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Ara Katz [00:00:09]: Hi, I’m Ara Katz, the Co-Founder of Seed Health, and to me, it’s a matter of curiosity.
Kelly Kovack [00:00:20]: The move fast and break things mantra of Silicon Valley has proliferated start-up culture and has been the fuel of short-term thinking. I’m Kelly Kovac, Founder of BeautyMatter. The pendulum is beginning to shift as brands and their founders are stepping up to tackle big, global problems using the power of business to be part of the solution. In our hyper-connected world, it’s sometimes difficult to slow down and play the long game, especially when your competitors are building against a completely different paradigm. True innovation requires a commitment that often means more friction, more time, and higher costs compared to the industry norms. Ara Katz is the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Seed Health, a biotech start-up that’s developing novel uses of bacteria to improve human and planetary health. She’s happy to play the long game. She believes that it’s what people deserve. When it comes to human health, and the health of our planet, no corners should be cut.
Thank you so much for joining us today. I have to say, I’m a huge fan of what you guys are doing, so when your PR agency reached out, I was so excited that you said yes to being on our podcast.
Ara Katz [00:01:33]: Yeah, I mean, likewise. We look at a lot of podcasts and I think the narratives often feel really similar, or it feels a little like we’re going to do the same thing. But I really love the idea of what matters and I think your background and the kind of conversations and dialogue you’re trying to cultivate are really important. So thank you for having me.
Kelly Kovack [00:01:52]: Well thank you. Yeah, you know, I want to just give the audience a little bit of background. I want to talk about Seed Health, but I know Seed Health isn’t your first entrepreneurial background – or not your first entrepreneurial venture. Can you share a little bit about your background and how you came together with your co-founder to launch Seed Health?
Ara Katz [00:02:11]: Oh sure, I’ll try to do it as succinctly as possible.
Kelly Kovack [00:02:15]: I know, you have quite the list of ventures.
Ara Katz [00:02:20]: I have this kind of like strange kind of eclectic background that is kind of always at this intersection of kind of storytelling, design, and tech. And I think I always knew I would tell stories. It’s certainly, I think, the way that I can make the biggest impact. But really, I started off in more – I’ve produced a lot of films and have done a lot in traditional media. I was very early on in a lot of new media and the beginning of how content was kind of going to live on the interweb. And then I’ve worked in all kinds of very strange, very futuristic kind of tech stuff with the media lab and really thinking about the ways storytelling is going to shape some of the technologies of our future and had really just been in a lot of interesting rooms where it really was that intersection of those three areas. And then the companies that I had started really were a bit more in e-commerce, but looking back when I think about – you try to reconcile some of the decisions you made, wondering why as someone who doesn’t really like to shop that much, I ended up in e-commerce. I think it was very much that it was at the beginning, both of the previous companies I had been on the founding teams of or had co-founded really were at the early beginning of things and I think that has always been very fascinating for me. At my last company, for example, we were one of the first 14 partners to launch Apple Pay, which you know, doesn’t sound like a very – it’s like who cares now, but at the time, one touch purchasing on your phone was actually quite novel. And so I’ve always thought that the phone – there are these kind of zero to one moments in technology, and I think the same thing in storytelling and the same thing in a lot of areas, and I’ve always been really drawn to kind of what’s early and what’s possible. I always knew I would end up in health and science in some capacity; I knew that since I was in high school and I lost my mom and I was first learning how to research clinical trials when she got cancer. And I have had a lifelong fascination with science and technology and particularly around our bodies. I think that knowing that and watching and kind of being that person that people ask questions of my whole life because I was honestly just a really good researcher, I think I knew that’s just kind of where I would end up and I had a miscarriage when I was in the company I had co-founded previously and I resigned shortly after that. And I think it was just a really important existential moment for me that just, you know – not just because the pregnancy ended, but I think it just kind of, like a lot of those things do create moments for you to say, what am I creating? What am I doing every day? What do I want to create? What would be fulfilling to me and also impactful to the world? And what could sustain me? What could I wake up and do for years that would kind of never stop fulfilling me?
And I think the microbiome started to come online for me more just from a curiosity perspective, but then when I got pregnant very shortly after my miscarriage, it really became much more online for me from a personal perspective because I was actually kind of creating a life and the microbiome is incredibly important to the development of an infant and a healthy child. And so I knew about it previously but then it really became so much more meaningful and important to me. And then when I met my co-founder while I was pregnant, I think we really bonded over a number of things, but I think one of them was whatever we did needed to be something that we felt, again, was kind of this zero to one moment. And I think the microbiome and micros, particularly in science and health and certainly how they’re going to shape our world and our future really are that for me. I felt that after all of the experiences and strange, weird things that I’ve worked on over many years, it felt like the place I could apply my lens and that even without being a scientist I could be really impactful. And I think it brought together a lot of things that I think about, the way brands should live in the world and the permission we have as companies to kind of make an impact, and it just felt like it would never kind of ceaselessly be meaningful to both me but also what we could put out into the world.
Kelly Kovack [00:06:19]: I find that so interesting because you launched Seed Health in 2018, right? And I remember I sort of came across it very early on, I don’t remember how, but you kind of – from the launch and kind of outside looking in, you know, I know the company is much more than just kind of a D-to-C supplement addressing the microbiome, but if we just take that kind of consumer-facing moment for a minute, you’ve described the company on the website as a microbial science company developing next-generation probiotic operations and live biotherapeutics. Can you share a little bit about what does that mean? I think the impetus was clear; you were looking for kind of a business that could sustain you, that could do more. But was it sort of the topic and then meeting your co-founder that really sort of coalesced into this brand that you’re building?
Ara Katz [00:07:18]: Yeah, I mean, I’d say I don’t think I thought it would be a business that could sustain me. I’ve never really come from that perspective and I actually, with a very kind of non-traditional business background, I really wanted an area of inquiry to sustain me. I wanted an area like – I think a lot more in terms of the invisible world, which is microbes that live in and on us and you know, weigh more than all matter on earth. That was really what was fascinating to me. I think the fact that certain applications of microbes as probiotics obviously are an extraordinary business and growing very, very quickly, obviously the category I think being propelled today by more evangelism than evidence. But nonetheless, I think it does reflect, I think the fact that the research in the field is proliferating in terms of advancements and understanding and kind of you know, particularly from a scientific perspective, incredibly quickly. The thing for me, and just to kind of explain what we do, we’re a microbial sciences company just really means that we work in all areas of science that touch microbes. And that can mean applications for humans, so for example a probiotic which is the application of thinking about bacteria and microbes and how that can have very measurable impacts on very specific endpoints of the human body. That could be across everything from gut microbiome to the skin microbiome to the oral microbiome to the vaginal microbiome, which is a lot of our women’s health work. And so for us, the reason that we’re a microbial sciences company and not a probiotics company is we look at applications of microbes across various ecosystems, living ecosystems, so that can be in humans and that can be in the environment. So for example, we have a probiotic for honey bees. We’re soon to launch our next big Seed Labs project, which is probiotics for coral reefs, which would mean applying microbes to coral reefs to do a number of things, potentially make them more heat-resistant, so as the temperature of the ocean rises they’re still able to proliferate and still able to thrive, even in kind of changing conditions due to climate change. So for us, we’re sending – we have microbes going up to space this fall to the ISS looking at how microbes might degrade plastics in space, as an example. And so we really call ourselves a microbial sciences company because it’s what we are: we study microbes.
But in terms of the other part of the sentence or mission statement which you read which is not just probiotics but live biotherapeutics, live biotherapeutics are really just microbes that are regulated and go through FDA clinical trials. So looking at the first one that will probably be approved, for example, is from a company called Serious Therapeutics that has developed a therapeutic using microbes, using bacteria, to fight C-Diff infections, as an example. And so probiotic has a very specific scientific term which might be very surprising to everybody doing one Amazon search that finds probiotic pillow cases, tortilla chips, chocolate bars, you really name it, people add a little bit of bacteria into something and call it a probiotic, which by the way, you cannot do in almost every other part of the world from a regulatory perspective. But it is a little bit of the wild west here. That’s what we do: we are a microbial sciences company because that’s really what we study in all kinds of areas for humans and the environment. And so hopefully I explained it well, but happy to dig into any of those areas.
Kelly Kovack [00:10:30]: No, I obviously came across you guys from the supplement and you know, because I am a total branding geek. And you guys launched kind of during the heyday of the whole D-to-C blanding moment. And first of all, the visuals kind of caught me first. And then I kept digging and digging and digging and I think that it really stood out because the brand first, I think, had sort of – it was clearly built in kind of a more traditional way because there’s like this depth that you can only get when you go through sort of that process. But it was an incredibly sophisticated brand, from the visuals to the language to sort of the packaging. But it’s also incredibly approachable. So that’s kind of how – I have to say, I’ve been obsessed and following you guys ever since, bought the products, wanted to go through the process, wanted to get all the emails. But can you share a little bit about kind of the design and branding process? And it makes it even more intriguing to me because this business is so much more than the product.
Ara Katz [00:11:40]: Yeah, I mean look, I think that there’s so many things – and particularly I think social media and so many of the platforms and the way that we currently consume is about speed and it’s about getting people through funnels quickly and it’s about higher quantity, lower quality even though a lot of brands actually make their brands about saying that less is more, and then very quickly they’re just SKU proliferating, right? So, you know, I think that there is a bit of – for me, the brand was like a real reaction, but also like a reflection I think, and I think the company too is just, for me, a reflection of I think you should build things that reflect how you wish the world was and I think that’s what I do and that’s what we do. And so that doesn’t mean shortcuts. There’s so many kind of mantras and tenants that we kind of talk about. I think one is this notion that friction is the future, I think it’s the one-night stand, right, versus the longer-term relationships. They both have their value, but when it comes to human health I think I’d take the depth and the meaning over some of the quick fixes, which I don’t think really are necessarily changing much. I think for me, it came out of also a response to what I was seeing happening in kind of whatever the $4.3+ trillion-dollar wellness industry that I think does change people’s consciousness and make them more attuned to their health and their body. But I think we end up making a lot of decisions from marketing materials for our bodies. I think that we are very, very cognizant that we sell a product. I think we’re very bad sales people – I very rarely, honestly, very rarely talk about it sometimes even though it is obviously one of the more impactful things that we do for people’s health. But I think because we feel there’s so much, you know, science needed to find a way to change the way that it’s communicated. It needs an aesthetic. You know, the things that are pretty are often the things that don’t have science, and I thought that was such a strange dichotomy with all the beauty of the human body and the extraordinary design, that somehow the aesthetic of science became something that was uninteresting from a brand perspective. IT was conflated with, like, medical pharma, like there’s idea that there’s this kind of east versus west or this modern versus old, or whatever kind of otherization, I think has become the dichotomy and confirmation bias of how we think about human health. And so I think there are a lot of things. I think science has also lost its spirituality, which I think spirit science is an extraordinarily spiritual discipline. I think it’s probably one of the most purest areas that was founded on this idea of inquiry and of knowing the world actually without a prescriptive framework, which I think many other frameworks offer or market themselves as.
So I think between kind of wanting to change the aesthetic of science, I think wanting to reveal the microbiome as this kind of new lens and beautiful new ethos through which you could make decisions, you could better know yourself, you could better understand your connectivity to the natural environment, you could understand that we are just one species, that human and environmental health are not inextricable. So I think you see a lot of things show up in the brand that actually really call, and/or kind of invoke this notion of nature, which is not just the pretty Instagram new skincare genre of brands that do that, but actually really from a microbial perspective, it’s true. You know, there are so many things between the copy – you said sophisticated, and I think certainly there’s a sophistication to it, but I think there’s also we’re not going to dumb something down. I think what we try to do is work from this notion of nerd, nerdier, nerdiest. So there’s always a door for someone to walk through, but it usually is through this lens of we’re not going to tell you what to do, we’re not going to tell you how great our fish is, but we’re going to teach you how to fish. I always knew if we could change and create on Planet Seed, if the currency was education, and thinking about education as agency, I knew that we could create our own universe to say, this is how we wish the world was. This is what we wish. We think in human health, we make too many decisions from not understanding our bodies.
And so for us, the human microbiome, of course, is our area of science and research and drives all of the things we do on the science side, but really, it’s a narrative device to say, could you know yourself better? Could you make decisions from this more whole understanding of yourself? And could our design evoke and provoke in all the right places, in all the right moments, kind of show you a little bit about also what we care about and how that could reflect a brand and value system that goes way beyond whether or not you buy a product from us. That was some of the things. And then of course in our marketing, maybe you say we’re sophisticated, but we win awards for campaigns like “Give A Shit,” which is people taking photos of their fecal matter. So I think we just try to show up in Trojan horse science, into pop culture in the right moments, and try to stay integritous to the science in other places where particularly if something is going to go into someone’s body, we’re of course pretty serious about that. I think we kind of shapeshift according to the channel and who we’re speaking to, when and where, but for the most part, it really came from some of those core ideas.
Kelly Kovack [00:17:02]:
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I think I was personally drawn to the brand because it wasn’t dumbed down, it was really smart, but it didn’t feel so smart that I couldn’t understand it if I spent enough time with it. But then there were these other points where it was very – you didn’t get lost in the science in the process of figuring out what you guys were about. But I have been fascinated about – I’m like, who are the people behind this brand? Because it is so – it is not easy to navigate between science, and I would say that a lot of your visuals, they do have this kind of spiritual quality to them, especially the photography. And then to marry that sort of seamlessly with a campaign, “Who Gives a Shit?” First of all, you have to have the guts to trust yourself to do that, but yet it all hangs seamlessly together. You touched on education a bit. The other thing that I found incredibly compelling was your concept of open-sourcing information. So, clearly you’ve spent a lot of time researching sustainable options for packaging, and then you go and share them on your website with everyone, which I love. There’s that, and then you also sort of tackled the issue of influencers and your attempt at making sure they were educated, and that if they were going to speak about your brand, that the information was correct. And I think you called it “Influencer University” or something. And you open-sourced Seed University, yes. And you open-sourced that as well. And I was like, I’m going to send them an email and see if they really are going to share all of this. And in fact, a day later, I did. So I find it – I really do think it’s kind of the way forward, like we can only make the world a better place if we collaborate. But how did that sort of open-sourcing concept come about? And it seems to be an important part of your brand.
Ara Katz [00:19:49]: I mean, look, we are a science and biotech company, so there is of course a place where IP, or intellectual property, of course is appropriate. Obviously, every day – today we wake up to some new company that has taken something. I try and like, I swallow my, “ugh, that hurts, I spent so much time creating that,” and just going to whatever that – that euphemism of, you know, mimicry is flattery, and I try to remember that. And of course I try to remind the team of that because of course it’s really demoralizing when we see some of that stuff. But I also remember those are also, I think, little nudges also for the world to move forward, and if people find those things inspiring, great. I know that no one can replicate the science we do. I know what our IP position is in some of these areas. However, on the open source side, from the brand perspective, again, not to – I probably will end up sounding more spiritual on this podcast than others, but there is that notion of scarcity versus abundance. And I think that – I just, we love creating. I think collaboration – we partner and collaborate with so many different types of partners across every area of our ecosystem. And I do think that there is an aspect of collaboration, but I think that there’s an aspect of – there’s a lot of disparities, certainly illuminated by the last year, around health, and I think that our first product is not inexpensive, it’s very expensive to make. We certainly don’t see anywhere near the margins that certainly many other companies that don’t do a lot of the work that we do enjoy. But nonetheless, it is not affordable to everybody. Knowing that, I think there’s a certain aspect that we’re very – and particularly as a subscription and a membership, where a lot of people do put things behind a paywall, even media platforms today, which of course I understand as they try to figure out – like everyone’s trying to figure out a business model that makes sense and you want to create value for your community.
But I also think there’s an aspect of when you know the things that we know and we have access to these extraordinary scientists, we don’t feel that’s something someone should pay for. And I think open-source – and I think there’s certainly areas where that maybe doesn’t always serve everybody, but I do think you have to feel really confident in what you’re doing to know that I’d rather someone else be inspired and learn something and figure out how any of the things and ideas – even if you fundamentally disagree with it, it just gives you something to disagree with and create your own. It’s still a catalyst for innovation and creating. And I think we just kind of come from that place of – I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant, but we have a lot better other things to do than worry someone taking our influencer program. I hope we change the future of women’s health. You know what I mean? I don’t – those things are not what keep us up at night. And people sometimes forget – you said, “I wonder who the humans behind this brand are.” And I think a lot of people forget that there’s a lot of beauty and fulfillment and meaning that come when your team works hard on something and then you also can give it to the world. And you can’t forget, with all of the brand stuff you see out in the world, you have to remember there’s humans also creating that and there’s something that they want out of it too, right? There’s something that you can give them. And I think when we give those things to the world, it feels really good. It feels awesome that we can share the things that we get to learn every day with more people. And I don’t think it was ever – we never had a meeting that was like guys, the topic of this meeting is should we open-source things. Should we? It was just like – it was never even a question, to be honest, it was just kind of like how we do things.
Kelly Kovack [00:23:17]: Yeah, no, it is very clear that so much of what you do comes out of intent rather than some big marketing strategy, which is why I think I don’t even want to use the word authentic, but you can tell there’s people who care behind the brand. There’s so many brands that are very soulless, and I think that the brand that you’ve built is kind of full of soul and is really engaging. And taking the past 12, 18 months kind of into perspective, I think what’s interesting is science has kind of become cool again. So you guys were sort of positioned very well to capture that moment.
Ara Katz [00:23:55]: Yes, it depends on who you follow on Instagram, but yes. You know, look, the last year was a real exercise for us in really staying true to everything that we stand for. We turned off our ads for a very long time because we saw so much opportunism and so much language around immune-boosting and really misleading opportunism in our categories and adjacent categories. And honestly, we just wanted nothing to do with it. And so we turned off our ads and we said, well, how can we show up in the world? We did a lot of interesting things. I think we were one of the first people to get certified to be able to bring in PPE from APac, from China, which we very quickly distributed to a lot of frontline workers that did not have access to PPE at the time. We built these online courses – we built these Instagram courses and figured out how we could use people at home and being done with their Netflix queue as opportunities for engagement, interaction, and just kind of being with our community. And we tried to show up and talk about misinformation and talk about misleading information about COVID. And we worked with the people who are behind The COVID Tracking Project. Those moments actually show you whether or not you’re hollow or have a solid core, right? In ecology, resistance is kind of the definition of health for an ecosystem, it’s not whether or not you ever get sick or not, it’s just whether or not you can rebound and maintain health even in the face of other stressors. And I think it was a really beautiful year – very challenging, but really beautiful year that I’ll certainly never forget. And it makes you incredibly grateful for the people you get to do this with, you know?
Kelly Kovack [00:25:29]: No, I agree. I mean, it made everyone slow down and you were forced to do things in a different way. And so while it was a really tough year and I think it’s still – we’re not out of the woods yet, I think there are so many learnings. And I think brands that had the ability to just sort of settle into it and let it unfold and be there for their communities really the long-term investment for that, you can’t even quantify it.
Ara Katz [00:25:57]: It’s a really nice way to put it. I think it also showed us, like, it’s really nice that our business doesn’t rely on us just accelerating things. We got to accelerate and move so much research forward in ways we never would have gotten to because of the – I don’t want to call it distraction, but the part of our business that does require a good amount of attention from the commerce side. So I think it really let us lean into so many of the things that actually could be so impactful and let us accelerate them in a way that probably wouldn’t have accelerated in exactly the same way without it. And it forced the kind of leadership and hard work and learning all the things you’re really not good at. It was vulnerable, it was exposing. We had a couple of people on our team that went through pretty extraordinarily challenging family situations, and it put us all in a place of showing up for each other that I really don’t think we would have had otherwise.
Kelly Kovack [00:26:49]: Yeah. I mean, you know, there are – most of your, if we’re looking at kind of the commercial side of the business or the product, in this category obviously it’s a huge opportunity, so it’s gotten incredibly competitive. But a lot of people show up a little bit light on the science and the substantiation. Do you even worry about competing against them? Or do you just kind of show up and know that the science matters and you’ll find the consumers that are right for your brand?
Ara Katz [00:27:22]: Ugh, I wish this wasn’t going to be public.
Kelly Kovack [00:27:27]: Well, we can get your real answer off the record.
Ara Katz [00:27:34]: No, I just – no, I just know every investor is like, I’m sure there’s a big strategy, and I don’t mean to – of course we’re incredibly strategic people. But we know what’s on the horizon. We know that the clinical trials and the end points that we’re looking at for, let’s just say our core product over the next year, take that as an example, fundamentally changes the way that this product currently is marketed because it will start to look at aspects of health and behaviors that happen, whether it’s antibiotics, after you drink alcohol, things that really expand what I guess in strategy language would be the addressable market, and we have our IBS trial at Harvard underway. And that’s just on this one product that we have that we sell today. And because I also know where our pipeline is headed – we’re really not staying in supplementation, that’s where we started, and we have a pediatric symbiotic that we’ll launch. But outside of that – everything after that actually moves towards the other ecosystems of the body. And I think for that reason, it hasn’t felt, today, like because we know what our strategy is long-term, we have not gotten super bogged down with the exact – the single one-to-one competitors because I think we know the efficacy of the current product. We know that value that it’s kind of creating in people’s lives. We know the channels that we are marketing on really work and create an awesome, sustainable business that allows us to kind of move these really important fields of research forward. And because I think we know the approach that we’re taking in these various areas, conditions, obviously some things on the therapeutic side, some things on the probiotic side, I don’t want to say we don’t think about competition, but I do think that we – I think we have a healthy confidence in the product that we’ve created and developed and additionally what the roadmap is for that specific product that while we can’t talk about some of those things today, it’ll really fundamentally change the positioning of it in the future as probably being one of the best in the world categorically.
Kelly Kovack [00:29:37]: I find it really interesting because we kind of have gone through this period where people raised a ton of money, moved really fast, they were all looking for this unicorn status and how fast can I exit this business, and listen, you’ve built a number of businesses – it takes a long time to build a business. You cannot do it in three years. You can’t build a brand in three years. And I think what’s really interesting in the beauty space, some of the most interesting businesses now that are getting funded are brands that have been around 20, 25 years. Paula’s Choice just sold today for $2 billion. And I’m like, yes! Those – it takes a long time. And so I think that there’s – we’re starting to see brands and businesses like yours that have this long-term view, and it’s really refreshing and I think the consumer benefits. And in your case, I mean, the amount of research you’re doing is really exciting. And I would love to know some of the work you’re doing in Seed Labs, like you mentioned the honey bee probiotic and the coral reefs. What are some of the projects that you’re super excited about? I guess product – consumer product related.
Ara Katz [00:30:51]: Yeah, of course. So for Seed Labs, just sort of for anyone listening, just to clarify what Seed Labs is, it’s really just our environmental division where we look at kind of novel applications of bacteria and how they could address some of the really big challenges that are being caused mostly by what’s called anthropogenic climate change, which is the human-induced part of climate change. So where we started was we first created this probiotic for honey bees which impacts their immune resilience against neonicotinoid pesticides, which are, as the name implies, pesticides that are really nicotine-based and have nicotinoids that are really addictive for bees but also destroy their gut microbiome and therefore makes them more susceptible to colony collapse disorder or American foulbrood disease, which it’s lesser known than colony collapse disorder but really important because it’s where a lot of the larvae die, it causes a lot of death in larvae. And so we started with this probiotic that started as a pancake, this kind of biopatty that you kind of put into the hive, which is combined with their traditional nutrient sources that a lot of farmers or honeybee cultivators use, and then we realized the spray would be more impactful. So really what we’re doing now is looking at if the spray can be used just as effectively just because it’s easier to administer and has less kind of vulnerability, stability, and other stuff. So that was the first thing, and we really started to see, and have seen, really interesting data. We’ve published about it a few times looking at that it actually does increase the immune resilience of these honeybees against pesticides, which is really exciting.
As I mentioned earlier, we’re going to be starting to look at marine – the ocean microbiome and looking at the microbiome of coral, which not dissimilar to honeybees have a huge impact on the health of the ocean, if you think about the food chain, just like honeybees are our greatest pollinators, coral are the honeybees of the ocean. They’re very important, they play a big role in the health of oceans, and I’m sure as you know, we’re losing them, and it’s creating all kinds of systemic problems in the ocean. And so what we’re looking at is can we use microbes, can we apply probiotics to coral reefs? The first test started in the Red Sea recently with an incredible scientist, her name is Dr. Raquel Peixoto and she’s Brazilian but she’s living in Saudi so that she can do her work in the Red Sea and that’s where the first field tests have started.
And then we also, I think as I’ve mentioned, we have some microbes going up with the media lab with MIT going up into space to the ISS to be looking at how they could potentially degrade plastic, which is really interesting and a lot of people are looking at microbes for plastic degradation, so that’s one of our big projects. And then we’re also starting the development of our own biomaterials, so looking at how we could take parts of our waste stream from our supply chain and start to use the broth or the waste that comes from either fermentation or from some of our other materials and how that could kind of then be created into kind of new polymers or materials that could be printed or applied for core packaging or primary packaging. And some of our other packaging work does happen under Seed Labs even though it’s not all the development of our own biomaterials, but we definitely are scouring the world. We have a partner who is on a yearlong residency with us and we look at all kinds of really interesting materials from a packaging perspective, because of course that’s one of the areas that’s one of the worst offenders as these brands scale.
Kelly Kovack [00:34:10]: Yeah, no, I find the packaging work, obviously, really important. I think another thing that came out of the pandemic is the knowledge, in a very real way, that businesses need to show up in the world and do good. They need to do right by their people, they need to do right by their communities. They need to be part of a solution, not create more problems.
Ara Katz [00:34:35]: Yes. As long as people also recognize that companies are just also people. So I think it goes both ways. It was a big show the fuck up moment for everybody.
Kelly Kovack [00:34:47]: It was. And so I feel like you can’t really launch a company if you’re not – you have to be mindful to the world we live in and materials and the packaging play such a big part in that. And I feel that especially in the beauty industry, formulation and ingredients have come a long way in the past ten years. The packaging sort of has been lagging behind, but I feel like there’s finally momentum there to make significant change.
Ara Katz [00:35:16]: Yeah. I mean, look, like everything else, I mean, and Peter Thiel talks about this really well, I’ve certainly said the term “zero to one” enough times people probably think it’s a drinking game. But so much of this I think is in Silicon Valley what they refer to as “tinkering,” present company included because there’s certain things that systemically are very challenging to solve for. So a great example is you can change the formulations, but stability is what drives the industry, and the reason that you need to hit stability is that people need to sell things at such scale that Sephora can store it for longer and know that the product is not going to be compromised, and you have to be able to certify that. So when you start to unravel the why of so much of this stuff, it starts to just – it always speaks to the fact that along the way, we’ve gotten so many things wrong systemically, I mean, we see this with so many things that have come out of the past year, whether it’s with social justice, with human rights, with women’s rights. I mean, when you start to unravel these things, there’s no like, one social media campaign or one hashtag or one idea that really, without going back and saying – you have to say a system doesn’t work and then principaling and saying, what was it designed to do and how can you redesign it? But very few things, like we’re probably not going to change the entire way that the entire global beauty industry works. And so what we say is, well, what are the ways that we could show up for ourselves in a way that we feel good about? What are the things that we can do that signal to some of the bigger companies that are probably capable of bigger global impact? Because what happens is that the little companies make the consumer aware of what the big companies are doing, and then the big companies are forced to show the fuck up. And then that change takes another five to seven years because those are cruise ships versus the little speedboats that get to run around and buy MLQs with minimums that are just more feasible that aren’t looking at global scale. And it really does come back to the fact that it is really challenging to change some of these long-held systems if you also are prescribing to the same KPIs and metrics that those same systems were built on. And until you can really change some of those ideas, which I think there are some companies that really do challenge that, and there’s new investors that are challenging that too, or say they’re challenging that, I should say – at least their websites do. I mean, yes, you’re absolutely right, the packaging has come last, but there’s reasons for that that are not just oh, there aren’t good PHAs available. And then of course there’s the whole – a lot of people don’t even know if bioplastics are better than plastics. So what happens is it becomes marketing.
Kelly Kovack [00:37:56]: Yeah, I mean, it is an incredibly complicated problem to solve for. And I think that people are looking for quick marketing soundbites and I’m doing it right and you’re doing it wrong. But in effect, there’s no perfect solution and it’s complicated and it takes tinkering to solve.
Ara Katz [00:38:15]: Yeah, and we’re too ready to just cancel. You know, I think we just cancel people and we don’t even ask the questions. There’s complexity to some of these things, there’s the notion that just changing something is easy, we’ve just gotten to this real cancel place that means that we can just dismiss anything that doesn’t fit our idea of the world without understanding. If anything, I’d rather reduce confirmation bias. I think that’s probably one of the greatest polluters of our time, more so than some of the things that are perceived to be bad, but really the way that they got to be perceived to be bad were through marketing campaigns, not because they’re necessarily as bad as they’re being told to us. You know, it’s saying like, “Don’t let your kid eat Dihydrogen Oxide.” Well, when you say water like that, it sounds scary. So I think we just – we’ve stopped really asking questions. We’ve really lost our curiosity, and we’re just so quick to decide oh, it says sustainable, it must be better. No one wants to know well, how? Is it? Does it actually? What does that mean? And I wish – that probably would be a greater solution than maybe some of the tinkering that’s happening with packaging.
Kelly Kovack [00:39:21]: Ara, I honestly think I could talk to you all afternoon. It is such an honor to have met you because I’m truly a fan of the brand and now I can – I no longer have to worry about who the humans are behind the brand, now I know one of them.
Ara Katz [00:39:34]: Well, you know one of them, but I am one of a very wonderful, talented team of humans.
Kelly Kovack [00:39:39]: Yeah, that’s clear. And I’m super excited to watch how all of this is going to unfold. I know that you just raised a pretty substantial Series A, so you must have a lot of exciting stuff in the pipeline.
Ara Katz [00:39:50]: Yes, thank you and thank you for all your thoughtful questions and for the awesome conversations that you’re putting out into the world. So thank you.
Kelly Kovack [00:40:01]: For Ara, it’s a matter of curiosity. As a serial entrepreneur, her work has been at the intersection of tech, media, and consumer brands. For Ara, it’s a matter of curiosity. As a serial entrepreneur, her work at the intersection of tech, media, and consumer brands provides a unique perspective that fuels Seed’s bold vision to start advances in research that reveals the vast potential of microbes to transform how we live and care for ourselves, our children, and the environment. Appearances are sometimes deceiving. At first glance, Seed Health could appear to be a brilliantly crafted consumer wellness brand, and it’s certainly that, but it’s so much more. Ara is using her ability to craft a story and serious brand building chops to build a business already making a profound impact. At Seed, they don’t reference science; they do science, elevating its beauty and making it cool. So in the end, it’s a matter of curiosity, and that’s what matters. I’m Kelly Kovac, see you next time.
Ara Katz [00:41:12]: Hi, I’m Ara, and for me, it’s a matter of curiosity. And I say that because I think the world needs better questions and I think we’d know each other better and create better solutions and collaborate better with one another if we were all just more curious.
Kelly Kovack [00:41:29]:
It’s A Matter Of is a production of BeautyMatter LLC. You can find more content and insights on www.BeautyMatter.com
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