Serial founder Ning Li previously built 2 multimillion-dollar businesses. Sales at his new cult beauty brand Typology have doubled during the pandemic.
Serial entrepreneur Ning Li founded skincare brand Typology in France and is now launching it in the UK even as the pandemic bites into consumer spending. Typology joins cult beauty brands such as The Ordinary and The Inkey List in disrupting big, expensive brands with minimalist ingredients, beautiful packaging, and lower prices. Li is the serial founder behind furniture site Made.com and home decor firm MyFab. Typology is backed by French billionaire Xavier Niel, among other investors. Li told Business Insider that international expansion during a pandemic makes sense because marketing is cheaper, and skincare sales are up from consumers under lockdown. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Most founders are looking to hunker down during the pandemic, but serial founder Ning Li is busy expanding. Li is the founder of Typology, a Paris-headquartered beauty brand that taps into the contemporary craze for ethical skincare for well-informed consumers. Li previously cofounded and ran furniture site Made.com, and home decor company MyFab prior to that. Made.com has long been rumored to be on the brink of an IPO, while MyFab was partially sold for $4.3 million. He stepped down as Made.com's CEO in 2016, and spent the next two years dabbling with different projects including, briefly, training as a chef. He founded Typology in 2018 and, while a newcomer to beauty, can boast strong direct-to-consumer credentials. The startup offers beautifully packaged skin serums, oils, and hair care products and is now live in the UK after initially focusing on France and Belgium. Typology undercuts fancy $300 serums and creams
Typology's sell is that all its products are vegan and cruelty-free; you can see the (minimalist) key ingredients on the label; and the beautiful bottles fit through your letterbox. It all looks very trendy, with its perfume bottle-like flacons and clear labeling of key ingredient percentages. Anyone who has bought products from brands like The Inkey List or The Ordinary will recognize the aesthetic. And as with the competition, the price is another key selling point. Typology's products look high-end without the high-end price tag. For example, a 15ml Typology bottle containing a 0.3% concentration of the anti-aging ingredient retinol costs £14.80 ($18). Browse through the website of cosmetics retailer Space NK however, and a similar 15ml bottle with an unspecified concentration of retinol costs up to £254 in the UK or $300 in the US. Typology can afford to keep its prices low, Li said, because it currently only deals with consumers direct and has no partnerships with physical or online retailers who will take a slice of the sales. Li says his goal is to demystify skincare. The entrepreneur is married to Roxane Varza, a former TechCrunch journalist and coding advocate who runs the biggest startup factory in Europe, France's Station F. The two have a baby girl, and Li was introduced to the mystifying world of cosmetic ingredients when he tried to buy some moisturizing cream for her. "I'm a bit of a control freak as a person," he told Business Insider. "I'm also very skeptical ... one day I was buying a cream for my daughter, who's now two, and I started Googling — you look at the back of a cream and you start reading those long names, and most of the names I don't understand."
Mainstream branded cosmetics are not necessarily unsafe — the likes of L'Oreal, P&G, and other major brands have thousands of scientists who spend years working on formulations. But how companies concoct their formulations has not historically been especially transparent, partly because successful formulations are closely guarded trade secrets. That frustrated Li, who went on a learning expedition and discovered that some ingredients don't necessarily provide any long-term benefits. One example is silicone, which can help a cream or product sit smoothly on your skin. A downside to silicone, Li notes, is that it may be toxic for the environment. One Typology product range, Ten, consists of products with ten or fewer ingredients. "It's a very minimalist and pared-back approach to skincare," said Li. Almost all the products are formulated by the company's own chemists and pharmacists and produced in partnership with labs in France. The startup raised a $10 million seed round in 2019 from backers including French telecoms billionaire Xavier Niel and the UK's Firstminute Capital, with most of the money going towards R&D in its first year. For canny beauty fans, Typology's branding and positioning bears similarities to other disruptors and in some instances, its products are more expensive than, say, those offered by The Ordinary. Still, as the hardcore beauty fans on Reddit's r/SkinCareAddiction forum note, competition is good. Expanding in the middle of a pandemic Typology launches in the UK as citizens continue to face furloughs and redundancies, and as the economy plunges into a recession. But the lockdown has caused odd shifts in consumer behavior — makeup sales may be down, but skincare is up. According to a report from UK retailers Waitrose and John Lewis, skincare sales were up 183% through April. Typology has felt the benefit, Li said, saying that orders had doubled since before the crisis. He pointed to Typology Raw, the startup's range of essential oils. "Pre-crisis we used to ship 300 [or] 400 a day," he said. "Now per day we ship over 1,000 Typology Raw products." Since Typology's products fit through the letterbox, he added, the startup has so far been able to ship with France's national post service, which has remained reliable through the pandemic. Another cost saving has been on marketing. The bulk of Typology's customers, Li said, come via word-of-mouth recommendations, but the remaining 20% come through expensive acquisition channels. With economic activity stalling and businesses closing, there are fewer firms bidding for online ad space and driving up the price. There isn't much point paying for online ads if no one can visit your store, or you can't ship products. But Typology, Li said, has been able to take advantage of the cheaper ad space. That, Li said, has given the company runway even as other startups furlough employees, or seek government handouts to survive. "Initially we thought we were going to need more capital," he said. "And the initial business plan was [that] it would be logical to raise a new round at the end of the year. But we are trading now at more than two times than before and costs actually went down. "We're considering, that if the momentum stays, we could be in a situation where we don't need funding ever again because we are self-sustaining. It's too soon to tell ... but we are definitely positioning ourselves to grow aggressively but also profitably." Brent Hoberman, an investor in Typology and the cofounder of Made.com alongside Li pointed to Li's history of building successful direct-to-consumer startups. Made.com, he noted, was built in the wake of the 2008 financial crash, and Typology may replicate its success. "You've got existing businesses and incumbents being a bit deer in the headlights, and when you're younger, smaller, more agile, you can react quicker," he said. "This is a time you can go back to direct online marketing ... suddenly costs have tumbled. It's a moment to seize market share."Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Why thoroughbred horse semen is the world's most expensive liquid
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Fermentation startups raised more than $400 million this year. Here's why investors are betting the process could be the next big alternative protein source.
Summary List Placement When Perumal Gandhi cofounded dairy producer Perfect Day in 2014, he brought aboard...Summary List Placement When Perumal Gandhi cofounded dairy producer Perfect Day in 2014, he brought aboard industry veterans who knew how to make and sell food. But his hires also included people with experience in medicine and biofuels. So instead of using cows to produce milk, ice cream, and other diary products, Gandhi planned to produce food with a much smaller life form: fungi. This is all made possible through fermentation — a production process that has been around for millennia and is used to make products like beer, kombucha, and kimchi. These products are created using yeast and other common microorganisms. By contrast, Perfect Day, which is dairy focused, uses microbes that have been genetically engineered to produce casein and whey, the two main proteins in milk. Private investors are currently pouring money into companies that are changing the process of producing milk, ice cream, and even meat through fermentation from non-animal sources, arguing that there are advantages to their approach over solely relying on plant-based ingredients. Some of the companies, many of which are still in the early stages of funding, say that what their microbes produce more closely resembles animal products than existing plant-based options. Startups focused on fermentation raised $435 million through July 15 this year, according to the Good Food Institute. To be sure, companies making plant-based proteins still attracted the greatest amount of money over that time. However, compared to 2018, funding for fermentation companies has begun to close the gap on the popular alternative protein. Investments in fermentation companies in the first half of 2020 also continued to surpass that of cultivated meat startups like Memphis Meats, which create animal meat by growing animal cells in a lab. Perfect Day has raised the most of any fermentation-focused alternative protein company so far, according to GFI. It had garnered $360 million from investors, including $160 million alone in July as part of an expanded Series C funding round. While Perfect Day's primary goal is to supply major consumer companies, it also sells ice cream at US grocery chains including Albertsons under its Brave Robot brand. "We've sort of crossed the Valley of Death, we've shown that our technology works in the full commercial scale," Gandhi told Business Insider in an interview. Perfect Day is one of a host of companies focused on precision fermentation that utilize genetic engineering to create ingredients that make up a tiny portion of the final consumer-ready product. Whey and casein made from microbes, for instance, are combined with water, lactose, and other ingredients to make the brand's ice cream. At other outfits, the microbes themselves become the meal. Startup Nature's Fynd grows its fungi on trays, maximizing the biomass they get. CEO and Co-founder Thomas Jonas said the company plans to launch consumer-ready products in 2021. The protein that Nature's Fynd produces can be used as the main ingredient for a variety of final products, from chicken nuggets to pork dumplings. "When we're harvesting the microbial biomass, it's literally like a slice of raw chicken breast," he told Business Insider in an interview. "Then, the process to turn it into a chicken nugget, for instance, would be very much equivalent to what you do when you take a piece of chicken and turn it into a chicken nugget," he added. Both types of fermentation companies — precision and biomass — have attracted interest from investors, though each involves a different set of costs and payoffs, according to Nate Crosser, startup growth specialist at GFI. While precision fermentation companies generally require more up-front investment, biomass companies have to spend mainly on increasing the scale of their operations. Fermentation companies, especially those focused on biomass, have some advantages over plant-based protein makers, Crosser said. While Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, and other plant-based companies rely on a process called extrusion, which adds texture to plants by exposing them to heat, pressure, and moisture, companies like Nature's Fynd raise specific kinds of fungi that naturally create meat-like products. "That's something we haven't seen the plant-based industry crack quite yet," Crosser said. "That would be like growing a plant that you could pick off the stalk, and it would have the texture of meat." In other cases, fermentation technology is less of a rival for plant-based proteins and more of a compliment. Precision fermentation is already playing a key role for the most prominent plant-based meat manufacturers. The heme in Impossible Foods' burgers, which replicates the bloody look of animal meat and won approval from the Food and Drug Administration last year, is the product of specially engineered yeast. Cooperation with other companies is what Perfect Day is aiming for, Gandhi said. In addition to supplying milk proteins to larger CPG firms, the company is trying to win over traditional dairy farms, pitching them on replacing their cows — as each must be raised for years before they produce any milk — with tanks full of Perfect Day's microorganisms, which Ghandi said take less than a week to produce milk. "We want to license [our technology] and get the industry to join us in this journey," he said. Microbes quick turnaround time and scientists' ability to readily develop new strains tailored for specific uses are significant advantages over animals and even plants, Crosser said. "Their generational lifespans are days to weeks rather than years, and we have scientific and biotechnological methods for manipulating them," he said. "They're generally more versatile and they're much smaller." "It just seems like our ability to domesticate these microbes, their fungi species or even domesticate plants in a new way is just going to be totally unprecedented," he added. Using those new options to create protein is only going to become more important as the world's population grows, Jonas said. "There's going to be enough lipids for everyone, there's going to be enough carbohydrates for everyone," he said. "But the real challenge is on the protein side." "We are using the animals as protein concentrators, and it is a very fundamental thing to understand because it drives a lot of the economy," he added. "I think that's the thing that investors started to be interested in," over the last two years.Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Why thoroughbred horse semen is the world's most expensive liquid
New data reveals the 5 top-performing skincare brands on social media in the last year, as a new generation of influencers on platforms like TikTok gravitates toward affordable brands
Summary List Placement Skincare is on the rise on social media, with the industry seeing a...Summary List Placement Skincare is on the rise on social media, with the industry seeing a spike in engagement across platforms in the last year. While some industries that are ordinarily strong for influencer marketing have taken a hit during the pandemic, like luxury fashion and travel, skincare has been stable. A new generation of influencers like Hyram Yarbro (also known as Skincare By Hyram) with millions of followers have gone viral as "skinfluencers," promoting brands like CeraVe and The Ordinary in their content. At the beginning of March, Yarbro had only 100,000 followers on TikTok. Now, he has over 6 million followers on TikTok, 3.6 million subscribers on YouTube, and one million followers on Instagram. Between the first half of 2019 and the first half of 2020, the total number of engagements on skincare-related content increased by 197%, according to new data from Traackr, an influencer-marketing platform. Traackr looked at data from its platform between January 2019 and June 2020 and analyzed over 41,000 influencers. CeraVe and Vaseline — both affordable brands and available at most drug stores — led the way, according to Traackr. The two brands had the highest increase in engagement among the brands in Traackr's data, with CeraVe increasing its engagements by 309% and Vaseline by 377%. Across TikTok, there's been an appetite for honest reviews of products that people can easily access and afford (like Yarbro's content, for example). Vaseline has been a favorite product used by TikTokers and skincare gurus who share their "slugging" routines. "Slugging" is a skincare routine where you lather your face in petroleum jelly and sleep with the product on your face overnight. And CeraVe told Business Insider in August that it had seen a spike in sales in the last few months. While CeraVe has hired influencers for marketing, the majority of the engagement and mentions came from organic content, according to Tom Allison, CeraVe's cofounder and global vice president of professional marketing. On TikTok, "there's just been so much amazing organic content with patients taking before and afters using Skincare By Hyram's regimen," Allison said. "He was promoting us as part of a regimen to treat what I would call teenage acne," Allison said of Yarbro's content. "A lot of his followers are that Gen Z-er that's going through those skin issues." CeraVe has hired Yarbro, but his focus on the brand predates their business relationship, Allison said. Yarbro was one of five influencers named by Traackr as "up and coming" in the skincare space. They included "unofficial experts" like Yarbro, Vi Lai, and Young-Seok Yuh, as well as Nayamka Roberts-Smith (@labeautyologist and also a licensed esthetician) and Andrea Suarez (Dr. Dray on YouTube and also a dermatologist). More broadly, Traackr found that skincare had the highest growth in the beauty category, outstripping makeup and hair care. Here were the top performing skincare brands in the last year, according to Traackr: Vaseline (+377% engagements) CeraVe (+309%) Primera (+62%) The Ordinary (+37%) Shiseido (+11%) To learn more about the influencer industry, read these Business Insider stories: An Instagram 'nano' influencer started making money with fewer than 3,000 followers. Here's how much she charges for sponsored posts and how she lands brand deals. How the coronavirus is changing the influencer business, according to marketers and top creators on Instagram and YouTube Houseplant sales are booming and so are 'plantfluencers,' the social-media creators sharing plant tips, products, and content Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: How the suicide hotline saved my life
Founded by MIT grads, Maelove's under-$30 skincare products are on par with many luxury brands I've tried — here's what they're like to use
Maelove is an affordable skincare line founded by MIT grads. Most products, with the exception...Maelove is an affordable skincare line founded by MIT grads. Most products, with the exception of the Love 31 face oil ($74.95), are under $30. The cult-favorite $28 vitamin C serum (which customers have pointed out is very similar to SkinCeuticals' $166 version) put the company on the map and is prone to frequent sellouts. I've used eight products from Maelove: the Night Renewer ($28), the Glow Maker ($28), the One Cream ($28), the Eye Enhancer ($28), and more. Across the board, they're budget-friendly hero products for sensitive skin. I try lots of skincare products for my job at Insider Reviews, and Maelove is one of my most recommended brands for its balance of price and efficacy. The company also has a generous return policy: If you're not happy with your purchase, you're able to return it within 100 days for a full refund. It doesn't take long in a Sephora to realize that plenty of skincare is not affordable. Glossy tubs of La Mer go for $180, and there's an $85 Peter Thomas Roth mask with pure 24-karat gold inside of it. But, if you know where to look, you can find skincare products that perform on par with luxury picks. Companies like Maelove, a startup founded by MIT grads (skincare obsessives, brain and cancer researchers, and chemical engineers), use many of the same ingredients and cosmetics labs as high-end brands but sell products for a fraction of the cost, like a skincare version of Italic. Formulas are based more firmly in exhaustive research than the farm-to-face movement, and each product in the line is listed under $30, with the exception of the Love 31 face oil ($74.95). What's better, though, is the quality for the price. I try a lot of skincare products — both luxury and drugstore — for my job at Insider Reviews, and if I could only recommend one skincare brand to my friends and family, this would probably be it. The products work well, they're not expensive, and the startup rarely disappoints. Like the loophole of buying Differin gel rather than Differin cream to save $200, Maelove is one way to save hundreds on the essentials without making any concessions when it comes to what goes into the products themselves. How Maelove made good skincare cheap: Maelove CEO and cofounder Jackie Kim wanted to cut prices on grooming products, and cofounders Brad Yim and Rishi Khaitan were looking for ways to apply artificial intelligence techniques to unexpected industries. Skincare — with its glamour, subterfuge, and markups — seemed like a natural fit. As industry outsiders, Kim and company were able to pinpoint the norms that needed challenging. "The first oddity of the skincare industry that we noticed was that it's run like the fashion industry," Kim explained. "Marketers create trends and endless product varieties in an attempt to maximize sales. What you end up with is a ton of undifferentiated products hyped by overzealous marketers, which leads to confusion among shoppers." To illustrate her point, Kim points me to the 428 results that pop up for a facial moisturizer on Sephora's site, with prices ranging from $385 to $10. With such variety, how is the average person ever supposed to narrow it down to the best? Not to mention the fact that each sector of skincare seems to have its own never-ending subsets: There's the eye cream, the face cream, the cream for your left elbow, and the cream for your right elbow. But, while trends inherently change, the body doesn't from year to year. "How can there be a 'breakthrough' skincare ingredient every year?" Kim asks. "What worked well for our skin 10 years ago still works well today." The team recruited friends from all disciplines — cancer and brain researchers, chemical engineers, lawyers, and medical doctors — to hone in on the research without the baggage of preconceived notions. In essence, Maelove is one huge — and very successful — science experiment. And it reads like one. First, the team leverages decades of clinical research. "There are abundant and widely accepted published works that show which compounds work well for maintaining skin health. These are the tried-and-true ingredients recommended by every dermatologist and [which] are available in both over-the-counter and prescription strengths (the classic ingredients like retinol, AHA, certain vitamins and peptides, etc)." In short, these are the ingredients that should work. Then, Maelove uses artificial intelligence to scan millions of self-reported product reviews — what Kim refers to as empirical real-world data — to determine which ingredients correlated with success, and which to avoid. These are the ingredients that, according to users (or, self-reported test outcomes, as Kim calls them), do work. Finally, the company finds human volunteers to test the formula to verify that it's effective. So, instead of building a business around variety for the sake of variety (remember: left elbow creams), Maelove focuses on making one line of stellar skincare that can work for all skin types. What to buy: The Glow Maker serum The Glow Maker ($28) is a vitamin C serum that works to brighten your complexion, evens tone, and lightens dark spots. It's lightweight and sinks in quickly and completely without leaving any tacky residue. And while vitamin C serums can be drying, Maelove's iteration has a botanical blend and hyaluronic acid (which can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water) to prevent it. Consumers have been quick to note the Glow Maker has a very similar ingredient list to the multi-award-winning C E Ferulic Serum ($166), despite being more than $130 cheaper. Find my full review of The Glow Maker here, including a side-by-side breakdown of the ingredient lists. The Night Renewer cream The Night Renewer ($28), is one of my favorite products on the market. It uses 10% medical-grade AHA, a blend of soothing ingredients, and hyaluronic acid to gently resurface the skin for better texture and more even tone without being too harsh or drying. It took the company years of research to master something gentle and effective, and they've nailed it here. After one night of use, I notice an improvement to my skin's texture and tone and have noticed it fades dark spots over time. My pores also look a little smaller. Read my full review of the Night Renewer here. The One Cream daily moisturizer The One Cream ($28) is an everyday moisturizer that will hydrate without clogging pores. It's good for all skin types, and it goes on lightweight and absorbs quickly and completely. When I'm not testing another cream, this is the budget-friendly one I prefer — there's never any irritation to my sensitive skin, and it deals with dry patches well. You can find my full review of The One Cream here. The Eye Enhancer eye cream The Eye Enhancer ($28) hydrates, tightens, and brightens the delicate skin around the eyes. A little goes a long way, and it absorbs into the skin for an all-day brightness and de-puffing boost. Cold-pressed Robusta Coffee seed extract, which is full of antioxidants and polyphenols, reduces water retention and puffiness, and a botanical complex soothes the thin, sensitive skin around your eyes. But if you're used to a thicker eye cream this may not be for you — it's very lightweight. The Day Eraser makeup remover and cleanser The Day Eraser ($19) is a thicker, more oily cousin to a great micellar water. Maelove went through over 90 product iterations before landing on this one. It's a two-in-one makeup remover and face cleanser that respects the skin's natural moisture barrier and doesn't leave it feeling stripped or dry. It can remove waterproof makeup and still leave skin feeling smooth and hydrated. I like using it as a makeup remover and first cleanser because it's gentle and silky, but grabs waterproof mascara off my eyelashes without rubbing them. But, sometimes I apply too much. And since I don't wear makeup often, I tend to favor Bioderma Micellar Water for its slightly easier application. The Deep Exfoliator face polish The Deep Exfoliator ($24) is a good, relatively gentle exfoliant. Its ingredients include BHA (salicylic acid) and pulverized clay to draw out impurities and absorb excess sebum, and niacinamide (Vitamin B3), glycerin, allantoin, and vitamin E to restore moisture. When used a few times a week, it helps resurface your skin for better tone and texture. It works best when combined with another AHA/BHA like the Night Renewer, but it's nice on its own — and especially for sensitive skin types. If you're looking for a stronger exfoliant and don't want to buy both, I recommend buying the Night Renewer. The NIA 10 Calming Serum The NIA 10 Calming Serum ($27.95) is designed for dry, inflamed, sensitive, acne-prone skin. Niacinamide (vitamin B3), zinc, and white tea extract work to calm the skin and improve redness and tone over time. I noticed it helped calm my blemishes and made my pores look noticeably smaller. In terms of redness, it's helped slightly with steady use, but the results have not been drastic. If redness is your main concern and your skin is too sensitive for vitamin C serums, this is worth checking out as an alternative. Otherwise, the Glow Maker may be better for overall tone correction. Read my full review of the NIA 10 Calming Serum here. The Refresher face wash The Refresher ($18.95) is a gentle cleanser that helps clean the skin without disrupting its natural moisture barrier, but it can be slightly drying if you're used to other simple, gentle cleansers like Cetaphil. The Refresher uses a blend of AHAs (lactic, malic, and tartaric) to remove dead or dull skin cells, and without a moisturizer after, it can be drying. Personally, I like that the AHAs help calm my breakouts and remove dull skin, but if you're prone to dryness, you may want to stick with Cetaphil. The internal straw also doesn't reach all the way to the bottom of the bottle, so you may have to dig for the last bit of the face wash. The bottom line: This radically affordable luxury skincare line is the real deal. Maelove makes both some of the best and the cheapest skincare products that I've found. And while I don't often get to stick to my own skincare routine as a product reviewer, I've surprised myself by preferring to use the cheaper Maelove products over luxury skincare I often test for work because they're simple, gentle, and effective. I recommend Maelove to everyone who asks me for recommendations for a new everyday go-to product because it works for all skin types and doesn't cost much, but skincare is also a notoriously subjective experience. What works for me may not work for you — even a skincare line built to cater to every skin type. Luckily, Maelove has a 100-day, 100% money-back guarantee, so you're not risking much if you want to give it a try yourself. Shop Maelove here.Join the conversation about this story »