How this Bengaluru-based maternity startup grew 200 percent amidst COVID-19

Surbhi Bhatia went from being a frustrated consumer of maternity products to starting The Mom Store in 2018. The startup’s revenue in the first quarter of current financial year equals what it made during the entire FY20.

When Surbhi Bhatia became pregnant in 2017, she had to make do with large and extra-large sized tops because she could not find proper maternity workwear. The ordeal had just begun for the mother-to-be.   

Surbhi Bhatia, Founder and CEO, The Mom Store

After the birth of her daughter, Surbhi was also dissatisfied with most products like diaper bags that were “too plasticky and cartoony for any mothers to carry”. She felt that most brands and products targeted babies while the mother is the key decision-maker. To solve this gap in the market, Surbhi launched The Mom Store in 2018.

An alumnus of the Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode, Surbhi had worked as a strategy consultant for telecom and media technology at Deloitte in the US, and later managed the Business Excellence team at Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Limited, which included brands like Peter England and Allen Solly, among others.

However, Surbhi’s experience during her pregnancy and motherhood led her to take the entrepreneurial plunge in 2018. Today, her startup is claiming a stake in the promising maternity wear market, which is witnessing a yearly growth of 15 to 17 percent, and the baby’s apparel market that is propelled to grow at a CAGR of more than 15 percent between 2020 and 2025.

The journey

After researching the market to understand a mother’s need even deeper, Surbhi identified the right vendors, turned a room in her apartment into a stock room, and started by shipping a few products.

A millennial mother, Surbhi knows that most mothers her age, who possess higher educational qualifications and have established careers, have different lifestyle choices from the previous generation. The Mom Store caters to this very audience.

For example, she says, the startup’s diaper bag helps working mothers organise well, with dedicated space for diapers as well as laptops and other accessories. The Mom Store also provides maternity wear, including tops, leggings, maternity denims, dresses, and gowns, which can pass off as casual as well as event wear. It also offers maternity lingerie and loungewear that are feeding friendly as well as breastfeeding pillows with a support belt.

Priced between Rs 500 and Rs 5000, these products are sold across India through the startup’s website and marketed on various social media channels. The startup has amassed more than 70,000 followers on Instagram.

A clear case of a frustrated consumer taking to entrepreneurship to address the gap, Surbhi says every product launched has been well-received. Still, The Mom Store ensures to listen intently to its customers, hear their feedback, and learn what challenges other mothers are facing.

However, the entrepreneur feels brands have a long way to go when it comes to infant apparel. “Most companies who cater to kids’ clothing start the items from two to three years onwards. If you try to go to the market, there will be nothing available for infants aged between zero and two years,” she adds.

Surbhi adds that providing products for infants led to an increase in sales during the lockdown when most shops were closed. Besides amassing 200 percent growth in the last two years, the startup claims that its revenue for the first quarter of the current financial year equals total revenue earned in 2019-2020.

The entrepreneur is grateful that she decided to continue business operations when most leading brands had closed during the lockdown. Surbhi thought the worst that could happen eventually is a horde of cancelled orders. Instead, the startup saw dramatic organic growth.

Bootstrapped with Rs 50 lakh so far, the Bengaluru-based startup now has nine members, including a design team while garment sourcing and manufacturing are done by outside vendors on a contractual basis.

Serving women throughout pregnancy and their child up to five years of age, she says, there is little direct competition from a similar umbrella brand catering to both expectant mothers and their children. However, indirectly, The Mom Store faces competition from players operating in certain fixed categories like maternity or the baby's segment.

Apart from the ecommerce platform, The Mom Store has also evolved into a community and a platform where mothers can blog about their experiences. 

Challenges — the double-edged swords

One of the initial challenges was navigating the ecommerce business, which she learnt from scratch and now runs the business comfortably.

However, as Surbhi does not hail from a family with a business background, she was not encouraged to leave her cushy corporate job and turn to entrepreneurship.

“An MBA from IIM, I was travelling around the world doing different projects with a stable job. So, there was a lot of discouragement from family and friends who told me it's not the ideal time to leave everything to start up when I have a one-year-old baby,” Surbhi recalls, adding that she remained adamant as it felt like a now-or-never situation.

Additionally, manufacturers were reluctant to work with smaller players while most good manufacturers were only involved in exporting businesses. It took the entrepreneur some time to convince them. She says that a few agreed after hearing the brand’s vision and value, and the problem it wants to solve for mothers.

Today, Surbhi believes that all the challenges in the past two years have taught her valuable lessons in entrepreneurship.

Going ahead, the entrepreneur has a lot of new products in mind, such as baby furniture and transport items like trams and strollers. And in the next two years, Surbhi says The Mom Store must become the go-to brand for mothers-to-be in India.

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta