MUMBAI: How many people know that the now cult-favourite beauty brand of Gen Z and millennials, SUGAR was once on the verge of shutting shop due to lack of funding?
The direct-to-consumer SUGAR Cosmetics founded in 2015 by IIM Ahmedabad alumni Vineeta Singh and Kaushik Mukherjee is one of the fastest-growing premium beauty brands in India today. However, things were far from rosy for the Mumbai-based start-up back in 2016 when it did not even have enough money to import its first batch of lipsticks manufactured in Germany.
Pulling back the curtain on an untold story of a contrarian bet for the brand in 2015, Co-founder & CEO Vineeta Singh says, “SUGAR Cosmetics started as a direct-to-consumer cosmetics brand in 2015 with products that were specifically created for young Indian women. Very few people know that it was also at this time when the company was pivoting from the beauty subscription service to a cosmetics brand, it came very close to shutting down.”
Had it not been for a leap of faith from its earliest backer, India Quotient, dipping into their ‘reserve for AMC fees’ funds for a sizeable sum of Rs 1 crore, the founder admits the picture would have been starkly different today.
“In 2016, having already infused capital from their first fund, the partners at India Quotient, Madhukar Sinha and Anand Lunia, were clear that their fiduciary duty towards their limited partners ruled out any possibility of any further investment from their successor fund without an external investor leading the round. However, for reasons best known to them, they took an extremely risky call of lending the company Rs 1 crore from the funds ‘reserve for AMC fees’ amount that VCs earn for managing the fund,” says Singh.
Without India quotient’s cash infusion, Apart from being unable to pay their German manufacturers to release the products that were ready for delivery, the company would never have reached the 2017 Series A which eventually set the brand up on a different trajectory altogether, she details. “It gives us immense joy to be able to return 49X of their investment to them and thank them for the pivotal role they’ve had and continue to have as SUGAR scales,” she gushes.
The cruelty-free brand has quickly made its way into most makeup aficionado’s hearts and vanity bags. The year 2021 was off to a strong start for the digital-first beauty player as it announced a $21 Million (Rs 153 crore) Series C funding round in early February. As part of this, India Quotient marginally trimmed its holding to clock a 49X return on its investment at an IRR of 61 per cent.
Till date, the company has raised a total of $33 Million funds. India Quotient has consistently backed the founding team through all four rounds of funding, including the recently concluded Series C where it co-invested with Elevation Capital and A91 Partners. As a result, India Quotient is currently the second largest institutional investor of the company with a stake worth more than its first two funds put together.
The early-stage investor firm first invested in the vision back in 2013 when the parent company Vellvette Lifestyle was pursuing a beauty subscription service business model. In 2015, SUGAR Cosmetics was launched under the same company with a limited range of Crayon Lipsticks, Vivid Lipsticks, Matte Eyeliner and Kajal that disrupted the online cosmetics market and went viral through rave reviews on Instagram and YouTube. Starting with net revenue of Rs 3 crore in 2016-2017 the brand successfully clocked in Rs 105+ crores in its fourth fiscal year, reaching an 85 per cent year-on-year growth rate. This, while notching up 1.5+ million followers across social media platforms on the side.
India Quotient founding partner Madhukar Sinha said, “Ever since the launch of our operations in 2012, we have invested in over 70 start-ups. While we first backed the founders in 2013, we did infuse some amount in SUGAR Cosmetics in 2016 from the first fund’s reserve for AMC fees amount – we just knew that this association was to go a long way. The projections of the online beauty industry and the all-in approach of the team just had to be seen through to the Series A fundraise in June 2017.”
Besides investments in keeping the brand’s fast-moving product range ahead of the curve, SUGAR plans on using their latest funds in building both digital and retail distribution to further their reach in existing and new geographies, particularly in tier-2 and tier-3 towns of India. The brand’s Android and iOS apps have seen a million downloads with a 4.6-star rating, indicating a strong community of beauty enthusiasts that the brand speaks to. The retail footprint is also expected to grow from the current 10,000+ retail outlets to 40,000+ in the current year.
Sinha affirms, “Seeing the brand grow to become a cult-favourite among millennial women was a proud moment for us as well because we knew that the gut feel was validated. Watching how quickly SUGAR was carving their mark in the beauty industry, we returned to invest in the brand in their Series B & Series C rounds as well. For a brand that is merely 5 years old, SUGAR has taken the industry by storm and we are happy to be a part of their success journey.” Indeed.