DECIEM is the beloved cosmetic company selling two products every second, but its incredible success of today is a far cry from its rocky past.
Co-Founder and CEO Nicola Kilner has spent the past two years picking up the pieces of an almost-ruined empire, breathing new life into the now multimillion-dollar company.
As the umbrella to a collection of game-changing skincare brands including the ever-prominent The Ordinary, DECIEM made global headlines in 2018 after a series of controversial moves by Founder Brandon Truaxe.
The Canadian-Iranian built the groundbreaking cosmetic empire, and then nearly broke it. A barrage of erratic social media posts, alcohol and drug abuse, mental health issues and legal action by Estée Lauder almost led to the collapse of the startup. The unrest came to a rapid halt following Brandon’s untimely death in January 2019, after a fall from his Toronto condominium.
Despite being fired – twice – by Brandon, Nicola took the reins of DECIEM and transformed her friend’s vision into an influential global brand.
"Brandon is at the forefront of absolutely everything we do," Nicola tells The CEO Magazine.
Just six years after the brand’s inception, DECIEM reportedly turned over more than US$300 million in 2019 – creating significant waves in the fiercely competitive market.
"Brandon changed the world of beauty forever by calling out an industry typically run on fearmongering, highly paid ambassadors and over-the-top marketing campaigns," Nicola explains. "He set out with a mission to educate customers on what they are really buying and putting on their skin, and he succeeded at that."
The beauty brand reshaped the saturated industry, leading the way to simple, affordable yet effective skincare – landing DECIEM in its own lane.
Starting with just two employees, DECIEM now has more than 1,000 staff globally and more than 50 stores.
In a highly competitive multibillion-dollar industry, it is challenging to stand out among the noise. But by sticking to its roots of functionality, design and authenticity, the brand is pacing ahead in the beauty game.
"We stay in our lane," Nicola says. "We definitely do this abnormally at DECIEM and we believe this is what keeps us at the forefront of innovation.
"Of course, we would be doing ourselves a disservice if we didn’t look left and right, but our innovation comes from what our audience tells us they are looking for or wanting to see us create."
From idea to execution, everything is produced in-house. Starting with one product in one market, the umbrella company has grown its portfolio to more than 50 products in more than 15 markets.
Clean, no-nonsense packaging is central to its brands’ formidable success.
"We don’t promise what isn’t there," Nicola shares. "I truly believe our transparency with our customers is what continues to drive our popularity forward.
"That, coupled with the true innovation behind every single product, has showcased how a beauty company can be successful in business without launching newness frequently to stay relevant."
In addition to its award-winning products, the brains behind DECIEM are paramount to its achievements.
"My main priority after 2018 was to ensure our people felt safe and secure and to implement structure and initiatives to support each and every one of them," Nicola tells The CEO Magazine.
As a way to answer questions surrounding its founder’s fate, DECIEM is hosting a podcast called HUMAN where experts will share information about mental health.
Providing access to independent 24/7 counselling and offering mental health days were some of the ways the CEO supported the talented staff, putting the brand back on the right track.
"We are growing very quickly, so our priority is ensuring we have the right team in place to best prepare ourselves and the wider team for our expansion globally," Nicola says. "We are in the process of selecting our Inclusion Board, which will be 20 colleagues across different areas of the business, at different levels, representing different diverse groups.
"It’s important that each human at DECIEM has the support they need to reach their potential."
At the height of the brand’s darkest days, learning how to remain calm became one of the hidden silver linings to the volatile year.
"I believe there is a better future based on how businesses act now." – Nicola Kilner
The events of 2018 circumstantially primed Nicola to endure any business challenge thrown her way – even an unprecedented global pandemic.
"The biggest challenge at the start of COVID-19 was ensuring we could protect all 1,000 colleagues’ employment, and I am thankful to say we have succeeded in this," she says. "Businesses have to be agile to survive the unexpected, and more than ever internal practice is reflected to the outside world.
"Our core values as a company are honesty and transparency, and this is not only applied to our products, but I have personally applied this to my approach to leadership during such unprecedented times."
In the past two years, Nicola pulled DECIEM from murky waters, gave birth to her first child (and took no maternity leave) and is now pregnant with her second child, all the while championing women in the C-suite of the company where 57% of positions are held by women.
Balancing a multimillion-dollar beauty empire with raising her daughter is something the compelling leader dotingly describes as her "two babies".
"I am fortunate to be able to do both at the same time," Nicola says. "To me, leadership is behaving in a way that brings out the best in those around you – by creating the right environment to allow people to reach their full potential.
"Leadership is a crucial skill of a CEO, but the other part of my role, I believe, is to be the conductor of our ‘orchestra’ to ensure everyone is clear on our direction.
"It’s my responsibility to oversee the full picture of what is happening, and ensuring we are moving in the same direction with the right timing."
Providing millions around the world with effective skincare is the obvious goal for DECIEM, but the responsibilities global conglomerates have towards sustainability are not lost on Nicola.
"What we do now is crucial for the footprint we leave behind," she says. "I believe there is a better future based on how businesses act now."
The executive recently hired a Director of Sustainability to ensure the company follows business decisions that align effectively with their green priorities.
Using carbon neutral unit boxes, producing ecommerce packaging from recyclable materials and an in-store recycling program that accepts empty packaging from customers are some of the ways the brand is becoming sustainable.
"To me, leadership is behaving in a way that brings out the best in those around you – by creating the right environment to allow people to reach their full potential." – Nicola Kilner
Planning to produce more than 130 million unit boxes over the next two years gives an insight into the popularity of the products – many now purchased online.
Shifting to ecommerce was one of the crucial pivots the skincare company made during COVID-19, giving consumers a taste for the future of beauty.
"I think there will be a change in direct-to-consumer ecommerce and the functionality of a website, as well as an education piece for those new to skincare," Nicola explains. "We understand how personal skincare is, and we need time to trial it. This policy still stands during the pandemic."
Continuing to launch new products, including an entirely new SKU from The Ordinary this month, the CEO ensures there is a touch of her late friend in everything they create.
"When we brainstorm new products, business plans, retail locations, we constantly ask ourselves, ‘What would Brandon do?’" Nicola says. "His genius and ability to push the boundaries without fear is what got us here today."