How a Mother-to-Be Quit Her Career to Start a Multimillion-Dollar Company
You spent your 20s working toward building your dream career, but now that you’re in your 30s, what do you do when you’ve, well, changed your mind? Or maybe you never quite figured it out and you’re now ready to commit to something you’re passionate about, whether it’s a job, a city, or just a new way of life. To celebrate the career changes that can come at any age, we’re debuting a new series, Second Life. Each week, we’ll hear from women who got over their doubts and fears and made the biggest changes of their lives.
What do you do when you’re four months pregnant and can’t find a vitamin brand you trust? If you’re Katerina Schneider, you quit your job as venture partner and create one. Named on the 2014 Forbes 30 Under 30 list for venture capital, Schneider managed an impressive portfolio of 70 innovative tech startups, including Spotify, Uber, Dropbox, and Warby Parker, before she took the leap to launch her own: a game-changing multivitamin brand called Ritual.
“I need to start a company in this space,” she said. “[The vitamin industry] is an $80 billion industry with one out of two people taking something every day. But most people don’t know what they’re taking or what’s inside.” To find out how she went from venture capitalist to vitamin mogul, we met with the Los Angeles–based Schneider over matcha and chai lattes (where the first thing she did was read the label of Lush Gourmet’s lavender and coconut almonds) to chat about what it’s like to raise a newborn and start a new company at the same time.
MYDOMAINE: What inspired you to start Ritual?
KATERINA SCHNEIDER: I was four months pregnant with my daughter. I was throwing out everything in our house, from cleaning supplies to deodorant, just trying to avoid questionable ingredients. Then I came across my prenatal vitamins. I looked at the label and didn’t know what half of the things were. I found some of the same ingredients that I was avoiding around the house in the prenatal vitamins that I was taking every single day. I called up a bunch of friends who were also pregnant or had kids and asked what vitamins they take, and nobody could remember their brand. I got answers like the brown bottle with the yellow cap, but not a brand, and no idea what was inside or what certain things did. I just found a lot of confusion.
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MD: What were you doing at the time?
KS: I ran a fund of over 70 companies, everything from Dropbox to Warby Parker and Spotify.
MD: Were you able to start Ritual while you were pregnant?
KS: Yes. Definitely not the most ideal time to start a company. We raised just over a million dollars on the idea of reinventing the vitamin from the ground up, and in the last few months, we raised another three and a half. So close to $5 million in funding—while pregnant and also having a kid, which is harder than being pregnant, I have to say.
MD: Having children must motivate people, right?
KS: I felt a lot more creative and more determined to leave a lasting impact on the world, not just for myself, but for the baby that I was bringing into this world. It’s pretty crazy because my husband also started a company at the same time. So we both started companies while raising a baby together. I think for my husband, it’s the same thing. He’s so much more passionate about what he’s building now than ever. Obviously, there is a financial drive too: keeping a roof over your head and sending them to school in Los Angeles. But I think there is also an emotional element as well.
MD: From start to finish, how long did it take?
KS: About a year and a half. Ultimately we built a brand around traceability, simplicity, and fair price. Those are our three pillars.
MD: What’s in the multivitamin?
KS: When we looked at what women actually need, it turned out it was only nine essential things. These are the nine ingredients we are not getting enough of every day. It was about giving people fewer things in the right forms. We searched the world for the best forms of those nutrients. It was my commitment to create a vegan, non-GMO product not just for vegans, but for people who care about their health.
MD: What sets Ritual apart?
KS: On our site, you could literally trace every ingredient, specifically to the scientist behind every nutrient, where it’s coming from in the world, why it’s there, and interviews with every scientist. We’re super proud of the suppliers we have. We hope that it impacts food and personal care. Traceability is exciting, and I think it’s what sets it apart.
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MD: Were there any challenges?
KS: The hardest part was the encapsulation. The intention wasn’t How do we make a beautiful pill? It was How do we combine oily ingredients, keep them in their original form, and not process them and turn them into a powder? Which is not the way they’re found. And so we thought we have to keep these in their oil form. We’re the first to have this kind of encapsulation. The dry ingredients are dry. The oil ingredients are oil. They’re kept separate. They don’t interact.
MD: Did you also have a science background?
KS: I think everyone who joins our company becomes a researcher. Everyone in our company is so passionate about science and health that it’s infectious. It makes you a researcher. It makes you questions things. You learn a lot. I have always been passionate about science and health, but I’m not a scientist.
MD: Are you still investing?
KS: No, I’m full-time. We actually have an office on Melrose. We have 10 people. We’re growing. I do a little angel investing sometimes, but not as a job.
Have you thought about changing your career? Is there anything holding you back? Share your experience with us below.