What? You have a college degree in mathematics and economics, why are you running a beauty company?
No, seriously, are you sure this is what you should be doing with your life?
I often get that question, sometimes explicitly, other times less so when I see it flashing in people’s bewildered look when they find out that I did graduate from Wesleyan University, cum laude, with a mathematics and economics degree and then went on to get my MBA at Harvard.
The funny part is that it is precisely my background in mathematics, and more specifically my real world risk training under Nassim Taleb and Raphael Douadi that gave me the confidence to build Adeba Nature into the world’s first beauty company with antifragility at its center.
What’s antifragility? The idea coined and made popular by Nassim Taleb, a trader, hedge fund manager and professor constitutes a brilliant framework to analyze the world and the risks that are inherently part of it. (He covered that theory and more in his Incerto book series, which I highly recommend).
Antifragility is the nature of things that benefit from time, chaos, change, disorder, as opposed to fragility (things that break for good ) or resiliency ( things that break and survive/ renew).
To help define antifragility, Taleb writes about three concepts that are core to Adeba’s approach to science and product development and which gave me the confidence to keep going with the company in a somewhat adverse environment. These key elements are the following:
The Lindy effect: it is the idea that the older something is, the longer it's likely to be around in the future. In the case of Adeba Nature, it applies to our ingredients. We use 100% natural ingrédients that are time and battle-tested, with multiple usages in many geographies. This allows me to trust that the safety of the ingredients used by Adeba Nature has been proven in a robust way, via the hard-to-fake test of time i.e, if shea butter did have any significant deleterious effects, people would have stopped using it a long time ago. Instead, it is called the “women’s gold” in many parts of Africa and generations and generations of African babies have been massaged and bathed with it.
Grandmother’s wisdom: it is the idea that it is important to listen to our grandmothers, as their wisdom, whether via recipes, sage advice or dictatorial pronouncements promotes survival and leads us away from the “path to ruin.” Adeba Nature builds on our African heritage, and respects our grandmothers’ wisdom as we strive to make measured incremental changes when formulating our products, so as not to introduce unknown risks.
Convexity: Taleb famously said, it is “better to be convex than smart.” At Adeba Nature, this translates in our ability to discover, and to take advantage of innovation, so we can capture the upside. Danny Meyer (yes, the restaurateur from Shake shack and Union square cafe) refers implicitly to convexity in his memoirs, when he says about his search for a location for the aforementioned union square staple, that he “sensed a lot of upside and felt protected against the downside.” This is exactly what being convex means. At Adeba Nature, we thrive for groundbreaking innovation, while limiting the risks since we rely on grandmothers’ wisdom to source ingrédients and recipes and then build on them.
So yes, there is a method to the natural madness, Adeba Nature is squarely in line with a mathematical, risk-assessed venture, with antifragility at its core, which makes having a math background and a RWRI (Real world risk institute) training, a beautiful touch.