The stellar stock market debut of popular online beauty retailer Nykaa has minted the world's newest billionaire – and one of India's richest women. But the story of its founder goes far beyond the overnight success of any e-commerce giant the world has known.
Falguni Nayar, the investment banker who took a leap of faith with the beauty venture just months after she turned 50, exemplifies the ideals of women empowerment.
Falguni left the comfort zone she had built in the corporate world for 18 years – afforded by her job as Managing Director at Kotak Investment Banking – in order to navigate the disruptive world of online retail. She saw a need in the market for easily accessible and diverse beauty products, and moved quickly to close that gap. Over the years, her firm has come to lead this niche of the consumer market despite the presence of bigger players such as Amazon and Flipkart.
Falguni herself embarked on that journey not simply as a business strategy. More importantly, her decision marked a new chapter in her life and career – that definitive moment of choosing to lead a business and to break down barriers for other women and entrepreneurs.
Humility and thoughtful leadership
Falguni owns half of Nykaa, whose very brand name translates to "heroine" in Sanskrit, a fitting title for the founder herself.
Nykaa, which is fondly referred to as the Sephora of India, now has over 70 physical stores and is bolstered all the more in popularity by Bollywood celebrities endorsing the brand. But Nykaa didn't just redefine the landscape of beauty products in the country.
Parent company FSN E-Commerce Ventures also emerged as India's first-ever unicorn with a woman at the helm. Evidently, it is also one of the country's most successful start-ups in history. During the initial public offering, the firm raised 53.5 billion rupees (US$722m) while the stock skyrocketed 96% in Mumbai, Bloomberg reported.
"I hope more women like me dare to dream for themselves," Falguni told Bloomberg. "Women need to allow the spotlight of their lives to be on themselves."
Today, Falguni is worth almost $7bn, with her success self-made and borne out of sheer hard work. Her humility, however, is what draws the world's fascination.
"The size of the prize doesn't really matter. Being rewarded for doing what I love doing is the key. Share prices are the bonus," she said.
Before Falguni launched Nykaa in 2012, her daughter Adwaita Nayar shared with her the poem "Ithaka" whose poignant lines struck a chord about the process of change and staying the course:
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Adwaita, who is CEO of the group's fashion company, also takes after her mother's brand of thoughtful leadership. The young Nayar champions ethical fashion and sustainability.
"Being conscious about the choices we make and promote is a continuous, everyday effort," Adwaita once said in an interview. "We would like to simplify the idea of sustainability for our consumers by decoding the myths surrounding ethical fashion and making it more accessible for them."
It's a sign of hope for the future with the next generation of Nayars, including son Anchit, sharing in Falguni's vision of providing consumers with smarter and more diverse options.
Falguni's success resonates with many, not merely because she has reached great heights but because she remains deeply rooted in her mission. Even before starting Nykaa, Falguni had helped countless other entrepreneurs go public with their ventures. Now, with Nykaa's own IPO, she carries with her success the message of empowering a greater number of women.
For Falguni, a world of opportunities opens up to women who dream big and take that first step – regardless of where they are in their journey.