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Designing For Transparency and Trust with Kimberly Shenk, Co-Founder, CEO of Novi Connect

It's a Matter Of...Data

July 7, 2022
July 7, 2022

Kelly Kovack sits down with data scientist Kimberly Shenk, the Co-Founder and CEO of Novi Connect to discuss how she created a platform that leverages data and technology to make the product development process in beauty transparent, fair, and sustainable.

[beginning of recorded audio]

Kelly Kovack: This episode is presented by Univar Solutions.

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Kimberly Shenk: Hi, I’m Kimberly Shenk, Co-Founder and CEO of Novi Connect, and to me, It’s A Matter Of Data.

Kelly Kovack: Technology and data have very literally transformed the beauty industry in the past decade. I’m Kelly Kovack, Founder of BeautyMatter. Today’s start-ups have data engrained in their DNA, while traditional brands and businesses further down the beauty value chain still struggle with how to best capitalize on their data. More data, however, doesn’t necessarily lead to better insights. It needs to be translated into something meaningful. Enter the data scientist into the beauty org chart. As chief data handlers and strategists, they’re tasked with transforming volumes of data into actionable insights that drive new opportunities. Kimberly Shenk, an Air Force captain veteran, and former head of data science at Eventbrite, founded Novi. She’s created a platform that leverages data and technology to make the product development process transparent, fair, and sustainable.

Kimberly, thank you so much for joining us today.

Kimberly Shenk: Thank you so much for having me, Kelly. I’m really excited to be here chatting with you.

Kelly Kovack: You have such an impressive background, and I don’t normally do this, but I’m going to rattle it off because I think it’s really representative of the diverse background of entrepreneurs finding their way into the beauty sector. So, here it goes. After graduating from the Air Force Academy, you served as a captain in the U.S. Air Force, so thank you for your service, first of all. You also received a master’s from MIT and launched a career in tech as the former head of data science for Eventbrite. And then you found your way into beauty, co-founding Naked Poppy, which is how we first met. And I was so blown away by your background and the fact that you found your way into beauty, because I think when we first met a couple of years ago, I think the integration of data science into beauty was, I think, still at early stages, so I found it kind of fascinating.

Kimberly Shenk: Absolutely. I remember that moment, too, when we first met, right before Naked Poppy was launching, way back in, what was it? 2018 or 2019?

Kelly Kovack: Yeah, yeah. I would love for you to share your career path a little bit, just how you found your way into beauty. Because I also think it’s important for people listening to know that you don’t have to have sort of a traditional beauty background, so to speak, to kind of find a place in this industry.

Kimberly Shenk: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, as you’ve mentioned, I’ve always been in data science and tech and software development. And I think what’s interesting is I had a very strong passion for health and wellness and the environment my entire life, and I shared this passion very deeply with Jaleh Bisharat, who is actually the amazing woman that I cofounded Naked Poppy with. But we were both in the tech industry together, and she was the Chief Marketing Officer of Eventbrite at the time when we met. There was this interesting inflexion point. I got pregnant back in 2017, and I just started to learn more and more about the ingredients in my product, kind of got obsessed. Jaleh and I kept getting together and talking about our common passion and decided, hey, you know what’s interesting? Why can’t we build a beauty brand that addresses a lot of the concerns we both had, her being a breast cancer survivor, me understanding more deeply about the impacts of the personal care products I was using, especially as I was growing a baby. So, we teamed up to try and start a beauty company that would use data to bring products to market, and I think that was the interesting way we got into it—it was from that consumer lens of being beauty consumers.

Kelly Kovack: You know, I think so many founders in the beauty space, even beauty veterans, have found themselves starting new ventures because of pretty much the two life events that you discussed: pregnancy and having a serious health concern, that both have you kind of take stock in your life from end to end. You both launched Naked Poppy—and maybe you can give just a little background of what Naked Poppy is and then how that was the impetus for launching Novi.

Kimberly Shenk: Yeah, so a lot of what we identified as we started Naked Poppy was A, it was very difficult for women, especially busy women, on-the-go women who didn’t necessarily have the time to go into stores to shop to find products that they could trust online that would not only meet their personal needs, but we all care about, does this actually work for skin tone and my skin type and all of the things that we care about when we’re buying personal care products. But also, to find them in a way that they have been vetted and verified by a trusted source. And so, this was to sell products from brand partners, as well as to sell our own line of products. And so, the core thesis and the core offering and the core value prop for a consumer was this concept of trust and transparency and doing that from the lens of leveraging data. And I think the interesting piece of this is being more of that newbie that came in from an outsider perspective and never, ever having built a beauty product or brought a physical good to life, always being in the software side of the house. But I was pretty shocked when I saw the complexity of what these brand founders go through when it comes to understanding the materials they’re using and understanding the sustainability, the health, the social, the animal, all of the different impacts a material can have on our planet, essentially. That was where I realized you know, if we really want to do this right, transparency of material is a hard problem, and it’s because it’s a data problem. If you want to have full transparency on a material, it requires a lot of information around where that material came from, where the individual pieces of the material were sourced, how they were put together, the manufacturing process, a lot of stuff, and the industry was just not set up to answer those kinds of questions. I just realized those are the kinds of questions of the future and the kind of questions a future brand would need to answer to be able to meet what we saw as the rising demand from consumers. That’s kind of what led Naked Poppy into birthing Novi, and Novi came out of that problem set.

Kelly Kovack: So, you saw a problem and you were like, I can solve this, I’m going to go! Just tackling this problem makes my head spin. I love data when it’s kind of served up to me but data scientist, I am not. But, I mean, it was a monumental problem in the industry. And I think as consumers were demanding transparency across all parts of their life, that had brands, in turn, demanding transparency all the way down their supply chain, and that’s never really happened before. I mean, historically, that level of information has been a little bit of a black box. When you would ask for it, people would all of the sudden throw up the IP. At some point, beauty brands and people down the supply chain, you can’t hide behind intellectual property anymore; it just doesn’t fly. 

And I know this because—and I think I told you this story, it was a couple of years before we met, and I was asked to speak at a supplier conference about transparency. And someone asked me, what about our IP? And out of me flew “No one cares.” I was just like, truly, no one cares, talk to your comms team, you’re going to have to figure this out; this is not going away. And here we are. But how difficult was it to get suppliers to get on board when you were building this, given that that was sort of the mindset, that everything was a secret?

Kimberly Shenk: So that, exactly what you said about IP and being so secretive and so opaque was the biggest challenge. But I think what we interestingly uncovered is that suppliers started to recognize due to consumer demand that in order to stay relevant and in order to meet the demands of these brands that we’re now pushing it down the supply chain, they were going to have to figure out a way in order to market their materials and to get the trust of the brand. And I think the interesting dynamic that we started to see was in the lens of the consumer, we all are starting to open up to the concept of greenwashing, which is a brand claiming something around naturality or clean or green and because of lack of regulation they can say whatever they want and it’s not true. And that is actually what was happening to brands with suppliers: greenwashing and trying to tell a story around how their material was organic or natural and because of that, oh, I don’t have to share my IP, they could get away with it. What we were seeing was that was no longer flying, and brands were finding suppliers that were willing to have that disclosure angle. 

So, when we started to talk to suppliers, we positioned it more as if you want to stay relevant and get in front of this new era of brands, who, by the way, are driving the growth in this market, partner with us. And we know—the two pieces that we recognized where one was a lot around IP, but two, we know that digitizing your information is a huge burden. And I think this is where the big data problem comes in. A lot of these suppliers, it lives in massive amounts of paper and PDFs and spreadsheets; it’s all over the place and is extremely messy. Even the most sophisticated companies out there don’t have the internal technology to digitize this information, structure it, and provide it at scale. And so that was the service. We said, hey, we’ll do all that for you. Don’t worry. Just give it to us, we’ll clean it up, we’ll make it available, and we’ll still protect your IP, and we’ll do it in a way where we’re a trusted third party that has this data, that’s taking care of it. And then we can show these brands your materials and they can see, in a trusted way, that you’re doing the right thing, and actually bring their business to you. It was all rooted in we’ll bring you business, we’ll bring you revenue, but it was a way to get them on board, especially in the early days.

Kelly Kovack: What you said is so interesting, because I spent the large part of my career on the brand side of the industry. And about ten years ago, I became fascinated on the B2B side of the business because it was so ripe for innovation. That innovation that was happening in the brand space just was not trickling down to the B2B side of the business at the same pace. We saw that with clean formulations and natural formulations. And then natural formulations kind of caught up but packaging didn’t. So, when you were talking about reams of paper, I remember trying to keep track of that as a brand. I guess my question is for brands, especially ones that are using contract manufacturers, very often brands don’t know where each individual ingredient is coming from and they’re relying on their manufacturers to source that for them. And it’s not only consistently the same vendor. How do you manage those supply chain intricacies? Or can you, at this point?

Kimberly Shenk: That’s a really, really great question, and actually one that I’m so, so passionate about solving, largely because when I thought about Novi and the beginning days of Novi, the core problem we’re solving is obviously trust verification transparency around ingredients, but it’s giving brands not only the data they need to make the decisions on those materials, but the power and the access to be able to decide what materials are used, and a lot of that power today lives with contract manufacturers. 

And what we’re trying to do—so we work with a bunch of amazing contract manufacturer partners who are wanting to be that, how do I partner with my brand on making these purchase decisions, be more transparent about the materials I’m purchasing, and even leverage Novi to purchase better ones? So, what we’re trying to do is kind of flip the script a little bit and say, hey, brands are the ones that at the end of the day are putting that product out to their consumer. So, it’s on them. They should have the right to make the decision about the material in their product and understand what’s being used because it’s their credibility, it’s everything that the consumer is putting on the brand. So, if it’s on the brand and it’s their responsibility, we want to give them the power to make those decisions, and that power might come in the form of better leverage in terms of pricing or working with a contract manufacturer who is willing to search better materials or disclose the materials that are in the product. So that’s the way that we’re approaching it today, but we have a long way to go, because there’s a lot of contract manufacturers out there that are not like that. And they thrive off of, again, the same thing that suppliers thrive off of, which is lack of transparency. So, what we’re hoping to do is through this same approach we took with suppliers, is to continue chopping at this next layer of the supply chain and helping brands find better partners while they’re formulating their products.

Kelly Kovack: How detailed is the supplier information on the platform? So, for instance, how an ingredient is preserved, it depends on who you ask because the whole concept of clean beauty is completely nebulous, not regulated. For the people who are really hardcore, what an ingredient is preserved in can qualify it as clean or not clean. Do you get down to that level, especially with natural ingredients?

Kimberly Shenk: So, this was always the dream that I had, especially with building a data platform, is to have every single tiny bit between one and zero available so that we could be aggregating that up into useful information for whoever wanted to access it. And so, the way we’ve always thought about it is Novi has no opinion on what’s good or bad. Now, of course we exist because we want to drive transparency and better decisions and more sustainable materials in products, but at the end of the day, like you said, everybody has their own idea and definition and emphasis on what’s clean or not. Some may lean more into that process of epoxidation and others might be thinking, was it derived from animal byproducts—there’s a whole range of things that you could be thinking about. And so, the way we approach it is, you as a brand come to the platform and can actually create your own definition of clean. And the purpose of that is to help you on that journey of, well, maybe today I can’t get too detailed, but I want to take a step, and then there’s some brands that are so down in the weeds and they care so deeply, we can support them as well. So, every part of the spectrum. We take all of that information, and a lot of it is how we structure it, and the rules base we put on it. And so, the rules base is basically if you want to understand an ingredient against, we have a hundred different standards already pre-coded into the system, so that might be something like how Credo defines clean or how Grove defines clean or how Ecocert defines their certification or how EWG, there’s a lot of different ways. Or, how you as a brand individually define it. You might have some really complex rule sets and we can definitely code those in so you can see how a material stands up to your individual standard.

Kelly Kovack: With all of these decisions, I think there’s also sort of the cost associated with making the decisions. Does the platform take into account pricing, or it’s just sort of evaluating materials on their face value?

Kimberly Shenk: Ah, love that question. So, I’ve always been a big believer that the first step of this, sure, is transparency, to allow the evaluation and assessment component, like you said. But that is very, very far from giving a brand an actionable to make a difference. So, the next phase of that, or the last mile, is how do I actually purchase that material and get it into my product? And we all know that the very, very important data points around that are cost, minimum order quantity, lead times—the things that at the end of the day, the brand has to take into account to make it. They still have to make money. So that is what we incorporate in so that brands can actually procure materials alongside their contract manufacturers on the platform. And a lot of the data component of it for us is we’re able to offer things like financing or ways that we can give brands the ability financially in order to purchase those materials.

Kelly Kovack: That’s interesting. I mean, Novi has only been in existence two-and-a-half years, right?

Kimberly Shenk: Yes.

Kelly Kovack: I vaguely remember having a conversation at the beginning of COVID, I think is when you launched. I was in my mother’s house. But you’ve come so long in a really short period of time. I mean, you’ve raised over $40 million in funding, you’ve secured partnerships with Credo, Sephora, and Reese, you’ve really kind of been in the weeds in the whole transparency, supply chain, clean beauty conversation. How have you seen it evolve during that period? Because I feel like there have been some interesting shifts that have happened recently, but I’m really curious on your perspective on the adoption of transparency—and I mean real transparency, not just saying you’re transparent and checking a box. And also, the concept of clean.

Kimberly Shenk: Well, I think the interesting evolution is back when we first started and honestly even before that, I think a lot of people could have argued that it was clean, and transparency was more of a trend, something that probably was not here to stay or was just the fad of the current day and wasn’t necessarily a viable business. I think we just took the bet that that was different, and I think that’s what’s allowed us to really lean in and raise the amount of money that we have in terms of it’s not a trend, it’s become table stakes. The interesting shifts that we’ve seen, well, one, in the early days, of course Credo and Sephora and Grove Collaborative were leading the way in setting revolutionary clean standards, honestly. Sephora didn’t even launch Clean at Sephora until 2019, and that was in the infant stages of consumers recognizing clean. And so, it felt a little bit more like retailers were leading the charge and almost kind of forcing it on brands. I think the shift we’ve seen is consumer demand has now gone straight to brands where it’s no longer consumers leading the way, which is why I love showcasing even Reese, which is a very, very new brand that just launched in Sephora, because they care themselves. And brands now care more than retailers, honestly, and we see brands coming to us with more standards and restrictions than the retailers are. And that’s a really tremendous shift, because before it was brands doing whatever they could just to meet the bare minimum of what these retailers were putting together. And so that was the first shift.

I think the second shift is not just hitting the indie space, which is where we’re seeing these large CPGs: Unilever, J&J, PNG, they’re making tremendous shifts, and this is not just because of consumers. There’s definitely consumer demand driving it, but they have board-level ESG standards and pressures now to meet, and I think that that’s a very new reality and just how investors are now thinking about investments. So, these larger brands are making changes.

And I think the third and final one is just in the supplier world. We have never seen this before, but suppliers are asking us, what certifications can I now get to showcase myself and market myself to these brands as they’re making more sustainable products? And I think that’s pretty remarkable that now suppliers are raising their hand asking what testing they can do and what certifications they can pay for, and also what they should be thinking about for the future in terms of their R&D roadmaps in order to meet the new demand. So, it’s just showing us that this is obviously no longer a trend, it’s just the way the industry is moving, and actually pretty rapidly.

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Kelly Kovack: I know that you’re agnostic, you’re just a platform, but I know you have opinions. One of the things that I find really interesting now is the conversation of natural versus synthetic and which is clean, are they both clean? And I think it’s a very nuanced conversation. You also have the conversations around sulfates and parabens resurfacing. If you ask cosmetic chemists, they’ll tell you it’s all about the context and the percentage that ingredients are used. I find it very interesting that in this era of transparency and sort of the evaluation of clean, that some of these ingredients that were kind of the start of the whole clean beauty movement are now being re-evaluated. Are you seeing a behavior shift just from what people are searching to kind of indicate maybe looking at some of those ingredients like—I’m just going to say sulfates because The Ordinary did a big push with shampoo that they just launched. And they’re clearly proud of using sulfates; it’s on the front of their package. So, it’s an interesting conversation that’s happening around challenging what clean is.

Kimberly Shenk: Yeah, I think it’s actually really, really fascinating, especially when we look at—because brands use the platform all the time for education, honestly. A lot of what we offer is you can search ingredients and understand—against hundreds of different standards—who thinks what about that ingredient. Oh, what does Target think of this one, versus the EU? Or whatever. And so, a lot of what we’re seeing, and I think that transparency has enabled this deeper level of conversation, is, at the start, the way we approached clean beauty was from a perspective of yes or no: a banned-substance list. Either you’re on it or you’re off, and this is either good or bad, being very definitive about materials. And I think that was a great way to start, honestly. You’ve got to start somewhere. And it opened the conversation. But as anything—as we get more understanding of materials and more research is invested, we do understand that some of these materials, it’s based on the percent use in the product. And it’s not the percent use of just that individual material, it’s the combination of it across the entire product and you could be using it in multiple different ingredients. There’s a lot of complication. But all that to say, if we build technology, and that’s a lot of what Novi is focused on, to give you that deeper lens, you can make more sophisticated decisions on what’s in your product and you can tell a more sophisticated story to your consumer. So the way we’ve approached that, again, from that agnostic vie—that’s why our relationship with ChemForward is so important, because they bring that scientific lens that we don’t claim to have, it’s just another data point that we can bring in and say, hey, this has been this actual material—so not just the whole category of sulfates, but this material developed by this supplier using these components and this manufacturing process has been fully tested and analyzed by a toxicologist and the profile of this material is different than this other one, and they might have the same exact INCI name. So, I think that’s what’s just fascinating to me, not being a chemist and coming at this from a completely data lens, is that when you start to crack this nut, you can drive sophistication, which we see in other industries. And I think that’s what’s really compelling about it. The beauty industry is just really far behind what we’ve seen happen, especially when we think about how we order things online, which is like our daily behavior as consumers, we can leverage a lot of this sophistication. I mean, heck, if we can have Oculus and virtual reality exist, we can understand a little bit more about the materials we’re using in our products.

Kelly Kovack: Yeah, I mean, I really think that it was the whole banning ingredients thing sort of became jumping on the bandwagon because there was so much press around it. And I think there wasn’t the level of transparency through the supply chain. I think brands very often made the decision, like, I have a lot of battles to fight; I’m just going to take parabens out of my formulation. Is that the right decision? I don’t know. Just because people say something is true doesn’t always make it true. So, I kind of feel like there’s been a little bit of fear mongering, and when you start talking about products being toxic, people get scared. I find the conversations that we’re having now so much more meaningful. And even some of the panel discussions that I’ve been able to host, I can have four really, really smart beauty industry veterans. They all have different opinions about sustainability, about the role of plastic, about clean beauty. But we’re having the conversations—and people are having tough conversations instead of finger-pointing. Which I think the kind of platform that you’ve created and technology, it has a way of keeping people honest, and also giving them the tools to have educated conversations.

Kimberly Shenk: That’s exactly it. That’s what I was going to say. Giving data and information is power, and the more that we have, the more informed conversations we can have about these things. And I think it’s indicative of where the industry was only three, four years ago. There was no data, there was no transparency, so we couldn’t have informed decisions or informed conversations.

Kelly Kovack: I also think there was sort of this confluence of a demand for transparency in the technology to provide the transparency. But I really feel like everything that the world has gone through in the past two-and-a-half years, it made transparency really transparent. So, I think the days of making unsubstantiated, value-based claims are coming to an end. I think B Corp certifications, technology platforms like Novi, are giving brands that are doing the hard work the ability to take the credit for their efforts in a really quantifiable way. And I don’t know, I mean I have been talking about this literally for three years. I’m like, make these claims at your own risk, but if you can’t show up with the goods, eventually you’re going to have to come clean. What do you think the future of clean beauty and sustainability is going to look like, from a claims substantiation standpoint? Because I think going into COVID, there were boxes people checked: I’m sustainable; the diversity box; the plastic box; there’s a whole list of them. And then when things got real for us all, some brands kind of got found out that they weren’t really doing what they said they were doing.

Kimberly Shenk: Exactly. I think from my perspective, the future of clean and sustainability is that the conversation of clean and sustainability is not really being had because it’s just table stakes and that’s the way everyone has operated. But I think, then, if that’s the new baseline, the question is going to become: who’s actually doing it and who’s lying? And I think that the history of this industry, unfortunately, has been built off of the lack of transparency, allows us to say things that we can’t actually say. So the future is going to be a shift in—and I think we’re seeing it with these new brand founders that weren’t indoctrinated into the industry in this way, but the industry is going to have to shift in how the operations of products being brought to market and the infrastructure put in place in the industry is going to expose and force brands to actually stand by that. And so, I think there’s going to be a whole new lens of information that’s been provided to the consumer. I think the concept of INCI and INCI lists is actually something that obscures a lot of information. I do think that the consumer is going to demand understanding things like, I don’t care if it's glycerin, I actually want to know what that material is and was it sourced responsibly? Is it burning down rainforests? Was it made of palm oil? I think we’re going to start having those conversations. And I do believe, though, that at the end of the day, and the trend that we’re seeing, is it’s much harder for a brand, a supplier, anybody, to make a claim without having it verified by someone else, because that’s where you’re basically greenwashing when you say something and nobody else is standing by and saying, yeah, we actually partnered with that person and can testify that it’s true. So, I do think that the future will be—because we’re going to have the mechanisms in place to be able to disclose so deeply, we’re going to have a lot more third parties that are going to be relied upon to vet and verify. And this is all in the absence of regulation, right? If we had strong regulation, we wouldn’t need that, but I don’t know if that’s going to be something that happens any time soon.

Kelly Kovack: I honestly think it’s going to happen a lot sooner than people think. I mean, if you just think of the tremendous progress you’ve made in two-and-a-half years. I think it’s exciting, I think it’s good for consumers. I think we’ve created a lot of confusion for consumers. So, I think the more transparently we can all operate, I think it’s better for consumers at the end of the day, which that’s all that really matters.

I have two more questions for you. I’m going to totally go in a completely different lane here, but I find it interesting because I come from a military family. My brother went to the Naval Academy and he’s still serving, so I have the utmost respect for what it takes to get into a military academy and serve in the military. And not only—it’s even more difficult for a woman, I can imagine, from the stories I’ve heard. Can you share a little bit about how attending the Air Force Academy and serving in the military has sort of informed your career and your leadership style as an entrepreneur? Because I know the conversations that I have with my brother—when we have these conversations, it’s like we were born on two different planets. Our thought processes are so wildly different.

Kimberly Shenk: I love that. Well, thank your brother so much for his service as well. Yeah, there’s been two main things that have been immensely impactful on me as a leader and an entrepreneur. The two are basically the discipline I learned and then just the leadership style and the concept of service before self. And so on the discipline side, I think there’s somewhat of a negative connotation with discipline, especially with regards to the military, but I think the most impactful piece of it that was so profound to me is discipline, is a lot of building these rhythms and the way you operate as a human and how that translates into business that helps you address really complex, chaotic, difficult problems. And so, how do I go back to that core thing that I’m used to doing when I’m faced with a really difficult or challenging situation? It’s kind of like when you want to run a marathon, you can’t will yourself to do it or be so excited and passionate that you’ll just get up and do it one day. You do have to have calculated approaches and training and all of the things in order to get across that finish line. So, a lot of what I learned, for an example, would be this concept of a learning loop, which in the military we call an OODA loop, and it’s just a framework that’s basically like, I observe something, I orient myself, I decide, and I act, and I continue doing that repeatedly. And that was very, very core to how we operate in the military and very part of how we operate at Novi and how I’ve leveraged entrepreneurism. Because at the end of the day, start-ups are chaotic, things are happening all the time. But if you can use these as operating rhythms to really get to learnings and decisions faster, you can start to take unhealthy out of chaos and make it very structured to get to success. So that’s the first part.

And then the second part of service before self is actually one of the core values of the Air Force; there’s three of them, and service before self is one of them. But for me, in how I lead, it’s always your people are what are helping you get to where you’re going and you’re here to serve them and help make them successful and do amazing things through and with them. So, for me, it’s always, how am I serving others? How am I making them successful, unblocking them, giving them what they need? It’s an approach to leadership internally at the company, but also just how I approach life. I want to serve the world and the consumer, and our environment, and that element of service is just so important—and it’s more important than most entrepreneurs in the valley who are serving themselves and want to make money and make it rich and investors. It’s just kind of refugial to that, but for us, we don’t care about that stuff; we’re here to make a difference.

Kelly Kovack: I do feel like the culture around founders is shifting. I think there was this period of really young founders raising ungodly amounts of money and finding themselves as the CEO of a business and a really large team without having a whole lot of business experience. And it created kind of these toxic environments. Being a founder is not an easy thing, it can be really lonely. I think we are finding leadership of empathy and teams are everything. Founders do not build businesses by themselves.

So totally another direction, but this is my last question. As an industry we’ve become completely obsessed with data, and I think sometimes when we’re scraping data, we don’t even know what we’re scraping or how we’re going to use it. But from your perspective as a data scientist, how do you see the role of data science within the beauty industry evolving? I mean, this isn’t even a conversation we would have had five years ago. But, you know, now, all of a sudden, I see brands that aren’t even that big looking to hire people with really analytical skills, data scientists, depending on what the business model is, and it’s become just sort of a really common position in an org chart.

Kimberly Shenk: Yeah. I think it’s really interesting because there’s—I mean, a couple of ways, and especially if you look at other industries and how they’ve evolved leveraging data science. But the most obvious one, the one I think as a consumer we can all resonate with, is around personalization, and a lot of that is where in originally founding Naked Poppy, the space we were filling, was what do consumers want to buy? How do we get it in front of them? But all the way down to personalized formulations, so skincare that is made for me and my unique attributes, and haircare made for me. So, I think there’s so much data that can be informing. And so, this is informing marketing departments, how they sell the product, but also R&D on what you’re making and what products you’re putting in the market. But the other interesting thing, as we think about more and more data at the ingredient level, it’s formulation, honestly. We have so much opportunity to leverage all of this information about what types of ingredients go together well to make a better cream that dries down or is more exfoliant or whatever the attributes are that we want from the look-and-feel perspective. But then, of course, what I get passionate about is data to understand, obviously, sustainability impact, inform what needs to be made next by these suppliers based on trends we’re seeing from consumers, based on what we’re seeing brands be successful with, data to determine which ingredient to buy based on what you’re making, recommendations in that space. There’s just so much opportunity in that area to help inform more effective and efficient product development that could probably be the next wave of innovation. I think we’ve been stagnant for a little bit in terms of innovation in the product development space because at the end of the day, it’s a combination of art and science, but I think the science has been a little bit lagging. And so, kind of leveraging that information to give it to the scientists as they do their art in formulation is going to be super powerful.

Kelly Kovack: Are there a lot of female data scientists? Because I think when you think of data, it is—I mean, data is agnostic, numbers are numbers, but there’s always context as well, right? So, I would imagine as a female sort of tackling what you’re tackling, you have a different perspective than a male might.

Kimberly Shenk: Absolutely. It’s very, very small in terms of the number of women in this career field. And I think there’s a very heavy computer science element, too—you have to know how to code. It just spans a lot of things. I think personally what’s exciting about it is yes, there’s the technical aspect of understanding the data and machine learning and coding and then the STEM corp. But like you said, there’s the storytelling and understanding how to communicate that information and leverage it to make better decisions and impact a business, and that’s where I think the field starts to get very exciting. But there’s very few women in STEM just in general, but bringing more and more in is a huge passion area of mine, obviously.

Kelly Kovack: I probably could have answered the question myself, but I also feel like you are such an inspiration for young women on what is possible, sort of any women operating in fields dominated by men, and kind of making them their own are always so inspiring.

Kimberly Shenk: Well, thank you very much.

Kelly Kovack: On that note, I think I will end with my random tangential questions, but thank you so much for making the time to speak to us today. I know you had a busy schedule so thank you for making the time, and really excited to see what’s next for Novi.

Kimberly Shenk: Well, thank you. I’m so grateful to have been here, so thank you for having me. This has been really fun.

Kelly Kovack: For Kimberly, It’s A Matter Of Data. Technology has unlocked the power of data and its ability to tackle complex and wieldy problems. The clean beauty movement created an army of informed customers demanding full transparency about the products they purchase. While brands have the desire to deliver, the complexity of the beauty supply chain was compounded by legacy thinking steeped in secrecy and protecting intellectual property. Through the eyes of a data scientist and the determination of a military veteran, Kimberly tackled the monumental task of digitizing and streamlining the product development process. She’s created a game-changing platform that protects the secrets of manufacturers while empowering brands to make decisions based on data. Novi has very literally raised the bar on sustainability and transparency in the product development process. So, in the end, It’s A Matter Of Data. I’m Kelly Kovack, see you next time.

Kimberly Shenk: Hi, I’m Kimberly, and for me, It’s A Matter Of Data. Data is core to what drives transparency, enables brands to make better decisions, and ultimately opens the conversation for the future of consumer products in beauty.

Kelly Kovack: It’s A Matter Of is a production of BeautyMatter LLC. You can find more content and insights on and follow us on social media @BeautyMatterOfficial. If you liked what you heard today, don’t forget to rate, review, and subscribe to our podcast.