As of 2022, the supplement industry was estimated to be worth $35.6 billion. But all that glitters is not gold. Supplement companies have a history of stepping into murky waters with health claims and products that don’t provide what they say is on the bottle – or sometimes include unlisted ingredients.
Further, women are grossly underrepresented in ownership and leadership roles in the supplement industry, though most purchases are made by women. My guest today is defying these odds, paving new pathways, and setting a new standard for quality in this space.
In this episode of On Health, Katerina Schneider, the Founder and CEO of Ritual Vitamins, shares her remarkable journey of entrepreneurship. From humble beginnings to creating a multi-million-dollar company, having three babies along the way, she’s proud to be an industry disruptor on every level. In our conversation, we touch on a variety of hot topics including the critical need for transparency within the supplement industry, from testing to traceable sources, and we dive into the challenges female entrepreneurs face navigating motherhood, marriage dynamics, boundaries, and balance.
Katerina and I get into:
- Growing up as a refugee and how it’s fueled Kat's drive as an entrepreneur
- What inspired the creation of Ritual and the gaps Kat's on a mission to fill in the supplement space
- Kat's experience building a business as a pregnant woman in a male-dominated society
- The presence of heavy metals in supplements and the need for transparency in the supplement industry
- Raising money and the financial risks Kat's's taken
- How Kat's practices self-care and wellness is her personal life
- Navigating the natural shifts that take place within a long-term partnership
- Katerina's insights and experiences inspire, encouraging us to embrace our dreams, reach for excellence, and decide how we definite success.
Thank you for taking the time to tune in to your body, yourself, and this podcast! Please share the love by sending this to someone in your life who could benefit from the kinds of things we talk about in this space. Make sure to follow along on Instagram @dr.avivaromm and join the conversation. Follow Katerina Schneider @katandkale and visit www.ritual.com
Aviva: I've done my share of consulting for the botanical and supplement industry and quite a few times I've had to guide companies away from jumping on hyped up trends that aren't backed by science. And I've had to call out companies when they were unwittingly stepping into murky areas with health claims. Surprisingly, there's controversy over some of those claims that we actually hold near and dear, like whether we really need a multivitamin, and a lot of products miss the mark on their content claims, including their ingredient levels by a shockingly wide margin and not all products contain what we really need. A new study just published, for example, found that of 69 prenatal vitamin products tested only three actually met pregnant women's needs for the nutrients that they're most likely to be low in. The supplement industry is also a financial beast as of 2022 worth 35.6 billion.
Yet as with so many industries in the US, women are underrepresented in ownership and leadership. Last year, US startups with all women teams received just 1.9% of around the $283 billion in venture capital allocated, which was actually a decline from the 2.4% all women teams raised in 2021. Female founded companies represent only 25.5% of total VC deal count, and roughly 80% of female tech startup leaders reported using personal savings as their primary source of funding in starting a new business. And overall, just over 20% of businesses with employees are owned by women. It was this past year that for the first time in history, more than 10% of Fortune 500 companies were led by a woman. Katerina Schneider is founder and CEO of Ritual, a supplement company that's committed to setting a new standard in the supplement industry through traceable science and traceable sourcing.
When she was pregnant and in search of a prenatal, she felt she could trust Katerina took matters into her own hands and founded the company on the belief that better health begins with better ingredients. She's pioneered a new standard of products with the first visible supply chain of its kind as one of the most trusted brands in the category and one of the few supplement companies to be a certified B corporation. Ritual has more than a million customers and has the top selling online prenatal vitamin, both based on my personal experience and caring for many patients living on the margins of economic security. I know how profoundly our finances can impact our wellbeing and health on so many levels and also our personal creative expression. I'm an accidental entrepreneur. I'm also a firm believer in the power of entrepreneurship and personal agency as a way to craft economic independence in a culture where most people are just barely getting by and where women are still experiencing pay disparities at work and are simultaneously penalized economically and in career advancement When we have children, I suspect many of you dream of starting your own business to have greater freedom.
There is a running joke though. Entrepreneurs are people who would rather work 80 hours a week for themselves than 40 hours a week for someone else. I know how rigorous a job it is to ideate, start and manage a company, and my team is tiny. Most women in leadership positions who also happen to be mothers are wearing far too many hats doing physical and emotional work on the job and then doing more of the same at home even when they have a stay-at-home partner. And relationship tension also increases as economic disparity increases in a couple when a woman starts to out earn her male partner. I wanted to dive deep today into some things, supplements and all things female entrepreneurship with my guest today who grew her company in a relatively short time, from zero to over $125 million in annual revenue while also having three babies along the way. Please join me in welcoming my guest, Katerina Schneider, founder of Ritual.
I just want to jump right in. What inspired you to create Ritual? And I want to know how you came up with the name too, because it's really evocative. I personally love the name.
Katerina: The name was definitely a lot of hard work to get. I can share that story as well, but I think the evolution of Ritual was a long time in the making. It didn't just happen. I often say it started Ritual when I was pregnant, but it actually started many years before that. I was a refugee that came to the US from Ukraine in 1989 and my family and I lived in a welfare hotel in Brooklyn, moved here with $50 and a suitcase, and my dad eventually became an entrepreneur. And I just remember so many conversations at the dinner table around his co-founder around raising money around all these different business topics. And I think I was just so exposed to that my whole life that I always knew that I wanted to start something and nothing ever really kind of clicked where I was just up all-night thinking about this idea and I knew that I had to be the one to start it.
Then I became an investor in LA. I was running a fund for Troy Carter who invested in over 70 companies, everything from Uber, Dropbox, Warby Parker, Spotify, and I was meeting these incredible founders each and every day and I was so inspired by them, but then I also felt like, hey, why can't that be me? And I had this kind of renewed sense of confidence and creativity when I got pregnant with my first daughter and I knew, hey, I could also do this. And also, I see this problem in the supplement industry that no one has taken on and I could be the one to really set that new standard in the industry. And that's how RITUAL was born. It was this evolution. And then I think the culmination of the evolution was pregnancy, which is such a weird time to start a company for so many people.
Aviva: Did you ever have a sense growing up in such an economically marginalized way that you were like that inner drive? I've talked about this on the podcast before, that inner drive to say, okay, I've got to create economic security or economic wealth for myself.
Katerina: Each and every day. I feel that it's interesting. I almost feel like I'm never satisfied and I'm always either challenging the status quo or I almost thrive in the imbalance. But growing up really poor. We're on food stamps and food was the center of our lives to then my dad starting company, my mom going to Wall Street. And we were pretty financially sound at a certain point, but I still felt weirdly insecure, and I think my parents did as well because you know what you came from, it creates this kind of daily drive and also a weird dissociation from money knowing that money doesn't really buy happiness in any way. It is a really interesting thing to be a founder of a company that's doing nine figures plus in revenue but is also changing the world. And then also it's a very weird feeling, but not actually being connected to the monetary side of things because you know where you came from.
Aviva: I totally get that. When I wrote Adrenal Thyroid Revolution, a lot of the process for me was unpacking my own origin story, which included growing up in housing project and standing in a welfare line with my mom at the public housing and that feeling that I still wrestle with of what's enough and what is drive my inherent drive, which I have a tremendous amount of. And then what is being driven by those hungry ghosts or fears, knowing what's possible from where you came from. It's interesting to hear that that was part of your origin story.
Katerina: Yeah, definitely. My parents are both mathematicians and I think it impacted how I thought about the world, this analytical, curious, skeptical mindset that led me to this path in a lot of ways.
Aviva: One of the things that you said was that you realized that there were some problems in the supplement world that you wanted to address. What was the most glaring flashing red light for you? I have to see this change.
Katerina: It's interesting. The problems that I saw in the supplement industry at the time that I started the company are actually just a tiny sliver of what now I realize are the overall problems and challenges that we're solving at Ritual. In the beginning I had this idea, and it was very tied to food because I didn't come from the supplement industry, but I was really deeply passionate about the food I was eating and what I was putting in on my body. And I knew where those ingredients were coming from. I knew where the kale I was buying at, the farmer's market was coming from, where the chickens I'm buying from my kids where their pasture raised or so on and so forth. But then it was the supplements that people were putting in their bodies every single day. I had a lot of questions like, where is this vitamin D coming from?
And most people that you ask, where does your vitamin D come from? They don't know that most vitamin D is coming from sheep's wool. They don't know where a lot of these ingredients are grown. They don't know the contamination or the heavy metals. And so that's where it started. And then as I hired a lot of scientists, worked with a lot of doctors, it started to snowball and we realized that hey, there's a lot of issues when it comes to safety and efficacy in an industry that is regulated. But the regulation has not really evolved to the scale and the growth of the industry. There haven't been any major updates to regulation in the last 30 years and the number of supplements have grown from something like 4,000 to 95,000 supplements today, and that's a problem.
Aviva: I have sat on many scientific advisory boards and have been stunned at times when there's a defensiveness of the supplement company. When the ag in New York said, oh, these products contain contaminants, people are like, well, so do pharmaceuticals. I'm like, well, that doesn't make it right. Or finding things in supplements when they've been looked at that aren't necessarily harmful for most people. Like Quercetin was a contaminant in one particular supplement. It's a natural source, but if you are pregnant, that actually can make a difference. I've been really stunned at some of the lack of transparency. You mentioned there's a story behind how Ritual, how you come up with the name. Can you talk about that?
Katerina: It's interesting. The company started under the name of Natals. I thought that I wanted to disrupt the prenatal space. I had never really taken supplements before and I grew up in a macrobiotic kind of alternative health household, and I was told that you could get everything you need from your food, so why bother with supplements? You're eating a great diet; you're probably not locking in certain nutrients. And that was wrong. And when I was pregnant, I had to take a prenatal vitamin and I realized that there was no brand that I trusted at the time, this was almost eight years ago. And I'd go to the OB’s office, and they would recommend that I take a prescription prenatal with tuna oil and gelatin. And at the same time, they're like, do not eat tuna. It has the high mercury. And I'm like, I'm so confused.
And at the more I learned about folate and methylated folate and over a third of people have the genetic variation that they can't properly utilize folic acid. Most of prenatals had folic acid, many prenatals didn't have choline, and it was just really confusing. Finally, I had to take a supplement and there was no supplement that met the standards that I knew that we deserved, and I knew that we could do better and I knew that I was going to take this on and that's how RITUAL was born and that's how Natals was born. But as my thinking evolved and as I started meeting with investors and kind of questioning what do I want to do with my life and what impact do I want to have on the world, it became a lot bigger than just prenatal vitamins and pregnancy and postpartum. It became this kind of effort to really reimagine this industry from the ground up and also change the way that people interact with the products they use every single day.
And that is how the name Ritual came about. I was thinking at night, all night didn't sleep. That's when you know you're onto something. And I was thinking about how you elevate a routine to a habit to a ritual and ritual is the thing that you really look forward to every single day. It's something you can't live without. You feel it in your bones. And I'm like, wow, if we could create a ritual around vitamins and supplements and things that people are putting in their body, that's the ultimate and how do we manifest that? And then I was super determined to get ritual.com on the social channels. And that was a really challenging because it was a very popular name. Somebody had owned ritual.com and it took a lot of determination and kind of wheeling and dealing to get that. But to me, I knew this company had to be Ritual and not Ritual Vitamins. And to me it was really important to earn the trust of that consumer. And to do that, you had to have this really solid brand name and foundation.
Aviva: The supplement itself are all the lines clear capsules?
Katerina: Yeah, all the capsules we have are clear. We actually launched the company with a multivitamin for women 18 plus, and it's a really good case study of what we're doing differently in the industry. That product is a summation for me. Those are the first child in a way. It now has a peer reviewed and published human clinical study with a major university. It's published in Frontiers Journal. It also has a patent on the delivery technology. So not only are the capsules clear, but it matters how the product is actually getting into your body. And people just think, oh, I'm just put these ingredients in a little cocktail and put it in a capsule or a tablet. But we created a patent on the delivery technology, and it also has U S P verification, which less than 1% of supplement companies have. And as we mentioned before, there is the safety and efficacy problem in the category. Third party certification, third party testing is not a requirement in the category, but it's something that we believe that should happen. And this product has U S P, which is the ultimate, the clarity of the capsules. It came about through the formulations and the technology, but then it became almost like this symbol for clarity and transparency that we were bringing to the industry and that visual representation I think is what we became kind of known for.
Aviva: I heard you tell a story and an investor early on when you were pregnant told you basically you could have a business or you could have a baby, but not both. Is that pretty accurate?
Katerina: It's very accurate.
Aviva: Let's dive into that belief system and how often you have faced that attitude, especially early on, and what was it like to build a business as a woman and a pregnant woman?
Katerina: Building a business as a pregnant woman in the beginning was incredibly challenging, especially during those years where there were no other women that I could point to and be like, I want to do what she did. I saw this other woman, she started the company, she had multiple kids, she built a nine-figure business and she's happy and she's thriving. I didn't have a role model, which is kind of weird. I always had mentors and role models in my career, but what I wanted to do was have a family and a career, do both things and there was no one in that way that I really could emulate. And now there's so many people and it's amazing, but it was challenging. I came from the venture capital space, so you would expect that I knew how to raise money, how to put together a pitch deck.
I had the relationships and that was wrong. It was actually really, really challenging as a former VC to raise money and I didn't realize how hard it was going to be. And I went into a well-known investor's office, I'd known him for many years, one of the top investors in LA and I felt very comfortable telling him that I was pregnant, and I said, I'm pregnant. I'm going to start this company. We're going to change the supplement industry, make better prenatals for everyone. He is like, you really have to choose. I don't think you can achieve both. And that was so motivating for me that told me that I felt so determined to prove him wrong.
Aviva: So that it's like, please tell me I can't. That's just going to fuel my fire.
Katerina: Yeah, definitely. It's become a kind of energizer for me now when people tell me no or tell the business no, or you can't work with us on the manufacturing side, you're too small. There's no way to figure this out and put this combination in this technology or you can't be transparent here. There there's things I'm like, whoa, yes, let's do it then. That's really exciting and it's become this huge motivator. But also, I just love meeting with other female founders and other minority founders and helping them and whether it's advice or just introductions to investors, I'm like, let's do this together because if we have more of us creating businesses, the world is a better place. Before you just had a lot of guys creating businesses for women, and that just didn't make any sense. I think there's a lot of underserved opportunities and communities because we don't have enough founders that really understand that consumer really well.
Aviva: What were some of the biggest skills that you feel like you had to learn to have the grit or just even some more tangible skills that you were like, I don't know this. And within that, did you ever have any crises of confidence?
Katerina: Yeah, so I would say you need so many skills to run a business successfully, but you also have to figure out where you want to spend your time. And if there are people that are better at those things than you are. And I think that's the ultimate skill is actually finding people that much better than you at certain gaps that you have versus you trying to learn how to do certain things. I can never do what you do. I can never be a doctor. I could go to medical school and spend my time doing that, or I could partner with leading medical experts or scientists or bring in scientists. And that was kind of an early realization when I felt like, oh, I had to learn technology and science and design and branding, or I could find the world's best experts at those things and ask them the really tough questions and kind of serve as this proxy to the consumer. That was more my skillset than reading PubMed every day, although I geek out on that. But I think it's really being this kind of hybrid collector of the world's most talented people that makes you a better founder and entrepreneur.
Aviva: For me, I learned to eat well when I was 15 and haven't taken a multivitamin regularly, although I did try to take a prenatal when I was pregnant. It was the thing that always made me throw up. And this was like, my son is 38, so prenatals were very different even back then. There were a couple of natural ones that you could find, but I do encourage my patients to take a prenatal vitamin and a multivitamin. There are studies on prenatal vitamins, even though there's some equivocal data really do lend toward better birth outcomes, better outcomes for baby. And in general, the multivitamin data always sort of seems to ping-ponging back and forth on whatever the latest evidence is. Sometimes they don't do anything. Latest data is possibly great for preventing cognitive declines and benefits for heart disease prevention. A study just came out in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It was a study of ingredients in multivitamins, and one of the segmented parts of the study was the prenatal vitamins. They looked at 69 prenatal vitamins and found that only three met the criteria for what the study deemed to be some particular essential nutrients that pregnant women are most likely to be low in. As a founder who clearly has a keen science mind and wants your multivitamins, your prenatals to have those optimal ingredients and optimal results, and then you see a study like this, how do you respond? How do you pivot?
Katerina: We don't necessarily always pivot. We look at all these studies. In fact, our chief scientists and I were just talking about this study earlier this morning, so we are always on top of it, I would say. And I think that's why for me, I had to raise venture capital to start this business because we have 20 scientists full-time on staff – our chief scientist is ex faculty at Harvard Medical School – and we are thinking about these things every single day, every moment of the day. And we have a vision for the business to have our own human clinical studies by 2030 on every single one of our products. Most products in this category do not have their own human clinical studies. As I mentioned on multivitamins for women, 18 plus, we conducted a human clinical study should actually have over 12 weeks of 40 plus improvement in vitamin D levels, which is huge. And we actually have a clinical study out on our prenatal and postnatal. We have Marie Caudill who's at Cornell, she's an expert on choline, a really incredible nutrient that I feel like doesn't get enough attention.
Aviva: Yeah, I'm big on pregnant mamas getting choline from their eggs and from their prenatal or baby's brain growth.
Katerina: A hundred percent. And we're actually writing a clinical study on our postnatal and showing the impact that the breast milk quality could have on the baby. If the mom is consuming the postnatal vitamin, it's actually being transferred to the breast milk and changing the breast milk quality. We are conducting our own human clinical studies on all of our products. We look at the research that's available. And I think to your point, one thing that we'd also do differently is when we're looking at what is it that people actually need, we have this four-step scientific process. The first thing we look at are dietary gaps, like what are people actually getting in their diets and what are the gaps? And most of us are okay, that's why I think the multivitamin gets a bad rap because we don't need the 20 or 40 things in a typical multivitamin, but a lot of us are lacking in things like vitamin D, omega 3, magnesium, and a lot of those ingredients are actually not found in a typical multivitamin.
So that's the first step. The second you look at lifestyle like I'm vegan, so that impacts my dietary gaps. And then the third is genetics. So, as we know over a third of people have a genetic variation, they can't properly utilize folic acid, which is in most multivitamins, but there are better forms. There's methylated folate, it's just more expensive and less stable, but companies can use those. And then the fourth step is kind of looking how those nutrients all work together and you find out that less is more and that we are getting a lot from the diet, but we do need to supplement with certain nutrients. No matter how great your diet is, most people have insufficient levels of vitamin D.
Aviva: Well, that's a really important term. There's insufficiency, there's deficiency, and then there's optimal. And most of the standards that we use in the US to look at nutrition are fairly antiquated and based on making sure somebody's not deficient and at that just sufficient level but not necessarily optimal. And so many women, they're skipping meals, they're not eating all their six to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. They aren't necessarily eating salmon or sardines or taking an essential fatty acid. There's a lot of gaps and a lot of room for providing some supportive nutritional supplementation in my practice. And I see it make a huge difference. And I do blood work and I do vitamin D levels, I do B 12 levels, I do red blood cell magnesium, and I do check for M T H F R variation, which is what you're referring to, this 30% of people. And as you say, we know the data already on M T H F R. I do recommend methylfolate for all my trying to conceive and pregnant people and anyone with cardiovascular disease history also. But also, I see a lot of insufficient to deficient vitamin D. I see a lot of insufficient to deficient magnesium, etc… So, I don't know. It seems like these studies that debunk the value of a multivitamin are also looking at sort of bigger disease processes. They're not necessarily looking at optimal daily functioning either.
Katerina: Every multivitamin is also different. And you look at the rich multivitamin has Omega three D h A, the study's probably not done on a multivitamin that has omega three DH A probably not done on a study that has K two, MK seven, 2000 IU vitamin D. It isn't necessarily always apples to apples. When there are blanket statements around multivitamins, it's hard to compare because for us, when we started the company, it was starting with a clean slate. How do we do the right thing? And we looked at that four-step process. Product is a little different from the typical multivitamin that used to exist and then also the delivery mechanisms and all those things are very different.
Aviva: I know there are listeners right now who may be bouncing a baby at their breast and thinking, okay, I really want to start some kind of company. Maybe it's an actual product company. How did you know where to start? Did you take any personal financial risks? So, you did get VC money, clue us in on what it looked like when you were getting going.
Katerina: Yeah, we definitely took some financial risks. My husband and I are both entrepreneurs. I wasn't an entrepreneur. I was the one that had the regular paycheck and my husband had always been an entrepreneur. And I think there's this glamorization of entrepreneurship that you're well-off Libra living in a tiny duplex that we were renting. We were renting the back little garage, which is probably illegal to pay for most of our rent. And I was like, I'm going to start a company. And he's like, go for it. I'm going to start a different one. And I was pregnant, and we just risked it all. We didn't pay ourselves. I obviously ended up taking VC money and then paid myself a little bit, but we took a big risk financially because we believed in what we were both doing. And as I said, there's this glamorization of entrepreneurship that you're really successful, but especially when you take VC money, you're not the only owner of the business.
You're a shareholder, so is your team. Everyone on the team has equity and the investors have equity and you're kind of working for everybody and you try to pay yourself the least to be quite honest. And so, I think pregnancy was challenging because it was no longer just about us, but it was around the family that we were starting, and it was going to get more expensive. But I also knew that I wanted to be happy, and I wanted to have an impact on the world that would then have an impact on how my future kids would see the world. And I wanted them to see that anything was possible the way that I felt growing up with my parents. That came from nothing. And I also just saw how happy my parents were following their dreams and that inspired me. My oldest daughter's seven, I have three girls now. I see the impact that that's having on her and it's pretty cool.
Aviva: You went from zero to what you said was a nine-figure revenue avenue and you have three daughters. How are you literally on a day-to-day basis managing or juggling motherhood and continuing to build a company? Do you have any family non-negotiables? And with that, are there any health and lifestyle non-negotiables for you personally?
Katerina: It's definitely been a journey. Having this company and keeping three children alive and a marriage and health and relationships. I often say that no one's balancing it all. You just have to focus on a couple of things for that week and then those three things change the following week or you're going to literally lose your mind. I would say that the hardest part is really the beginning. I think when the kids were really small or their babies, I breastfed my kids for two years and six years straight I was breastfeeding was insane. Insane. That was so hard. It was so hard to be coming into the office figuring out how to do the pumping and it was really stressful. I think as they got older it became so much easier because they're in school and then while they're in school, I'm working. I think setting boundaries is really important as well. And that's something I've realized is that if I'm not taken care of, I can't take care of anyone else. And it took me way too long to realize that. For me, my non-negotiables are working out. I actually work out every single day. I went from never working out to working out every single day or being crazy good for
Aviva: You. What do you do? What's your workout?
Katerina: I do Pilates a couple of days a week. I do yoga and then I do strength training. I like to mix it up. My yoga teacher said something interesting to me. He said that I think the reason why founders or CEOs like yoga is because guiding you, you're guiding people and you're making decisions all day long and for an hour, hour and a half of your day, you have someone else who's literally just being the one that's guiding you. I feel like as the company's grown, as my kids have grown, they're seven, five and almost three now. My days are about making really good decisions. The question is how do I set my day up so that I can make really good decisions for the business and my family? I think that those boundaries, especially for me to be mentally present, working out does that for me. And it's been really interesting actually reframing working out from being something that I thought, I don't know 10 years ago was a physical thing and it's become a mental thing. I somehow became this person who needs to mentally work out every single day. I don't even care what impact that has physically, but now I can't live without it.
Aviva: What are some of your other self-care practices that are really important to you and set you up? I love this, setting yourself up for good decision making.
Katerina: So probably similar to you in some ways, but we grew up in poverty and then my parents followed their dreams and I saw success and then they kind of also simultaneously followed health and wellness. I actually became really exposed to the health and wellness industry really early. We had a Norman Walker juicer when I was in my early teens and when no one knew what press juicing was, we were there grinding up the vegetables, your
Aviva: Homemade wheat grass that was growing on the kitchen counter kind of thing.
Katerina: Exactly. I was experimenting on myself. My mom actually got cancer when I was early in college, and I did a blood type diet. I went to psychotherapy, all these things just because I was so fascinated by it and I feel like I'm on the other side of the rainbow on wellness in a weird way because all the things that are trendy or non-interesting to me anymore, I don't like experimenting on my body. I'm actually in this place where I think I feel my best when I perfect the basics and I'm like, I don't want to take this weird supplement. I don't want to do this weird exercise.
Aviva: It's funny. I mean I'm probably closer to your parents' age, but I also had very early exposure to healthy things. When I was 15, it was a lot more experimenting back then, like macro diet and raw foods diet and juicing and various things. I was never extreme though. But there was that, let me try this. It's funny when I see some of these things now, I'm like, oh, that was so when I was 15, I'm like, no, don't need to go there. And I agree for me the basics, the good sleep time in nature, eating healthfully really consistently and moving my body and then time with people I love feels like those are the really important pieces that keep me feeling my best.
Katerina: I'm the same way. I mean all those things. I'm not a doctor, but I run a supplement company and so people always ask me, what do you do or what should I do? I feel X, Y, z. I'm like, well talk to your doctor really. I'm like, I'm not going to help you. But I see people now just trying all these different herbs and supplements or these exercises, but then when you ask them How are you sleeping or how much water are you drinking or how much are you moving? It's all off. It's all backwards. It's almost like we were trying to treat issues and actually not taking care of ourselves at the foundational level. And I would rather people do that than take any of our products.
Aviva: Well, it's really kind of a holdover from Western medicine. I jokingly say, instead of a pill for every ill, it's a supplement for every symptom or the idea that you can take 60 supplements, like 60 pills a day. I know people who prescribe 20, 30, 40 pills a day for their patients and it's like your stomach can't even make use of that, let alone your blood. I just jokingly say it's often just very expensive pee.
Katerina: It could be potentially harmful. And it's even learning what the encapsulations are made from. Hopefully we focus on the ingredients the way that Ritual does with the traceable supply chain, but people don't even focus on what the capsules are made of
Aviva: And there's so many pills with incredible amounts of fillers in them. The other thing I see a lot is I'll have patients who come to me for a first visit, and they've been to sometimes a host of other practitioners of a wide variety of types, and they'll come with 20 or 30 prescription supplements and sometimes pharmaceuticals too. And even if they're on six or eight supplements, I'll start looking and they're on a supplement that is for maybe their menstrual cycle, then they're on one for their mood and then they're on one for something else. But they might have four supplements that all have, let's say, vitamin B6 in them. Nobody's looked at how much vitamin B6 they're getting across these four supplements and sometimes it exceeds safe limits and a lot of supplements. It's okay. I mean if you take a little extra vitamin C, fine. If you take a little extra B 12, fine, but if you take extra B6, it can be neurotoxic. This is something I think a lot of people aren't aware of. It's just because it's natural doesn't mean it's safe or more isn't always better.
Katerina: A hundred percent.
Aviva: One of the big phenomena that I've seen in the women entrepreneurial world is that a lot of female entrepreneurs who become quite successful or even some who are moderately successful financially like myself, start to out earn their partners. I've seen a lot of tensions in relationships arise when the woman starts to out earn her male partner significantly. So how does that work for you guys? I'm not assuming you're out earning your husband, but as your company has gotten more successful, has that changed? Have you had to renegotiate or navigate relationship dynamics?
Katerina: Yeah, I would say I'm still figuring it out to be quite honest. I think it's really, it's a new paradigm and I don't have all the right answers for our relationship. My husband actually started a nonprofit in the last couple years, so obviously that's not where we're making our money, but it's something that he is so deeply passionate about and I've never seen him so happy and driven and it makes me also feel good to be someone that is providing for the family and for him to be following his dreams and setting an example for our kids that not everything that you do has to be incredibly financially driven. And so that's been I think the biggest shift in our relationship. We both started as, I wouldn't say money hungry, but those kind of capitalistic entrepreneurs that were changing the world in our own ways.
I would say the biggest shock for me, and I think it comes kind of early on motherhood, is that it's not equal. Our careers are on equal footing and that the work that my partner's going to do in the beginning is going to be equal, but it just biologically wasn't equal. No matter how I sliced or diced it, I was breastfeeding the kid and sleeping with them in the bed. That was easier for me than putting bottles out at night. That's just what worked for me, and I was doing the majority of the work. But then as the kids got older, that rebalanced and I would say we're more equal partners, I think the hardest thing for our relationship was when I was keeping score. And I think once you let go of keeping score, that's kind of when the weight is lifted, and you realize also that there's just these natural shifts and dynamics as the kids get older and it kind of balances out. I would also say I'm in the process of just crafting my best life in a way, and I'm like, what is my best life? What's the best day that I could have every single day? And for me, it is working out. It's taking my kids to school, it's working, it's putting them to bed and having dinner with them. Those might seem like things that in a relationship you're like, you need to do this, or you need to do that, but those are actually things that energize me.
Aviva: I think there's so much internalized about it. My husband and I are older than you guys, so he was still really raised in that model of a stay-at-home mom, the working dad, and then he became the stay-at-home dad while I was in med school and there were the external negotiations people overtly said things judgmental for me, making the choice of going to med school as a mom with four kids, but also casting some aspersions on him as if it was some statement on masculinity or provider ness for him to choose to be at home. And I think that we were good with our choices, but it definitely required some internal work to be there because you hear those voices, and they sort of reverberate and you have to figure out where do I stand with all of this? So, it was challenging.
Katerina: And you almost have to recommit, I feel like, to your partner all the time. It's like, do I re-choose you? And I was thinking about that the other week. Do I re-choose him? Yes, he's running an amazing nonprofit. He's impacting the world. He is really ambitious in his own way. He is a great dad. And I think when you kind of zoom out and think about those things, it's quite powerful versus the nitpicking of the small things. Because I do think especially when kids are, you must have a lot of listeners that are kind of in those early stages of motherhood. It's like the early stages are really just tough and it's easy to go down the rabbit hole, but I always just think it's important to kind of wait those years out a little bit.
Aviva: I was listening to Michelle Obama, she was on some talkshow, and she was saying how before she had the kids, Barack would go off and do his law thing and she'd go off and do her law thing and he'd say, babe, I'm going to play golf today with my friends. And she'd be like, great girl time. I get my own me time and it's like my bath and my wine and whatever it was she was doing for her. And then she said, the kids came along, and she was like, you're going to play what? And she just starts talking about there was a lot of times she really didn't like him in those early years, but it was really the fatigue coming through and sort of those disparities. I mean, no matter how much we create an egalitarian household or have the most committed partner, you are the one waking up to breastfeed. You are the one pumping, it's the emotional demand, but there's also just an intense caloric nutritional demand that's unseen, but very real.
Katerina: I think for me, it's made me almost aggressive about my boundaries and that's the way that I've learned to survive and thrive. I remember with our second kid; I was on the floor doing a workout on a video. I'm like, ugh, I can't even lift my stomach up. And my husband walks in on bike shorts after a four-hour bike ride and looks in the mirror. He is like, wow, I'm in the best shape of my life. You're
Aviva: Just like f you.
Katerina: It's just like that's the best example of we're just different and I have to go through this. But I think seeing how much he prioritized his wellbeing and his nutrition and his, I was like, I'm going to do this. Now that I'm clear on this, I'm going to find the time. And I think especially when you're a working mom, the mornings are really hard. I find a lot of, even our teammates, they're like, I don't have help in the morning. How am I going to find time to work out? And I think it's really figuring out, almost being really creative, carving that time out for you if it's going to totally change your day. And I think that is also a privilege.
Aviva: Absolutely. And that's how we make our choices. When do we fit it in? How do we take a long walk with a baby in a backpack or a stroller or if you do have screens, make that the hour of screen time or half hour of screen time. Great new study came out this past year saying that working out at night wasn't actually going to overstimulate us. It actually helped us get great sleep. After the kids go to bed, if they ever go to bed,
Katerina: I was running six miles a day taking my kids to two different schools as my workout during COVID because I was obviously avoiding gibs and things like that. And it was my way to get that endorphin rush.
Aviva: Do you have a decision-making process? You mentioned good, and I don't think anyone's ever framed or phrased that to me in a conversation or a podcast. I'm really curious about what that looks like for you.
Katerina: Yeah, that's a good question. I don't think I've actually structurally formalized what it is, but actually do 360 reviews in our company. I get reviews from people that I manage. One review said that when I'm making a decision, I come informed with a lot of different perspectives, and that was very interesting and admirable to them. And I do think that that is part of my, I think superpower as far as decision-making is that I talk to a lot of different people and hear how they think about the problem or how they would solve it, even people that aren't formally related. And I take that into consideration, and I tap into my intuition in making that decision. There's days where I have a very hard time tapping into my intuition. If three of my kids woke me up in the middle of the night or I'm not in a great mood, I will not necessarily make the best decision.
So actually, pushing that out can be important and valuable. And as we've scaled the company, we have an executive team, we have a chief people officer, we have a president, we have a COO, we have a chief scientist, we have a CMO, we have a chief impact officer, and I rely on them so much. A lot of my work is no longer doing the work, but making the broader strategic decisions. Tapping into a collective perspective and then trusting my own intuition to make that best choice is kind of, I would say my framework. But being in that right mindset to do that is really important to me. And that actually starts with good health. It starts with that workout that I did in the morning and how that made me feel. It starts with drinking enough water that day and eating healthy so I can just have this clear head and clear opinion on what I'm deciding. But it is interesting. I think that that ultimately becomes your role as a CEO and leader over time. And I would say 90% of my work is other than some of the external work, is helping the team make a decision on certain things.
Aviva: You pointed to your chest when you talked about intuition. Is intuition a physical sensation for you when you land on it? Do you know that by a feeling in your body?
Katerina: For me, yes. Absolutely. And I would say one tricky thing happened during Covid was when we went from an in-person company to a remote company overnight, I used to make decisions based on also body language of being in a room with somebody like healing. I trust this person, trust what they're saying, this is the right move. We have to do X, Y, z. All of a sudden, all of my tools for making good decisions and good work went out the window because I had such a hard time, all of a sudden people were cropped to their necks. It made it really challenging to judge body language and it kind of slowed my inking down and it took a while to recalibrate, and I think I'm kind of back there, but I do miss that kind of bond.
Aviva: A lot of listeners are people who do purchase supplements. What are the top three things that you feel people should be looking for if they're determining specifically if a supplement is high quality? Keeping in mind, we talked about third party testing, but most companies are not doing the independent third-party testing. What are some other things people can look for?
Katerina: We just actually rolled out an advocacy roadmap for our business, and it focuses on two things. I think third party testing is the third pillar, which we already talked about. The two things that we're focused on, one is heavy metals. What's interesting in this industry is there's no health protective measures when it comes to heavy metals. You have no idea what heavy metals you're putting in your body when it comes to supplements. And a lot of the ingredients are grown overseas, contain high amounts of heavy metals, and it's really hard to navigate that as a business. An interesting category for us that we've recently gone into is the protein category and plant-based proteins have been notoriously high in heavy metals. We actually source our peas. They're grown regeneratively farmed peas, grown here in North America, which helps with that. But we've gone above and beyond in honor site.
We have a certificate of traceability. You can see the heavy metal results on our proteins, which is kind of unheard of. I think that's one area that people should be very aware of. You can be taking all these different and concoctions, but what are you actually accumulating in your body over time? It's quite scary to me. And the second is a lot of terms in the category are loosely defined, and so what we're advocating for is a clear definition of the word clinically studied. It gets thrown out a lot and it's great. A lot of times hopefully companies are using ingredients that have been clinically studied at the clinically studied dose, but that is not a definition. And then even better if it has a clinical study actually conducted by the company on the product and ingredient and on top of that peer reviewed and published in the leading journal. Those two areas I think are areas where there should be a lot of emphasis from the industry and there's a lot of emphasis that we're putting on the industry for that. We just sent a letter to Congress advocating for those two things and giving the f d a more oversight over those two areas, which are hugely impactful to people's health.
Aviva: There are quite a lot of companies that say clinically studied and we know that that really should just have air quotes around it. How do you feel like a consumer can sort out a meaningfully stated, clinically studied versus just marketing hype?
Katerina: I think consumers should ask the companies for their clinical studies, and moreover, the companies should put those clinical studies on their websites, and they should be very easy to see how many subjects were in what duration of time. And I do think that should be the norm because just because something has a clinical study doesn't mean there's consensus.
Aviva: Or that it's a good quality clinical study or that it wasn't just written by the owner of the company and published in some random non-PE reviewed journal or just internally published. There are so many layers to it that does make it really hard to select products that you can feel really safe about. And I really appreciate that you said that you put the traceability of heavy metals on the website. You're not saying ours don't contain them or ours contain the lowest. We're just saying, here's what it is, and you can decide for yourself.
Katerina: Yeah, it was really important to me. I started getting really passionate about the protein space, this murky world.
Aviva: No, it really is. I've been doing this work for a very long time, and recently I decided to increase my workouts being in menopause and trying to reset my metabolism a little bit. And I, for the first time ever have bought a protein powder. I've recommended them over the years for people who have nutritional intake problems. They just can't get their nutrients in through food for a variety of reasons. They're adding them to a smoothie. But I actually got on an email chain back and forth with my practice registered dietician. I'm like, okay, what's the best one? I found one that I really like. They have a pea protein and a hemp protein. But again, now I'm aware that I'm adding heavy metals to my diet that weren't there, at least from that concentrated source before.
Katerina: Yeah, people are trying to make the right choices for their health not knowing that the products they're consuming are quite high in heavy metals. How would they know? And I think that's pretty shocking. I think for us, the journey has been really looking at the difference when you do look at peas, north American grown peas versus peas that are grown overseas in China, you would never know as a consumer unless the company has traceability, and you can see what farms the peas are grown in.
As a plant-based vegan eater myself, I didn't realize that I needed a complete amino acid profile for protein. I always thought that more protein is better, but it's actually getting that complete amino acid profile is actually kind of a science. It's not as much of an art and it's not just blending different types of proteins together, but actually getting those proportions quite right. It's tricky, but I think that's ultimately where traceability comes in. With Ritual, you can go to our website and you can see where the ingredients come from in the world, why they're there. We list the suppliers and I often hear other companies say, hey, we saw your mega three D H A coming from Nova Scotia. We're now using it for our product. And great. Amazing. I love that.
Aviva: Are there any nutrients that you have tried to source that you're just like, we can't use this? I was consulting for a company a few years back and we were looking at creating a combined botanical and nutrient based product, and there were just a couple of things. I'm not going to say what, because I don't want to cast dispersions on any products that have these in them, but we could not get a truly solvent free organic ecologically sound source for a couple of nutrients. We couldn't use them.
Katerina: Yeah, there was a product we were working on, and we threw out hundreds of thousands of packages of product because they didn't meet our testing requirements. It was a great lesson in why third-party testing is important. And it's one thing if company tests their products or their manufacturer, but there's another thing when you actually go with a third-party lab and they verify that. And also, you set standards that are very different than the industry. Like our heavy metal standards in California, we have Prop 65, which is a level above 0.5 on heavy metals. California's the only place in the US that will list that warning on your products, which is why it's even more important for us to actually list the heavy metal amounts on all of our products. And it's pretty wild. We've had to throw out and lose lots of money on products that don't meet our personal testing requirements, but they would've been fine, and no one would've actually known that they hadn't. And just to
Aviva: Clarify for everyone listening, so as Kat was saying, it's 0.5 parts per million of various different heavy metals and your food, your spinach, your celery, everything we eat these days has heavy metal. Some of it is just inherent to things growing in the Earth's crust and those minerals and metals that are in the soil make their way into our food. But then a lot of it is environmental contamination that has just spread globally. I just saw a study looking at a new proposed connection for the significant rises in the levels of autism possibly being associated with lithium that comes from industrial manufacturing, things like batteries and just the high prevalence of lithium in the soil. I just want to say that just because you see that something got a Prop 65 warning on it doesn't mean that it's toxic. It just means that somebody looked at it. And if somebody looked at your spinach, they may find the same thing. But I do think that anytime you can lean into products that don't meet or exceed that level, it's really important, particularly when you're pregnant and you're not just accumulating, but your baby's going to get the download of what your heavy metal body burden is. And when we're breastfeeding,
Katerina: That was actually a challenge because we created a pregnancy protein. That's the ultimate commitment to keeping the heavy metals low and the sourcing and the traceability. There's not really that many pregnancy proteins out there. So that was quite a challenge. We worked with a company called Puris where they grow over generally farm peas here in the us. And I think when you do look at moose protein products, the peas are grown overseas in China where it almost doesn't matter if it's organic or not, heavy metal amounts are still quite high. You bring up a good point that everything has heavy metals in it, and I think oftentimes people are, you see the headlines and people are shocked. It's like, oh my God, my chocolate has heavy metals. And it's like, well, no, your water, the baby food, everything has it. It's just the amounts that matter. It's similar to greenwashing. It's important for people to realize that everything has heavy metals in it. The amounts matter. How do we become more transparent about what's in our products?
Aviva: Well, and it's a little like that B6 that I mentioned earlier, right? If you get one thing that has it, that's one thing, but if you get six things that have it, and when we're talking about spinach, it's not a concentrated powder made with a hundred pounds of spinach that are now condensed down to one pound or an enormous amount of peas that are condensed down to your two pounds of pea protein powder. The concentration that happens with supplements is kind of what puts it over the top as something to be aware of or the number of products we're getting in our day. It's our cosmetics, it's everything. It's almost like we're picking and choosing what's important to us to use and then trying to avoid the unnecessary things we don't have to get exposed to. I have a question for you that I ask each of my guests as we end the episode. If you could tell your younger self anything, how old would you be and what would you say?
Katerina: I would say that she would be 20, and I would tell her to not worry about her career and what she's going to be in the world and not stress about the right perfect path. I think for me, I always thought I needed to be on the right path, so I became an investment banker, and then I worked at operations and VC, and now I'm running a supplement company, and I would've never imagined that. I think the stress that you feel when you're younger and you're trying to decide on what you want to be and all the jobs that you have, are they leading you the right way? None of that really matters in many ways. It's just the people that you meet along the way that shape your life and those interactions that you have that shape the decisions you make and the passions that you have.
Aviva: Kat, thank you for a really interesting talk about creating a supplement company and creating a family at the same time, and your commitment to living a good life while making a difference in the world. It's really beautiful. Thank you for so many pearls of wisdom that you've dropped. I loved not keeping score with your partner, and I love just the reflection back on how much you got from your parents starting from nothing and using their skills to create something. I'm really excited to see what keeps growing with Ritual and how the industry changes because you're pulling it up.
Katerina: Thank you. It's a really fun conversation.
Aviva: Talk to you again soon. Thank you everybody for listening.