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September 7, 2021
Novi Connect Updates

Announcing our $10.3M Round of Funding to Help Brands Build Better Products

Zachary Schneider

We’re thrilled to announce Novi Connect has raised $10.3 million in new funding led by Greylock! With this funding, we look forward to expanding Novi into new categories and continue to build out our marketplace. We couldn’t be more grateful to our community and supporters. To hear more about where we’re headed, we interviewed our co-founder and CEO Kimberly Shenk about the future of Novi and sustainable products.

Q&A with Novi's co-founder & CEO, Kimberly Shenk, on the future of sustainable products

Why did you start Novi?

Kimberly: I've always been a wellness junkie, extremely passionate about health, and the environment. And my superpower is problem solving – I'm totally motivated and turned on by the impossible. Especially when it comes to using data and technology to drive progress. I served as a data scientist and Captain in the United States Air Force, studied data science at MIT, and have built software products in the tech industry over the last 13 years.

When I got pregnant in 2017 I started to learn more about the ingredients being used in my products. I kind of got obsessed. Many of them are toxic, never biodegrade, can alter the growth of an unborn baby, and can even cause major harm like cancer. I started addressing these topics around wellness and built an Instagram community of thousands of followers who shared the same concerns.

I decided to co-found a company that took a data approach to building personal care products that are better for health and the environment. But during this experience I quickly learned about the difficulties of bringing a transparent product to market. I was shocked to uncover the major constraints and the lack of tools available. It was nearly impossible to find source data for the ingredients and packaging we wanted to use for our products. Seeing this as a data problem, I set out to solve it for myself. This led us to the beginnings of Novi, which I never guessed would be a solution the broader market desired.

Fast forward to today and we're tackling the $5T, largely opaque chemical industry that operates mostly through word of mouth - and infuse it with transparency enabling technology to bring it online.

Novi is here to change the way materials are discovered and purchased – everything from ingredients, fragrances, flavors, packaging, formulas – in service of helping brands and their manufacturers more effectively make products that consumers are demanding.

The consumer goods industry, especially personal care and beauty, has shifted dramatically over the last 10 years. Now it’s all about transparency. How will technology play a part in facilitating transparency?

Kimberly: As consumers, we've seen technology help drive accessibility and transparency in other parts of our daily lives. Zillow allowed us to transparently see houses available on the market, in real time, and explore them independently. Amazon brought product information and pricing online, enabling us to discover more selection at the best price. TurboTax decoded the complex tax system and gave typical folks like you and I  the power to do our own taxes. But the crux of all these solutions is data.

Data is power because it provides transparency to enable better decision making. And in this industry, technology is what will allow the flow of information to happen between material suppliers and consumer brands. It will give brands the transparency they need to make better sourcing decisions.

This means, like we're doing at Novi, technology will be used to rapidly assess ingredients, fragrances, flavors, formulas, and packaging,. down to their source. It will facilitate online marketplaces where brands will discover, sample and purchase these materials, in a completely transparent and easier way.

Let’s talk about Intellectual Property (IP). Formulations are proprietary. How do you keep the balance between transparency and IP?

Kimberly: At Novi, we believe in transparency without disclosure. And that's why we help manage that information disclosure with our partners. We want to help protect IP because that is the foundation of how this industry operates and thrives. So when we think about balancing transparency and IP, it means Novi serves as the secure third-party to verify information. 

We're seeing this play out in all aspects of the industry:

  • Consumers are demanding more transparency, but brands don't want to share their proprietary formulas with the world
  • Brands are demanding transparency from their manufacturers, but third party manufacturers don’t want to share their IP
  • Both brands and manufacturers are demanding transparency from ingredient and packaging suppliers who don’t want to share their IP

It's a cascading effect and REALLY hard, if not impossible, for any single player in this ecosystem to achieve full transparency on their own. This is exactly why Novi exists - to help facilitate information sharing between all of these parties, at scale.

Transparency doesn’t necessarily mean "clean". It means access to information. What advice would you give to brands who are trying to formulate clean products?

Kimberly: It can seem daunting to build a new product with ambitious sustainability and transparency goals. "Clean" was version 1.0 of the industry realizing we didn't have a lot of data about the things in our products. Because we didn't have that data, we started making broad sweeping statements about what shouldn't be used (it was only about the "NOs").

But transparency allows diversity of decision making and ultimately leads to more efficacious products. You have the power of information in your hands to make decisions about what should be used (the "YES's").

Let's take glycerin for example. In the clean beauty 1.0 world, this might be considered a banned substance because it is generally made from palm oil (harvesting palm oil is burning down our rainforests) or animal oils (it's not vegan). But now we have built infrastructure to responsibly harvest palm oil, and can even make glycerin without palm oil or animal oils at all.

Transparency means that you aren't going to blindly ban all glycerin because it could be bad. Rather, you are going to use data to source responsibly made glycerin - and not compromise the performance of your product.

My advice for brands is to seek information about the source of all of your materials (like glycerin) to make informed decisions. This can seem daunting if you're going to do this for every ingredient, especially if you have ambitious goals for your product. But it's the best route to true product innovation. You don't need to make concessions in the efficacy and performance of your product by trying to find a close cousin to glycerin. Just source better glycerin altogether.

This is why we built Novi. We work with hundreds of innovative suppliers and manufacturers who provide us with source data so that you can find industry-leading materials that are pre-vetted – with information like how the glycerin was derived and the certifications it meets, along with the ability to rapidly sample and purchase these ingredients with transparent pricing and lead times.

So, what’s your vision for the future?

Kimberly: Our mission is transparency to the source. In the future, all consumer brands will transparently discover, sample and purchase materials for their products online, just like they do in their day-to-day consumer lives. As consumers, we are accustomed to modern ecommerce experiences. And the up-and-coming generation of business buyers has new expectations for the currently antiquated, offline purchasing experience.

Our vision is to bring the broader $5T chemical industry online and enable it's transformation by building the marketplace that automates information gathering and provides a data rich experience for material procurement. We’re excited to announce our Series A led by Mike Duboe at Greylock alongside Brian Rothenberg at Defy, to take our next steps on this journey.

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