Stefan Weitz is untroubled by long odds.
As a former Microsoft director, he was the one who the company turned to whenever it had “a project which probably has no likelihood of succeeding,” Weitz said. Over the course of 18 years, his assignments ranged from building the e-commerce platform MSN Plaza to creating WiFi mesh networks for cities. He also had the herculean task of taking on Google in search and bringing Bing to market.
After Microsoft, Weitz went on to lead technology at Radial, which competes with Amazon and is the order fulfillment engine behind Kate Spade, Ralph Lauren, Sur La Table and other major consumer brands. Radial was acquired by Belgian postal service bpost in 2017.
Weitz’s latest endeavor is inspired by yet another seemingly insurmountable obstacle in his life. The executive suffered from multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that left Weitz feeling like he had the flu. After dosing himself with “super high-end Western drugs” to no avail, Weitz decided to try a different tack.
Working with doctor and celebrity author Mark Hyman, Weitz changed his diet and focused on improving his gut. “For years, almost seven years, I’d take painkillers to keep going,” Weitz said. “Then I changed up my diet, focused on my gut, and three weeks later I’m off all the painkillers. Never taken one since.”
Weitz took his conviction in gut health to launch Jetson, a startup that is launching with a line of seasonal probiotics.
The firepower behind Jetson comes from ’87, a new consumer startup incubator started by Weitz and Kiley Taslitz, a Los Angeles-based media executive who came from the agency Madison + Vine. The incubator is funded by a group of investors from Sterling Partners in Chicago. Weitz is based in the Seattle area, and the team works remotely from all over the country.
The idea to launch ’87 came from an investment in Black Rifle Coffee, a coffee roaster founded by a group of special ops veterans who formed a company after roasting coffee in the deserts of Afghanistan.
Black Rifle was more than a great story. For Weitz, it was a lucrative investment that convinced him that consumer brands with authentic stories are worth funding.
“[Black Rifle] built the company on the back of storytelling, content and authenticity,” Weitz said. “They were able to grow a really passionate audience and a great following through storytelling without having to use a lot of capital.”
Weitz hopes that he can mimic that success with Jetson, a brand based on his own gut-health journey and the latest science.
There has been a surge in research around the role of the gut microbiome in health in recent years, and supplement companies have been quick to cash in. The market for probiotics, which are regulated as food supplements, is expected to be worth $77 billion by 2025, according to Grand View Research.
Some startups have tried to distinguish themselves with science. In the Bay Area, Thryve is creating custom probiotics that are engineered in response to a test of a person’s microbiome. Seattle-based Viome tests users’ gut microbiomes and makes dietary and supplement recommendations based on the results, although it does not sell the supplements.
Jetson sells a probiotic subscription that changes seasonally — the summer regimen is meant to support metabolism and prevent bloating. The pills contain bacteria that have been studied in peer-reviewed research, and the company plans to update the strains as new research is published. The subscription includes daily pills at a cost of $35 per month.
But probiotic pills are just the start for Jetson. “The real goal of the company is to break down the ridiculousness that is health in this country. Make it simple. Make it as accessible,” said Weitz, who is among a cohort of former Microsoft employees that now lead startups. A recent GeekWire analysis found that nearly a quarter of CEOs from prominent startups in the Pacific Northwest once worked for Microsoft.
Each year, ’87 plans to launch no more than one or two startups and make investments in three to four companies. In addition to Black Rifle, the incubator has invested in three other startups, including Grounds & Hounds Coffee Co., Omondi and Fancy Sprinkles.