Kurt Seidensticker's Career at NASA and Motorola Led To Creating Vital Proteins

February 06, 2018

Kurt Seidensticker wasn't always obsessed with collagen. In fact, before he founded Vital Proteins, he worked at NASA, training astronauts and designing missions, developed cell phone networks, helped create the first internet in the mid- to late-90s and started a fresh-caught fish and steak eCommerce business.

Everything he learned in these endeavors when coupled with chronic pain in his joints, led him to start the clean collagen company that's quickly evolved into a lifestyle brand.

"I suddenly recognized that everything I had done, all the goals I had set in my life before ... I had this epiphany that I was built for this," Seidensticker told me in front of our very first live audience recording of #WeGotGoals. "This was my purpose. This is what all my other goals culminated in."

Vital Proteins' portfolio of clean, minimally-processed products spans from creamers to bone broths to beauty waters, and from matchas to protein powders to supplements. It's hard to believe that only five years ago, Seidensticker was intrigued by the potential benefits of collagen but couldn't find the right product to help him.

Alongside his daughter- a doctor - he said they "distilled research papers and showed that your body really needed a lot of collagen, especially as you age."

"[We] realized [the body] needed probably 20, 30 grams of collagen a day outside of what it could produce itself, outside of what you were getting in your diet."

Finding that he would have to take countless pills a day to add enough collagen into his daily diet, Seidensticker was dissatisfied. He decided to look for another way to take a larger quantity and more easily incorporate the supplement into his daily life.

At that point he became obsessed with creating what would become Vital Proteins.

"[We] probably spent about a year developing and refining some of the processing to develop a larger form of collagen that you can take."

This laser-focus and complete dedication is in line with the way Seidensticker views any and all of his goals.

"When you're thinking about goal setting, it's great to set a goal, [but] the commitment behind the goal is the key. You almost have to become obsessed with it, meaning nothing else matters."

He illustrated this point with a fitness goal. When getting into shape with a personal trainer, Seidensticker made it a hard and fast rule that he wouldn't book on top of his workout hour. Four to five days a week, he was working out.

And even though it was a personal goal, for Seidensticker it's always a little bit business.

"If I don't take that time to set my own personal goals it actually takes away from my ability to lead and run the organization professionally," he added.

Seidensticker and his team spent the past five years growing rapidly, increasing Vital Proteins' product offerings. All of that growth and innovation take trial and error and for any entrepreneur at the beginning of his or her path, he has a key piece of advice: start somewhere, accept that you'll have failures, but to learn from them, iterate and move on.

For Seidensticker, it's those mistakes and iterations are exactly what's made him able to constantly improve.




MU: Awesome! So thank you so much for joining us on the #WeGotGoals podcast and also for a SweatWorkingWeek lunch and learn, Kurt. It's so great to have you.

KS:Thanks for having me. I think this is a great idea. I’m glad I can participate and be a part of it.

MU:Amazing! All right. Let's jump right in because there's a lot a lot to get going on.

So Kurt. Before you started Vital Proteins, which is the clean collagen product company that we know and love you first worked at NASA training astronauts and designing missions. Let that land. And also started many other business ventures including a fresh caught fish and steak e-commerce business. So what connects all of your endeavors?

KS :Yeah it probably starts with my own passion to have challenges and to be able to work through those and kind of create something new. So when I first started off in my career at NASA my goal there was you know every kid probably has this dream to be an astronaut or something like that. So yeah I kind of set the goal like that's what I wanted to do and probably for about four years I worked on becoming an expert in flying the space shuttle and then training astronauts on how to fly the space shuttle. I tend to like—after about three years, what I've noticed in my career is about three years I master what I'm focused on and I go out and I want to seek the next challenge and the next thing in my career. And so I notice after like four years there I was ready for a new challenge. And so it's never just staying in the same place. It's really coming up with a new challenge, a new set of goals focusing on those. If you follow the path of my career there is always not only just taking on new challenges but always fitness and health were always like in my personal passion. And so I went from you know, flying simulators and training astronauts to developing cell phone networks using my software and technology experience that I developed at NASA to going on and doing investment banking and doing the starting up e-commerce businesses working, I actually helped create the very first Internet back in the mid to late 90s. And every time it's always just setting a goal working on it and then looking for the next opportunity. And over time that after doing all this I really wanted to just try to focus on marrying the two of what my passions were personally with fitness with that goal setting, the challenges that I was looking for ,the need to help other people and to be innovative. And so I found myself at Vital proteins so.

MU: Founder yourself at Vital Proteins, really, founded it.

KS: Yeah, founded it.

MU:What specifically brought you into collagen? Like, where did that come into play and say you found the need and here you are .

KS: You know, I was looking for for what to do next in my career.

I had just done an e-commerce business that was the fresh seafood and steaks. And one thing I realized was, it's a challenging business right? We were doing stuff in Hawaii where we actually went down to the harbor got the fish and then that same day then shipped him overnight to people in the U.S. and logistically that's a challenge. You know keeping it fresh is a challenge. And I said, well, I want something a little more—next business is something a little more shelf stable and non-perishable and something that would really help people. And I started looking at a variety of different opportunities and personally in my own life I was going through—aging, right? I was in my mid 40s and I was still trying to run. I've always been a passionate runner and what I noticed was I was no longer able to run every day. And soon every other day became every four days or every five days because I simply wasn't recovering and my joint pain and my knees would start aching after even just a short run of 5K. So I started thinking I was going to change my diet. I was going to actually go on a paleo diet and this is probably in 2011, 2012. And that didn't quite do and I'm trying to look for protein sources because I was still lifting weights are still running and started thinking about what protein I should be taking because really try to get off dairy and get off of whey protein which is like a traditional fitness protein. And I wasn't really into full pea protein or things like that at the time and so I looked at as I started thinking about aging and you start thinking about collagen and you start, I started thinking like OK I know in my knee things are breaking down. And how can I repair that quickly? And I started thinking about college and my daughter who's a medical doctor. We kind of distilled some research papers and showed that your body really needed a lot of collagen especially as you age. So even that even at the age of 25 your body needs a lot of collagen and start to look at how much collagen and your body needed and realized it needed probably 20, 30 grams of collagen a day outside of what it could produce itself outside of what you were getting in your diet. And at the time there were just pills on the market and there was, I started, you know you need to take like 60 pills a day just to meet your body need. I’m like, I'm not going to do that. I have a hard time just taking one or two pills a day. So I started looking for a way to develop a protein that was clean that you could take in a larger quantity that you could incorporate, that you know did not have a lot of taste to it. You can incorporate into smoothies you could incorporate it into coffee and probably spent about a year developing and refining some of the processing to develop a larger form of collagen that you can take incredible.

MU:And all of these really big ventures that you've taken on and companies that you've contributed to the projects you've worked on and Vital Proteins being this huge one now. Can you say that there is one big goal that you've accomplished above the others?

KS: I mean I look at everything I've done in my career and I've always been highly goal oriented and I had this epiphany probably about two years ago as the company is growing, I think we're about a hundred and twenty people now. And I suddenly recognize that everything I had done, all the goals I had set in my life before I had this epiphany that I was built for this. This was my purpose. This is what all my other goals culminated in, right? When when I first started this company too, I actually set out some goals. I said and people kind of laughed at me. I said I want to be have this many products this much revenue in three years. I want to be in these stores. This is, and I want to really get out there and tell people about the product and virtually every every one of those things, hhree years later I'm times like remember that presentation I gave three years ago. Here is where we are. So and that's that's really been helpful. So out of all the goals I think it's a culmination of goals over a whole career, that is, as long as you keep knocking off one of these goals after another and you have, you may not have like a full life goal in place but I always keep short term goals, one one year six months two years maybe. You never know where life's going to take you three or four years down the road. I kind of joked around like I started this company because I was passionate about fitness and running and here I am in probably one of the leading beauty brands in the country now which I did never planned on doing so.

MU:Bonus, hey. So would you say that your process for setting goals in your business endeavors. Because to me it really does make sense to set your five year 10 year goals for business and where you want to set yourself up for financially in your life. How does that translate to your other goals that you have for your own personal well-being?

KS:Well I think in a business perspective, you set goals. You may set abstract goals for 5, 10 years like hey I want to get this degree, I want to be a doctor I want to be have my own business, right? But just saying you want to have your own business in five years is not a concrete goal. That's it makes, you get lost along the way. And what I've learned is you set these, you set these goals up, shorter term goals. They have to be very temporal, meaning they have to be time based. They also have to be specific concrete and with a concrete goals you say OK I want to be—we need to get this done by March, we need to get this done by April we need to get this done by October. And it's a very definitive what needs to get done. Then you can break it down and say, how am I going to get there right. And you get you go from more strategical to tactical. In my personal life. You know I do the same thing as well. I try to do the same thing. Like for example, like this summer I found myself probably over the past year or two working a lot of hours and not really attending to my own personal health. And so I said OK instead of taking a summer vacation I'm going to actually make my number one priority working out. So I hired a trainer. I think from April to October and I worked out four or five days a week one or two hours a day. And that was my priority. It took priority over the other things. So when you're thinking about goal setting it's great to set a goal. The commitment behind the goal is the key right? You almost have to become laser focused and obsessed with it. Meaning nothing else matters. I'm going to achieve that. That's all I'm going to do. So I had a media 9:00. I can't I'm working out. I committed to working out from 7 to 9 in the morning, I’ll be there at 9:15, 9:30 and you really kind of have to adjust and say this is the number one priority and then focus everything else around that. And that's what I found has been very successful in moving your personal life and your professional life forward. I even do that with my kids, my kids are grown now. I say OK I want to make sure I reach out to them once or twice a week. Spend time with them once a week and you know if I find myself getting lost in work I always say oh it's Thursday I'm driving home let's give them a call and see how they're doing and so it's really always having that mental checklist of what your priorities are.

MU:I think about—a little bit of a tangent from a question or a tangent from kind of what you speak about with setting your goals and really attacking them like being obsessed with them but also being able to go with the flow a little bit. Goals always change and the idea of balance is something I think we strive for. So do you have to walk that line between really being like obsessed with getting to your big goal—which I mean Vital Proteins is a really incredibly fast growing company, it’s only been around four years and you can see like the momentum behind it. But then to be able to strike the balance of like living your life and having other outside goals what is that like for you?

KS:It's a tough it's a tough balance right? I think when you're—when you're trying to balance the goals you do have to take time for yourself and what I always realize too is if I don't take that time to set my own personal goals it actually takes away from my ability to lead and run the organization professionally. So what happens is, and I find myself doing it even even though I know that I found myself know not necessarily taking all the time that I needed for myself like you know staying fit eating healthy because I was traveling two, three times a week and it gets to be a problem. And what I realize is is you have to balance it out because you only have so much energy and it has to go to one or the other and if you put all in one, the other is going to suffer. And if you don't put it here you're going to know you're going to end up sacrificing on the other side. So it's always a tightrope balance that you're trying to, trying to maintain for time and energy.

MU:So as you look ahead in the future I'm sure you have some pretty big audacious goals for Vital Proteins. What is the big goal that you want to go after? And how do you plan on getting there?

KS:I think for the company like we're every day I'm grateful for what we've gotten done. I'm grateful for—I  hear a story almost every day of how we help someone. I think our short term goal, you know, couple years, is really to continue that momentum and really help people. I think you know just seeing the show of hands here it seems like a lot of people have heard about us. But I also test the market. I go out there and I talk to people and I try to see who knows about collagen, who knows about the benefits of collagen and I still see a smaller percentage of people who are familiar with that. So it's really just growing the brand— becoming you know I'd like to see our product in many households and it just being a household name and so I think kind of we're focused over the next two years just continuing that momentum and you know you'll see us. I think we just launched in Target this week.

KS: So the goal is just to continue making everywhere available and educating people about the benefits. What I find goal setting as we get to be a large organization—it used to be when we were smaller and you know you go back to 3 years we were 4 people or 16 people. It was very easy to set the goals and have everyone follow those goals and achieve that. When you get to be a larger organization, now it's very hard to even have conversations with everyone in the organization. So one of my strategic goals is to really empower our employees to be entrepreneurial but also set know how to set goals appropriately. We're going through our strategic plan for 2018 right now and you know I let everyone know because it's really a top down like I give big picture but everyone in the organization has to set goals so that we move quickly we understand what we're we're all targeting and it's really the clarification of goals. So it's not like an abstract goal like hey we want to be like the number one lifestyle brand because that's not really measurable it's like how do you how do you actually get to be in that position. So I'm really kind of coaching people in the organization how to how to set those goals how to make them measurable how to make them temporal meaning—OK, by June you want to have that done right and stuff like that. So really for myself as a leader it's really that is one of my goals is how do I effectively communicate that, how do Ieffectively lead the organization and setting goals. And that's my biggest challenge for this year I think.

MU:I mean it's a big task because you like you said you've gone from a team of two or three in just a couple years to like over 120. You're growing really really fast.

Speaker 3:But when you think about how everyone can internalize, like a way to set goals for themselves I’m sure understanding like the way you work and understanding the things that are going to be your best that are understanding how how you can be almost accountable to your goals it's really like getting to know like yourself and that is a really personal process I'm sure. So for all of us that maybe our dream is to start a company ourselves, maybe not but if you have one piece of advice to leave leave us with about writing down your goals or like how to tap into what is going to make you the most effective leader that you can be, what would that piece of advice be?

KS:Yeah I think the single most successful piece of advice that I've experienced myself for what I've learned is—and it goes beyond just see if you want to start a company right? It really has to do with everything personal in your life that if  Meaning, if you have this goal do do three four or five percent of it or try to do it all but do it wrong. You're incorrect right. Figure it out because iteration and failure and improvement, constant improvement—I hate to use just do it. But you know just starting to do something is the key to success. Meaning if you have a business idea don't sit down for a year and a half thinking about it just go do it tomorrow, do the first step that's necessary. If you want to change your fitness routine your diet is right. You know even when you're talking about diet right it's hard because I'm always on the road. I'm in meetings all day long, luckily I have people help me get me food and stuff like that. But you know don't try for you know don't go for a perfect diet get an 80 percent right. Right. And just take one thing out of your diet and do that right. So it's always constant iteration and improvement that I think has been you know the key to goal setting.

MU:I love that. Like start somewhere.

KS: Start somewhere, yep.

MU: Go from there. Thank you so much for being on the podcast. We have loved having you, Kurt.

KS: Thank you for having me. It was great.