Deciem's Nicola Kilner on Continuing to Build a Successful Brand After Tragedy

"People were also sharing how the products changed their skin and the really accessible price points."

Beauty Boss: Deciem
Photo: Courtesy of Deciem

Welcome to Beauty Boss, a reoccurring series in which we spotlight the power players driving the beauty world forward. Consider this your chance to steal their get-ahead secrets, and grow from the real-life lessons they've learned on the job.

The Ordinary is one of the most-hyped skincare brands on the internet — and for good reason.

When the Canadian skincare brand first burst onto the scene in 2016, it was nearly impossible to find products with quality, clinical ingredients at an affordable price. But they made a $7 hyaluronic acid serum and a $6 retinoid serum, both with formulas that work.

While The Ordinary quickly racked up legions of dedicated, passionate fans because of its serums' reliable prices and results, the products were soon overshadowed by messy internet drama surrounding its parent company Deciem's late co-founder Brandon Truaxe.

Aside from Truaxe's initial revolutionary vision for The Ordinary and the company's other brands, the reason Deciem has overcome its dark period — and become more profitable than ever — is because of co-founder and CEO Nicola Kilner. After briefly leaving Deciem in February 2018, she returned to the company in July of that year.

In October 2018, Kilner was named CEO of the company. In her new role, Kilner repaired the company's structure and business operations, while keeping the spirit of Truaxe's vision. Today, The Ordinary is sold in-store and online at Sephora and Ulta, in addition to Deciem's own site.

Here, Kilner shares how she got her start in the beauty industry, why Deciem was able to overcome its darkest days, the company's best brand you aren't using (yet), and more.

How did you get started in the beauty industry?

When I went university to study business management, I was scouted by Boots, the big health and beauty retailer in the U.K. One of my placements was on the beauty training team, and it just clicked. Growing up, I didn't think about being in the beauty industry. I wanted to be an entrepreneur and do something I was passionate about. When I stared working at Boots, it all fell into place and I felt like I was where I was supposed to be. After graduating, I worked as a beauty buyer for Boots and that's how I met Brandon. Before founding Deciem, he had another skincare brand called Indeed Labs. About seven years ago, I left Boots to join Deciem when it was starting up, and I've never looked back.

You went back to Deciem after being terminated by Brandon. Not everyone would do that. What made you want to return to the company?

We often referred to the bond I formed with Brandon and the other team members as "the Deciem family." It always felt like we were doing something so much more than just work and that we were simply colleagues. If Boots fired me, I don't think I'd ever go back, but this was a completely different circumstance. Brandon was someone I loved deeply and he was suffering. But, it wasn't just Brandon suffering, all of our our colleagues were suffering too. Deciem was my baby, and I had been there since day one. So, it was never even a question of whether or not to come back. It was like they never really lost me. In the short time I was away, I was still in contact with Brandon and different members of the team.

Often times when brands experience controversy online, it doesn't result in more people buying their products. Deciem's challenging period was its most profitable. Why do you think this happened?

The Ordinary launched at the end of 2016, so the brand was just over a year old when all of this trouble started. As much as The Ordinary exploded within the beauty industry, the reality was that most people hadn't heard of the brand. Even today it's not a household name. It definitely raised awareness about Deciem and The Ordinary, and thankfully we have a lot of good customer testimony and reviews for our products. I think along with the story, people were also sharing how the products changed their skin and the really accessible price points, so the message still spread.

Throughout everything happening, I think people could see that the story was about someone suffering with mental health, which as a society I think we're all becoming more aware of and trying to understand. I think people realize there's a whole team around the company and they shouldn't penalize them for it.

People are more knowledgeable on skincare ingredients than ever before. Instead of cute names, The Ordinary's products are simply labeled with their ingredients. How do you think the brand has contributed to this shift in how people buy skincare products?

I think there wasn't as much transparency with products to allow this to happen. Today, active ingredients and percentages are often laid out, but we take it to the next level on our website by sharing the pH level, that it's gluten-free, along with all the other information you could need. The audience has now become more educated because the information is out there with this new brand, but now they're demanding it from other brands. I think it's something we're going to continue to see impact the industry, and I think the more information the audience has, the more conversations will happen. The nice thing with The Ordinary is that it feels like a community has formed. Our Facebook fan group [it's independent from the brand] has over a 100,000 members and it's amazing to see people helping others with their regimens.

How do The Ordinary's fans effect the products the brand launches?

It doesn't influence how we make products as much as how we improve them. Once a product is out there, we get feedback on the packaging, the sizes, and the need for recycling, so it definitely has a lot of impact on that side. When it comes to making new products, one of the things we always try to do is make sure most of our innovation comes from our lab. I think it's something that surprising because traditionally, many brands have a marketing team that does research, comes up with trends, and then develops products from there. We try to put science at the front of everything.

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The Ordinary has become Deciem's most popular brand, but the company has over 10 other brands. What brand do you think people are sleeping on?

To me, it's NIOD. It's a brand our scientists have so much passionate about, and they really put a lot of time into developing each product and its ingredients. The line looks at a long-term view of the skin and skin health, and from that perspective it's a different approach. You'll get quick results with the The Ordinary, but NIOD works in a different way. One of the products I would recommend from NIOD is the Multi Molecular Hyaluronic Complex. It has fifteen different types of hyaluronic acid compounds in it, so it's really looks at all of the different things that molecule can do. The other unique thing about NIOD is that the formulas are always evolving. As new technology is discovered, the products are reformulated to reflect the latest innovation.

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