Katerina Schneider of Ritual
Meet Katerina Schneider, founder and CEO of Ritual, an LA-based vitamin company making supplements for modern women. Founded in 2016, Kat was determined to create a brand that distilled and re-imagined everything women already know about vitamins, and formulate a well-rounded essential supplement that goes above and beyond in terms of quality and efficacy. Ritual was born out of a need for a women’s health brand that truly understands women and their needs. Wanting to transcend the fate of many vitamin companies that end up nameless and unremarkable in the cabinets of women across America and then some, Kat refused to underestimate the power of good branding and worked to make consumer education and brand awareness a priority.
At the core of Ritual’s branding, an emphasis on transparency and the movement toward an open-source and traceable formulation. Offering consumers peace of mind and an opportunity to learn more about the science behind the brand’s core products, Ritual is changing the game and insists that transparency and traceability are the future of consumer goods.
Admitting that being an entrepreneur in this capacity was not always what she envisioned, Kat is nothing short of passionate. Extensively recounting and diving deep into the inner workings of all things Ritual from the backseat of her Uber ride to the office without missing a beat, Kat breathes new life into an industry that some might typically find dull or information heavy. Covering everything from ingredients to venture capital, she sets the standard for the kind of qualities that separate average CEOs from successful ones.
Keep reading to learn more about how Ritual is innovating women’s health, and how Kat plans to propel the brand to leader status.
THIS INTERVIEW HAS BEEN EDITED AND CONDENSED FOR BREVITY AND CLARITY.
WHAT LED YOU TO START RITUAL?
“I started Ritual when I was 4 months pregnant. I was actually an investor here in LA, investing in tech companies and startups, and I had no intention of starting a company while pregnant, but I almost had no choice. I was really passionate about what I was putting in and on my body, and I took a look at the vitamins that I’d been taking every single day and read the label. I was confused, shocked, and really wanted to do something about it. There were certain ingredients in there that I didn’t want in my body, and there was a lot of confusion around what forms [of certain supplements] work best for the body. When I asked my friends what vitamins and prenatal supplements they were taking, they couldn’t remember the name of the brand. I would get answers like “Nature something”, and it sent me on this journey of quitting my job and deciding to reinvent vitamins from the ground up, and that’s where we are now. We started just over 2 years ago with Essential for Women, which is a reinvented multi-vitamin, and on the path, we hired one of the leading scientists and asked him a really simple question: do we even need vitamins in the first place? We rigorously studied, researched, and looked at thousands of studies, and it turns out that women are actually getting a lot of nutrients from their food, but when you look at what women are eating, there’s a handful of nutrients that all of us could use more of, and that’s how we landed on the 9 essential nutrients in Essentials for Women. It was very contrarian to [what we were used to seeing in] the industry at the time. That’s how we landed on the formulation, and we went on a crazy search for partners and scientists all over the world who shared a mission we could get behind, and have sourced our [Vitamin] D3 from wild-harvested lichen instead of sheep’s wool, and our Omega 3 DHA from algae instead of fish oil, and methylated folate from Italy that bypasses genetic variations, and so on, and so forth. I became obsessed with the idea of traceability and showing where everything comes from. If you go on our site and click on “Research”, you can see every ingredient in depth, and we even have interviews with every supplier, which we’re really proud of.”
What made you feel like you could successfully tackle the giant vitamin/supplement market?
“I felt like I could tackle it because I’m a really curious person, and I had a lot of questions to ask, and I was surprised [to discover] that there was no brand affinity, and also that there was no real traceability or transparency in this space. In other industries that I had seen as an investor, I was noticing a lot of patterns. For example, in the food industry, there’s starting to be a lot more transparency around ingredients and whether they’re plant based or not, or where they’re coming from, as well as this movement toward cleaner food, but that wasn’t the case with vitamins. I also saw the rise of a lot of single-product commerce companies at the time that were disrupting major “non-sexy” industries, everything from travel to mattresses, and it gave me the confidence to do it. I just needed to find the right team and the right people to help me along the way. I’m definitely not a scientist, nor am I a technologist, so along the way, we built an incredible team that gave me the confidence to tackle the industry and do things differently. I think that every person was a different piece of the puzzle.”
AND HOW BIG IS YOUR TEAM NOW?
“Now we’re close to 50, we’ve grown a lot.”
How is Ritual changing the game in terms of transparency and why is that important to you?
“We’re changing the game because [transparency] is not just a word that we write somewhere, it’s really showing. We’ve flipped the idea of transparency on its head, and we’re really passionate about ‘transparency 2.0’, which is traceability. Showing where things are coming from, not just telling, and I’m excited to take that even further in the future. Like I mentioned, on our site, you can click and see where any one of our ingredients comes from, who the supplier is, you can go further and read the interview with the supplier themselves, and we’re not doing that just so we can call ourselves transparent, we’re doing that because we’re actually passionate about the stories of the people behind each one of those ingredients.”
Ritual has gained popularity, due in part to its contemporary branding - What do you believe Ritual is doing DIFFERENTLY IN TERMS OF MARKETING TO WOMEN IN PARTICULAR?
“I think what we’re doing differently is that, we’re a team of millennials, majority women here in the office, and we’re just building a brand for ourselves. We’re not a company that’s trying to retrofit to a demographic, we’re passionate about our customer because it is us. We create art for the sake of art, and many times, creatively, if we put a piece of collateral in a box, it’s something that we feel proud of and want to put on our mirrors, it’s not something we want people to throw away. I think that trickles into the branding. I think there’s also this interesting connection between science and culture that’s happening with our brand, and we’re not throwing science in your face, and if you are a label reader or skeptic, you have to dig a little deeper to see. That’s very core to our branding, and also, we’re just celebrating women and women’s health, and not making it something scary, it’s really simplistic and minimalist. Those are key elements that I think are really helping our brand stand out.”
Ritual is an investor-backed startup. What advice to you have for young female founders looking to secure funding?
“Yeah, I don’t know if I’m the best person to give advice, but we've raised tens of millions of dollars, and I think some meaningful advice would be to try and understand if your business needs venture funding, and if you really believe that you have what it takes to scale and that you really want it. Because some people just want to create a lifestyle business. I mean that in the sense that they’re not just trying to saturate the market and grow incredibly quickly, they just want to enjoy the pace and want something they can make a living off of… in that case, I wouldn’t recommend taking venture funding. There’s an immense sense of responsibility when you take someone else’s money and you’re striving to be the number one company in your space. There’s a deep sense of understanding that you need as to whether that’s something you really want or not. It’s definitely something that I want. I want to be the leading vitamin brand in the world, and eventually the leading personal care brand for women’s health in the world, and to do that, we need a lot of investment to go deep in R&D and IP, and do a lot of the things we want to accomplish.”
HOW DID YOUR BACKGROUND AS AN INVESTOR HELP YOU SECURE FUNDING?
“I had a sense of who I wanted in an investor, and I think it’s partially luck, but partially being assertive, we’ve chosen investors that are incredible for our business that are on our board, that have our back, that are constantly adding value, like Kirsten Green from Forerunner, Lisa Wu from Norwest, and Brian Singerman from Founders Fund. We have an almost entirely female board, which is really rare; in Silicon Valley, less than 3% of female-founded and run companies get venture funding, so the fact that we have a female run company has been a conscious decision, and I think that my previous experience has led me to be more selective about who we want as partners for the long haul. When you do choose investors, it’s not a short-term decision, even when you take angel money and seed money, these people are always going to ask about their shares and always have opinions, so it’s really important to choose investors wisely.”
What's the hardest obstacle you've had to overcome in terms of building and growing Ritual?
“Creating that first product and having standards, and being told no from manufacturers and suppliers, and overcoming those to create a better product. That’s been the hardest part. Being told we can’t have a vegan capsule that matched our standards, and that we should go elsewhere, but then pushing our manufacturer to create this delayed-release beadlet-in-oil technology with us and work with us on groundbreaking and innovative things, but that the time, constantly being told no. I think the second thing that’s been kind of hard is knowing that our values as a company are really meaningful to us, some of those include being obsessed, embracing the ‘no’s, getting gritty, not being a jerk, making an impact, and being transparent, and I think as you scale and you have a lot of pressure to grow, hiring people that share those values is really important. I think you have to sacrifice growth sometimes because you look for people who have all of those values and sometimes it’s hard because you don’t hire them, but you need to grow and scale. I think balancing that is a challenge most startups face.”
What does a typical day look like for you?
“Well I have 2 kids and I’ve given birth twice since starting the company, so for me it’s making sure that before I come to the office, that I’ve spent time with my kids because I don’t know how late I’m going to be working. When I come into the office, I have a series of meetings, I oversee our scientific team and R&D, I oversee the creative team, I’ll meet with our SVP of Marketing, I’ll have meetings with our Chief Scientific Officer, and with our Creative Director. I think it stimulates me, and I’m so lucky to have the job that I do because I get to go deep in science, but then also look at art all day and combine the two things and tell stories, so no day is very particular. I’m basically thinking about campaigns, I’m thinking about storytelling on social media, and how we can convey our science in a more in-depth way to our customer, how do we build better technology to serve our customer, etc. I now have about an hour or two a day where I’ve blocked off for doing work because I was in meetings too much. I also try to work out 5 times a week, so trying to fit that in in the mornings is important to me. I’m also obsessed with what I eat; I’m vegan, so making sure that I’m getting a lot of my nutrition, although you can’t get everything you need from food as a vegan, it turns out, which is why I take Ritual.”
Where do you consume media, and do you have any favorite publications, or podcasts?
“I’m really into the Reid Hoffman podcast [Masters of Scale]. I think being an entrepreneur is lonely and it’s really awesome to hear [from other entrepreneurs], Brian Chesky from Airbnb was on there, Sara Blakely from Spanx, and just hearing all of these amazing entrepreneurs share stories and their recipes for success and growth. I think it makes me feel like I’m not alone and I enjoy listening to that when I’m driving to work. I consume media mostly on Instagram, we built our business mostly on Instagram and Facebook, so I’m constantly on there following all sorts of people and accounts and artists, and photography accounts and expanding my visual reference base, not just e-commerce companies.”
What big projects do you have planned for 2019?
“This year we’re completing the life cycle for women’s health, so launching other products that fit [our customer’s] different needs as her life changes and evolves. Last year, we launched a prenatal, but our vision is really that Ritual is just a single vitamin, like a single pair of jeans that you just need different sizes of depending on what you go through, and that our product is an essential for health and for life as well, it’s something that fills the gaps in your diet and has really long-term health benefits.”
WHERE DO YOU SEE RITUAL IN 5 YEARS?
“One of the things I’m excited about is that people sometimes talk about our products as “Ritual” and not as a multivitamin, but just Ritual. I’m excited, in even sooner than 5 years, that we will have created a new product category, totally blowing away everything people previously thought about vitamins, and instead of saying, ‘I’m taking a vitamin’, people will say, ‘I’m taking Ritual’. More than 30% of our customers never regularly took vitamins as adults, so I think there’s a huge opportunity to own a totally different product category similar to Spanx or Kleenex or Xerox, these iconic brands.”
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR YOUNG WOMEN WHO WANT TO START THEIR OWN BRAND OR COMPANY?
“You have what it takes. Don’t ever get discouraged by opinions and trust your own intuition when it comes to decision making and growing your company because your intuition is always the strongest and you’ll forever be the most passionate about your business and what you do. I mentor female founders sometimes, and they always ask me if they need a co-founder, and someone always tells them that they do, and they feel like they can’t start their business without somebody [else], and I think that’s a crutch. I see that lots with female founders, so I think that knowing that you’re enough on your own and you can always hire the right people down the line. Having that confidence is super important.”