Keeping a rapidly scaling startup like Indigo fully stocked and firing on all cylinders is no small feat. Fortunately, Gabriela Rodriguez Vasquez (pictured with her husband, Gabriel) and Fettah Kosar are more than up to the task.
In countless and often unseen ways, this dynamic duo contributes to Indigo’s daily operation with superlative organizational skills, constant vigilance, and an unshakeable sense of humor. Whether it’s ensuring a steady stream of supplies to office and lab, maintaining safety through gentle reminders to wear personal protective equipment, or warding off weather-related challenges—like a malfunction in the building’s cooling system triggered by Boston’s recent heat wave—the two run a tight ship. It’s a metaphor that makes a lot of sense, given that Gabriela earned top marks at naval school and Fettah has brought his Turkish military background to bear on Indigo boot camps, which he breezes through, sometimes twice a day.
In truth, “dynamic” doesn’t really do justice to this duo—the two are in near-perpetual motion—but the other day, I managed to pin them down long enough to ask them about their experiences abroad and at Indigo.
The following Q&A is the first installment of a two-parted piece. Stay tuned for the second half of our conversation, coming soon and featuring Fettah!
CAN YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND AND WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO INDIGO?
I was born in Venezuela, in a city very close to Caracas, which is the capital of the country. I lived there for around three years, and then I moved to a very small town, very far away from the capital, and I grew up there.
I went to a navy high school. All my family were worried—they thought I was too soft-hearted for that kind of a strict environment. It was an all-day school, so I was there from 5 am to 6 pm, and some days until 9. Through the fifth year, you have shifts, because as you get seniority academically, you must “command” everyone that has lower ranks than you. When you’re in fifth year, you have to run the school along with the higher administration. During that fifth year, I had to be there pretty much from 4:30 am until 11 pm. It was crazy!
After I graduated, I wasn’t sure what to do exactly, because while I had a military background, and my family kind of wanted me to go that path, I had also a strong interest in science. I finally decided that I wanted to try the civilian life—the “normal” life. I liked military school, but I wanted a more challenging academic environment. I went to the best school—it was like the MIT of my country, in the capital. I started in electronic engineering. We were building circuits and things like that, which was fun the first couple weeks, but I grew a little bored. I decided to move to biology; when I started biology, it was…it was like love at first sight.
After the first year of my studies, I was an undergrad teaching assistant of several courses: plant biology twice, microbiology once, mycology twice, and then marine ecotoxicology, too. It was an amazing experience; I loved that I could be involved in the lab work. When I was a research assistant in marine ecotoxicology, the supervisor of the lab offered to fund my thesis. That was where I met Luis, who works here [at Indigo] now. His wife was my marine biology professor. I did my thesis there on the effects of benzo[a]pyrene on coral reefs. It was interesting because the area where I took my samples from, the coral reef, was an area where there was high traffic of ships that transport oil, so we wanted to know—in case of spills—how marine populations would be affected by that toxic compound. My last year of college I also completed a diploma program in leadership and management.
Before I finished my dissertation, my husband got an offer here at Tufts University, so I wrapped up all my studies and moved to the U.S. in February of 2013. For a month, I was enrolled in an online English course, but it was too slow for me—I needed to practice and talk to people! I practiced my language skills until I felt comfortable enough to start looking for a job. That’s how I got involved in education. I was an infant teacher for a couple of years, then a kindergarten teacher. I enjoyed my teaching position; it was very rewarding. They [the kids] really get attached to you, and it was amazing because I was able to do science experiments with them.
DID YOU HAVE MUCH EXPERIENCE IN AGRICULTURE BEFORE THIS? WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO AG TECH?
Well, I’ve always loved plants, and as I mentioned before, I was a teaching assistant twice for a plant biology course. I think plants are amazing biochemistry-wise. They do pretty much everything! They live by themselves, they make their own food, their own energy…I just think they’re very interesting from a biological standpoint, and they’re very important for us to keep living on a healthy planet.
YOU AND FETTAH OVERSEE SO MUCH OF THE OFFICE AND THE LAB. WHAT’S A TYPICAL DAY?
It always varies, but I have a philosophy, which is: I need to get done everything that needs to get done today. I don’t like to leave anything for the next day. And I work hard to accomplish that! I do walkthroughs to make sure that the lab is running smoothly, that all the equipment is running how it’s supposed to run. And I also ask myself, ‘How can we improve this? How can we make it better?’ I hear other people’s concerns and I take them seriously and address them as soon as I can. I do the ordering for the labs, so I get many notifications in my email about ordering lab reagents, small equipment, things like that. I also have some involvement with the finance team and managing our ERP system.
DO YOU THINK YOUR MILITARY BACKGROUND SHAPES YOUR WORK STYLE? I’D SAY YOU OWN THE UNOFFICIAL TITLE OF INDIGO’S SPEEDIEST WALKER—WHICH IS SAYING SOMETHING, SEEING THAT EVERYONE HERE MOVES AT A PRETTY QUICK CLIP!
Yeah, I think it’s sort of a life philosophy—I feel like I never can slow down. I am very active, and I like to get things done! And I love challenge; I get bored when things are the same. I always keep myself busy. I like structure, and I like things done properly. Yeah…I think it [the navy] is still part of who I am. But I’m very sweet, too! I love talking to people, and I think that’s one of the main things for me here—before I start working with a group of people, I like to get to know them first. I’m very much a people person.
Indigo is amazing. I feel very proud of being part of this company; I would recommend anybody come to Indigo, just because we truly live by what we praise. We live by our values; it’s not just [on] paper. We truly care about making this place a healthy environment, a motivating environment, a friendly environment.
WHAT ARE YOUR HOBBIES? HOW DO YOU LIKE TO RELAX AND SPEND YOUR TIME OUTSIDE OF WORK?
In my spare time, I enjoy working in the nonprofit that my husband and I created to help our college back in Venezuela. It’s called “AlumUSB” (Universidad Simon Bolivar Alumni Association of America, Inc.). I’m the Vice President; my husband is the President. Every quarter, we send them what we collect from events on a monthly or bimonthly basis. And whatever we raise, we communicate with the school officials there to give out equipment, computers, samples for the microscopes—things they cannot easily access because the economic situation is very critical.
I also love outdoor activities, the beach, reading, playing with my cat, “Thor,” and playing board games. By the way, we have a great board game team here at Indigo!
WHAT IS ONE FOOD THAT YOU CAN’T GO WITHOUT?
Eating is one of my pleasures. I love many things. I would say sushi, Italian, and, of course, Venezuelan Arepas, which we have on our Indigo menu (thanks to me!) once a month. It is many people favorite’s lunch, but I eat them at home almost every day.
IF YOU HAD TO CHOOSE ONE VEGETABLE OR CROP THAT “SYMBOLIZES” YOU, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I would say corn, since it is a very versatile crop. Corn is considered a vegetable, a grain, and a multiple fruit. Like corn, I adapt, and I am sweet. Plus, I love yellow, and corn is the main ingredient in one of my favorite foods: Arepas!