Kat Schneider on creating the easiest pill to swallow (pun intended)

The first time you pick up a container of women’s vitamins, it feels like a step towards a better you. Odds are, you’ve been taking that same multivitamin for awhile now. It’s a routine to pick up that same bottle of gummies every few months or so. But it’s likely that in all of that self-care celebration, the words on the label have been merely skimmed over. What’s actually in the pills that we put into our body every day? Kat Schneider asked that same question when she was pregnant, and she found out something that changed the course of her career. The 30-year old mother is now the founder and CEO of Ritual, a subscription box service providing a new kind of essential women’s vitamin.

Using the nine ingredients that women lack the most, her non-GMO, vegan, and gluten free formula is making us think twice in the grocery aisle. We talked to Schneider about the current climate of the wellness industry, the dark side of Big Pharma, and what it’s like to be a woman in science and tech in 2017.

COOLS: Give us some background on yourself. Tell us a little about your career trajectory, and how Ritual came about.

Prior to founding Ritual, I was working for Troy Carter, who is one of the most inspiring entrepreneurs I have ever met. Formerly Lady Gaga’s manager, Troy is an investor in over 70 companies like Dropbox, Uber, Warby Parker, and more. He’s both a mentor and friend, and actually inspired me to leave and start my own company.

At the time, I was four months pregnant and cared more than ever what I was putting in and on my body. I turned my house upside down in the quest for better ingredients in household products like toothpaste, deodorant, and cleaning products. It was then that I took a long look at my own vitamins, and realized some of those exact same things I was avoiding throughout my house were in the one thing I was ingesting every single day! I knew I had no choice, but to change the industry and create a better product for women than the vitamins that were on the market at the time.

COOLS: What are some of the difficulties that come with launching a health brand without a background in science? 

First, let me say that our brand is deeply rooted in science and is completely evidence-based. We use ingredients that have human clinical studies, and we don’t include nutrients that aren’t well researched.

As an avid researcher myself, that was the brand goal from the very beginning, and why Ritual’s first hire was the leading scientist in the industry, Dr. Luke Bucci. Together, we spent almost a year just researching modern diets and the things women were lacking the most. There were a lot of difficulties along the way, but the biggest hurdle was convincing women that they didn’t need the 20+ things in a typical multivitamin and that they were already getting most of those things from their diets.

COOLS: Compared to most vitamins on the market, Ritual’s Essential For Women is meant to be a more modern picture of what women’s supplements should be. What was challenging about making a vitamin so unique?

We didn’t intentionally set out to make the vitamin so unique; we just set out to do what was right. The first part was identifying what diets were today, not what they used to be 50 plus years ago. The second part was finding nutrients that actually worked and performed optimally in the body. It turned out that most of the nutrients in typical vitamins weren’t in the forms that were best utilized and absorbed by the body. I was shocked to find out that over a third of women couldn’t even properly utilize synthetic folate (folic acid) because of a gene variation. Therefore, we searched the world for the best forms. The third part was identifying the best encapsulation for those nutrients and making it accessible to most women (2 capsules max per day versus 5 or 6). That’s how we came up with our unique beadlet in oil encapsulation. That was challenging in and of itself because we had to append traditional pharma encapsulation methods and get rid of things we didn’t want consumers to ingest like talc, shellac, etc. and replace them with clean label ingredients.

COOLS: In the last few years, subscription based businesses have really taken off. How has this business model helped Ritual as well as its consumers?

Our overall company mission is to help people form healthy habits so they can lead their best lives. If you ask our team, they will all say we are a “habit company,” not simply a “vitamin company.” I think the subscription model plays a big role in how we spread our mission and how we change the way people interact with something that’s ingested daily like vitamins. Dabbling in vitamins here and there, or taking them once or twice a week won’t be impactful.

Instead, the impact and power of taking our product over time and more importantly, habitually, goes well beyond the superficial things all of us want to feel and see like glowing skin, silky hair, healthy nails, improved mood, and increased energy. The true impact and benefit of Ritual is on a cellular level and only builds over time. That’s really what we are after; we call it the foundational health elements.

We believe that our subscription-based model and the experience you receive with Ritual, whether it’s our unique content for subscribers, our reminders, stickers, etc., all leads to forming a long-term habit that will ultimately help you live a better life. We also hope that customers are inspired to form other healthy habits along the way.

COOLS: Ritual uses open source ingredients, so customers can trace where they come from. What makes this important to Ritual’s mission, and why aren’t more vitamin brands doing this?

We wanted to take the idea of transparency and turn it on its head. We believe that traceability is the evolution of transparency. For us, it happened organically. When we were working on formulating our product, I said to Dr. Luke, “Imagine cost is no object when sourcing the ingredients for Essential.” So we searched far and wide for literally the best ingredients all over the world. For example, our Omega-3s from algae (which are both EPA + DHA) were used in research at NASA, and our folate is the most activated form a 6S-5MTHF from Italy. We got so excited by the stories from our global suppliers that we wanted to share them with our customers the way a Michelin chef is excited about every course in her meal.

COOLS: Most vitamins include vitamin C and calcium, but Ritual leaves it out. Why is this?

We spent a tremendous amount of time researching modern day diets, and from our research, firmly believe that supplements don’t replace food, but should supplement diets. It turns out we are already getting a lot of calcium and vitamin C from our foods and that they are readily available to us. We wanted to include in Essential only the nutrients that were tough to get from food alone and what we were seeing as lacking in modern diets from our research.

COOLS: Health and wellness has always been a huge part of women’s culture, but in the last few years it has become extremely popular. How does Ritual add to that culture? What are the main issues with the current health and wellness industry?

I think in a way we are counter to this current culture. A lot of popular wellness today is hinged upon trends, short fixes, and things that are not well-researched. We are the antithesis of this. Instead, we focus on long-term health and things that have clinical evidence behind them.

COOLS: Should more people be taking daily vitamins? 

I think it’s important to take something that is well-researched featuring ingredients that work in the body. Otherwise, taking something daily simply for the sake of taking it and overdoing it can sometimes cause more harm than good.

COOLS: What’s next for Ritual?

A continued, meticulous focus on women’s health. Moreover, we want to be known for being experts in understanding women’s health. We have been growing our scientific team and are investing in things like clinical studies, research, patents, etc. At a higher level, we will also continue to focus on habits and how we can enrich our customers’ lives in more ways than just the physical product we’ve created.

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