Exclusive: Shark Tank India's Vineeta Singh recalls facing sexism from investor, says he denied meeting her
It’s no secret that women entrepreneurs have long faced discrimination in the world of business, and this extends to the realm of investors as well. Despite the growing awareness of gender equality, female entrepreneurs continue to struggle. Vineeta Singh, the CEO, and co-founder of one of India's largest beauty brands, SUGAR Cosmetics, was not immune to such bias and discrimination.
During an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Singh, who also serves as an investor and mentor on Shark Tank India, shared how once an investor refused to meet with her because of her gender. Her experience is unfortunately all too common in the business world, where women often face systemic barriers to success. However, despite the challenges women come across, they continue to thrive in their endeavours, just like the CEO of SUGAR Cosmetics.
Today, Vineeta Singh’s brand has an annualised sales run rate of over INR 500 crore and a physical presence in over 35,000 retail locations across 500+ cities in India. The company's digital community of five million beauty enthusiasts is also a testament to its popularity and success. During our conversation, she talked about her ups and downs and shared some tips to become a successful entrepreneur.
Excerpts from the interview:
Several female entrepreneurs feel that earning respect is a struggle in a male-dominated industry. Do you have any such personal experience? And how did you deal with that situation?
When I was starting out, there weren’t many women entrepreneurs in the industry. Also, the majority of the time the decision-makers while raising investments for my company were men. During that period, I did face a gap where not all investors could connect with a business that catered to women issues and they had their hitches about funding businesses that were women-led as women’s priorities may change as they raise a family.
There was a time when an investor denied meeting me since he was expecting to meet a male entrepreneur, while this did get a bit disheartening at the start of my career, I didn’t let this obstacle deter me. At that point, it was hard to fathom but the instance made my belief in my vision stronger. Fortunately, since then I have had the privilege to meet and collaborate with some of the best partners and mentors who believe in my vision and helped build the brand to its current stature.
Raising capital is more difficult for women-owned businesses. As a leader, who has faced the same difficulty in the past, what would be your word of advice for women facing a similar problem?
Challenges and hurdles are a part and parcel of everyone’s journey and as women entrepreneurs, we often face multiple obstacles and tough decisions that impact many. However, with time I have learnt that it all starts with making up our mind that - We are going to do this really well. Things might not always work out the way we’d like but I really believe that the way we think does shape a large part of what the outcome of our efforts will be. Additionally, surround yourself with people who motivate you, I’m blessed to be working with a fast-growing, energetic team that shares the same attitude and keep me motivated as well! On most days, this is what keeps me really excited about getting to work, problem-solving with them and building our company together.
Often women leaders feel they need to adopt a stereotypically male attitude to succeed. How to remain true and find your voice to rise above preconceived expectations in the world of work?
I think it’s more to do with attitude than one’s gender! Yes, women are considered to be more empathetic, and soft but they are also known for their creativity and problem-solving skills. We are naturally more holistic in our thinking and that’s perhaps something that makes us stand out. My two initial ventures before SUGAR Cosmetics were an HR services company and a beauty subscription service, which didn’t scale or have a chance to work to their full potential.
However, this experience most definitely helped me identify my persistent side and gain a lot of learnings. Starting a business from the ground up is difficult, and it was during this time that I truly realised the importance of passion in the work we do. The long working hours, constant redirection and trials can really take a toll on you but if you are passionate about your business and the core problem it solves, all of it will be worth it. I strongly believe that if you set your eyes on your goal, no matter if you’re a man or a woman you can achieve anything!
Studies say a robust support network is essential for the entrepreneurial success of women. Do you feel having great peers like Namita Thapar, Ghazal Alagh and others helps you in becoming a better leader, and how?
Both Namita and Ghazal are wonder women! They have built and lead incredible businesses that have created a huge impact in the industry as well as their consumers’ lives. Seeing them balance their personal and professional life, and break barriers have been very inspirational. As a women entrepreneur, it is especially important to surround yourself with like-minded people who understand and support you.
I most definitely stay connected with many women entrepreneurs and share and receive advice from them throughout my journey. It is an absolute delight to know them, share anecdotes both personal and professional and grow together. As it is rightly said, ‘When women support each other, incredible things happen!’
What role do you feel Shark Tank India has played in giving a boost to women entrepreneurs in India?
Shark Tank came at a time when Indians were just learning about the "startup" and the D2C (Direct – to – consumer) ecosystem. Season 1 of Shark Tank India saw 48% of women entrepreneurs pitch their brands, which I think is incredible compared to the 2% that was seen earlier in the industry, as per reports. Women in our country have so much potential that is yet to be unlocked and it’s very exciting seeing them gradually get the opportunity to do so.
There was a time when entrepreneurship seemed like a far-fetched dream, but today, I see mothers supporting their young daughters to make it a reality. The outlook for business in India is undoubtedly changing, women across the spectrum are now introducing innovative business models, which I think is fantastic, as this echoes a rise in women entrepreneurship.
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