The charming co-founder of a homegrown cosmetics brand is on a ‘sugar’ high! In a candid chat with HELLO!, her passion for her work comes to the fore as she shares her 17-year struggle that’s involved bringing more women to the workforce.
She wears her self-confidence as armour. All of 38, Vineeta Singh is the new-age millennial icon with a thriving cosmetics company that has an estimated turnover of Rs 500 crore this year. Her story is highly inspiring when you discover that at 23, Vineeta turned down a job that would have paid her Rs 1 crore, fresh out of IIT-Madras and IIM-Ahmedabad.
Armed with immense faith and strong a sense of self-belief, she’s endured a number of professional upheavals in her 17-year, often arduous career. But the tide turned after Vineeta founded Sugar cosmetics in 2015 with her husband Kaustav Mukherjee. The couple has had a fruitful journey, having overcome all odds to build their brand into a phenomenal success story.
Amid a flurry of activity, HELLO! catches Vineeta for a captivating chat on her journey and the future forward.
HELLO!: It’s interesting that Ranveer Singh invested in a cosmetics brand. Would you say men are now more cognisant of the beauty world?
Vineeta Singh: Of course! Men are getting conscious about the way they look and more interested in what their wives wear. But that’s not the sole reason we chose Ranveer. He has a great understanding of the brand and connects with millennials. He’s also a superstar and a great partner to get on board. Ranveer is a perfect fit also because we are a bold, slightly quirky and rebellious brand, and he projects this vibe himself. Despite being a busy star, he’s fully invested in the product and ever-bustling with ideas. He’s excited about the fact that we empower and employ 2,500 women.
H!: Tamannaah Bhatia also invested in Sugar...
VS:Tamannaah is hugely popular down south, from where 28 percent of our sales come in. But there’s more to our association than just that. She’s passionate about makeup and was excited about this because she’s used our products. She’s particular about how she invests her time and money, and this is her first time working with a cosmetics label. She’s also bursting with ideas for the brand, and there’s amazing chemistry between her and Ranveer, which is so awesome to watch in the ad.
H!: You gave up a Rs 1 crore job offer to follow your own path. Not many 23-year-olds would do that. Where did that confidence come from?
VS: I had thought I’d try out entrepreneurship for a few years. But back then, I didn’t have such strong conviction. I was young, and young people often overestimate themselves. So I managed to gain courage and reject that offer in favour of a startup. My first 10 years were challenging, with failures and constant struggles. At the time, I believed there was some progress, and I fell in love with the process of building something new. While Sugar’s journey is only seven years old, it’s been 17 years of struggle for me. The only thing that kept me going was the faith that if I stuck with something I believed in, showed up consistently and worked hard, it’d eventually work out. When I speak to younger entrepreneurs, I notice they want everything quickly, but nothing happens overnight.
H!: Did you ever regret turning the offer down?
VS: Many times! My batchmates from IIM were doing exceptionally well. They had bought houses and fancy cars and were travelling to exotic destinations— none of which I could afford. It’d often lead to self-doubts about whether entrepreneurship was my cup of tea. Initially, my parents were apprehensive; nobody in my family runs a business. My parents were supportive but asked me to give myself a deadline. If I didn’t make it in that period, I’d have to take up a job. I gave myself two years at first, but kept extending it. Luckily, it worked out, and they are now relieved!
H!: Did you anticipate the kind of growth SUGAR has had?
VS: We’re looking at closing at a net revenue of Rs 500 crore by end 2022. We were lucky, as well, because there were two big shifts. Younger women started consuming more beauty products than their mums. The kind of products they wanted were also different. Legacy brands largely ignored millennials as they felt they didn’t have the buying power that older women did. Then there was the social media and e-commerce boom over the past five years. There’s disruption across categories, and millennials are most excited with the new changes.
H!: You met your husband Kaushik Mukherjee at IIM-A. How did this friendship evolve into marriage?
VS: Kaushik was a batch junior. Initialy, we didn’t interact much, but there was an overlap of sorts gradually. He started his first company from campus with a friend, and I started my firm with another batchmate. After five years of working with others, we realised we’d like to work with each other instead. It’s hard to build a business with your husband, but it’s also rewarding when it works out this well. You do end up bringing your professional life home and taking your personal side to work; that’s a challenge as we are both opinionated alphas running a business. So arguments are inevitable. But a decade ago, while on a flight, we put together a set of rules and have stuck to it ever since. It’s now our bible!
H!: Is ‘beauty’ the most organic subject of dinner-table conversation?
VS: It happens all the time! Even our boys are now involved. My younger son Vikrant is only four, but my elder one, Ranveer, is seven, and he knows the names of all our staff. He constantly asks questions about the business. I can’t tell you how many products I have tested on them! I have videos of the stuff I’ve tested on my boys. They love it, though the older one is now back to school and more conscious about it.
H!: Are you, as a couple, good at getting the work-life balance right?
VS: I’m the more hands-on parent. I don’t work after 9pm and don’t take work calls on weekends, but my husband works till late at night and on weekends, too. Having said that, we’re both passionate about sports; I like running and cycling, while he’s a swimmer. We have a group of friends who enjoy such activities, and we’ve all participated in triathlons. These activities ensure that you can’t use your phone; it teaches you to live in the moment and have fun.
H!: You were recently a co-judge on Shark Tank India. What made you get on board?
VS: I must admit that everyone who bumps into me at airports and malls talks about this show. I said yes to this opportunity because I remember struggling with finding funding when I started out, which is why I saw this as an opportunity to change that. It was a great learning experience, with female participants from small cities and even younger women. It was very inspirational to hear their stories. I came out of this experience feeling more energised, with a desire to support female entrepreneurs. We weren’t sure whether anyone would watch a show on business, but it succeeded beyond my wildest expectations.
H!: You’re quite the fashionista. How would you define your style?
VS: Since I spend a lot of hours at work, I like to power dress but in a sporty manner. So I’d wear a dress with sneakers, not heels.
H!: Since you’re in the beauty business, how important do you think it is to use makeup in today’s day and age?
VS: I also run, ride bikes and am in a rush in the morning to get the kids ready for school. So it’s too chaotic for me to focus on makeup. But when I’m in the mood for it, or going somewhere, I can take an hour out to deck up. I’m comfortable with both. We women wear makeup because it makes us feel confident and unstoppable. It’s a form of self-expression. It’s important to be comfortable with who you are both with and without makeup.
H!: Now that you’ve achieved a great deal of success, what does wealth and luxury mean to you?
VS: Money was important for a long time, but once you are really at your threshold, it allows you to do wonderful things for the people who stood by you during your struggles. While it’s a common barometer of success, I feel it has no connection beyond a certain amount.
H!: What does your roadmap for the future look like?
VS: I want to build a company that employs more than 10,000 women. I feel women’s participation in the workforce has dropped, but luckily, I’m in a business where I have the power to change the narrative in our own small way.
This is an excerpt from an interview that was originally published in Hello! India’s October 2022 issue. To read the full interview, get your hands on the latest issue right here!