Obviously The Ordinary needs no introduction. The face, brains and brilliance behind the brand, however? Now that’s someone you mightn’t be as familiar with.
Allow us to introduce Nicola Kilner.
She’s the CEO and co-founder of DECIEM, which if you didn’t already know, is the parent company behind the cult-status skin care range, The Ordinary. But before there were award-winning products and infinitely long waitlists, there were two colleagues with an idea to flip a billion dollar industry on its head.
Unlike most budding entrepreneurs who follow some variation of the advice, “find something you love, then work out your niche,” The Ordinary’s conception ignored this entirely. The brand, which was “born out of frustration” skipped the part where they honed in on a target audience and instead, cast the net as wide as they could throw it. Distinct demographics? No thanks. Gender-specific? Nope. Skin type-focussed? Not here.
The Ordinary was born to “make a difference within the industry and drive change,” Kilner tells BEAUTYcrew. It was a mission that saw them saying sayonara to schfancy packaging and BS marketing, instead championing ingredients and science-backed results without the excessive price tag.
And it’s a move that paid off. The core values resonated with well, everyone, and haven’t wavered over the last decade as the business has grown from startup to global success.
Inspired yet? We’re only just getting started.
Whether you love The Ordinary, want to work for The Ordinary, or would like to get your own beauty bizz off the ground, Kilner gave BEAUTYcrew an all access pass into how she built the brand that has changed the skin care industry forever.
Take us back to where it all began. What was your first-ever job?
I started my career within the beauty industry at UK health and beauty chain Boots, where I was the Beauty Buying Manager for Innovation. At a time when conglomerates dominated the industry, I worked to discover smaller, independent brands from around the world, bringing them to the UK market and audience.
And what is your current job title?
[I’m the] CEO & Co Founder [of DECIEM]
Let’s rewind back to your high school days, did you have any idea of the career path you wanted to go down?
I was always fascinated by entrepreneurship from a young age and dreamt of doing something in the start-up space. Growing up I loved watching Dragon’s Den and asking for entrepreneur books for my birthday presents!
What course did you study at university (if any)? Are there any other qualifications or experiences you had that you think were paramount in helping you get where you are today?
I was always unsure whether university was for me, but I found a great programme for Business Management in Company at Nottingham Trent University.
In my second and third year we would have condensed study blocks, then work the majority of the year in a corporate company where we would be applying what we had learned and basing our coursework on real business.
I was very lucky to get sponsored by Boots on this course and learned so much in this period. Even if someone is passionate about the start-up world, I think corporations are a great stepping stone in learning many great things.
Talk to us about The Ordinary, where did it all begin?
It was whilst I was at Boots that I met Brandon, who was the founder of skin care brand Indeed Labs, [and] I was instantly captivated by his mind and energy. When Brandon asked me to join him on building DECIEM, a start-up with very limited resources but unlimited ideas, I said yes without hesitation.
We launched in 2013 with one product in one market!
The Ordinary is widely recognised as the go-to brand for affordable, quality, and hard-working products, how important is it to you that the range remains accessible?
The Ordinary was born out of frustration, at a time when the industry was rife with misleading ads and basic ingredients at excessive prices. We wanted to offer honestly-priced products to our consumers and educate them on ingredients.
Since our launch, consumers have gained greater knowledge about what they put on their skin, and what should be a fair price.
What makes The Ordinary magical is that it belongs to everyone. We never create products based on a specific target, because skincare should be accessible to all, regardless of gender, age or economic status.
Ultimately, we want to offer all human beings science-focused, high-quality, educational formulations. Nowadays, consumers are very well informed about the composition of the products they use. The Ordinary’s success is proof of this and has inspired real change in the cosmetics industry.
We want to make a difference within the industry and drive change. I personally believe that staying true to one’s brand values, and being transparent with partners, staff and audiences leads to success.
Fast forward to the present. What does an average work day look like for you?
A work day can vary depending on where I need to be. Our headquarters are in Toronto, Canada, but we also have offices in London so I often find myself splitting my time between both. Being a Canadian company means that many of our team are based on a different time zone to me which works well with being a mum. I’m able to spend the morning with my children and still be online for calls later on during the day with the team in Canada.
My meetings vary between looking at how we can continue to build growth to power good through our sustainable and social impact initiatives, to speaking with Prudvi Kaka, our Chief Scientific Officer to ideate and touch base on the innovation he and his team are working on.
What do you consider the most challenging part of your role at The Ordinary?
As the company has grown so much, it has outgrown my technical skills in many areas. So always being aware of this and bringing in the right support at the right time to delegate. Last year we created the position of a General Manager which was a huge win for myself personally as well as our team.
And the best part?
Being surrounded by truly the best team. We have the most incredible group of humans who really are committed to doing good.
What advice would you give to those looking to land a role working in a company like The Ordinary?
You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar, meaning being kind gets you further. I think in the year 2023, kindness is a trait of beauty.
Although there’s no other brand like it, is there anyone else you look to for inspiration?
Our people. The family we have created. It is a very special (and abnormal) team to be a part of and I am always inspired by those around me. We started as three people and now have over 1,500 employees globally.
Since The Ordinary’s launch, what has been your biggest “pinch me” moment?
Seeing the growing number of people that love and support The Ordinary has been incredible to see. We’re proud to continue to bring honestly priced, science-proven formulas to new markets and continue our mission to democratise quality.
Ruby is BEAUTYcrew's Beauty Editor. She is the CEO of nine global corporations. Just kidding. She does however, report on the latest beauty trends, celeb skin care lines (the wonderful, the so-so and the downright unnecessary). If you're ever at a lull in conversation with her, be sure to mention anything hormonal acne or Real Housewives and you'll be set for hours.