The true story behind The Ordinary reads like crime fiction.

In January 2019, Nicola Kilner, CEO and co-founder of the now billion-dollar skincare brand The Ordinary sent the hardest email of her life. 

In the email, Kilner confirmed the sudden death of her then-business partner, Brandon Truaxe.

“I can’t believe I am typing these words. Brandon passed away over the weekend. Heartbroken doesn’t come close to how I, and how I know many of you, will be feeling,” read the email from Kilner.

“All offices, warehouses, factories and stores please close today and take the time to cry with sadness, smile at the good times we had, reflect on what his genius built and hug your loved ones that little harder. We are all in disbelief and shock but I will be in touch again very soon. I love you all incredibly much, as did he.” 

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Video via A Current Affair.

Going on four years since the death, Kilner has shared intimate details surrounding that time and her tumultuous relationship with her co-founder in an episode of Diary of a CEO.


In the interview, Kilner speaks about building the beauty empire at just 24 years of age, alongside business partner and friend Truaxe. 

How did Nicola Kilner and Brandon Truaxe meet?

Kilner says it all began with her job at Boots, a pharmaceutical giant in the UK, which was where she first noticed a price gap in the market.

In a phone call with Truaxe, Kilner says she "always wanted to do her own thing". But the two decided to join forces as Truaxe had just quit his job and wanted to build a multifaceted company, which would parent companies across a wide range of industries. 

Truaxe decided to check in with Kilner, and the two decided to launch the company now known as DECIEM.


Kilner says this pairing was an easy decision, considering they had worked great together in the past and that their particular skill set complemented one another, which Kilner says was invaluable for starting their business. 

They both agreed that developing a strong company culture was going to be an important focus for their new business venture.

Kilner says it's because of this that they built their company with a similar structure to that of a cult. 

It was Truaxe that has the philosophy that to create a thriving business you need to be a family. The pair say they were able to do this due to the fact that they were building from the ground up.

"We were a startup, we couldn't afford the experience, everyone who was hired was pretty much straight out of university which meant no one really had preconditioned ideas about the beauty industry," says Kilner, which ultimately led the team to become "insanely close".

Soon they were working, travelling, eating, sleeping, partying, practically doing everything together, each and every day for years on end. As you can imagine this created a deep emotional bond between Kilner, Truaxe and their dedicated employees.

As The Ordinary became increasingly popular for being the only 'abnormal beauty company' on the market – a phrase the company continues to use – things began to change. Kilner and Truaxe had just signed the company's biggest deal with The Estee Lauder group, merging their corporate powers and launching the company far beyond anything they could have ever imagined.


What were the first signs that Brandon Truaxe was acting strange?

What should have been a very exciting time for Kilner and Truaxe was very short-lived. 

That summer break Kilner and her partner travelled to Australia to enjoy a well-earned holiday, while Truaxe was heading to Amsterdam to experiment with psychedelics.


Kilner still actually defends that Truaxe was not into illicit drugs by nature, rather she describes him as a "diet coke and fries with ketchup kind of guy." Unfortunately, it seemed that Truaxe soon found himself obsessing over the effects of experimenting with drugs hoping the "magic mushrooms might unlock certain parts of the brain", says Kilner. 

Then Kilner received a strange call from Truaxe. 

She describes the call as disturbing and recalls feeling that something was very wrong. She felt as if she had never met the man on the other end of the phone, despite practically being family. 

Truaxe asked her if she had her passport on her and requested her to go straight to the airport, that she needed to come to Toronto, Canada immediately.


Kilner cried the entire 20-hour flight.

Then when she arrived, the once warm and kind Truaxe had transformed into a cold and nonsensical human being. This would be the beginning of many bizarre and uncomfortable interactions that occurred over the coming months.

Kilner recalls a time when Brendan became fixated on punctuality, saying things like: "We're too caught up with time," and, "There's no time anymore, I am going to meet you in the coffee shop but I am not going to tell you when we'll just be there when we're meant to be there." 

It was an incredibly confusing time for Kilner and the company. She would second guess what was happening and said she needed to call friends for moral support and confirmation that the behaviour was abnormal.

When did things take a turn for the worst? 

At this stage, it wasn't only Kilner who suspected Truaxe wasn't in his right mind. Following what began as the founder making a few tweaks to the company, quickly evolved into the most destructive behaviour that not only hurt many people along the way but jeopardised the business.


This was a particularly painful and uncertain time for everyone, trying to anticipate how Truaxe would react next. "Someone once said to me that it's like you're speaking a different language to each other and there's no understanding of what each person is saying," explained Kilner.

"There was no rational action at this time, he started making business decisions, and began by cancelling a brand on Instagram, a big partnership we had done, cancelling a retailer on Instagram saying 'this brand is no longer going to exist'."

Then Kilner lost her job as CEO.

"I remember getting a call from the person who ran our HR at the time and I remember just saying, 'I know he wants to fire me' and then she obviously said 'Yeah' and I remember just crying my eyes out."

Once her closest friend, her mentor and most trusted business partner had simply thrown her out overnight, like an old coffee cup. An emotional Kilner explained how terrified she was as she watched her loved one destroy everything they had built together. 

"I got fired in February and it had been the worst month of my life, horrendous," Kilner said.

"I'm scared, I don't know what's happening," said Kilner to a colleague "This is a person who has entirely changed and I don't know what to do to help him."


This is when Kilner said she took a step back, having always wanted to become a mother and have children, this seemed like a good time to focus on something positive.

"I became pregnant in March, but this was when Brandon was spiralling, sending abusive emails, targeting everyone, firing so many people within the business, copying the whole business in and retailers.

"I remember being about six weeks pregnant, I was being targeted on some of these emails, I remember thinking if I tell him I'm pregnant, because I know he's so kind, then maybe he'd leave me alone. Then he announced it on Instagram," says Kilner through the tears. 

Despite this awful treatment, Kilner stayed working, remaining in contact with her fellow employees so she was able to help in the background. 

"In October Brandon had made an Instagram post saying he was shutting down the entire company. This is the point the shareholders stepped in – you know we have 800 employees."

The post read, “Hi everyone, I’m Brandon Truaxe, founder of DECIEM. This is the final post of DECIEM. We will shut down all operations until further notice, which will be about two months. Please take me seriously.”

"This is when the court order to remove Brandon happened, which was incredibly hard, no one wants to remove the founder of who they cared so much about," shared Kilner.

What about the authorities, where were the police, why wasn't there any medical intervention? Over the course of six months, Truaxe had been sectioned five times, each time he would be released a short time after. With every incident, Kilner and the DECIEM employees would lose hope that things would change.


How did things end for Brandon Truaxe?

Things began to escalate, and now without his cult-like 'family' to give him purpose Truaxe's relationship with drugs, alcohol and the law reached a new high. In the meantime, the now seven months pregnant Kilner was on her way to Toronto to pick up the pieces.

Strangely enough, this was the busiest period in the history of the company with demand for stock being unprecedented and despite having no real leadership for the past year. Employees had done a "fantastic job" at keeping things afloat, said Kilner.

Truaxe had been arrested in the UK for his use of Crystal Meth – which made headlines across the world – then the Estee Lauder Group moved to take legal action following defamatory accusations Truaxe made online, suggesting that the company was complicit in "financial crimes".

A few months later, on the morning of January 20, 2019, Brandon Truaxe died. 

On the night before his death, Truaxe took to his personal Instagram to share videos of himself rambling, not making any sense, whilst at his high-rise apartment in Toronto.

It was reported that Truaxe had been drinking, which led to him accidentally falling from his high-rise balcony in the Distillery District of Toronto. Those closest to him were extremely devastated and saddened by the news.


Despite the fact that Brandon Truaxe's life had been nothing short of complicated, his legacy continues to live on through his work and employees and the community that is DECIEM. And it's his personal story that has touched so many and sparked important conversations surrounding mental health.

How is Nicola Kilner doing now?

Kilner wondered whether her relationship with the founder had ever been real – however, following Truaxe's death, Kilner received some closure. 

"Actually, the area that I got the comfort back that it was genuine and the love that I felt was when we got a copy of his estate, of his will, of his last wishes, when it came to the decision of what to do with his body it first went to his partner of 10 years and then it said in absence of that I want Nicola to decide what to do with my body.

"And actually it was a very comforting thing. I mean there's nothing more personal than trusting someone with the decision of what to do with my remains."

This gave Kilner a deep sense of closure and comfort.

"I miss him so much. It's quite lonely, it's like going from a two-parent to a one-parent," says Kilner.


Kilner now operates the company with the ethos that the pair built together, "quality equality" and says being kind, even when people aren't looking, is essential for growing a successful business.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with their mental health, please seek professional help and contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.

Image: Instagram/ The Ordinary/ Mamamia.

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