On the face of it, Nua is a company that makes sanitary pads that can be ordered online in customised packs for different types of flow. Scratch the surface, and you’ll find that it isn’t – and doesn’t plan to be – a product company. So why did Lightbox Ventures choose Nua for its first investment?Suma Ramachandran
Earlier this week, Lightbox India Advisors Pvt. Ltd made its first investment from its third fund, leading a $4 million Series A round in women’s wellness brand Nua. Existing investor Kae Capital also participated in the round.
Nua makes chemical-free sanitary pads, and sells them online in packs of 12. The packs can be customised for different types of flow, and come with individual disposal covers. The packaging is discreet and delivered to a customer’s doorstep in 3-5 days.
Lightbox’s latest fund has a corpus of $200 million, most of which has already been raised. Prashant Mehta, Partner at Lightbox, says they had been looking at the wellness space for quite some time now: “The women’s wellness space is in great need of being invigorated and catalysed.” Traditional manufacturers, he adds, rarely ever get to know their customers well because they’re two steps removed from the customer by way of the distributor and retailer.
“The way we wanted to approach it was with a company that was looking at this holistically – how can we deliver a great experience at a massively great value,” he adds.
But how much sense does an investment in a sanitary pad company make, in an age where landfills are overflowing with non-biodegradable garbage, and there is a growing community of people advocating menstrual cups?
For Nua’s Co-founder and CEO Ravishankar Ramachandran, and Co-founder Swathi Kulkarni, Nua was never meant to be a product company. The sanitary pad, therefore, was just the starting point. Their goal is take into account the social, emotional, cultural context, starting with the topic of menstruation today and wellness tomorrow.
Says Ravishankar, “From the start, we were clear that our aspiration was to provide access to these products to a large base of women and touch their lives. And so, it had to be a product that was good for them and what they were comfortable with. Secondly, we also took into account cultural nuances and realised that invasive products (like tampons or cups) are not easily acceptable. So, these were not our starting point.”.
And the fact that Nua knew its customers so well had the folks at Lightbox hooked.
Nua plans to use the funding to develop its technology, refine its products, and expand its team to make its online community stronger. The firm was set up in 2017, and has raised $4.9 million so far. Nua’s pads are made of non-woven fabric with an absorbent core, and come in an aesthetically-designed package. The napkins are not entirely biodegradable, but also do not contain any chemicals, prints, bleach, or dioxins.
The differentiation begins with the little things. “Many women don’t remember when their period is due,” says Swathi, who heads technology and marketing. This, in turn, can lead to last-minute hunting for pads. To address this issue, Nua offers a subscription service. Subscribers can provide the date of their last cycle and the gap between two periods to ensure that women get their customised box of pads, delivered before their next period starts.
Each box comes with individual disposal covers so that women changing pads outside the home – at the office or at a mall – do not need to hunt for paper or a bag in which to dispose of the pad.
Since buying a pack of sanitary napkins is often considered embarrassing, the discreet packaging, the availability of options, combined with doorstep delivery have played a key role in Nua’s growth across India, and beyond the metros.
“Many of our customers from smaller cities are part of a joint family and order for other women in the family as well,” says Swathi.
Doorstep delivery is a value proposition that goes a long way with their customers.
“Fifty percent of our orders come from smaller cities,” says Ravi. So far, they have delivered to over 5,000 pincodes in the country, including towns with a population of just one lakh.
Nua has also leveraged the power of online to build a community of one lakh women on its social media channels. Its Instagram and Facebook pages are filled not just with information and tips on women’s menstrual wellness, but are also used for AMA (ask-me-anything) sessions that Swathi hosts with gynaecologists and other experts every month.
For the founders, it was about creating a safe space where women can ask questions – and many are the kind that they might put off because it involves going to a gynaecologist or a physician – PCOS, mood swings, contraception, intercourse, thyroid issues, discharges, etc.
“For us the larger goal is this: how do you make a positive impact in a woman’s life by building a brand that is thought around them,” Ravishankar says.
For Prashant, it is a sign of how comfortable their customers are within the online community. It is one of the aspects that Lightbox values.
“They are thinking around building a community and using that community to create greater awareness. Women are asking questions on all kinds of topics…it’s a really strong signal of the start of building trust. No brand in the country has developed that kind of trust,” Prashant notes.
Moreover, Nua’s highly engaged community is an indication of how it is going to treat its customers.
“They’re creating a holistic experience that goes beyond the product. The product is surrounded by really strong content, awareness, knowledge, and a vibrant community that can be a source for new innovation and new ideas,” he adds.
There is a strong product roadmap and vision about where Lightbox and Nua want to take this business, one Prashant describes as a ‘technology-powered, direct-to-consumer brand that can be personalised and delivered to any woman’.
“They’ve built this business in a great way with very little capital from the early days, and built a very strong foundation. For us as a team, it gives us very intimate knowledge about the customer. That helps us serve the customer better and deliver more value. That’s not something we have seen many examples of – it’s very powerful,” he adds.
Lightbox is an investor in companies like Furlenco, Flinto, PayMate, Droom, and Melorra. It was also an investor in companies like InMobi, Info Edge, Clear Trip, and Embibe. Its latest fund will focus on healthcare, fintech, and financial services, as well as content.