VINEETA SINGH, Co-founder & CEO, SUGAR Cosmetics, talks of building a business on the insight that most Indian women have no access to beauty products suitable for their skin type, and defines where she wants to see it five years from now
Please take us through your journey - right from IIT Madras to Quetzal to launching Fab Bag and SUGAR Cosmetics - and insights that you gathered along the way.
In 2007, I started my entrepreneurial journey with Quetzal, an HR solutions firm that was difficult to scale after five years. This was after spending six years at IIT Madras and IIM Ahmedabad, three months interning in New York and London and declining a Rs 1 crore investment banking job offer. In 2012, when we launched Fab Bag, about 200,000+ women shared their beauty preferences with us to help us realise that most women didn’t have access to the right products suitable for their skin type, and we decided to fill that gap, launching SUGAR Cosmetics in 2015. During the initial days of our beauty subscription service, we spoke to a lot of 18 to 25-year-olds who had tight budgets but were keen to explore make-up. Lasting power - usually more in matte products than creamy - emerged as a key point. Our bestselling Smudge Me Not Liquid Lipstick range was literally built to address this. Similarly, as make-up rapidly shifted from occasion-based usage to regular wear, we discovered an unstated need for high-quality nude shades that worked great for Indian skin tones. A lot of our initial launches exploded just because of this insight.
Tell us about the strategy that worked for SUGAR to make it a fast-growing brand?
We targeted millennials buying online, providing them with internationally trending products, which last long and provide extreme colour pay-off, suiting all Indian skin tones. We expanded to being an omni-channel brand, balancing retail and D2C first approach. We currently cater to 10,000+ retail outlets and a 6M+ online following across channels. SUGAR as a brand caters to strong, independent millennial women, so on Women’s Day 2021, we launched the SUGAR X Wonder Woman collection to celebrate these women for who they are and for everything they’ve been through to become what they are today.
What has been the uptake for cosmetics during the lockdown and how did your brand fare?
Consumer purchase did move to eyes, face, and skin categories. But our lipsticks remained a best-seller. We sold about five million products despite lockdown in 2020. The industry has also seen a robust impact of ‘The Lipstick Effect’ during the pandemic. Retail saw a solid recovery on the back of Diwali, weddings, Karva Chauth and Durga Puja shopping; November 2020 saw 50% of sales come in only from retail. We clocked 30-40% more revenue in FY21 as compared to FY20.
What are your plans for Brand SUGAR, going ahead?
We plan to keep building on distribution, product, content and community. Going stronger on our D2C channels, we’ll focus on building our app that already garnered 1M+ installs in just over a year. Content marketing, strong collaborations, and introducing trendy products remain on the chart for 2021. Our larger 5-year plan is to see SUGAR grow into Rs 500 crore net revenue and an IPO.
Tell us about Vineeta Singh, the mom, running, cycling and swimming person you mention on your LinkedIn profile. What is your experience of working from home?
I’ve been an avid runner for the last decade, completing the Comrades Ultra-marathon, Ironman Triathlon and numerous other marathons. I am a much better CEO, parent and human being on the days I run or work out; so I ensure that I spend at least an hour doing some kind of activity. Working from home, I try to limit my work calls to the first half of the day so that I can spend the other half ideating; leaving me some time to even complete house chores. Working in isolation is hard and it's important to keep re-energising yourself. I’ve ensured that I end my day with a home workout, being with my kids and indulging in a book or podcasts.
What is one motto that defines your work as well as personal life?
Don’t fear bold decisions you strongly believe in. I always wanted to build a brand with women at the core and strived to convert that dream into reality. Another motto I learnt being a runner and entrepreneur is, no matter what challenge is thrown at us, agility matters. Growth is not about how fast you get to it, but how well you sustain it once you’ve arrived.