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An investor told this founder she to choose between launching a company and starting a family. She 'used it as fuel'

Founder and CEO of Ritual Katerina Markov Schneider speaks onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2016 at Brooklyn Cruise Terminal on May 11, 2016 in New York City.
Noam Galai | Getty Images

Katerina Schneider had her investor pitch locked down. She was ready to share her vision for creating a wellness company focused on delivering clean, science-backed, vegan-certified multivitamins made for women, by women, with completely traceable ingredients and radical transparency at its core.

One big question hung in the balance, though. Should she tell investors she was four months pregnant?

It was her pregnancy, after all, that led Schneider on a mission to create a better multivitamin for women. During her pregnancy, she became more aware of what she was surrounded by and purged her home of products that contained potentially harmful ingredients. When she took a closer look at the prenatal vitamins she was taking, she was shocked to find they contained some of the same ingredients she was trying to avoid. A search for a replacement that she felt was up to standard came up empty. So she set off to create her own.

As for the investor meeting, she decided to be transparent about the pregnancy that sparked the idea in the first place. The response was exactly what she needed to hear — but not in the way you'd expect.

"He said, 'You have two choices: You can either grow a company or you can start a family, but you can't do both,'" Schneider tells CNBC Make It. Instead of letting the negative response weigh on her, "I used it as fuel, and that became one of our values as a company: embracing the no's."

Schneider, who holds a degree in applied mathematics and economics from Brown University, started her career in investment banking with Lehman Brothers before getting into the Los Angeles start-up scene. She's led digital strategy and high-level technology partnerships for musicians and brands. This led her to join Troy Carter's investment fund, AF Square, where she managed an active portfolio of over 70 investments including Dropbox, Warby Parker, Spotify, Uber and Lyft.

Simply put, she had the business acumen to realize she was on to something. She didn't have a product or a team just yet, but her idea led her to quit her job and launch Ritual with hopes to disrupt the $36 billion vitamin industry.

"We had so many people telling us 'no' along the way," Schneider says. "A big manufacturer didn't want to work with us early on to create the product we really wanted. Or an editor might say, 'We don't want to write about you because you're a supplement company, and supplement companies are snake oil.' And we'd tell them we're trying to change the industry. So all of these hurdles have helped us build a more meaningful company."

I used it as fuel, and that became one of our values as a company: embracing the no's.
Katerina Schneider
Founder and CEO, Ritual

Facing critical feedback in the early stages of fundraising helped Schneider launch Ritual in 2016. The company had one product: a daily multivitamin that contains nine essential ingredients to fill the gaps in a standard American diet and leave out nutrients people tend to already consume through food. The beaded oil capsule is designed for sustained release to deliver nutrients to the body more effectively. And additives often used to give vitamins a longer shelf life are eliminated from the ingredients list.

Since then, the company's product offering has expanded to include a prenatal vitamin that delivers on what Schneider set out to create when she first became pregnant herself. The health tech company recently launched an independent Apple Watch app for watchOS 6 and has plans to release another multivitamin product designed for women over the age of 50. To date, Ritual has raised $40.5 million in funding and 1 million bottles have been sold. The scale of the company's growth and its ability to attract top talent from major companies helped Ritual be named one of LinkedIn's top start-ups in 2019.

Schneider is also now a mom to two young girls and finds that, like her pregnancy, motherhood has made her a better leader.

"Being a mom is kind of practice for being an entrepreneur," she says. "Moms just have the ability to multitask more than anyone. You're literally doing like a million things at once: simultaneously breastfeeding a child and going to the bathroom, brushing your other kid's hair while you're on the phone closing a deal.

"That's why I think I would bet on any mompreneur."

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