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The Good Face Project: Inside the beauty R&D lab being built in the cloud

It was 2017, and Iva Teixeira had just left a job in healthcare technology when she stumbled across a massive issue plaguing a booming industry. She was working as an independent consultant for a very large, U.K.-based beauty company and was tasked with figuring out why customer retention was so low. In speaking with consumers, Teixeira expected to hear complaints over cost, accessibility, or even efficacy; instead, she was met with a long list of questions.

“They wanted to know what glycolic acid was, when to use vitamin C, whether they could go into the sun after using toner, and if they should share their moisturizer with their daughter or son,” she recalls. “And the questions were not just about the ingredients but also about the impact that those ingredients would have on their overall health.”

Teixiera was struck by how widespread the confusion was, and she realized the industry was in dire need of more transparency. The clean beauty category was beginning to take off, and customers wanted to know which ingredients would offer the best results for their skin without harming the environment along the way. Yet there was nowhere to find this information all in one place. Teixiera shared this discovery with Lena Skliarova-Mordvinova, a data scientist she’d recently befriended, and the two decided that if there wasn’t a unified, trusted source for consumers to learn about the science behind their skin care, they would build one.

Teixiera and Skliarova-Mordvinova knew that this research was available within the scientific community and its publications, but each ingredient seemed to exist in a vacuum, without any insight into how they would interact when ultimately combined in a product. “So our idea for a database quickly became more of an ontology because it was really this big web of ingredients that are all connected,” Teixiera says. “We wanted to create something that could constantly learn from other data points around it.”

She and Skliarova-Mordvinova spent the next few years building the platform, referring to more than 60 independent scientific databases around the world, and in 2018, they debuted the Good Face Index, the first launch for their company, the Good Face Project. The Index, which analyzes the safety and efficacy of roughly 100,000 ingredients in over 76,000 products, was an immediate success. But even with the consumer-facing app completed, the cofounders remained uncertain about how to add value to the other side of the beauty industry: the brands creating products and the retailers selling them.

“’Clean beauty’ was becoming a very polarizing term because there was no real agreement on what was good and what was bad,” Tiexiera explains. “And a rift was forming between consumers, who were asking more and more proficient questions about ingredients, and the cosmetic chemists in the research and development departments actually creating the products, with retailers intermediating the whole thing.” The cofounders wondered what exactly was happening on the product formulation side and why this part of the industry was so stymied, even as beauty was experiencing exponential growth.

The Good Face Project cofounders Iva Teixeira and Lena Skliarova-Mordvinova.

Courtesy of The Good Face Project

They discovered that R&D, the most essential part of the business, was severely underfunded, with only 3% of overall expenditure going toward it. “Many chemists were literally creating and storing formulas in Excel spreadsheets,” Tiexiera says. “It was shocking that this industry, which needed to become more scalable and more transparent, was relying on an such an under-resourced department and outdated technology.”

The Good Face Project cofounders knew something needed to change and that they were just the people to do it. “Because our focus is so much on the individual molecule and its properties and applications, we realized we were perfectly suited to create a tool that would enable cosmetic chemists to basically drag and drop different ingredients and optimize their formula,” Tiexiera explains.

Using the Good Face Formulator, as it would soon be called, chemists could search for ingredients according to their specific needs and goals—be it for a brightening toner that’s less than $14 an ounce or for a noncomedogenic moisturizer that will work well for melanated skin—and build their formulas with the tool’s science-backed insights and suggestions in mind. “It takes their work to a level that they were never before able to reach, so they can actually focus on the real value-add innovation rather than the run-of-the-mill formulation,” Teixiera adds.

After repurposing their cloud-backed technology to fit the new product, Tiexiera and Skliarova-Mordvinova launched the Good Face Formulator in early 2021. “It’s only been 18 months, and we’re already gaining a new customer every other day, from Fortune 500 companies to smaller, fast-growing brands,” the cofounder and CEO says.

One such customer is Hero Cosmetics, a five-year-old acne-focused skin care line recently acquired by Church & Dwight. The brand, which started working with the Good Face Formulator earlier this year, had, like so many others, always used Excel to build and store its formulations. So, when the Hero team heard about the Formulator’s ease of implementation and impressive formula creation and record-keeping abilities, they jumped at the opportunity to use the tool. And roughly six months later, the decision has already proved integral to the brand’s operations.

“The Good Face Project’s ‘clean’ beauty functions have significantly reduced the time we spend tracking formula compliance against retailer lists,” says Tarek Nasser, senior manager of global regulatory affairs at Hero. But it was the Formulator’s other set of offerings that was of particular interest to the skin care brand.

In addition to the formulation side of the platform, the Good Face Project’s tool allows users to monitor more than 300 regulatory standards and see how their products measure up. “Traditionally, brands would have to get their formula made in in a lab, have it screened for regulatory compliance in a completely different department, and then they would apply to sell the product in Europe, Australia, or wherever they were planning to launch it,” Tiexiera says. “But what’s happening as of late is that the speed at which regulatory restrictions are evolving is reaching a bit of a crescendo, and more ingredients are getting banned or changed by the day. Regulatory chemists simply can’t keep up anymore.”

With the Formulator, however, all product creators need to do is indicate which regulations the formula needs to comply with, and if they drag and drop an ingredient that isn’t registered or okay to use in that region, the tool will alert them then and there. “Once you’ve spent so much time developing a formula and a prototype, the last thing you want to do is go back to the drawing board,” Tiexiera adds.

But the tool’s focus on regulatory matters doesn’t stop there; it also includes standards enforced by retailers, for certifications like EWG Verified and the “Clean at Sephora” seals. “I don’t see any signs of the clean beauty trend subsiding, and Hero wants to be considered ‘clean’ with as many retailers as possible,” says Nasser, noting that manually tracking formulas against these many retailers’ disparate lists and keeping up with frequently changing ingredient policies has been burdensome for the brand. “But the Good Face Formulator can generate detailed reports on formula compliance with dozens of retailer ‘clean’ lists with ease.”

Using the tool, Hero has not only significantly reduced the time it spends tracking formula compliance, but it’s also eliminated the need to devote resources to tracking changes in retailer lists and updating them in internal databases. “The question of ‘Is this product clean?’ is no longer an invitation down a rabbit hole—we have access to clear reports that have already done the analysis for us with information that can be easily communicated to retail customers,” Nasser adds.

A multi-platform breakdown of the Good Face Formulator.

Courtesy of The Good Face Project

And although the Good Face Project was born of a need to make clean beauty more transparent and its standards more universal, the company has since grown to include many brands and retailers outside of the category. “We now have customers who will never brand themselves as clean beauty, but they’re formulating in a way that still aligns with today’s and tomorrow’s consumers, who are looking to buy from transparent brands and manufacturers,” Tiexiera explains. “Our job is not to tell anyone how to engage with their consumer base; our job is just to make their ethos and their strategy faster and easier to scale.”

Since it launched, the Good Face Project’s aim has always been to simplify the beauty industry, whether for consumers through the Index or for brands and retailers through the Formulator, but the cofounders believe their cloud-backed platform may ultimately have many other uses. “We don’t look at ourselves as a cosmetics technology company but instead as a chemistry informatics company,” Tiexiera says. “We are really embedded in data science, and a huge portion of our algorithms is actually applicable to the whole world of chemistry.”

As the company grows, she and Skliarova-Mordvinova plan to take the tools they’ve built to other sectors in need of more transparency and ease of formulation. “Cosmetics is our first vertical, but our technology is very scalable and capable of building out ontologies for the worlds of supplements, of agriculture, of chemicals used in textiles and in fashion, really anything that has a chemical formula,” Tiexiera says. “But the truth is, we would never have been able to do any of this without the cloud. Having that kind of access and innovation has made the whole thing possible.”

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Liz Truss is cutting the red tape for small businesses in the U.K. as the bad news piles up

Small companies in the U.K. just got some good news amid all the recent doom and gloom.

Liz Truss, the embattled new prime minister, said at a Conservative Party conference in Birmingham on Sunday that she would slash the red tape for tens of thousands of small companies, often seen as the engines of economic growth.

She’ll do so by tweaking a rule rather than creating a new one—specifically, by changing how a small company is defined

“By raising the definition of a small business, in terms of regulation, from 250 to 500 employees, we will be releasing 40,000 more businesses from red tape,” Truss said in a statement.

That aspect of her plans should go down well with nearly all small-business owners, whatever their political leanings. 

Truss has been slammed by markets and critics in recent days over a controversial mini-budget announced last month. Amid high inflation, her plan calls for the biggest tax cuts in decades while also boosting government borrowing and spending. 

News of the plan—panned as “trickle-down economics” by the opposition Labour Party and criticized by some members of Truss’s own party—sent the pound plummeting.

On Sunday, Truss told the BBC she wished she had “laid the ground better” for announcing the budget, but insisted she’s sticking with her blueprint despite the market chaos.

Particularly galling for many was the decision to cut taxes for the highest earners in the U.K. Truss said Sunday that decision was taken by Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng. 

Meanwhile three-quarters of U.K. voters—including 71% of those who backed the Conservatives in the last election—believe Truss and Kwarteng have “lost control” of the economy, according to a poll for the Observer by Opinium released this weekend.

Truss ‘right to target growth’

Yet Tony Blair, former prime minister and Labour Party leader, said Truss was “right to target growth.”

While acknowledging his own focus would be different than Truss’s, he told host Ian Bremmer on the GZeroWorld podcast this weekend:

“You’ve got to get the growth rates up. One of the first things you realize in government is if growth is strong, revenues are strong. If revenues are strong you can spend money on public services. If the growth rates are low or you’re in recession, then suddenly everything looks worse and you’re having to cut back on services.”

Mark Littlewood, director general of London’s Institute for Economic Affairs, told Sky News last month the move away from high taxes and regulations would reignite economic growth, adding, “A rising tide lifts all ships.” 

Business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said of the plan:

“Regulation backs incumbents, it backs big business against challengers. New employment comes, generally, speaking from smaller businesses. You mustn’t regulate them as if they’re big businesses—you stop the level of growth, you don’t get the growth you need. This isn’t a mad rush to remove all safety regulations. It’s making sure the regulations are ones you actually need and pertain to real issues businesses face.”

Julia-Ambra Verlaine, who worked on the Barclays foreign exchange desk before covering markets for the Wall Street Journal, suggested the U.K. and pound could make a comeback. Asked on The Journal podcast Thursday which of various currencies she would take now, she replied:

“I would like to take the pound. I think in the long term—I would take a gamble that they can get back on their feet, and I’d want to buy their currency at the low.” 

With markets showing little confidence in Truss’s plan so far, just how much lower the pound falls remains to be seen. 

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Federal Reserve gets serious about ending the party in Q3, asset valuations fall

JimVallee

During the third quarter of 2022, the Federal Reserve jacked up its key policy rate by 150 points across two meetings, accounting for half of its rate hikes since it started tightening policy in March. That, and Fed officials’ insistence that they’ll keep rates higher for longer to beat down inflation, put a damper on asset prices.

Also not to be ignored, the Fed’s actions to shrink its balance ramped up during the quarter, reaching its full reduction rate in September. At its full pace, the central bank is letting $60B of Treasury securities and $35B of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities roll off its balance sheet, an action that reduces liquidity to the financial markets.

In response, investors realized during the quarter that the central bank is serious about removing the punch bowl to ratchet down the economy in an effort to reign in prices.

“Markets welcome the arrival of monetary injections from central banks very warmly; the departure of those injections and the reintroduction of liquidity withdrawals, however, are not warmly welcomed and are accompanied by volatility as market participants sweat while discovering true prices in less distorted markets,” said Interactive Brokers economist José Torres, in a note.

During that three-month period, the 10-year Treasury yield has increased by 93 basis points to 3.829% on the last session of the quarter. Last Wednesday it touched as high as 4.0%, its highest level since the global financial crisis of 2008. Remember, as bond yields rise, bond prices fall.

The bear rallies: Hopes earlier in the quarter that the bear market may have run its course were quashed, with the S&P 500 falling 6.3%, the Nasdaq composite slipping falling 5.0%, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average off 7.6%.

Bitcoin (BTC-USD), which has been generally tracking risk assets, only edged down ~0.2% for the quarter, and is still below the $20K mark at $19.4K, and less than a third of its $68.9K all-time high in November 2021. Ethereum (ETH-USD), which achieved its Merge event in mid-September, jumped 25% during Q3.

Commodities: The phenomenon of investors turning to gold during uncertain times didn’t hold in Q3. The continuous gold contract fell 7.7% during the quarter.

Copper contracts, which generally tracks investors’ expectations for the economy, also fell, dropping 7.9% during the quarter.

Crude oil, more tied to geopolitical events than the Fed’s policy, fell 25%, ending the quarter at ~$79.74 per barrel.

Real estate cooldown: After experiencing super-charged growth during the height of the pandemic, the real estate market cooled some in Q3 as tighter financial conditions pushed mortgage rates higher and forced some homebuyers to the sidelines. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 6.70% for the week ended Sept. 29, up a full percentage point from 5.70% for the week ended June 30.

In August, the most recent data available, the median sale price of a new home fell to $436.8K from $439.4K in July. The median existing home sales price fell to $389.5K vs. $403.8K in July. The Real Estate Select Sector SPDR ETF (NYSEARCA:XLRE) sank 12% during the quarter.

But consumers are still spending as inflation rises, even on discretionary items. The Consumer Discretionary Select Sector SPDR ETF (NYSEARCA:XLY) managed a 3.6% increase during Q3.

Technology stocks stayed weak during the quarter, as the Technology Select Sector SPDR ETF (NYSEARCA:XLK) slipped 6.6% during the quarter.

The mighty dollar: With the Fed’s aggressive rate hikes, the U.S. dollar surged as higher interest rates made investing in the U.S. more attractive. The U.S. Dollar Index climbed 6.7% to 112.17 during the quarter. While the strong dollar makes it less expensive for Americans to travel abroad, it makes U.S. export more expensive and increases the debt burden for emerging economies with U.S. dollar-denominated debt.

Looking ahead: Going into Q4, Interactive Brokers’ Torres expects inflation to stay hot, the U.S. labor market remains strong, and the Fed to hang tough. “This will cause economic conditions to continue slowing, bond yields to rise further, albeit they’re probably close to the top, and equities to reach new lows, although they’re probably close to the bottom,” he said.

Traders tilt toward the Fed raising its key rate by 125 basis points over the next two meetings, though many expect a 100 bp increase. CME FedWatch tool puts a 44.1% probability on the rate rising to 4.00%-4.25% and a 51.9% probability on a 4.25%-4.50%.

SA contributor John M. Mason says the Federal Reserve is doing what it promised to do, but be on the lookout for how long it stays on track.

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Toyota’s CEO cautions against electric vehicles hype, views them as just one option in his ‘department store’ of powertrains

Toyota Motor Corp. plans to keep gas-powered cars as a key part of its lineup, rejecting efforts by rivals to go fully electric amid concerns over how quickly consumers will embrace new technologies.

While the world’s largest automaker will introduce more electric vehicles in the coming years, it will also offer a range of other options, including gasoline-electric hybrids, hydrogen- and traditional fossil fuel-powered models, according to Chief Executive Officer Akio Toyoda, who met with reporters Thursday.

Battery-electric vehicles “are just going to take longer than the media would like us to believe,” Toyoda, grandson of the automaker’s founder, told dealers gathered in Las Vegas. He pledged to offer the “widest possible” array of powertrains to propel cars cleanly.

“That’s our strategy and we’re sticking to it,” he said.

Toyota’s stance reflects the numerous and sometimes conflicting considerations for automakers, which are seeking to boost sales, serve diverse customer bases and meet increasingly strict environmental standards in many countries. The decision contrasts with that of competitors such as General Motors Co., which has pledged to go all electric by 2035.

Environmentalists and shareholders have criticized Toyota for dragging its feet in embracing EVs, with Greenpeace putting the brand at the bottom of its ranking of global automakers’ decarbonization efforts. Critics have accused Toyota of clinging to its 25-year history with the gasoline-electric Prius hybrid, which once earned Toyota plaudits.

“The fact is: a hybrid today is not green technology,” Katherine Garcia, director of the Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation For All campaign, wrote in a blog post last month. “The Prius hybrid runs on a pollution-emitting combustion engine found in any gas-powered car.”

Toyota’s electric vehicle pledge

The company last year pledged to spend 4 trillion yen, or $28 billion, to roll out 30 EVs by 2030. Still, that’s less than the $50 billion that Ford Motor Co. is spending to build EVs through 2026.

Despite the apparent disparity, Toyoda said his company already has been investing in battery-powered hybrids for more than two decades. He contends that makes Toyota the “top runner” in reducing carbon emissions from vehicles worldwide.

“Our investments may appear smaller than others’, but when you look at what Toyota has been doing over the last 20 years, the total amount might not necessarily be small,” Toyoda said.

The CEO said a lack of sufficient infrastructure will hold back EV adoption rates, which is a factor in its decision not to go all in on electricity.

“Toyota is a department store of all sorts of powertrains,” he said. “It’s not right for the department store to say, ‘This is the product you should buy.’”

Toyoda expressed skepticism that automakers will be able to achieve the California mandate that will effectively ban gasoline-fueled vehicles by 2035 and require a substantial portion of sales be EVs by 2030. New York said Thursday it would institute similar regulations.

“We have to look at the current price range and infrastructure availability and at what pace they’re going to be upgrading,” he said. “Realistically speaking, it seems rather difficult to achieve.”

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