This woman entrepreneur's latest startup makes homes bug-free with nothing but minerals
In a time when home services startups are a dime a dozen, Urbanns goes the natural way and uses Diatomaceous Earth to make pesticides and insecticides.
It is 1 am. You have a big meeting in the morning and yet sleep has been elusive. While you want to sleep tight and not let the bed bugs bite, it just isn’t happening. It was looking at this problem that 37-year-old former Times of India journalist and instructional designer Pooja Jain Hansaria decided to start Urbanns last year. The startup makes home pest, insect control, pet deworming, and organic products using natural minerals.
The products are made out of ‘Diatomaceous Earth’ – a siliceous fossil flour, which is said to have sharp microscopic edges that cut through insects and other home and garden pests. It acts as a desiccant and dries up insects, and is also chemical free and a safe solution for homes.
Explaining on the workings of the product, Pooja says:
We are working with a team of agricultural scientists to develop more such products and solutions for do-it-yourself pest control and organic gardening. We follow strict quality control procedures to ensure effectiveness. The product is cost-effective and a sustainable solution for eradication and prevention of insects and pests at home.
Many believe that bed bugs are restricted to hotel rooms and motels. However, in 2014, Pooja to her rude shock discovered they were present in her house. For two weeks, her family ignored the bites assuming them to be mosquito bites. “But one night it was visible to the naked eye and the nightmare began. The infestation was quite high and deep in our bedroom apartment in Bengaluru,” says Pooja.
From pest control agencies, to expensive pesticides to google searches, they tried everything, only to find temporary relief. It was during her search that Pooja read about Diatomaceous Earth and its effects on pests like bed bugs.
However, all products that were made based of Diatomaceous Earth were available abroad and the prices were high for those ordering from India. Also, they didn’t know which one to buy and how to handle the shipping.
Working with experts
“My brother-in-law who lived in USA ordered it and shipped it to us. He could also verify its effectiveness by consulting friends and exterminators who have used the product for bed bugs. We used Diatomaceous Earth as instructed and it worked. There was no bug in the house after a month. The bites reduced drastically,” says Pooja.
It was during this that Pooja realised that the products need to be available and easily accessible in India. After speaking to different agricultural scientists, Pooja and her husband began work on building Urbanns.
With agricultural scientists, they setup the supply chain and quality control for it and began selling it mostly online where it is easier to educate people on its benefits and demonstrate usage.
The pest control market
However, the biggest challenge that Urbanns faced was to bring in the awareness and establish the effectiveness of the products in homecare. DIY and pest control is a nascent concept in India and most pest control focus these days have been on branded FMCG products. Also, over the past year, with the focus on India and home-grown products, Patanjali products have started gaining storm in India.
Art of Living teacher Sri Ravi Shankar has a similar business. The 10-year-old company – Sri Sri Ayurveda Products ‑ sells cereals, health drinks, home-care and personal care items in 600 franchise stores as well as through their online platform.
Pooja also explains, “Many people who buy our product for bed bugs expect it to work like any other chemical-based instant kill solution. We have to then educate them that it is a slow, safe, and sustainable solution rather than an instant one that is more harmful in the long run. We have seen people use very toxic chemicals to get rid of pests not realising the harm they are doing to themselves in the process.”
Revenue and future
This is Pooja’s second venture, she had earlier launched an Indian ethnic wear retail outlet STRITVA in 2009 in Bengaluru. With Urbanns, the team claims to have reached over 5,000 customers in the first year with a revenue of Rs 30 lakh.
Apart from their own online store, retail stores, the products are sold even on Bigbasket, Flipkart, and Amazon. “As we grew the online presence and introduced more product and size variants, the orders have been showing healthy increase across bed bug, pet deworming, and plant and garden guard segments,” says Pooja.
The team claims that their ‘Bed Bug Powder’ has received orders from naval ships, army cantonments, frequent business class travellers, well-known hotels of India, hospitals, PG accommodations, and households.
The team plans to focus on increasing the awareness of these products and continue to introduce more such products that can help solve urban living problems using natural solutions. The team is also exploring opportunities to sell their products through organic stores, retail chains, and other distribution methods though they are focussed selling it online currently.
“Through our interactions, we have also realised that there are products targeting cockroaches and mosquitoes in the market, but for several other pests that trouble urban residents, there are no good and effective off-the-shelf products in the market currently – within that natural or chemical-free ones are even lesser,” says Pooja.