Women Of Worth 2015

Fashion banker

After a two-decade-long investment banking stint, Falguni Nayar is enjoying the challenges that her beauty and wellness online start-up is throwing up

It’s a hot, sultry morning at the Sun Mill compound in Lower Parel, Mumbai. The harsh sunlight fails to force its way through the cool confines of Anand Bhavan, a building whose second storey houses Nykaa, an online beauty products retailer. The e-commerce start-up’s office is buzzing with activity. The employees are mostly young women in their late 20s or 30s. An attendant is scurrying across the room with glasses of water for visitors.

A petite, middle-aged lady in a salwar suit and embroidered stole interacts with her team about the performance of their products’ stock-keeping units. Listening to her intently, one would understand that Falguni Nayar, CEO and founder, easily makes her presence felt. “Power comes naturally to me. I come from a family of high-achievers,” she says. 

The sphere of influence extends to Sanjay Nayar, her husband and a respected investment banker; her father, a businessman; her mother, who assisted her father; and her brother, who is a doctor. In fact, the office space was used by her father years ago for his ball bearings business. “My father treated me and my brother equally and encouraged me to aim high and pursue my dreams,” she says. Growing up in a business environment has been an important part of her life because it taught her the nitty-gritty of commerce — investment, stock market, insurance.

“Even at a young age, I could read balance sheets and insurance statements. At a glance, I could advice my dad about what would work and what wouldn’t,” the 52-year-old adds. Falguni’s father helped his introverted daughter come out of her cocoon and network effectively with people by taking her to meet different people and make small talk with them. 

Social network

“That is how I learnt to interact with the people who went on to help me in my investment banking career and in my business,” she says. Falguni’s family never had any doubts about her abilities, given her strong academic record and competitive attitude. She studied commerce at Sydenham College and went on to do her MBA from IIM Ahmedabad, where she met her husband. “He is another pillar of my life. He taught me the values of discipline and hard work,” she says.

It helped that he never harboured any unreasonable expectations from her. “Once, when my kids were young and guests were coming home for dinner, I suddenly had go to Ahmedabad for work. He encouraged me to prioritise my work and not bother about dinner,” she says. He never raised objections about the money being spent by her from her pay on house help. “My mother-in-law, who has always been a homemaker, wondered after my marriage whether I would be able to manage the household and office equally. But, later in life, she also encouraged me to start a business and praised my success,” says Nayar. 

After starting her career at AF Ferguson, she served as MD of Kotak Mahindra Capital Company until March 2012. Though her career has mostly been smooth sailing, in her initial years, she had issues with ‘affinity’. “I always wanted to be liked. After a bit of counselling, that issue got resolved.” She says she has always been respected and supported by her male colleagues and subordinates. “I am not a person who has strong emotions. I see everything in terms of facts and figures. So, I was only concerned about work and targets. There has never been space for anything else in my career,” says Nayar. Her boss, Uday Kotak, has been a big source of inspiration for her and supported her fully during her time at the company. “Also, clients like Harsh Mariwala have inspired me to think big,” she adds.

Starting afresh 

Nayar’s second innings began with e-commerce portal Nykaa, which she set up in 2012, once her kids had gone to college and become independent. A one-stop shop for beauty products, the portal — which offers over 30,000 products from more than 300 brands — has managed to pull in about ₹60 crore in funding from a diverse set of investors, including TVS Capital and Harsh Mariwala.

The brand is in the process of firming up its own label, and is on track to open at least four stores across the country’s metros. It is targeting the ₹100-crore figure in merchandise volume and expects a significant boost in sales from the new range of self-branded products that it has released. As has been reported in the past, the company enjoys an average ticket size of around ₹1,400 and has sold over a million products so far. Nykaa has come a long way from being funded by just the couple’s own investments, with an earlier ₹20-crore round behind it. 

Shaping it up

While Nayar has met supply challenges by maintaining inventory of fast-moving products in the company’s warehouses, other issues persist. Balancing inventory, presenting the products well and avoiding dead stock by keeping track of expiry are problems almost all retailers go through, however. As for personnel problems, Nayar has managed to tackle this issue through another philosophy — she has positioned Nykaa as a platform for women empowerment. 

“We hire a lot of women in our organisation. I always encourage women to be committed to their work and take on more responsibility. Often, what is lacking in women is commitment. When I see them committed, I try to provide them much-needed support. In fact, our largest category — skincare — is handled by a woman,” she says. In her office, she maintains strict discipline. “So, I do not encourage small talk or fooling around,” she says. Today, Nayar is still extremely busy, unlike a lot of women of her age. Would she not like to rest now and do what she really likes — like traveling? “No, travelling will always happen apart from work. I want to keep chasing goals and use my energy to build my business. For me, this is not work, it’s something I really enjoy. I will continue to do this till my last breath,” smiles Nayar.