I have known Ara Katz, informally, over the past ten years. When I was first seeking advice for my own start-up, LEAF, I sat down with Ara to get her advice and best practices on fundraising and running a business. Since then, I have watched her career over the years – always impressed, but never surprised – she is one of those rare talents with an incredible wisdom (at a young age) who is generous with her time and her energy and inspires all around her. I was thrilled when I got to catch up with her all these years later to discuss her latest venture, Seed.
You dislike the word career. Why?
I like the etymology, I dislike the euphemism. Rooted in the idea of a road or course, it has now come to represent yet another set of goals we can judge ourselves for never reaching and a defining factor of our self-worth and identity. One bad professional decision and the perception is that you’ve derailed your life—for many, it represents the path that should be taken instead of the appreciation that a road can be winding and full of detours.
What was the impetus for starting your own thing?
I usually talk about my personal journey where my miscarriage, pregnancy and breastfeeding experience was the impetus for Seed (which, it is), but in a lot of ways Seed is also the manifesto I’ve always wanted to write. While I believe deeply in what we do at Seed and why we do it, I wanted to start a company and brand that reflects what I wish the world was like; the values, the ideals, the way of working, of cultivating community, of waking up every day with the feeling that we are nudging the world forward just a little bit every day.
Why is the microbiome so important?
For centuries, our perception of Self was built upon a foundation of skeletons, organs, tissues, and genes. This framework shapes every aspect of society—the biology we teach, the medicine we practice, the programming we follow. Our entire healthcare system has been erected upon this principle.
But what happens when this framework is flawed? It turns out, we are not what we’ve been taught. We are much more than we think. And to define health, we must first consider our whole selves, not just our human parts.
And by our whole selves, I mean the 38,000,000,000,000 microorganisms (mostly bacteria, but also fungi, protozoa, and viruses) that live in and on your body and constitute approximately 50% of you by cell count—your microbiome.
The microbiome plays a systems-wide role in the human body. Starting with your gut, trillions of beneficial bacteria reside along your epithelial wall and (partly by sheer strength in numbers) maintain your gut barrier integrity, making it difficult for inhospitable bacteria to penetrate. They help maintain an acidic environment to dissuade certain alkaline-loving pathogenic bacteria from taking root. They support the secretion of intestinal mucus and collaborate closely with your gut’s ‘gatekeepers’ (tight junctions) to modulate what should (ie. nutrients) or shouldn’t (ie. undigested food particles or pathogenic bacteria) pass through to the body. And certain bacteria even produce neurotransmitters that stimulate muscle contractions (yes, we’re talking about easier poops).
When we eat, certain microbial genes code for enzymes that break down food we otherwise couldn’t—think complex carbohydrates, like fiber. Through this, bacteria also produce byproduct short-chain fatty acids, like butyrate, which fuel the cells lining your colon and strengthen your protective intestinal mucosa. Butyrate, specifically, has powerful anti-inflammatory effects beyond the gut, reducing oxidative stress (imbalance between free radicals and detoxifying antioxidants) and managing the production of regulatory T-cells (the ones that help your body distinguish between self and intruder).
Beyond this, bacteria also synthesize essential vitamins B and K, defend against E. coli and other intruders in the urogenital tract, and for women, balance pH and protect from unwanted yeast in the vaginal biome. Their health is critical to the health of our entire body—from heart to skin to metabolism to immune function, and this is just scratching of the surface of what we know today and what we will come to know in the coming years as research advances.
This is the New Biology. We can no longer look at ourselves as singular entities, but rather, as walking, talking ecosystems. Like a coral reef, or a rainforest, each of us is teeming with life—thousands of species that evolved through millennia of symbiosis to coexist with us.
These microbial partners define a more connected biology, radically shifting our perception of self and health, and demands a new approach to medicine, hygiene, diet, and living.
What are the 3 things you have learned working for other people that helped you go out on your own?
I’ve never had a real job so hard to say it’s from working for anyone, but I’d say that Seed was born because I felt I had no choice—that this was a way I could make a greater impact and improve lives. I’ve watched others kill themselves for ideas or companies they weren’t passionate about, but when you know, you know.
What are the biggest struggles of being a founder?
Managing and growing a team while working towards a greater mission. Putting the necessary time internally is hard when you have so many external obligations (and a child), but it’s worth it.
What skills have you learned from motherhood that have helped you at work?
- Scarcity of time equals focused productivity.
- Prioritization—the ability to quickly discern what’s most important.
What skills from work have helped you at home (as a mother)?
- Every day, I get to deepen my understanding of science and that has benefited everyone in my life, especially around nutrition and diet.
- Google Sheets mastery. My work and home life don’t work without them.
What is the biggest personal victory you’ve had so far (as it pertains to your work)?
Cultivating an extraordinary relationship with my Co-Founder, Raja. Investors often overlook how critical the dynamics of a business partnership are to the success of any business.
Any big surprises that you didn’t see coming?
- Selling out of our first product so quickly.
- How much the things you need to improve in all areas of your life are especially confronting when you’re accountable for leading a team.
- How meaningful it can be every day to hear how we change people’s lives in our community—I never expected to make that kind of impact so quickly.
How does where you find yourself now, align with where you thought you’d be when you just started or just graduated college? Would you say your journey was a straight line? a heavy zig-zag? or something in between?
My journey has been in concentric circles; always the same center point, but a path of growth and expansion. I’m very proud to have consistently deviated from the straight line.
What is your favorite quote?
I love words too much to have a favorite, but this George Bernard Shaw one is currently on my mind: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
What is one of your favorite books?
I love too many to have a favorite, but an important book everyone should read right now is Yuval Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.
Other than incorporating Seed into your daily routine, what is the health tip you can’t live without?
Eat plants—lots of them—and ask questions; they are possibly the greatest act of service for your body.
Anything else you’d like to mention?!!
Climate change is real.
Find out more about Seed HERE!
photo credit: Jordan Molly Klein
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