SUGAR Cosmetics Co-founder Vineeta Singh loves talking about her “role models”. As a serial entrepreneur (she’d founded FabBag in 2012) and now-CEO of a soonicorn (start-up valued north of $500 million), she’s all the more grateful to those who inspired her to take the entrepreneurial route — even if it came at the cost of a lucrative job offer. Think crores.
During her IIM Ahmedabad days, she idolized Steve Jobs and Richard Branson, later going on to be inspired by Sanjeev Bikhchandani (of Info Edge) and Falguni Nayar (of Nykaa) — both IIM-A alumni themselves — as she learnt the tricks of the trade and built a start-up business from scratch.
Singh says of Bikhchandani, one of India’s OG internet entrepreneurs and a key investor in several successful start-ups, “There are some incredible alumni I’ve always banked on. I reached out to him [Bikhchandani] for feedback. I reached out to him for funding as well… he refused. But today he’s a mentor who I call up for advice all the time.”
As for Nayar, whose publicly-listed Nykaa competes with SUGAR in India’s burgeoning beauty and personal care e-commerce market, Singh offers rich praise. “I heard her speak at the IIM-A convocation recently. Just seeing a woman from your college go on to build a fantastic business is amazing,” she tells Business Today.
Singh has always believed that India needs more women role models, the starting point of which is to have more women in business — something she’s diligently implementing at SUGAR and even outside of work. “A lot of younger women reach out to me for mentoring. No matter what, I will always take that one hour out for them because I want to give it back… My professor from IIM-A is still my mentor after 15 years,” she shares.
While at IIM-A, Singh also relished the peer-to-peer learnings and the group discussions with “hustler” batchmates, and the fact that everyone pushed each other harder. “A lot of it translated into business partnerships,” she reveals, adding, “If IIM-A had not happened, I wouldn’t be building SUGAR or had the courage to start up on my own.”
She further says of IIMs, “That two-year journey is about inspiration, peer learning, projects…. And about being competitive. Sometimes, a point-of-view someone shares can open up your mind, and you experience the joy of learning.”
Singh not only met her co-founders, mentors, and business partners at the hallowed educational institution, she also found love on campus. Her husband Kaushik Mukherjee today serves as SUGAR’s Co-founder and COO, and the couple together have built an enviable high-margin D2C business backed by leading investors such as L Catterton, A91 Partners, Elevation Capital, Stride Ventures, and actor Ranveer Singh, among others.
All the positives at IIM-A aside, Singh reckons management institutes in India need to increase their focus on newer business models, new-age companies, start-up sectors, and “figure out how businesses of the future need to be built”. “Every B-school should have a detailed curriculum around B2B and B2C selling techniques and how to talk to customers. It cannot be just brand, brand, brand,” she says.
Here’s hoping the IIMs are listening!