How two chance meetings helped shape a unicorn – the Augustinus Bader story

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.
(Left to right) Professor Augustinus Bader, Charles Rosier and Germaine Chia

Anyone who has launched a company – and I speak with experience – knows how ferociously difficult it is. In the US, the attrition rate for start-ups failing in their first year is a frightening 20%, and the number just keeps on climbing through years two to five.

Lack of adequate financing and running out of cash are the main reasons cited but there a myriad others. Wrong product, bad timing, poor management, inadequate marketing, an already overcrowded market, bad luck and… well, you get the picture, it ain’t easy, right?

So imagine this. A business involving a combo between a French ex-Goldman Sachs Managing Director and a German university Professor known for his pioneering work in stem cell biology goes from start-up to a US$1 billion valuation (denoting ‘unicorn’ status) in just five years. In the same time frame it reaches number three in the luxury skincare segment in the US domestic beauty market – the world’s most competitive.

Already that brand is number two in the premium skincare category across Sephora’s US doors. In upscale retailer Nordstrom it is a near (and closing) number three behind La Mer and La Prairie. In Bluemercury – a Macy’s-owned High Street retailer – it ranks number one.

That very same company is adamant that its seemingly pipedream mission of becoming the number one premium skincare brand in the US is going to happen. Similarly for the UK. And in travel retail? Well, let’s just say the brand is already off to a flying start (courtesy initially of DFS in Paris and Macau in 2021) in an ever-expanding number of doors.

Meet Augustinus Bader the brand. And Augustinus Bader the man. Along with Charles Rosier, the other, equally important half of a two-man alliance that has taken the beauty world by storm. Straight off a flight from Taipei last Friday, I caught up with them both – along with the brand’s Head of APAC Germaine Chia – at Four Seasons Hotel for what was supposed to be an informal chat.

In fact, I found myself so gripped by this unlikeliest of entrepreneurial success stories, it turned into a spontaneous and fascinating interview. One that focused as much on the remarkable chemistry – in more ways than one – between this quintessentially odd couple – “Mr. Rosier and Professor Bader could have emerged from central casting to fill the roles of dashing businessman and nutty professor peddling a moneymaking idea” as The New York Times put it – as it did on the brand itself.

The story starts with a ground-breaking wound gel the Professor had developed in 2008 that – without surgery – helped regenerate skin affected by third-degree burns. During a chance meeting in 2016 between the two, Professor Bader (introduced as “the best brain today in the world in stem cell research”) showed Rosier a photo of a two and a half year old girl who had suffered severe burns. Thanks to the wound gel, she completely avoided the need for skin grafts – a revolutionary treatment of burns.

Rosier asked, “If you can turn burned skin into perfect skin, can you also cure wrinkles?” From that unlikely genesis, the Augustinus Bader brand was born, the end product an anti-wrinkle cream based on awakening stem cells and using naturally-occurring healing processes to perfect the skin.

Augustinus Bader is building its presence in the key Hainan offshore duty free market. Here is its standalone boutique in the recently opened Wangfujing International Duty-Free Harbour City {Photo: Martin Moodie, April 2023}

Through savvy celebrity endorsement, rave reviews from beauty editors and timely investment along the way from big and influential names – including Don Johnson, and Melanie Griffiths, who helped promote the brand to A-list actors in Hollywood – the brand went into orbit.

Its trajectory has been hastened by recent investment from businessman Antoine Arnault {CEO of Christian Dior and son of LVMH Chairman Bernard Arnault}; his wife, supermodel Natalia Vodianova; fashion photographer Mert Alas; and Javier Ferrán, Chairman of IAG and Diageo, who with BlackRock recently bought prestige fragrance brand Creed.

All Augustinus Bader products feature high-potency TFC8, a complex that uses the body’s own skincare capacity to promote skin cell regeneration

What such stories don’t reveal however is the hard yards; the blood, sweat and tears; the sleepless nights that remain unseen to the world behind every so-called ‘overnight success story’. Because like all those failed start-ups I mentioned earlier, Augustinus Bader also faced chronic capital issues and at one point its cash was drying up faster than Great Salt Lake.

Rosier was forced to sell his flat in London and liquidate all his liquid assets and savings – everything he had made over a 20-year career. All that remained was his apartment in Paris. With the business down to just US$300k, that too had to go. Into the apartment walked a potential buyer. But not just any buyer. He happened to be Jacques Veyrat, Founder of Impala Group and serial investor in businesses with rich growth potential. A second chance meeting for Charles Rosier.

Veyrat once said, “When I created Impala, I set myself the goal of being the reference shareholder of at least a few beautiful unicorns, those companies that exceed one billion in valuation in less than ten years.” He was about to discover another.

Augustinus Bader is part of a powerhouse beauty offer at Times DF in Mission Hills, Haikou {Photo: Martin Moodie, April 2023}

Veyrat asked Rosier why he was selling. He listened as the tale of wound gel and the subsequent evolution into skincare was told with passion and urgency by a man prepared to risk all he had to pursue its success.

At the end of the apartment tour, Veyrat turned to Rosier and said, “Charles, I’m not sure I’m going to buy your flat, but we need to talk about your project.” That talk quickly turned into a €15 million investment in the company. It was the great turning point.

“Thanks to him and that visit, I was able to keep my flat and I had a partner in financing,” Rosier recalls, his eyes lighting up at the memory. “I was no longer alone financing the project. It’s kind of a crazy story because if I would have pitched Jacques Veyrat, he would probably have said ‘That guy is crazy. He wants to compete with L’Oréal and Estée Lauder on a skincare product. Forget it.

“But I think the fact I was ready to sleep under a bridge meant he probably thought there must be something behind the project because this guy was giving up the last thing he had. It was true. I was not making up the story.”

Luck? Or destiny? You decide. Where next for Augustinus Bader? Like so many things about this company, the answer may surprise you.

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