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In Conversation With Adwaita Nayar, Founding Team, Nykaa

In Conversation With Adwaita Nayar, Founding Team, Nykaa

About Her

MM: Tell our audience a little bit about your background and journey

AN: I graduated in 2012 with a degree in Applied Maths from Yale. During my summers at Yale, I interned at Citi Bank’s Investment Banking division and the year after as a summer Analyst at Morgan Stanley’s Equities division. And soon after I graduated from YALE  I joined Bain consulting in New York. It was around this time that my mom was starting Nykaa.com back in India.

MM: After a typical job in financial services, what excited you about being an entrepreneur?

AN: 9 months into Bain consulting, one day I just randomly took the leap of faith and decided to leave my job to join my mom. Since I didn’t like consulting so much, I felt like I didn’t have much to lose. Mostly, I was just excited with the idea of working on Nykaa.  Obviously, at that time, my mom and I had no sense of what the scale could be or where it would go but it seemed like an exciting idea to be able to do something entrepreneurial.

“You know in life there are these moments where you don’t realise, just how life-changing a decision can be. At that moment I really didn’t give it too much thought. I had just graduated and thought this would be a cool role. If I didn’t like it I could always come back, it was no big deal. But I really think that one decision altered the entire course of my career.”

Once you get the taste of entrepreneurship, from day 1 itself, when Nykaa was just getting started and not just today when Nykaa is successful, it grows on to you.  And anyone who’s just started something of there own couldn’t agree more with me on this. I absolutely loved and adored the journey and really had no line between work and life.  I took a leap into it and I really can’t ever imagine doing anything else. This is our baby and entrepreneurship is absolutely addictive and a very fulfilling way of living life.

About Her Journey At Nykaa

What is your proudest moment when it comes to Nykaa?

I’ve personally grown a lot through my entrepreneurial journey and I’m proud of the leader that I’ve become. In the early days, my original personality was someone who got easily stressed out, was hyper and incredibly intense, while also being very demanding of others. In the process, I burned out not only myself but also people around me.

But after I stepped out for business school, I realized a bunch of things for my own sustainability and realized I needed a big shift in how I interact with people. I learnt that people work in companies for their managers and that as a leader you’re not serving anyone except for the people who work for you.

In fact, entrepreneurship not only changed my professional attitude but also my personal attitude, in how I interact with others. If you compare how I lead and manage today with how I was 4-5 years ago, you could say I’ve gone from being intensely demanding to a to a very understanding, much more measured, much more balanced and a much more long-term perspective type of personality. I have become more sustainable, in the way I live my own life and also in the way I lead my team.

A professor once told me that business is really a noble profession because every day you get to impact the lives of the people who give you 10-12 hours a day and how you motivate them, interact with them really determines their general sense of happiness and contentment. So if you get this right it is really noble in the sense that you’re giving something back.

In fact, entrepreneurship not only changed my professional attitude but also my personal attitude in how I interact with others. If you compare how I lead and manage today with how I was 4-5 years ago you could say I’ve gone from being intensely demanding to a to a very understanding, much more measured, much more balanced and a much more long-term perspective type of personality. I have become more sustainable in the way I live my own life and also in the way I lead my team.

MM: How has business school helped you at Nykaa?

I’m a huge proponent of business school, although I can’t say it will help everyone. But it was incredibly helpful to me. In fact, initially, I really didn’t want to go because I was quite entrenched in Nykaa. But my mom motivated me to go.

She said, “It’s a good life-changing experience that adds value to your life. You have your whole life to work and have a career. But going to another country, meeting new people is a unique opportunity.”

So even though I didn’t want to go I ended up going and trust me it was a good decision. It really did bring about a transformation in my personality. And this wasn’t entirely to do with the professors who inspired me or the leaders who gave me a sense of what my leadership style should be, but also about taking a step back, taking a pause in my career and just thinking and reflecting. I got the chance to do a lot of thinking, reading, writing.  I wasn’t in business school just partying. I was actually just thinking hard, ‘What life do I want to lead?’ ‘What kind of person I want to be?’. In that sense had I just continued working I wouldn’t have got that kind of personal transformation.

And then in the hardcore rigorous business side, I can’t really say that my courses helped me on a day to day basis, because there’s nothing like real-world experience. While I took classes on real estate, nothing prepares you for opening stores in a country like India. And I took a course about marketing and finance, but again, nothing helps you for things like GST. These are things that you just learn on the job.

Other than that, I feel business school expands your mind, especially at a school like Harvard, where you’re made to read case studies of 200-250 odd companies over the course of 2 years. Its a lot like reading business books. So I think business school is more of intuitive learning rather than anything hardcore and substantial.

MM: How did you adapt to your rapidly evolving role, from founding member of a start-up to COO of an $800 million beauty/retail brand?

AN: It has evolved insanely. And it’s really unrecognizable every few months. So when we first started, it was everything from us drawing out how the website will look in my bedroom, to tagging every product so it can be filtered, to reading every description so it made grammatical sense, to setting up analytics, to setting up our ERP, to going to the warehouse to arranging boxes, to packing boxes. I was just very very hands-on at every level. But once the team built out and we hired a CTO, I didn’t have to look at tech anymore. Then when we hired some great product managers, that went off my plate, then when marketers came on board, marketing was off my agenda. But again people leave and you have to plug in for them, so we go in and out of the roles.

If I have to categorise in the early days’ everyone was doing everything. There were the days my mom and I were sitting and packing boxes till 3 am! It took around 1 – 1.5 years for the basic team to set in. So at that point I also did lots of recruitment, setting up of teams, empowering them, along with focusing on product and technology.

Then I went away for 2 years for business school and when I came back the e-commerce business was in a really good space. So for the next 1- 1.5 years, I took up the business of physical stores. As of today, we have opened 30 stores. And for my latest role, I’m actually leaving everything beauty related and taking a big step in fashion. So the role has very much evolved!

MM: How does the mother-daughter dynamic play out at work? 

AN: Working together has brought us much closer and our relationship richer than it ever was. Of course, we were always really close, but now we’re really quite inseparable. Not only in the work setting but even in a personal setting, our relationship has really strengthened. I think she’s such a brilliant entrepreneur in every way – from the way she takes risks, the way she thinks about capital raising, the way she thinks about strategy, the way she thinks about building for the future, the way she manages her team, she’s phenomenal. So to be led by her, to be mentored by her, to learn from her is incredibly special. Especially considering the fact, that she wants to teach me everything there is to know about the business. In that aspect, she’s really invested in my learning, so I consider myself very very lucky.

One of her biggest lessons to me is not just in business but even in life...

She once told me, that it’s sometimes okay to be average at certain things, whether it’s in business or even in personal life.  You don’t need to perfect everything. You can’t try to be the best friend, the best person at work, the best sister, daughter etc. You just have to learn to give up on certain things. It’s okay if you don’t eat healthy one day,  it’s okay if you don’t meet your friends one day, it’s okay if you miss someone’s wedding, it’s okay if you don’t perform at work and so on. If we just stop putting such exalting standards on ourselves at all times, it becomes a lot more sustainable.

MM: Talk us through a typical day in the life of Adwaita

AN: Its very role dependent, but I can tell you about my most recent role which was handling the physical stores. So I typically get in by like 9 am and spend 1 hour just working by myself, getting through emails. Then from 10 am onwards. I attend back to back meetings. I might have a meeting with my real estate head to understand which properties we are looking at, to discuss the P&L of those locations, and to give a sign off on matters like deciding who needs to travel where if we need to do more scouting. Then I may move on to a projects meeting, where I get an update on exactly where we are on all our projects, are we meeting timelines, are we opening on time. Then there might be a finance meeting where we review the MIS for the previous months, look at where our margins are, look at where our capex spending is, where are we in terms of profitability. And then I’ll probably spend some time working with the design and marketing department, to discuss what kinds of campaigns we are doing for festivals, and look over the campaigns we’re rolling out in physical stores. Lastly, I probably might get looped into 1-2 more generic business stuff, not specifically related to whatever I am handling. For instance, if there’s anything very big going on in the company, let’s say a tv commercial, then I’d sit in on that to give my inputs. Or if we’re fundraising then I’ll attend a couple of meetings with potential new investors, and then again around 5:30-6 when the meetings stop, I’ll work by myself from around 6 till 8, after which I head home and sleep!

About Her Advice To Women

MM: *Phew* Sounds hectic! That being said, what would be your biggest advice to women who are just starting their own business

AN: I think its two-fold. One is to think of your role as serving those you lead. This can transform the way you conduct yourself. By putting the people who work for me at the heart of everything we do, has been a really great shift in my leadership style. And I don’t know if it works for everyone but it’s something I would encourage people to explore. I also think this gives me a sense of purpose because at the end of the day I don’t know how motivated I could be about selling lipstick. But I am very motivated by the fact, that at any given point 20-40 people are looking up to me to help them feel motivated. That’s a huge responsibility which I take very very seriously and I would advise people to consider that as a style of business and leadership.

And the second advice is to know and understand, that entrepreneurship is a really long and interesting journey, and not some marathon that you’re trying to get at the end of. Basically, you need to have a long-term perspective on everything. You don’t need to solve every problem today, you don’t need to be so intensive, you don’t need to get everything perfect today. You just need to understand, what needs to be done now and what can be done in the future, and do it in a  very sustainable way both for yourself and others.

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Talkative, clumsy, punny, intuitive are just a few buzzes of this queen bee. An aspiring business journalist looking to find her throne in the corporate world.

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