Walking away from a Rs one crore pay-pack over a decade ago took guts but it took a whole lot more than that to build a Rs 500-crore company. In numbers, this would be the story of Vineeta Singh, who decided to courageously and passionately follow her dream. In real life though, the impact of her story extends far beyond the numbers. Representing a new generation of young Indian entrepreneurs who are not satisfied with just raking in the moolah, Singh is out to change the narrative of women in India. The story of the co-founder and CEO of SUGAR Cosmetics, is about giving young women confidence, inspiring more to join the workforce and striving to lead.
The Baby Steps
SUGAR’s journey technically began in 2012. At the time, international brands were quite the rage, and homegrown makeup products were not the safest bet. “We realised from that experience though that younger women were not being served. They are very different from their mothers. They use two to three times more products. They go to college and work and wanted their makeup to be long-lasting and suited to the Indian weather conditions and skin tones, including the darkest and warmest tones that were neglected by international brands. So, we decided to create a few products and see the response,” recalls Singh.
The “few products” were, in fact, just six including eyeliner, kajal and four shades of lipstick. But within six months, they went viral. Influencers were seen talking about finally discovering the best, long-lasting new lipsticks for younger women. This made SUGAR go for an entire brand portfolio. “We realised we had the opportunity to create young India’s favourite beauty brand. We would educate our consumers on how to use and wear makeup for self-expression to boost their confidence,” says Singh.
From Digital to a Store Near You SUGAR Cosmetics used social media platforms to create content and improve the relationship between young women and their makeup. As of date, SUGAR has 2.4 million followers on Instagram and nearly a million on Youtube. “We are the largest and fastestgrowing brand on both platforms in the space. Through content we will continue to build a brand that is relatable to young women and create products that work best for younger women,” she says.
Growth, however, required the brand to be present where the consumer was. While digital was the place where young women discovered the brand, SUGAR took another step forward to up its physical presence. It has over 45,000 retail touchpoints across 550 cities in addition to its digital community of five million beauty enthusiasts across all platforms with its website and mobile app getting more than a million unique visitors every month.
Earlier this year, SUGAR raised $50 million in a Series D funding round led by private equity company L Catterton, which is partnered with luxury house LVMH. The funds are expected to be deployed for growing its market share.
“We will continue to drive discovery, brand awareness and brand love digitally but we will be available in offline stores because the market is still 85 per cent offline and this will continue for long in India. To crack the Tier2 and Tier-3 cities, it is important to be available where consumers shop,” Singh says.
SUGAR has already crossed Rs 500 crore in annual net revenue run rate this fiscal. “Our biggest quarter is always the third quarter. We have always doubled year on year in Q3 and we intend to continue on that journey in quarter four as well. This is backed by increased demand during the festive and holiday season and wedding shopping where makeup consumption increases.”
However, Singh is cautious about what lies ahead due to the market challenges. The first challenge, she says, is inflationary pressure. Even though consumption continues to grow in India but the global crisis has reared its ugly head in several markets. Whether this does lead to an economic downturn is an uncertain variable. Another worry is the supply chain disruption seen in the last two years. SUGAR does significant international sourcing of packaging and raw materials. There is a dependence on external supply chains and that can lead to pressures on its gross margins as well, which as of now are upward of 70 per cent, according to Singh. She also believes the liquidity crunch will bring in some changes in the space.
“We are very lucky to have managed to raise funding but with the crunch, younger companies would not have enough capital to go to the next level of growth. The industry will see consolidation. I hope we would be on the side of doing acquisitions rather than being impacted negatively by it at that time.”
IPO on Cards But Not End Goal
Singh’s future plans for SUGAR do factor in going public. However, she is quick to explain that being listed is a milestone that is important in the company’s journey but not the endgame.
“An IPO is important for us because we have been lucky to have the support of some early investors as well as some early employees who have been part of the journey and worked very hard over the last few years. It allows them to make their ownership in the company liquid,” she says. She points out that this “ideal outcome” doesn’t have a deadline. “Depending on when the market is better, in the next two to five years, we will file our IPO,” she informs.
|“GRATEFUL FOR THE OPPORTUNITY TO INSPIRE A GENERATION”
Vineeta Singh wants to change the narrative for women in India’s workforce. The cofounder and CEO of SUGAR Cosmetics believes it is both a privilege and a responsibility to shift the ambition of an entire generation and inspire young girls to dream big
|You have been named among the top young entrepreneurs by the BW Disrupt 40 under 40 Awards 2022. What does this recognition mean to you?
Awards are a medium to inspire the young generation. When I was growing up, it was very hard to find women role models who were rockstar CEOs or entrepreneurs. With recognitions such as these and experiences like Shark Tank, I have met girls as young as eight and nine years old who want to begin their own businesses or aspire to become leaders. This makes all the difference because this is shifting the ambition of an entire generation. I am very grateful to be in a position where I have the opportunity to inspire young girls to think bigger and do more with their lives. Each of these recognitions is a way to share the story of a struggle, of dealing with rejections and overcoming challenges, of seeing success and building on top of that to give back to the people and society.
I want to share this story widely because India is still a country where less than 20 per cent of the workforce are women. We need many such stories to change the narrative and ensure it reaches every corner of the country. An award like this helps me share my story. It is a privilege, but it is important to see it as a responsibility rather than take any of this for granted.
We also saw SUGAR Cosmetics rope in celebrated people such as Ranveer Singh and Tamannah Bhatia. How does this help SUGAR Cosmetics?
More importantly, they are very passionate about building brands from India. Ranveer is very excited about brands that serve women and Tamannah is very excited about make-up as a category. So they are also smart shareholders and we see value-add coming from the partnerships.
Had it not been for the wonderful chemistry between Ranveer and Tamannah, for example, it would have been tougher to do a breakthrough campaign like ‘Shukar Hain, SUGAR Hain’. I am very happy with our decision to get them on board.
A Road of Opportunities
“Beauty is a category where you see a vibrant consumer market. I don’t think there is any market globally that is as large as the Indian beauty sector and continues to grow in double-digit numbers. Our category saw 20 per cent growth in the past many years and even now continues to grow at 15-16 per cent. You don’t see that happening anywhere in the world ,” Singh says.
The young CEO, also called a ‘shark’ in the media, states that her company has all the ingredients to create the largest beauty brand in India. And, as is her wont, this is not where she intends to stop. “Once that happens, we have the ambition for SUGAR to become a global household name ,” she says.
Hers is not a venture that is content with rolling up under an international FMCG player. “The next two decades, at the very least, belong to India. Young Indian brands will become large globally. We want to move in the direction of that vision,” she asserts.
With Inputs from Ruhail Amin