How this bootstrapped startup is aiming to take on the P&Gs of the worldSindhu Kashyap
Be.The Solution, a curator of women-centric personal hygiene products, offers sanitisers, wipes and gels that focus on the sanitation and cosmetic angles.
For Deep Lalvani, founding a company in the manufacturing sector wasn’t a challenge. As a promoter of the 109-year old legacy manufacturing company Ador Group, the MBA graduate from Manchester Business School UK found manufacturing simple; it was branding that was a different story.
At Ador, Deep would handle and deal with the manufacture of personal care products. Under that segment, Ador was working with Unilever, Wipro, Himalaya and other FMCG brands. His time here gave Deep the idea of building a separate company that focused on personal hygiene products. And Be.The Solution was born.
Starting a separate brand
From the beginning, Deep was sure that he wanted his company to be a strong brand in the women’s personal care and hygiene segment.
“We knew that manufacturing is completely different from marketing and branding, and so it was important that we created a separate entity. The idea was to focus on hygiene products,” he says.
Of the firm belief that the women’s personal care and hygiene segment is big, Deep says: “I am a believer that the toilet sanitiser and wipe market can be huge.”
The idea took shape during several conversations with women friends as Deep realised that everyone complained that there weren’t any clean public toilets.
It was clearly a bigger problem for women than for men. While there definitely are products like the PeeBuddy which help, Deep and his team felt more could be done in the hygiene sector.
Deep had, during his travels, seen wipes and interesting toilet sanitisers in South East Asia. The simple and easy to carry packaging, made it convenient for women to carry these products in their bags. Deep began his R&D and market research and realised that women in India would love such products.
Building the product base
When Deep and his team started building the product, he realised that most hand sanitisers in the market were sold as a commodity, focusing just on hygiene and germ kill.
Be.The Solution positioned their sanitisers differently – they offered the combined benefit of hygiene and fragrances. The brand has fragrances such as rose and jasmine and uses glycerine to make the product softer on the hands.
“We wanted to create a brand that creates hygiene awareness for women in India. The essential philosophy of the brand is to bring about change in whatever small way we can to improve hygiene and sanitation conditions in India,” Deep explains.
Once he was sure of what he wanted to do, Deep started speaking to different people in the industry and agencies, and consulting brands.
Giving back to society
Be.The Solution also began manufacturing shower gels and other products, focusing again on hygiene and the cosmetic angles.
Deep says five percent of all net revenues go back to funding hygiene products in India. The team claims to have tied up with Milaap and is working towards goals like establishing toilets in rural areas.
“We get data about students dropping out of schools because there are no toilets and we are trying to remedy situations like that. This is happening in rural India and you, by buying these products, are helping us in your own little way. That is the concept we came up with,” Deep says.
The team is working on building its manufacturing know-how. Manufacturing of some of the products has been outsourced to Ador and others to third-party manufacturers, but Be.The Solution refused to share details.
Be.The Solution may have the backing of the Ador Group, but it is nevertheless is a startup. One of the big challenges - like for all startups - was to keep costs low. It proved more difficult because of the Ador Group tag.
Deep says when they would go to ad agencies, media companies and retailers; he would receive exorbitant quotes, looking at his background.
“They would never quote such prices to any other startup. So you get the benefits of having a history, but you also get the negativity of being misunderstood,” Deep explains.
So most of the times Be.The Solution would avoid talking about the history. The other challenge arose when listing the brand with a retailer; most were attuned to P&G and Unilever.
The biggies came with big budgets and retailers would wonder why replace a LifeBuoy sanitiser with a Be.The Solution sanitiser on their shelf.
“It was hard. We really had to emphasise the fact that we were doing something different and obviously margin structures needed to be a little different. I have done some cross-promotional things where I have given vouchers that could be given free to all their customers. We made small inroads like that,” Deep says.
Building the team
In terms of building the team, the first person Deep hired was a person in R&D to formulate everything. His manufacturing background meant he knew a few people and could tap those with skill sets that would be advantageous.
Deep had been invited to a B-school to give a talk to outgoing students. Some of the students started sending Deep messages on Linkedin, asking if they could keep in touch.
“I called the dean of that B-school, IFEEL in Lonavala, and asked him if I could recruit. We did a two-day pitch where we pretty much interviewed the whole class and picked four people. I had also met Prathiba Singh a while back; she worked with one of the resellers of Amazon. I gave her a call and she is now in charge of branding,” he says.
Currently bootstrapped, the team claims to be making revenues of Rs 5 lakh as of August. A large pack of the sanitiser is priced at Rs 300. The pocket sizes and the 60 ml ones are priced at Rs 62. The 50 ml spray of toilet seat sanitizer is priced at Rs 135 while the 200ml is available for Rs 396.
The female hygiene product market is believed to be growing at 13 percent. According to Markets and Research, the market will touch $42.7 billion by 2022. In a sense Be.The Solution will be competing with bigger FMCG players like HLL, P&G and Marico. In fact, as of FY2015, P&G had over 60 percent of the market share.
But Be.The Solution is ready to take them on. It is already delivering across India through online and offline stores. In the near future, the team is looking to add more products and go deeper into the market.