The Empowering Legacy of Nykaa: Falguni and Adwaita Nayar’s Journey to Authentic Success
Falguni Nayar, the CEO of cosmetics giant Nykaa, hails from 1970s Mumbai, where she seldom encountered the word ‘no.’ Even her desire to embark on a student exchange program in Kashmir and trek the Parvati Valley as one of two girls in a group of twelve received unwavering support. Her father’s belief in treating her equally as her brother nurtured a sense of freedom to pursue her dreams. Today, as Nykaa scales to new heights of success, she attributes her entrepreneurial spirit to this foundation. In an exclusive interview with Shradha Sharma, Founder, and CEO of YourStory, Falguni shares her journey and her perspective on how strong parenting shaped her.
This legacy of strong parenting extends to Falguni’s daughter, Adwaita Nayar, who co-founded Nykaa and is now the CEO of Nykaa Fashion. Adwaita, a 33-year-old millennial, attributes her zest for life to her mother’s inspiration and the sense of discipline instilled by her father. Her upbringing spanned across India, London, and the United States, with Falguni encouraging her to explore music and summer camps. Adwaita considers herself fortunate to have a mother who mentors and inspires countless women across the country, all while being a constant presence in her life.
The synergy between Falguni’s financial expertise and Adwaita’s millennial insights gave birth to the formidable makeup and lifestyle brand that Nykaa is today. This brand has captured the hearts of customers both online and offline. Our interview takes place in the Nayars’ home in Mumbai, a stark contrast to my visit six years ago, when Falguni kindly offered me a bag full of nail colors upon noticing my bare fingernails.
In 2012, Falguni left her high-profile role in investment banking at Kotak Mahindra Bank to launch Nykaa, an e-commerce platform for cosmetics. Armed with a background as an institutional stockbroker and banker with an MBA from IIM-Ahmedabad, Falguni had played a pivotal role in many significant IPOs in the country. Her transition to entrepreneurship, driven by the desire to create something Indian consumers would want, took place when she was 48. She aimed to build a company before turning 50, knowing it would take about 15 years to mature. The transition was humbling, with Falguni moving from a coveted corner office to a small workshop where a few orders trickled in.
Adwaita, deeply involved in the company from its inception, played a crucial role in building Nykaa’s foundation. While Nykaa’s early days were marked by modest beginnings in a 190 sqft industrial space, the duo’s unwavering commitment propelled the company forward. Falguni’s family embraced her transition, even as she started from scratch, managing everything herself. The collaborative effort between the experienced Falguni and the youthful Adwaita brought the best of wisdom and innovative thinking together.
Their journey started in an environment where the younger generation was in tune with millennial energy, digital prowess, and social media acumen. Their early workplace was an industrial space in which Falguni’s father had once run a small bearings business. Falguni deliberately wanted to experience the pressures of a startup, emphasizing the importance of every detail and taking full responsibility.
Adwaita momentarily stepped away for two years to pursue an MBA at Harvard, but her heart and mind remained dedicated to Nykaa. The brand achieved virality by staying true to authenticity, replicating the essence of how cosmetics were sold in the physical world online. Adwaita’s significant contribution involved leveraging the way women discussed makeup and shared advice on social media. Nykaa successfully positioned itself as a forward-thinking brand that encouraged women to be the ‘nykaas’ or actors in their own lives, making choices free from judgment. This strategy, combined with their retailing expertise in both digital and physical stores, drew customers to the brand.
While their success seems impressive today, it’s essential to acknowledge whether they faced bias or challenges due to female leadership. Falguni expressed that she has always experienced a supportive environment within her family and from investors, and she didn’t feel restricted by a glass ceiling. She emphasizes the importance of women having a strong mindset and ignoring any negative signals.
Adwaita, on the other hand, believes in recognizing and confronting biases. She acknowledges that her mother, with a stellar investment banking career at 50, may not have faced significant bias. However, she emphasizes that many women in their 30s do not share her mother’s track record and do encounter challenges. The Nykaa leadership places a high priority on maintaining a bias-free environment, with a positive gender ratio at all organizational levels.
Their vision for empowerment extends to both men and women. While they are excited to see women working in technology, they equally emphasize the importance of men participating in the beauty industry without stigma. Adwaita has set her sights on breaking new ground, not driven by headlines, market capitalization, or valuation. She aspires to build incredible businesses, first in beauty and now in fashion.
The relationship between Falguni and Adwaita is marked by deep admiration and mutual respect. Adwaita describes her mother as her best friend, boss, and mentor, highlighting Falguni’s interests beyond business, such as trekking, saree collections, and maintaining friendships. Adwaita particularly appreciates her mother’s lack of ego and her openness to new ideas. She acknowledges that Falguni’s leadership style of allowing freedom and flexibility is unique, even in parent-child relationships.
The journey has not been without its challenges. Falguni admits to feeling guilty at times during her investment banking days when she would return home at 2 AM and fly out again at 7 AM. However, her children, Adwaita and her brother Anchit, remained focused on their studies, which reassured her. Although her children missed having her around more, Adwaita is now grateful that her mother took the time to pursue her dreams.
Nykaa’s culture of entrepreneurship is a reflection of Falguni’s willingness to take risks and get things done. In the company, the majority of employees display strong entrepreneurial traits and take ownership of their responsibilities. Nykaa also actively promotes diversity by embracing different gender identities, educational backgrounds, and age groups.
Eleven years into building the business, Falguni and Adwaita choose not to chase conventional markers of success. They emphasize the importance of relying on their instincts to discern when they are running the business effectively and when they are structured to meet customer needs. Their ambition is to continue building on authenticity and remain true to their core values. Nykaa’s journey is a testament to the power of a shared vision, strong parenting, and a commitment to creating authentic success.