“I always believed in online businesses. I was convinced that the new generation was going to buy more online and they are going to rely more on reviews and peer recommendation rather than going to the store and buying.”
Former investment banker and the current beauty Mogul of India, Falguni Nayar is the brain power behind the successful beauty and skin-care site Nykaa.com. Nayar has single-handedly changed the face of beauty business in India. Having an 18 year long career as a former banker has helped Falguni strategize the module of Nykaa differently, from an entrepreneurial perspective. From popular luxury brands like Estée Lauder to homegrown beauty labels like the Forest Essentials and Lakmé are all available on the same portal, crediting the sheer genius of this boss lady. Her idea was to bridge the gap between Indian women and their love for all things beauty.
Having said that, Nykaa has also managed to develop an independent beauty brand to cater to the mass audience. Their cosmetic, skin-care and perfume ranges have been a huge hit with the consumers. The in-house venture is a definite knockout. Her strategy was to create a brand that is trustworthy and has all the qualities to stand independently as a retail label in this cut-throat beauty sector. After making the bestselling Middle Eastern beauty brand, Huda Beauty, finally available for the Indian buyer, Falguni has her sight on Benefit Cosmetics to be the next big thing on Nykaa. In a recent interview with us, the humble honcho spoke about her desire to see Ayurveda-based brands on the global map and the story behind naming the online site ‘Nykaa’.
[Q] WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO GO ONLINE FIRST? THAT TOO WITH LUXURY BRANDS?
“I always believed in online businesses. I was convinced that the new generation was going to buy more online and they are going to rely more on reviews and peer recommendation rather than going to the store and buying. It was with this belief that we started an online business and we are really glad that the consumers are embracing that trend. Today online is growing rapidly as compared to the other businesses.”
[Q] AFTER A MAGNIFICENT CAREER AS AN INVESTMENT BANKER, YOU DECIDED TO BECOME AN ENTREPRENEUR. TELL US ABOUT THE JOURNEY THAT FOLLOWED.
“So, during my time as an investment banker and a stock broker I met a lot of entrepreneurs who started their companies. I remember when Ronnie Screwvala used to say that he wanted to build a Disney style studio in India (in those early days, about 20 years ago), a lot of investors would say, ‘How can a Disney like studio be built in India?’. It sparked a desire in me to start a business I believed in and really make it big in India. And I saw that opportunity in beauty, where I believed the business would be big.”
[Q] WHAT MADE YOU TAKE THE DECISION OF GETTING INTO THE COSMETICS AND MAKEUP MARKET SPACE?
“I used to live in the U.S. and I had travelled to both, Japan and Korea. I saw consumers buy a lot of beauty products. So when I moved back to India in 2001, I generally observed that there was not adequate availability of the beauty products and the kind of environment in which these had to be bought faced a certain challenges. Since beauty is a long tail business, it was difficult to service the market in the absence of an online business. So with all that conviction, I wanted to set up a large multi-brand retailer for beauty and I went about trying to build that business in India.”
[Q] WERE THERE ANY MAJOR STRUGGLES/ CHALLENGES ALONG? HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THEM?
“Building a start-up from scratch is not easy, I was very lucky it got started very quickly. However, as we went along and as we started scaling up, that’s when the challenges came. A lot of my team members who I thought were perfect for the brand, either could not cope with the business or decided to move on and I always joke about it but that’s when my daughter came back from the U.S and I call her my “just-in-time resource”. We both decided to roll up our sleeves! During the early days we used to work until 3:00 AM in the morning and the first time we use to lift our head to order for dinner was around 9-9:30 PM.”
[Q] HOW DO YOU MANAGE TO BALANCE IT ALL? WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE TO WOMEN WHO SEEK INSPIRATION FROM YOU?
“I think the seeds of where I am today were sown by my parents who treated me as an equal with my brother. I never thought girls needed to be constrained by anything and that same spirit was supported when I got married to my husband. I think it was always known that I will continue to work after marriage and I faced no restrictions. I was never told, ‘Oh well, now that you have young kids you should slow down at work.’ My husband always treated me like a true professional, giving me advice. He understood as a professional, one needs to commit themselves to work and that’s what I continued to do. So some early seeds were sown with that. I also should appreciate my parents who made me an adventurer and a pretty good risk taker.
So when the time came to start my business, how I grew up and how I was treated- it all came to play to be where I am today. My advice to young women is summarised in our brand name ’Nykaa’- which means you are the actress of your own life. Women need to be at the centre of their own life. For too long I have seen women who try to meet the requirement of their family and rearrange their lives for the sake of their family. They don’t really pursue their dreams. So my message to young women is that you should be the most important person in your life and it should be optimised for what you want out of life. It’s important to dream and to pursue them.”
[Q] WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO NAME IT ‘NYKAA’?
“When I launched the website in 2012 we came across a name called ‘Nayikaa’ which meant an actress. ‘Nayikaa’ was morphed into Nykaa and it gave a meaning to our brand. Today where we are can be accredited to the name.”
[Q] TELL US SOMETHING NOT MANY PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT YOU.
“I am an avid trekker, I love the Himalayas. I used to say that- ‘Anyone who goes to the Himalayas lives the life and everything else is time in between.’
[Q] IS THERE SOMETHING YOU WISH YOU HAD DONE DIFFERENTLY?
“Not being from the technological field, I felt my pace was a little slow in the early years. Now we are a very strong firm technologically, but I wish I had a co-founder from the technological field when I started the company.”
[Q] COULD YOU TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR PERSONAL STYLE?
“I have always enjoyed wearing Indian clothes, especially sarees. They have been a big favourite. I love good fabrics. I have always been very fond of traditional sarees with good textures, great weaves and hand embroidered stuff. I go at lengths to collect these. Natural fabrics that we get in India like cotton and silk are a favourite. But I must admit, that in the recent years, Indian designer’s cuts and embroidery also inspires me.”
[Q] IF YOU LOOK AT YOUR NYKAA JOURNEY SO FAR, WHAT WOULD YOU CONSIDER TO BE THE GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT?
“When I started Nykaa, it started as an e-commerce business. I was quite keen on building a brand and I knew building a brand is not easy. It takes a long time. I knew that customer trust is very important and I also wanted some amount of “virality” so that we can reach customers far beyond what we were trying to reach through what we call ‘paid medium’. In my early days, I used to consciously study – how to get virality, and all my research told me it’s very hard to get it. So today when we built a brand in such a short period of time, it’s something I thought that would never come easily. For that, it’s important to have a brand message. Earlier today, even Falguni Peacock said that brand messaging and the brand’s soul is important. At Nykaa, we search very hard for what is our soul, what is our message and what does our brand represent. Once you truly believe you are an honest brand then what you say, what you believe and what you do is all folding into one, it goes a long way. When all this started falling into place, it was a big discovery for me.”