Navneet Kaur of ‘Yours’: “Being close to nature! “

Live by an environment-first mindset, and make sustainable living a lifestyle. This includes leading by example, like having recycling bins in the house and coming up with family rules such as never using plastic bottles, plastic bags and disposable cutlery. Reducing meat consumption as a family unit is also another way. As part of my series […]

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Live by an environment-first mindset, and make sustainable living a lifestyle. This includes leading by example, like having recycling bins in the house and coming up with family rules such as never using plastic bottles, plastic bags and disposable cutlery. Reducing meat consumption as a family unit is also another way.

As part of my series about what we must do to inspire the next generation about sustainability and the environment, I had the pleasure of interviewing Navneet Kaur.

Navneet Kaur is the founder and CEO of direct-to-consumer beauty tech startup Yours, which uses computer vision and machine learning to personalise skincare regimens according to individual skin needs, lifestyles and environments. Inspired to solve a common problem of product discovery and product fit faced by beauty consumers everywhere, Navneet created Yours. Backed by her experience in developing brands at a conglomerate and then scaling Uber and OFO across Asia, Navneet also works closely with Swiss dermatologists and skin experts to create clean, sustainable and effective skincare for all.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

Of course! I am 31 years old this year, born and raised in Chandigarh (India), at the foothills of the Himalayas — it’s actually called ‘The City Beautiful’! As a child, I used to go to the mountains a lot and I spent a lot of time walking in nature with my family. From very early days, I used to travel to small towns where my dad would go for his official visits as a Government officer, and that’s when I realised how authentic the cultural experience is in small, lesser known towns. My love for travelling stuck and that’s what excites me the most even now!

For my education, I went on to pursue my undergraduate in Commerce at Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi University and MBA at Symbiosis, Pune. After that, I started my career as a Brand Manager for a skincare brand at one of India’s largest conglomerates. I later moved on to be a part of Uber APAC’s core team in 2014, launching and scaling it up in a time where ride-sharing and the gig economy were fairly new concepts. After that, I headed the APAC strategy and operations for OFO, the bike-sharing startup.

Building a career in the tech industry was rewarding, and in my years scaling operations at tech giants, I saw the value of customer-first technology and its potential to transform the world — impacting lives at scale for good. This set the foundations when I took the leap to start Yours: reimagining the decades-old skincare industry by putting the user at the front and centre of product creation, and leveraging technology to personalize skincare at scale while using minimum resources.

Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a scientist or environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?

The “aha moment” in my life was during the early days of my career as a skincare brand manager. It was during a factory visit 9 years ago when I first saw skincare products being manufactured, and I witnessed those products being packed into single-use plastics, at scale. As I extrapolated the numbers in my head, I remember leaving confused and dismayed, thinking — where would this packaging eventually land up? It certainly was an eye opener for me.

When I started Yours seven and a half years later, those visuals were still ingrained in my head, and I knew from that even before I got started, I would need to reimagine packaging and how the products are delivered. It took us fairly long to find the right packaging, but we’re proud that our products are delivered in 100% recyclable and reusable bottles, and they arrive in completely recyclable boxes. As we enter 2021, we plan to launch refillable cartridges in the second half of the year so our users will be able to reuse their existing Yours bottles.

Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?

No idea is too big, and no action is too small. I think as humans we often freeze up when we have radical, world-changing ideas, especially when the thought of potentially failing, or not knowing where or how to start, intimidates us. As cliché as it sounds, it’s so important to take the first step and try, and build momentum from there. When it’s a mammoth task, I believe action follows motivation and not the other way around.

Two years ago when I quit my well-paying, comfortable job to pursue this idea, I was only equipped with some knowledge about the skincare industry, and I had no idea how to set up a business, the legal knowledge involved and even fundraising. Looking back now, I’ve learnt and grown so much since I started this journey, and it only began because of that first step.

Building Yours has been the most exciting phase of my life, because every step forward has been about making a positive impact to both users and the environment; all the great feedback and love from our customers keep us going.

Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?

The beauty industry is rife with non-recyclable packaging waste, ingredients are often farmed unsustainably and animal testing is rampant. When I set out to create Yours, I wanted to reimagine every aspect of the skincare industry, from ingredients and formulation to packaging, by balancing nature and science to find the right fit for users and the environment.

First, this meant leveraging technology to personalize skincare at scale, and in the process, reduce product waste by eliminating skincare trial-and-error, which is often expected by customers in the beauty industry. This results in a lot of wasteful consumption — we all have a shelf full of products that didn’t work for us! Yours is all about minimalist consumption, where we combine multiple actives in a lesser number of products so our users can enjoy a simple, hassle-free routine. We help our users find the right skincare routine through our proprietary personalisation model, which is based on a selfie-analysis that helps us accurately decode a user’s skin needs. With just a quick skin assessment, we’re able to map the right ingredients to an individual’s skin needs based on their skin type, lifestyle and environment. Users no longer have to buy and consequently throw away products that don’t work for them, combating the issue of unnecessary product waste.

That was the starting point of our sustainability efforts. Next, we assessed how ingredients were being sourced. Yours is a clean beauty company producing high-quality skincare formulations using only Swiss actives and ingredients that are sustainably and ethically procured through transparent supply chains. As a brand, it’s important to us that we only work with suppliers that align with our brand values so we can put our trust in them. Having full visibility into supply chains means being able to tell how ingredients are being farmed and how workers are being treated. It is the only way to verify and optimize for sustainability in our manufacturing process.

We’re also firmly against animal testing. All our products are formulated at a skincare lab in Switzerland, and undergo rigorous in-vivo and in-vitro lab testing. The ingredients we use are all synthetic or plant-derived, and are listed safe for use by the Environmental Working Group. This lets us create products that are effective, gentle and safe, without compromising on animal safety and rights.

Lastly, when it comes to packaging, recyclability is a bare minimum requirement for Yours. All of our current packaging and shipping materials are fully recyclable. A personal goal of mine is to reduce our current packaging waste by 50%. We’re also working towards a zero waste vision — on that note, all the bottles for the products in our personalized range are specially designed with airless pump technology, where a vacuum mechanism ensures that no product gets stuck to the walls — this makes it easier to recycle the bottles.

Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?

Over time, I have learnt so many simple lifestyle tweaks that have helped me be more sustainable. I’d like to share 3 that are the easiest to follow and have a significant impact on sustainability:

  1. Minimalist consumption in not just about beauty, but everything — from fashion to home essentials to electricity. Every product we buy has an impact on the environment, so being mindful of what we really need is important to ensure there is no unnecessary wastage.
  2. Invest in reusable containers or lunch boxes for food, flasks or collapsible cups for drinks, and glass or metal straws (bring it with you wherever you go!). These come especially handy when you order take-outs.
  3. Opt for foldable, reusable shopping bags instead of single-use plastic bags at the supermarket or when shopping. I personally support a homegrown brand called Peco Bag — their bags are made from recycled plastic bottles. They also have such unique prints! More often than not, people dismiss their own efforts, thinking that their individual actions are too small and negligible to make a difference. However, these everyday actions and choices we make add up, and each of them is a step towards creating a more sustainable world.

Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.

  1. Live by an environment-first mindset, and make sustainable living a lifestyle. This includes leading by example, like having recycling bins in the house and coming up with family rules such as never using plastic bottles, plastic bags and disposable cutlery. Reducing meat consumption as a family unit is also another way.
  2. Educating our children and having open conversations about what’s happening to our environment. Kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for, and the consequences of climate change doesn’t need any downplaying. Watching documentaries together as a family to learn about our climate emergency is a great starting point. I’d recommend the recent one by David Attenborough, A Life on Our Planet.
  3. Being close to nature! While we’ve become increasingly disconnected from nature, there is no substitute for it. When we learn how to appreciate Mother Earth, we will naturally care more for it. Going for a hike, keeping plants and growing a vegetable garden are all great ways to reconnect with our natural world.
  4. Action and participation. Participate in activities like plant-a-tree programmes, beach clean-ups, even sorting through donations at the Salvation Army. Not only does it help to inculcate an action mindset and let us witness firsthand our cumulative impact on the environment, we get the chance to meet and learn from other people who share the same environmental goals.
  5. Embrace new ideas. As a new generation takes over, they will lead with fresh ideas that might be better than what we’ve come up with in our time! We should never let pride or ego get in the way of great ideas that pave the way for change.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

There needn’t be trade-offs between environment and profit. Rather, sustainability efforts should be blended and incorporated into the business model itself. The debate of sustainability vs. profitable only arises when sustainability efforts are categorised as an additional expense and not as a core way of operating. I firmly believe that the same way one shouldn’t cut corners around product efficacy nor should sustainability efforts be compromised.

That said, I’m well aware that packaging and operational costs for sustainable options are usually higher than its unsustainable alternatives, however, in the long term for a company to be successful and profitable it has to resonate with its users and align with their values. And in the world we live in today, consumers are becoming more conscious of what goes in their products, their footprint and impact on the environment — and they demand the same onus of responsibility from the companies they choose to stand by. It’s inevitable that in the future, people will actively seek and only consume sustainable products.

Through the virtue of its existence, a company should have a net positive impact on the world. Profitability vs sustainability isn’t a zero sum game.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

One person who’s had my back with everything I decide to do is my husband, Shivam Sharma. Not only did he inspire me to start Yours, he has consistently been my support system for years now, and I draw a lot of energy and strength from him. As a solo female founder for the first year, it would have been a very lonely journey had he not been silently helping me on the side. He was new to the beauty industry but his approach to bringing the brand to life was so customer-centric that people started resonating with our story, and we got a lot of love as a brand. He would come up with fun ideas like creating a Spotify playlist for skincare, and launching our ‘dream sunscreen’ in a brand-less way to drive hype! He joined Yours as my co-founder in 2019, with the same passion for our mission. We initially noticed some investors had reservations towards investing in a husband-wife duo, but we stayed true to our values and we knew it could actually be a secret weapon for a start-up. Eventually, we had Sequoia and Jay-Z invest in us 🙂

You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I could inspire a movement, I’d leave everyone with a simple thought — be net positive. Not just towards the planet but to everyone around us too. We often hear that the human race has a negative impact on this planet and the reason for that is, at a micro-level, most of us as individuals are unaware or rather ignorant about how our choices add to the cumulative effect on the planet. Adding to that, the hyper competitive nature of our species pushes us to be in a zero sum game against other people, leading to poor choices. However, our planet and everyone living on it would actually benefit if everyone was net positive.

There’s a very interesting TED talk by Policy Advisor Simon Anholt that deeply resonated with me, it talks about which country does the most good for the world. While that video covers mostly how each country impacts the world we live in today, the same can be applied to each individual as well and their effect on collective humanity.

Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?

One life lesson that has always stuck with me is “turn your insecurity into curiosity”. When I started building Yours, I had a limited understanding of skincare ingredients — it was enough to make a purchase for myself but not enough to set up a skincare company. Instead of letting that be a roadblock, I went deep into learning about ingredients and the sourcing process, and got senior skincare experts and scientists onboard. We heavily indexed the R&D of our products using the best of Swiss ingredients (that were once not so affordable). These ingredients have gone through stringent efficacy tests, are 100% clean, have a transparent supply chain, and have been rated safe by EWG. I also worked for months to refine our personalisation algorithm. After more than a year of hard work, our products are out there in the hands and homes of our customers, and it’s the most fulfilling experience to read their reviews and how Yours is now an integral part of their routine. Every so often we get reviews from our customers highlighting how they now feel more comfortable in their skin and they’re able to go out now without makeup 🙂

What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?

I’m always up for a good conversation and I love to share my learning and experiences on my social handles:

LinkedIn: @knavneet

Twitter: @navneet_ka

And if you want to be updated on new product launches, sneak previews, get daily skincare tips and more, follow us (@lovefromyours) on Instagram!

This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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