Some people say, being an entrepreneur is risky and difficult. You need to have a degree of insanity to do it. And in some cases, it is a matter of necessity to solve problems while others refuse to acknowledge it. To Barbara Paldus – CEO at Codex Beauty being a leader is a matter of will.
Barbara quotes on leadership, “It is not for the faint of heart. Know thyself and ask – I am truly up for this? “We must become the change we want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi”
As a little girl, Barbara was a huge fan of Marie Curie. To her, she was a symbol of brilliance, passion, science, and self-sacrifice. Her father is also an enormous influence. He is a quantum chemist, professor, and researcher. He taught her to rely on data rather than storytelling, to find answers with measurements, not guesses, and to be honest about failures – not everything is meant to work.
An Interview conducted between Insights Success and Barbara Paldus is truly up for frequent challenges around every corner. Below are the highlights of the interview:
Please brief our readers about your leadership position at Codex Beauty.
I am CEO and founder of Codex Beauty and we are bringing fundamental changes to the beauty industry. I started Codex Beauty in 2018, with a mission to bring data, science, and transparency to skincare. The “clean” movement has all but destroyed science.
I discovered that many practices in the skincare industry do not yield the most potent ingredients, or do not follow the quality practices of regulated industries. Plant-based ingredients hold so much potential, but the extraction techniques, stabilizing methods, delivery systems, and analytical tools are not on the same level as biotechnology. We can leverage biotech fermentation to produce concentrated ingredients in a highly sustainable way.
My goal as a leader is to help my organization grow despite the pandemic and leverage the change in US leadership that has brought science back!
What were the challenges you came across prior launching the organization in 2018?
Codex Beauty is my third startup. Prior to launching Codex Beauty and Sekhmet Ventures, I spent two decades leading innovation in spectroscopy, telecommunications, and biotechnology. By 34, I had founded two Silicon Valley companies that, among many breakthroughs, paved the way for carbon cycle/natural gas pipeline monitoring, and accessible vaccine/cancer therapeutic manufacturing.
Some of the challenges that I came across prior to launching Codex Beauty include:
- I have overcome being told that as a Ph.D. woman I could never lead a company as a CEO, raise venture capital or build an enterprise that didn’t manufacture in China.
- I have had larger competitors disparage my start-ups as non-viable entities in front of key customers, and supply chains cut off by partners.
- I have been in situations where my company had less than six weeks of cash, where we had frivolous legal threats or distributors try to cut us out of the market. And despite this, every time, we found a workaround.
My biggest challenge in launching Codex Beauty in 2018 was that I was new to the industry, and finding experienced sales and marketing executives, who could handle Silicon Valley culture and were technology-oriented, took a long time.
Being an experienced business leader, what is your opinion regarding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Cosmetics Industry? And how has Codex Beauty managed to overcome this significant challenge?
The impact of COVID-19 has been felt in three areas of the beauty business:
- Sales – many retailers have been closing doors or shuttering, leaving smaller companies with the only on-line distribution. With large companies also switching to on-line sales, social media advertising costs have skyrocketed, adding to the financial pressure;
- Capital – venture capitalists have used this opportunity to become more selective and lower valuations as the supply of cosmetics startups has exceeded demand;
- Supply chain – shortages of ingredients and packaging, warehouses shutting during local lockdowns, and limited transportation options have all hampered scale-up and general operations.
Our biggest challenge this year has been COVID and maintaining our new product development and clinical testing plans, as test facilities had long shutdowns with countries going into lockdown. Most of us already worked from home prior to the pandemic, so the only change we had to make was to create the safety shifts at our Irish soap making facility.
What is your thought on the necessity of a positive work culture? In what ways do you implement it at your organization?
A positive work culture enables people not only to believe in the company mission and vision but pursue it with passion and determination. It is a culture that allows people to grow, acquire new skills, and be challenged, yet feel supported to succeed and be inspired. It is a culture where when people fail, they feel that they will be given another chance because risk-taking is rewarded, not punished. People feel free to be themselves and have flexibility in their work hours and spaces.
I have implemented three guiding principles:
- Focus on solving problems. Sometimes, you have the break it down to bite-size chunks.
- Treat people right. Every human, irrespective of age, race, orientation, or beliefs deserves respect. People are smarter than you think. What you put in is what you get out.
- Do the right thing. It’s the hardest path, but the only way to keep the trust, ethics, and integrity of your team intact.
What Truth everyone needs to know about natural beauty with organic, vegan ingredients, and plant-based preservatives.
The truth is that the answer is in fact very complex, and there is no trite “soundbyte” that is a realistic answer.
Natural beauty isn’t everything that “clean” companies say, and there is nothing wrong with synthetic ingredients, that can outperform organics. Not all-natural products are clean (oftentimes organic ingredients aren’t even tested properly by suppliers for contaminants), and organic products (such as essential oils) can be more unfriendly to sensitive skin than well-characterized chemical ingredients. Plant-based ingredients can lead to unsustainable supply chains that harm the environment, just like poorly managed mass-production of certain chemicals can lead to pollution.
Conversely, there is a belief by traditional brands that organic, vegan products aren’t effective. This is not true either, which is why at Codex Beauty, we perform clinical testing and report the performance achieved. In the end, *all* cosmetics companies will have to provide more data to the consumer: safety testing, product performance, and an unedited ingredients list. Without this data, consumers will remain confused and frustrated.
And plant-based preservatives do work just as well as traditional preservatives.
In what ways have you or Codex Beauty contributed to the community?
I am deeply concerned about climate change and biodiversity, which include indigenous peoples. I would love to inspire a movement of reduced consumption. This goes counter to being an entrepreneur where growth is everything but is necessary to save our planet. We consume too much junk, and we produce too much garbage. We are not meeting our carbon emissions goals and we are killing plant and animal species at a ferocious rate. We need to create more mindful consumers. Being in skincare, we promote minimalist routines – you only use what you need to keep your skin healthy and no more. And you recycle your packaging.
Have you in any way contributed towards the cause of women empowerment.
I have built a team that is 75% female, where senior executive leadership is 80% female, and where we have diversity. Our goal is to mentor and train the next generation of executives at Codex Beauty.
As a venture capitalist, I have funded and continue to fund female-founded and female-led startups. These make up 60% of my portfolio. Many of the current start-ups have young founders who need a mentor or advisor, so I spend a lot of my time teaching.
I also donate to organizations that allow underprivileged women to enter STEM and give STEM lectures at high schools when needed.
What people, what books, what life factors have influenced and impacted you?
I will be forever grateful to Robert Halperin (“Bob”), who was the President of Raychem Corporation. Bob not only funded my company (Picarro), but he helped secure additional venture capital. He was my mentor for many years. He taught me the fundamentals of business, how to be a leader, and allowed me to take risks. He also made me swear that one day when I was successful, I would in turn help and mentor others. And that is what I live by today.
What is your vision for the company for the next five years?
In the next year, I want to provide affordable acne solutions based on our ingredient platforms and we are launching a collection to combat inflammation that leads to premature aging and loss of collagen.
In two to three years, I want to have solutions for anti-aging, as well as innovative solutions for psoriasis, eczema, SPF, and after-sun care. Codex Beauty will go deeper into biotech for real solutions at affordable prices.
On the sustainability side, I want to support projects that provide plant-based solutions to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, help clear ocean plastic, and provide opportunities to indigenous people around the world. To this end, we want to convert from glass to sugarcane plastic packaging for all products by 2022, create a recycling program for our plastic tubes by 2022, and create a royalty program for indigenous people in areas where we source our plant actives.