Wage gaps, pink taxes and mindboggling stereotypes are some of the many issues that exist in society, thanks to gender inequality. And one of the most common issues that women today face, is in terms of job and entrepreneurship opportunities. But over the last few years, things have shifted and we have some of our finest female entrepreneurs to thank for this.
It's because of them that we're in a place in time where women have the least amount of pushback from society to launch their businesses. And someone who has definitely been a part of this change is Vineeta Singh, founder and CEO of SUGAR Cosmetics. Who is also one of the sharks on Shark Tank India.
In conversation with ScoopWhoop, Vineeta Singh talks about her journey of becoming the person she is today. We're even more inspired by her than before. Read on to know more.
1. You run a great makeup and beauty brand. What inspired you to become an entrepreneur? Was it a childhood dream?
It's the whole fun and passion of building something, which didn't exist earlier. Being able to leave a legacy behind and while in the process, also employ thousands of people, create not just jobs, but also products that lakhs of consumers love and are really happy to discover, I think that's what entrepreneurship gives you. So, I always thought that I would become an entrepreneur someday! Though, I wasn't very sure when. So when I was graduating from business school, I had a job of investment banking. And I thought very long and hard about the decision to start up or to take the job. But I realized that I am young and right now I don't have any liabilities. Once I get used to a big fat paycheck, it'll be much harder to give that up. So I took the plunge to start up, at the young age of 23.
2. I was reading up about SUGAR Cosmetics. And I read that your workforce is 75% women. Was there any particular reason you decided to do this? Has it impacted your business in any way?
I have a dream to employ ten thousand women, one day. Because if you take a look at the last two years, you'll see that the participation of women in workforce has gone down significantly, to almost 20-25%. I think the single biggest thing that can impact the 5 trillion GDP dream, is actually the number of women in the workforce. And women love to work for SUGAR, because it's a product that they can identify with. They can very closely relate to the consumer. So I also have a very capitalistic incentive here for getting women to work, because I think that is our superpower. Just having all these women creating the products and the content, gives us an edge that no other brand can have. So, both as a capitalist, and as someone who wants to make a change, I feel it's a no-brainer to employ more and more women!
3. Do you think one can start a business while still working a 9-5 job? If so, what are some things you’d like to tell people who are wondering how they can balance both an entrepreneurial project and a day job?
Honestly, I would say it is hard. As an investor, I would never invest in a company where somebody's doing a day job and running a business. Because at the end of the day entrepreneurship is so absorbing. It's the one thing that you need to be thinking about in the shower, and you need to be thinking about it on your drive to work and then again on weekends. You know, you are trying to solve a problem which nobody else has been able to solve yet! In the beginning a lot of people are unsure about whether it is worth giving up their job for or whether there is a consumer demand for it. So I feel that within the first 6-8 months, trying something out on the side, just figuring out customer conversations, figuring out the numbers and making your business plan, and moonlighting till you get a pilot going, it makes sense to keep your day job. But the day you show up at an investor's doorstep, you should have conviction. Because if you are not willing to put your own paycheck at risk for the business, then how do you expect someone else to put in their cheque on it?
4. Generally Indian parents discourage their kids from pursuing entrepreneurship. It’s more about securing a stable job. But do you think this has changed over the past few years? Especially with the new generation of parents?
I am actually very grateful for Shark Tank for this. because a lot of people who are above the age of 50 are glued to the series and there's newfound respect for entrepreneurs because of that. I feel Shark Tank has played a big role in making entrepreneurship a respectable career choice. Ten-fifteen years back, when I started, entrepreneurship was almost equivalent to being unemployed. Because there was zero guarantee of how much you would succeed and whether you'd be able to get a paycheck every month. My husband used to joke that he took up a job before our wedding because everyone was going to ask him, 'ladka karta kya hai?' So I think we've come a really long way from that time to now, where there is a lot of appreciation for being an entrepreneur.
5. Do you think you have faced a bias as a female entrepreneur, compared to your male counterparts? And do you think a platform like Shark Tank India is helping counter that bias in any way?
I am grateful for how things have changed in the last 15 years. Because there is a lot more awareness around how women can be role models and entrepreneurs. Women are now taking their companies public, they're creating companies that are more than a billion dollars in valuation. And the assumption that women are not capable of doing these things has stopped coming up in mainstream conversations. So that's a good thing. The bad thing is that of course, the numbers are still not there. If you look at the last two years of funding also, not even 5% would have gone to women-founded companies. The biggest challenge is fundraising and the change in the numbers will take another decade to happen. But I am very optimistic about that. We are going in the right direction. Shark Tank is phenomenal in this. Almost half the pitches had women founders. I think what this is going to result in, is representation. Where they'll see a woman come on the show, at the age of 55, running a business with her son and daughter and walk out with a big cheque, they can think, 'This can be me!'
6. How do you think make-up and skin care empowers women?
What I've seen is that makeup is the one thing that women wear for themselves. It's like a fashion accessory that makes them feel more confident. It's something that you put on as a feel-good, even on your worst days, you just put on red lipstick, and it makes you feel more powerful. Traditionally makeup was seen as something used to hide one's insecurities, but things have really changed in the last decade and young women don't look at it as something to mask their insecurities with, but as a form of self-expression.
7. Were you ever questioned about how you’d be able to balance motherhood with entrepreneurship?
It's a question that is asked very often. And earlier I used to get slightly irritated with it. Because why aren't men asked this question? It's never a part of any male conversation, although men also become fathers at the same time that they start their companies. (But) I don't get angry with this question anymore. Just because I had the privilege (supportive parents, in-laws, and partner), doesn't mean other women do. I really hope that after watching Shark Tank, the struggles of women who are trying to balance work and family are eased with their husbands' and parents' support. The other part of it is guilt. A lot of times we ourselves think that if we do both, we'll not be able to do justice to parenting. I think it is a very personal choice but I don't think we should be making these decisions out of a place of guilt.
8. Can you tell us more about your experience as a Shark Tank India judge? Any interesting incidents from the show that stayed with you?
I think one of the experiences I want to share is of a pitch. It's called Gold Life fan rods. There is a company that actually makes these fan rods that prevent suicide. So, they started talking about putting these rods in all of the hostels in Kota and the fact that it has become mandatory in Kota, where the suicide rate is the highest because there is so much pressure on students. And how they've also recently put it in IIM Hyderabad, where there has been suicide reported in the last 12 months, it hit me hard that the valuation of this business is priceless. I think it was one of the more emotional pitches for me. I am very happy that I decided to be a part of it along with Ghazal and Peyush, because I do feel that someday in every single hostel, and campus they'll have these rods replaced.
9. Do you have a favourite co-judge?
It's like choosing between my kids! It's very hard because I love all of them. I am really, really good friends with them. Though I've probably done the maximum number of deals with Anupam. We somehow overlap on the kind of businesses we invest in and he invests in a lot of women founded companies as well. But I love all six of them, I have learned so much from all of them!