fortunate that with family support, I could take time away from work to focus entirely on my health.

During this period I read and did everything that was important to me. This time was invaluable as it shaped who I am and the career I lead.

Going back to work was equally challenging — my health regime was a full time job in itself, and I didn’t want to jump into something that could possibly lead to stress.

I gained my confidence by easing back into work slowly. It also helped that my job was an outlet for what I had learned and experienced when I was unemployed — this period actually helped me progress in my career.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Building and being part of Span. I’m doing something that I love and work with an outstanding group of individuals, who I get to vibe with everyday! We are all motivated by our personal health experiences to drive change in healthcare. In team meetings we discuss things from personal experiences as we genuinely want to hear different perspectives. This has helped us build a care model that is entirely focused on the individual – and technology supports it.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Self belief. My parents lived by a ‘give it a go’ mantra. I would often see them with a handbook (and later Youtube) in one hand, while the other negotiated nuts and bolts. They taught me that it’s ok if something doesn’t work out — the fun part is testing yourself and the process of learning. I’m not afraid to try things, and doing so has helped me understand where my passions and strengths lie.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Find your people! Work with people who share the same values as you, but come from different expertise and backgrounds. On paper, the team at Span are polar opposites, but if you get us in a room together, we’ll chat for hours on end. We listen and learn from each other and absolutely want to know everyone’s opinion. It’s wonderful, everyday I get to learn something new about technology and sales — we inspire each other to develop and progress.

A career in technology is no longer confined to a stereotypical sector, like gaming. Nowadays, technology runs through the veins of many fast growing businesses. It’s an opportunity for people to combine tech with other passions — or alternatively, like I did, combine your passion with tech.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

We need more women in senior roles, but companies need to want this for more reasons than just ‘box-ticking’. Businesses need to take more time to seek out the right female candidate so they truly value their perspective. This might mean looking for candidates in industries other than tech.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Shared parental leave and flexible working. If we’ve learned anything from COVID-19, it is that remote working is possible, and life can be more fulfilling because of it – parents can spend more time with family, while still being committed to their work — no matter their gender.

There is currently only 17% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I would begin at schools. Technology is leading the way, so why don’t we weave it into school subjects more. I would teach them how their ideas can become a reality with technology. It’s about harnessing technology within their interests, rather than isolating technology as a separate subject, which funnels students into a certain stereotype.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

The team at Span are huge fans of Emilie Bellet from Vestpod. After working in private equity and tech she now empowers women to tackle money matters! She has a book called ‘You’re not broke, you’re pre-rich’, and she also runs courses and workshops.

A few other great reads include Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez, Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and Brotopia by Emily Chang.

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