Ara Katz is the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of the revolutionary company Seed Health. You might recognize them for the amazing green packaging shown extensively on TikTok and Instagram.
Focused on microbiome and the importance of microbes for gut health, the company thrives as it merges well-being and science in a product aiming to make people’s lives better. Its success can be credited to its extensive scientific research and Ara’s storytelling vision as the baseline for a conversation that many people didn’t want to have when the company was first created.
Growing up as a young woman, what did you think you’d be doing as a career later in life? And was it at all connected to what you’re actually doing today?
I knew I would be creating and building things. I would say I absolutely wanted to be an architect and I wanted to tell stories with space. I wanted to design things, and I’m surprised to work on what I’m working on today. On some level, especially just based on the connectivity to the environment in nature, I’m not entirely surprised based on how much that was a part of my childhood.
But I definitely think it wouldn’t have been until high school and going through my mom getting sick that I probably really knew that at some point in my life I would be. I was fascinated and curious about biology and health, and I knew there’d be something in that at some point. But where I spent the majority of my life and what I think I spent the most on as a kid was technology, nature, art, design and building things.
Who were your biggest inspirations while working in the tech industry?
People who have been the most influential in my life are often not work-related. And then the people where it crosses over are usually friends and people who we have some sort of symbiosis with but also have friendships outside of that. There are women like Ivy Ross, who runs a lot of hardware design at Google, and she is a dear friend. She is somebody who went into Google bringing heart and a new way of thinking, and you can see it in the evolution of the phones. She inspired me as far as design goes.
I truly draw the most inspiration from art and design. Film, music and more so than like ’this business person inspired me’. To that end, I’ve always valued human relationships more than anything.
When you’re really, really early in a startup, people are believing in you and not really the idea. And then when you start to prove it, people have to believe in both. And I have to give a lot of credit where credit is due in my life, which is that I was able to have far more success raising capital from men than I was with women. I have to be incredibly authentic to my own experience, which is that I had a lot of trouble with that, despite the fact that I started this company as a woman out of my breastfeeding and birthing experience.
What were the selling points for those investors who supported you from the start? What do you think attracted them to Seed?
It was really just about us. Certainly, a lot of them were coming from my relationships, but a lot of it was the belief in me. And I would say more so, the belief and understanding that probiotics were going to be an extraordinary category that was growing at an extraordinary velocity.
At the time, infant formula was probably the best case study for a global category that was being wholly disrupted by the addition of probiotics and prebiotics slash HMOs, which is what they refer to more in the infant world. And so that tailwind was probably one of the better reasons and rationale, plus the team. That allowed us to at least get started, and the belief that we could build an exceptional brand that would stand out.
And, very carefully and by design, we didn’t tell our whole story, it was a very curated version of the vision because we have a really big problem at Seed, which is: you talk to people about science, and you lose them. You talk to science people about consumer things, and you lose them too. So we had to figure out how to tell our story very clearly.
It was just about finding the right narrative. As I said, everything is storytelling, just finding the right narrative, and what resonated with each person.
We did that not to obfuscate anything, but actually, so that we would end up with a cap table that was incredibly eclectic and diverse across different disciplines, and that was very, very important to us. The way that we’ve built Seed today, that was exactly what we did.
What is your definition of leadership? And how do you balance out everything the industry offers as you make decisions on a daily basis for the company?
I would even add to your question that it is even harder when every company is just using the word ’science’, right? And using the word ’transparency’ and saying that the reason they started the company was to either create transparency or to help people guide them to the best choice and product, which happens to be theirs.
It is truly one of the most challenging parts of what we do. As a company, that has put a lot of friction into our experience and a lot of accountability in places, the way we work with influencers, for example. We’ve won a number of awards for our City University program because we really don’t let anybody partner with us until they go through a certification to be able to learn something.
Someone can’t demonstrate that they want to actually learn something before they share something. That feels too promiscuous to us. That feels too unaccountable to us. And so this notion of ’hashtag add’, ’hashtag accountable’ is something that we talk about a lot, as it relates to all of our marketing.
We’re increasingly starting to speak to practitioners and pediatricians, and all kinds of disciplines from gastroenterologists to functional and integrative and everyone in between. And I think that demonstrated to me an even greater accountability because you’re not just speaking to people who have questions or who want to proactively reach out to you.
You’re really speaking to the people who dedicate their entire life to actually nurturing the health of other people, and that’s not to be underestimated. Those people certainly don’t. I think, at the end of the day, the greatest accountability to me is just to our community, whether they are buying a product or just reading our educational content.
It is truly the greatest privilege to be able to have the opportunity to, in my world, translate extraordinary science into innovation that can actually impact millions of people. It is inspiring on a daily basis. There’s so much opportunity to make an impact. And science is, in so many areas, moving into such exciting places that we are really going to have answers to some of our biggest unmet medical needs. Environmentally, we’re going to have real solutions.
What’s your approach to wellness, as a mom and as a busy entrepreneur?
Seed is a good start! I do take our product DS-01 and my child takes PDS-08, which is our pediatric product, but be beyond that. And I also say ’beyond that’ just because I’m very proud of what we do, but not everybody can afford that.
And also, the truth is that beyond the things you can take, they are really truly beyond. There is almost nothing when it comes to the microbiome that is probably as impactful as your diet. So you can take a probiotic, hopefully ours, all day, every day. But nutrition and diet are the most critical lever.
So I would say, from a microbiome perspective, diet, hydration, a lot of water, sleep… Although I am a hypocrite right now because I have a five-month-old! As hard as I try, it’s not always attained.
And movement. We are living sedentary lives, and we need to move. That means 45 minutes of walking a day or low-grade cardio plus lifting some weights.
And then I think there’s the mental health component, which is meditation. And that does not have to be sitting at home for 45 minutes, and does not have to be some grand gesture… Busy moms hear ’meditation’, they are like ’Yeah, sure’.
Sneak in a few minutes when you can, sure, but I actually think that there are other things that are really meditative. Even just sitting on a bike for 15 minutes can be meditative, lying on your closet floor for 10 minutes, listening to something on your iPhone that inspires or brings you into yourself in some way. It can happen in the shower. I don’t think it has to be this Instagram image of what meditation looks like.
The last thing I would say is: the structuring of time is a big part of my wellness. I do a horrible job at it Monday through Friday, just based on running Seed. But I do actually stop at a time when it allows me to eat together with the kids, whatever that 5:30 to 7:30 period looks like.
Did your definition of success today evolve over time?
Oh, there are two words that I am allergic to. One is ’career’ and the other is ’success’ because they both imply an endpoint. As someone who tries to be and aspires to be as Buddhist as possible, those two words create so much suffering. It’s a lexicon that just doesn’t resonate with me.
It’s great to have goals, and it’s not like we don’t run Seed and say ’We have no goals because we’re Buddhist’. I think having goals and hitting milestones is amazing. But when it comes to my own life, it’s a way of thinking, I just like building and creating things.
But I really think that those words, particularly for women, have not served us.
What’s one thing you wish women would do more of and one thing you wish women would do less of?
Not be focused on success. I mean, I would say ask questions that are less in the framework of gender. I don’t mean because you asked me that question, I mean more the feeling of being generalized. The way that I have interpreted and witnessed and been inspired by where, I hope, a lot of our women’s work, rights, et cetera.
A lot of what I hope for is a world where these distinctions become less like distinctions. I don’t put that on women to say that they should do less or more of it, but to say that we can start to use language that cultivates less division, and also recognizes how we have such disparate experiences.