How Nykaa Built a Billion-Dollar Beauty and Fashion Empire

The female-led unicorn is set to make history as one of the few profitable Indian companies to IPO later this year.

Poulomi Das

August 4, 2021

How Nykaa Built a Billion-Dollar Beauty and Fashion Empire
Nykaa Luxe storefront, Mumbai (Nykaa)

In 2012, Falguni Nayar had a dream. Then 50, Nayar, an Indian Institute of Management (IIM) grad and managing director at Kotak Investment Banking, wanted to plunge headlong into entrepreneurship. She knew exactly what to build: a multi-brand online beauty business. Nayar noticed a gap in the Indian beauty market — there were no online retailers dedicated solely to making beauty accessible or affordable, especially to the country’s women, who make up 48% of the population. She was inspired both by China’s Jumei and France’s Sephora and keen on following that model for India. At the time, Nykaa had the advantage of an uncrowded field; the only other online beauty retailer was purplle.com.

But Nykaa was also at a disadvantage. Flipkart and Myntra, two homegrown e-commerce platforms, had already been around for five years, Snapdeal was two years in, Jabong was launching the same year, and Amazon was set to enter India in 2013. Myntra and Jabong were fashion businesses while Flipkart, Snapdeal, and Amazon sold everything from books to electronics. Would Nayar’s vision be able to contend with the might of its immediate competitors and earn the loyalty of Indian consumers?

In under nine years, Nykaa hasn’t just emerged as a viable startup, but has also revolutionized the business of beauty in India. Since its inception, the company, which turned unicorn in 2020, has launched a successful fashion vertical, a men’s grooming platform, and a private label — in addition to expanding to 73 brick-and-mortar stores across 38 Indian cities. Nykaa’s website and app, which currently offers over 700,000 products, draws more than 60 million visitors every month. Put simply, Nykaa has become the country’s go-to beauty destination; most call it the “Sephora of India.” Like Sephora, Nykaa does aggregate beauty products across brands and price points, straddling the line between aspiration and affordability. But it can also feel like a dated comparison. Nykaa has become the equivalent of a beauty empire — made for the country, and by the country.