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18 Conference Report #techonomy2018

John Melo on What’s Good For You, Good For the Planet, and Good For Business

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  • John Melo at Techonomy 2018, Monday, November 12, 2018. (Photography by Paul Sakuma Photography)

Speaker

John Melo
President and CEO, Amyris


The following transcript has been lightly edited and condensed for ease of reading. 

Speaker: John Melo, Amyris

(Transcription by RA Fisher Ink)

Melo: It’s great to be here with all of you. Good afternoon to everybody. So what is Amyris all about, what is Amyris doing? We believe we’re doing great for the planet, great for people, and also delivering and building a good business. Let me explain a little bit about how we’re doing that. And I’ll do that by really talking about three things, squalane, no compromise, and a little bit about the future and how the future can be here today.

So our company Amyris has built one of the fastest growing skin care brands, as a matter of fact, the fastest skin care brand in the US over the last three years, a brand called Biossance. And just to give you a sense of the growth, first year we did about $500,000 dollars in retail sales, last year about $5 million, this year we’ll end with a little bit over $20 million in retail sales and we’re on track for about $60 million or more next year. So we’re doing all that because we decided sustainability really matters and we decided consumers are smart enough to decide when they’re putting a good ingredient on their skin versus a bad ingredient.

And, so let me talk you through the three points. First, squalane, in 2012, as we were finishing our anti-malaria project and realized that we couldn’t make renewable fuels in a sustainable way, in a way that could really make a great business, we decided to look for other markets we can take our core technology into. And one of the markets we decided was interesting was this market for a product called squalane. Squalane had been around for over 100 years, it’s actually viewed as the number one emollient, the number one moisturizer you can put on your skin.

And as I looked and spent a lot of time in Japan talking to Japanese skin care companies and then our current partner, a company called Nikko Chemical, Nikko Chemical was telling me how they were investing in small villages throughout the world to pay fishermen to go hunt sharks so they could extract the shark liver oil to make this thing called squalane. And I thought to myself, “This is crazy.” I understand it’s a great ingredient, as a matter of fact, as I looked around the world it was fascinating. The best consumer brands for skin care and cosmetics around the world all use this ingredient called squalane. And more importantly, the most loyal consumers buy from these brands.

So I realized there was a connection between loyalty, between a great emollient, and between cosmetic and skin care products. And that at the heart of all of this was this product called squalane that was being derived from shark liver oil. At that point, I decided this was wrong. Consumers deserve the best but they deserve the best from a sustainable source. And what we did is we engineered yeast, the same yeast that makes bread, that makes beer, that makes wine, to actually take natural sustainable sugar cane juice and convert the sugar cane juice into this amazing emollient called squalane. And we’ve actually scaled that to the point now where we supply squalane to over 2,500 of the world’s leading skin care brands and more importantly we built a consumer brand called Biossance and created that brand to deliver squalane to consumers in the US, Brazil, Canada, soon Mexico, soon Europe, and then Southeast Asia.

So to me, here is a perfect example of identifying an amazing ingredient that’s not sustainably available and using a disruptive technology, making it for lower cost, more available, and from a sustainable source. Which leads me to the second point which is this theme called no compromise. We believe that to really move the world to sustainable products and really create a renewable base for how all chemistries made in the world, we have to use something called the no compromise promise. And what that means is that for consumers to adopt or consumers to switch, products have to perform better than the existing products they use, they have to cost less to make, and they have to be from a sustainable source. And when all three of those things exist, it is amazing the rate that consumers switch. And more importantly, if the product really works, it’s amazing the loyalty you get from consumers, especially millennial consumers across the world. So again, this no compromise promise is the key, in our view, to building a sustainable products company. A company that builds products from a sustainable source that really perform better and at a lower cost.

And now let me end with the future and where I believe the future is going. Today, we are working in everything from sweeteners to vitamins to many other ingredients. As a matter of fact, I would bet that most of you have some product that has one of our ingredients in it already. So I think the future is a future where being able to genetically code, write code the same way you would on a browser, but do it by modifying yeast. And getting that yeast to make amazing chemistry that is naturally sourced, that costs less, and that performs better is a world that I think could make all of our lives more sustainable. And more importantly, make our bodies feel better, make us healthier, and take companies that make bad stuff, really get to the point where they struggle to make money by using crap chemistry for you to use.

With that, thank you very much, David. I appreciate being here again.

Kirkpatrick: Thank you, John. Tell me one thing before you leave, how many sharks are you saving?

Melo: We are currently up to saving four million sharks a year and we’re excited about four million sharks but as you know our most exciting thing is saving a million children a year from malaria.

Kirkpatrick: Well, you didn’t even really—you just eluded to what you’re doing with sweeteners and that’s very cool. That will be the next talk.

Melo: Thank you very much.

[APPLAUSE]

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