CyDen is a leader in light-based cosmetic treatment. After making a best-selling product for Boots, the company has now signed a global deal with consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble. We turn the spotlight on a thriving business...
Health and beauty firm CyDen has already attracted attention with its innovative hair removal device for women but it is set to reach new heights this year after signing a multimillion-pound deal with Procter & Gamble (P&G). The company is a pioneer of light-based, cosmetic skin treatments and will unveil a new home-use product this summer with the help of the consumer products giant.
CyDen was founded in 2002 by four academics at the University of Swansea, and its patented technology – called Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) – harnesses natural light for treatments to remove port-wine stains and hair.
But the story of the company begins three decades earlier. In 1979, professor Marc Clement realised the potential of light therapy after he accidentally passed a laser over his hand and discovered hair did not grow back. Over the next 20 years he researched the interaction between light and skin, filing a patent for a hair-removing laser in 1993, and co-founding CyDen with fellow Swansea University academics Kevin Smith, Dr Michael Kiernan and the late Jan Henning Simonsen in 2002.
Clement and his team, who now hold 50 light treatment patents between them, first used IPL in professional clinics and spas. Then in 2009 the firm launched a home-use device in a tie-up with Boots, which proved highly successful. The iPulse, which retailed at £400 under the name Boots Smooth Skin, became the store's best-selling online product.
THE NEW DEVICE
CyDen has been working on developing its new product, which will be made in China, for the past 18 months. "We found a manufacturing partner that we felt had the expertise to do it," explains CyDen chief executive William Cotton. "It was absolutely about the quality and the price." The product builds on many innovative features of the iPulse and will use the same core technology, but P&G will be responsible for the branding.
"P&G are masters at consumer understanding," says Cotton. "That's important as it lets us focus on what we're really good at – the technology – and it allows them to lead on the consumer understanding, the relationships and the global reach."
The device works by directing a short intense pulse of filtered light onto the skin, which disables the hair follicle. And according to Cotton it is pretty painless to use. "It's like having an elastic band flicked at you," he says. A weekly treatment is needed for the following three months after which the hair will not grow back.
Cotton is guarded about details of the P&G deal, but the new device, aimed at women between 20 and 60, will be launched across Europe initially, and he has high aspirations for the firm. He is confident that the deal will help the business grow from a single digit-million turnover to one of more than £200m in the next five years.
"If we make women as happy about the new product we're launching with P&G globally as we have done with our previous device, we will have a business that will be turning over hundreds of millions of pounds," says Cotton. "I will be disappointed if I can't grow this business 30- or 40-fold in the next five years."
Cotton says CyDen was in talks with P&G for several months before finalising the deal. "There were discussions for some time at laser and IPL conventions, as well as trade events," he explains. "While we'd love to say we persuaded them, the truth is that they recognised we were experts and those discussions developed."
CyDen recently opened a new office in Reading and has another in Richmond but the company's roots remain firmly embedded in Swansea. The connection to the city stretches back 30 years to when Clement made his remarkable discovery in a laboratory at the University of Swansea.
The company continues to work closely with the university and in 2010 founded the CyDen Institute of Light Therapy (CILT), led by Clement, within the Institute of Life Science.
CyDen has a few researchers located at the university but most of the firm's 35-strong staff are based in Swansea city centre. CyDen's employees have a range of technical skills and experience, and the team includes mechanical, electronic and software engineers. "These are complex bits of kit using large amounts of energy and you need to build in safety mechanisms, which means having people who know exactly what they're doing," says Cotton.
Cotton, who joined CyDen last July, admits it was a challenge arriving as a new chief executive and not understanding the technology. His background is commercial – not scientific – but he says his role was to "professionalise" the business.
He regards his team as world-class innovators who are hungry for success. "These people have true entrepreneurial spirit and that culture of entrepreneurship is deeply ingrained in the business." But Cotton knew he would need to implement changes the moment the deal was signed with P&G. "The world changes a lot for a firm when it signs a deal like this. You can't do things the way you've done them in the past," he says. "I have huge admiration for everything the team has done but it is time to take the organisation forward."
And it's a big step forward for CyDen, which will move from supplying one retailer in Britain to thousands of companies across Europe in more than a dozen markets this summer.
Cotton says the power of a united team is much greater than the sum of the parts and the key to success, he adds, is to recognise the different skills and attributes, and harness them.
CyDen is thriving despite the recession – so what's its secret? "We're meeting real consumer needs by helping women to look great and feel better. If you have a superior solution to needs, which we have, then consumers will respond favourably," Cotton says. "We're not immune to macroeconomics and it's true we might be more successful in a different economic environment but we've got a superior product, we'll meet demand and we'll be successful."
The beauty devices market is also booming and Cotton believes it will be worth £5bn in five years' time. The firm aims to transform the market with its new product. And there appears to be little threat from competitors. The iPulse's particular patented circuitry uses an intelligent light pulse, which is more controlled than others on the market. "It's great to be in a business where you've got truly differentiated technology that is safer and more effective than any other company's."
Despite the predicted growth, Cotton doesn't believe it will be necessary to strengthen the team dramatically. "We'll grow this year to maybe 45 people but because we're working with global partners – we have the manufacturers, we have P&G – this means we don't need to expand hugely."
THE WAY FORWARD
So what else is in the pipeline? "We are continuing our research and the development of our technology at CILT in Swansea," says Cotton. CyDen attracted £15m of new investment last year from Richard Koch, founder of online gambling exchange Betfair, and Sir Nigel Rudd, chairman of BAA and the Business Growth Fund. The money is being invested in the development of new products.
CyDen is running five clinical trials – mostly for hair removal but also for treating skin blemishes. The firm continually runs trials to test products and these can last up to a year. "It's not like launching a shampoo – you need people to stick to the treatment regime and you need to treat them carefully and in a controlled way," says Cotton. "The core technology is the same but there are different ways in which you can refine it. The more trials we do the more we understand how to optimise products."
But this year CyDen will remain focused on its deal with P&G. The new device is already being made and will be on the shelves in a few months' time. "Having this global deal will put CyDen on a very attractive path but it will also allow us to invest and develop new technologies to take the business further forward," says Cotton.