With backing from KKR’s Henry Kravis, Falguni Nayar has become India’s richest self-made woman thanks to her fast-growing fashion and beauty retailer.
India’s richest self-made woman – Falguni Nayar, who founded Mumbai-based beauty and fashion retailer Nykaa – has advice for women entrepreneurs: “Let the spotlight of your life be on you.”
That resonates with her own journey to creating the $11 billion (market cap) Nykaa – derived from the Sanskrit word “Nayaka,” meaning one who’s in the spotlight.
Nayar was an investment banker for 19 years with India’s premier Kotak Mahindra Bank. During those two decades, she worked closely with India’s business elite including her boss, Uday Kotak, the well-respected billionaire founder of her firm. As managing director of its subsidiary Kotak Investment Banking, she held the hands of dozens of Indian entrepreneurs – including now billionaire Harsh Mariwala of consumer goods firm Marico and Ajay Bijli of PVR Cinemas – and helped them take their companies public.
Then one year shy of her 50th birthday, she quit to start her own business.
“You have to be the chief actor in your life,” says Nayar, who founded beauty and fashion retailer Nykaa in Mumbai in 2012. She invested $2 million in the initial years, along with her husband, Sanjay Nayar, the India CEO of U.S. private equity giant KKR. (The couple were in the same study group at the prestigious Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad).
One of her earliest believers was KKR’s billionaire cofounder Henry Kravis. “He was a big supporter from day one,” says Nayar. “He encouraged me to start my entrepreneurial journey. He wanted to take a stake in the first fundraising round, but I wanted to keep it to domestic investors.” Kravis eventually bought a stake from another investor who was selling; his Kravis Investment Partners LLC owns a 1.1% slice of the company.
It’s been quite a successful journey so far. Nykaa, which sells 4,000 brands, from sprays to skin creams to skirts, all available online and through 102 stores across 45 Indian cities, first became profitable in the fiscal year ending March 2021. Eight months later, Nykaa went public, one of the rare start-ups to turn a profit before the IPO. That helps explain why the November listing was such a smash success: the $13 billion IPO was oversubscribed 82 times. Even though the stock’s taken a beating since then, Nayar is still worth $5.9 billion, thanks to the 53% stake that she shares with her husband and 31-year-old twins, Anchit and Adwaita, who run Nykaa’s online and fashion businesses.
Nayar grew up in Mumbai. Her father–who moved from Karachi as a teenager during the partition of India and Pakistan by the British colonizers–started as a Sanskrit teacher in Mumbai and eventually cofounded a ball-bearings business.
Nayar recalls that she and her younger brother were both encouraged to help with the business.
“He’d expect us to roll up our sleeves and pitch in – even if it meant packing large orders,” she says. “My father was a different thinker. He’d treat me and my brother equally. Growing up I always felt like I could take risks – because I saw him taking risks.”