Being a category creator is a tough spot to be in, but that hasn’t tempted this startup to raise big money to expand.Debolina Biswas
‘Smart’ has invaded everything around us. From phones and TVs to speakers, homes, radios, and now,clothing. From ‘cooling’ blankets and biometric shirts, to contact-less payment jackets and socks that monitor heart rates, clothing is getting ‘smarter’ every day.
Meet Bengaluru-based Turms, an intelligent apparel brand. A product of BigPhi Technologies, the startup was recently in the news for raising funds from many noteworthy individuals from the Indian startup ecosystem.
In fact, its list of investors is an impressive one and includes Girish Mathrubootham, Founder of SaaS ‘unicorn’ Freshworks; Raveen Sastry, Co-founder of online fashion platform Myntra; Ambareesh Murty, Founder of furniture etailer Pepperfry; and former-Google executive Sree Unnikrishnana.
We caught up with the three Co-founders of Turms: former Voonik executive Rameswar Misra, nano-technologist Rohit Gupta and former McAfee engineer Alok Sharma to find out more about their winning pitch, their investor-love story and what’s in the works.Turms was founded in late 2016 and has three more founders: Sandeep Kataria, Vineesh Chadha, Subhraneel Saikia and Anil Dhondalay.
Turms produces apparel that come with intelligent functions. Its clothes are stain repellent, anti-odour, has cooling and wicking properties, and can recover from being stretching. What’s more -
you don’t even have to wash them regularly (though that’s optional)!
Turms entered the market with denims jeans for men in April 2017.
"We started with our own money and two angel investors," says Rameswar.
His former colleague and the former CFO of Myntra and Voonik, Prabhakar Sunder, was one of the initial investors of the company.
Recently, it raised Rs 2 crore from Raveen Sastry, Sree Unnikrishnana, FarEye Co-founder Rahul Gautam Kumar, Rahul Garg and Atul Gupta of PremjiInvest, and former Flipkart executive Sanjay Ramakrishnan.
Last October, Turms raised Rs 6.3 crore from Girish Mathrubootham, along with Reliance Retail Lifestyle President Bijou Kurien, Ambareesh Murty, OneAssist Founder SubratPani, and former Flipkart executive Mekin Maheshwari, along with angels from LetsVenture and AngelList India.
Other marquee angels who participated in the round include Sumit Jain, co-founder Opentalk, Krishnan Akhileswaran, Group CFO at Apollo Hospitals, Prabhakar Sunder, ex CFO - Voonik & Myntra, and Amit Lakhotia, formerly with Tokopedia and Paytm.
While Turms has approached VCs previously, they plan to raise Series A only when they "get the right VC onboard," says Rameswar.
"Since we are a consumer product and still small, there will always be strong apprehensive in the market.Once we grow bigger, I think we will get the right VCs," he added.
So, what is it about Turms that’s attracting individual investors in droves?
"We raise from people who can add a lot of strategic value in the scaling of the company - in building the brand and from an Research & Development (R&D) prospective," Rameswar told YourStory, adding, “When we get an angel on board, we are very clear on what value can they bring onboard.”
Citing examples, he says, "Raveen (Sastry) and Sanjay (Ramakrishnan) come with strong experience of building brands in the online space. Similarly, Rahul (Garg) and Atul (Gupta) guide us in how to raise money and which funds we should be approaching."
Shree helps the team with inputs on improving the consumer experience and helped revamp their website. He believes Turms is an opportunity to “redefine clothing” and help the planet.
"Affordable and low maintenance would mean less use of water, less detergents to address pollution and heat/cold tech to address better health. This is an opportunity to help a leader in this space in India," he told YourStory.
"Turms has an opportunity to create a fashion and lifestyle brand with a very differentiated product offering, the differentiator being technology. Its a direct to consumer model and has the advantage of owning the entire customer experience. Good start and momentum so far validates the same. Massive opportunity to capitalise on," said Sanjay.
Team Turms is going to use the recently raised funds to scale more and triple their revenues by the end of this year.
For now, its current average monthly revenue is Rs 2.5 crore, "Our scale is very small, so when we say tripling our revenues, we are talking about Rs 7-8 crore per month. At our scale, tripling is more about execution from our side," Rameswar says.
The team will be increasing their product offerings, more varieties under the existing categories. The team is also planning to launch its first experience centre in Bengaluru by the end of the next quarter. Turms will also be starting an in-house design studio in either Bengaluru or Gurugram, to experiment with women’s clothing. Its products are currently available at Flipkart and Amazon Launchpad.
While smart clothing may sound cool, the business has its work cut out for itself. It is a category-creator, which means its biggest challenge is educating the consumer – and this is often enough to put off the bravest of investors. So if the customer won’t come to Turms, Turms decided it was time to go where the customer was.
"One way to educate customers about our functional apparel is by having small experience centres like what Pepperfry and Lenskart has, so that they can come in and feel our products," Rameswar says.
"From the R&D side, we are partnering with institutions across the globe to improve the current and develop new technology," says Rohit.
On Holi this year, Turms launched its 'skin protector' t-shirts that minimise the amount of chemicals coming in contact with the skin and didn’t stain permanently with the colours.
The company has also partnered with IIT-Delhi to develop anti-ageing technology for apparel. "We are working on a silk by-product to help gain multiple functionality - anti-wrinkle, anti-ageing, cooling and anti-bacterial properties, all into one," he says.
Turms is also partnering with Manchester University to work on graphene technology. They are trying to build an active or dual-functionality t-shirt. "The fabric will keep you cool or warm depending on the outside temperature," says Rohit.
According to the founders, Turms repeat rate is above 30 percent and from the product standpoint, "We are trying to build better customer experience and planning to get customers be the brand ambassadors of our products," said Anil.
While brands like Wrangler and Van Heusen have a few functional products and global competitor, Uniqlo of Japan might soon enter the market, no Indian brand is dedicated to functional apparel.