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Skincare startup, Dr Monica MD wants to set standards with a minimalist, ethical approach to skincare

Diya Koshy George
27th Mar 2018
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It’s easy to blame social media for everyone’s constant quest for airbrushed perfection, but human beings’ need to put their best face (pun intended) forward is as old as time itself. While 18th century Europeans slathered on strawberries and wine to look fairer, the Japanese were using nightingale droppings to repair damage caused by lead-based makeup. Closer home, in India, everything from sandalwood to cow dung have been and are still used today.

It’s no wonder then that the global skin care market is estimated to grow to $180 billion by 2024, according to a report by Statistia. A Euromonitor report states that the Indian organic skincare market alone is set to cross the Rs 1,000 crore mark by 2020. However, despite the spate of products that exist in the market, few offer tangible results.

This was one of the challenges that Dr Monica Mohindra, a dermatologist with over 40 years’ experience noticed, and that most products were not suited to the climate and lifestyles in the Subcontinent. In 2016, she launched a brand of clinical skincare therapies - Dr. Monica MD with her daughter Vandana Mohindra, a former travel writer and wildlife conservationist and Gaurav Kumar, a close friend and now, business partner.

A legacy of bespoke skincare

The idea for a skincare line began to form when she returned to India after a 13-year stint in Sri Lanka, and her clients there were still contacting her for customised formulations. Her patients in India had likewise been consulting with her while she lived overseas. She decided it was time to make the formulations available to a wider audience, whom she would not have been able to help otherwise.

Vandana too was deeply inspired by her mother’s work. She would watch as her mother dispensed her therapies to patient after patient, most of whom were completely cured. “This inspired me to switch from wildlife writing and communication to join my mother in creating a startup that would make her skincare formulations available on the open market, and continue her wonderful legacy of helping people even after she retired,” she adds.

Setting standards with a minimalist and ethical approach to skincare

Vandana says that they aim to not just keep up with industry standards but go one step further and set new standards. “Our formulation use the purest ingredients, are cruelty free, and hypoallergenic. We innovate within the framework set up by the FDA. Anyone innovating cosmetics, and getting licensed by the FDA must be encouraged, so that we can safely use inactive chemicals. It’s important to remember that all cosmetics have chemicals, and only pure Ayurvedic oils are truly chemical free,” says Vandana.

Speaking about other hypo-allergenic products in the market, Vandana says, “Most products have 10-15 chemicals in their base. We put a maximum of four to five, and in one case only three. The less chemicals, the less the chance of an allergy.” She is also quick to dispel the natural myth. “Every single cream, lotion, gel, or spray has to be made of chemicals. The active ingredient, be it a perfume, or oil is added into this base cream.”

Her mother has also challenged the use of steroids “for quick-fixes where the skin problem recurs the minute the steroid is stopped” and the need for “scores of expensive tests”. “Steroids are potent drugs whose effects and side effects must not be underestimated, as they can even be fatal. So only medical, by which I mean MBBS or higher degree holders, can prescribe steroids by law,” says Vandana.

Scaling up, and the role of technology

Vandana says that one of the key challenges was creating a brand that would stand amongst world-class clinical skincare brands. “All of this required a very steep learning curve on a shoe-string budget, as I had no experience and no VC backing! I brought in Gaurav (as a partner), who had vital experience in the startup sector and this was the first of many key decisions that contributed to our success. We were lucky to have good advisors and the spirit to learn as we went along.”

The team has scaled up its in-market presence via digital shopping platforms. “We started out through our own website Dr Monica MD, which allowed us to study the market and gauge which of our product ranges would have the maximum appeal. We then moved into scale production and onto Amazon, Flipkart, Paytm etc, which has increased our scale exponentially. We are exporting to Maldives and in talks to expand to Sri Lanka.”

“We are also building an effective on ground activation programme. Once we are satisfied that we have a robust online presence, we hope to apply for VC funding to take our venture to the next level.”

She says their long-term vision is to create an ethical and affordable skincare brand that provides safe, effective and simple therapies to treat everyday skin problems.

How Dell empowers them on their entrepreneurial journey

“Dell has been our one-stop-shop for our tech needs from concept to execution,” says Gaurav Kumar who oversees the tech elements of the business. The team uses the Dell Inspiron series to power them through their tasks, and it has been a key enabler in their growth story. A processing powerhouse, its robust configuration enables all their design related tasks from building their website, creating their social media content, photo edits and product label design. It also makes easy work of day-to-day tasks such their online inventory management and customer interaction, manage their online chat platforms, and social media pages.

With technology being the key enabler of their solution, the team couldn’t be more excited to see how it will help them reach their goal of helping people everywhere have that happily-ever-after story with their skins.

Liked this story? Read more such small business success stories here.

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