Bringing Business to Life: Seed

Seed make a scientifically-validated probiotic and prebiotic supplement to benefit digestive health. We spoke to co-founder Ara Katz about how the product can improve human and planetary health.

What inspired you  to  launch Seed? 

The rise of ‘wellness’ has ushered in a wave of consumer enthusiasm and self-care, but also propelled a category filled with misleading messaging, questionable products, hyperbolic claims, and a shift away from science. We see this especially in our category—with “probiotics” being claimed on everything from potato chips to shampoo and mattresses. Misuse of the term has contributed to consumer confusion and skepticism of what is actually an incredibly rigorous field of scientific study.

I met my co-founder, Raja, when I was pregnant. My pregnancy and breastfeeding experience, paired with our mutual fascination with the microbiome (especially its critical impact during infant development) prompted the question ‘how can we set up a child for a healthy life?’. One question led to many around the possibilities of the microbiome—how bacteria will impact the health of ourselves and our planet—and culminated in a shared vision to set a new standard in consumer health. 

We founded Seed to reclaim the term ‘probiotics’ for science and to set a new standard for precision, efficacy, and education.

What have been your biggest milestones and triumphs until now? 

  1. First and foremost, deciding to become co-founders—we are incredibly symbiotic business partners and the strength of our relationship and quality of our communication is the primary reason for our success to date. 
  2. Assembling the extraordinary group of scientists we work with, who are not only global leaders in their respective fields, but are deeply humanistic in their pursuit of science that has the potential to profoundly impact human and environmental health. 
  3. Launching our consumer brand, Seed, with our flagship Daily Synbiotic—a product that has a meaningful health impact and under a brand that values education and the integrity of how science is communicated. 
  4. Establishing SeedLabs and developing a probiotic for honey bees. 
  5. Running a startup with a 3 year old. That’s probably the biggest. 

What are your sustainable priorities for the  business? 

Once you understand bacteria, you truly understand how everything is connected—that the choices we make extend beyond our body, to our earth. For us at Seed, human health and planetary health are one and the same so sustainability isn’t ‘important’, it’s table stakes. 

We think about sustainability in many ways (some you wouldn’t think would fall under sustainability)—a sustainable business model, sustainable work flows, sustainable solutions to ecological issues, sustainable customer service hours, and sustainable DM hours for Instagram. But what we are most known for around sustainability is our sustainable packaging system and our SeedLabs work—microbial innovations that address various environmental issues. In August 2018, we announced our probiotic for honey bees to protect against Colony Collapse Disorder and American Foulbrood Disease (covered by Fast Company and featured in Time’s Best Inventions of 2018–Honorable Mentions). 

For packaging, each component of our sustainable refill system is designed to protect our Daily Synbiotic and be gentler on our Earth. The system begins with a Welcome Kit, which includes a glass jar and complimentary travel vial shipped in a compostable mycelium tray. Each subsequent monthly refill ships in a compostable oxygen and moisture protection pouch, which is further protected by a compostable and dissolvable corn foam insulator, which you can also eat (it’s delicious)!

We know that international shipping represents 87% of total CO2 emissions from ships and planes each year. If treated as a country, it would be the sixth largest emitter worldwide. So as we worked towards making Seed available globally, we developed our Sustainable Transport Program. After a customer’s first month, they have a choice of continuing with standard monthly refills shipped $10 USD flat rate, or enrolling in our Sustainable Transport Program (90-day refills, billed every 3 months, shipped free—saving international customers $120 USD / year). Together, we can reduce shipment frequency and refill, not land-fill.

As we continue to expand and evolve, we are continuously innovating across our supply chain, packaging, and shipping to lessen the impact on our planet (and with initiatives like SeedLabs, where we may also contribute to solutions).

How challenging has it been to  maintain your eco principles? 

Our eco principles are simply a reflection of our first principles. If you accept the frameworks given, you will always have challenges. If you rethink the framework, you have more freedom. We simply see our efforts iteratively—we are always evolving and never stagnant. Of course, in the near term, our sustainability work (especially with packaging) has higher up-front costs and we often find incredible materials that aren’t quite ready to scale or that take more time. We believe this is the price of innovation, building a moat and adhering to the integrity of what Seed stands for. 

What have been the main prohibitors to  your progress in building a sustainable  business? 

We wish there were more sustainable packaging materials at costs and scale that made sense for fast-growing businesses—and that there were more tools to more accurately measure your footprint and impact. 

Do you feel pressure from your customers  to  be more eco? 

Our community often celebrates our current initiatives, but we know we’re at the beginning and are very self-aware that the word ‘sustainability’ is starting to garner skepticism (rightfully so) and diluted as a result. The pressure for us comes from within—we want to push these areas forward, but it’s not always possible at the speed we’d like. 

What advice would you give  to  anyone hoping  to  launch a sustainable  business? 

Define sustainability for yourself, be transparent about where you are and build accountability into the fabric of your culture.  

Which other sustainable  businesses have inspired you? 

It really depends on the definition of sustainability. There are a variety of ways to judge sustainable efforts beyond being carbon-neutral. The companies that buy offsets and are attempting massive supply chain transformation (i.e. Biogen, BMW, Christian Hansen) are to be applauded, but I also think there are consumer companies like Adidas that help raise consumer awareness around these issues and over time, have an impact on sustainable consumption as well, which is part of the problem not always talked about. We can strive to make things as sustainably as possible, but the most critical strategy for sustainability is that people buy less and the world makes less.

Discover more packaging innovations for 2019.

If you want to learn more about gut health, read our interview with chef Lauren Lovatt.

Check out more from the Bringing Business to Life series.