Why this lawyer chose to enter the beauty and skincare industry and start a D2C brand
Hailing from a family of doctors, being a Disputes Resolution Attorney was new to Shamika Haldipurkar. After studying law from the Indian Law Society’s (ILS) Law College, Pune, she completed her Master’s in Law (LLM) from Duke University School of Law, US.
“I practised as a Commercial Disputes Lawyer at some top law firms in Mumbai, worked at the Bombay High Court, interned at the ICC in Hong Kong, and worked in marketing in Melbourne, Australia,” Shamika tells HerStory.
But when she returned to India in 2019, Shamika was trying to find an Indian beauty brand on par with global brands, and one that resonated with the consumers of today. This is when she decided to turn an entrepreneur and founded d’you – a D2C startup – in Mumbai.
‘Chemicals are everywhere’
“All around me, I could only find brands that were advocating for natural, herbal, organic, and Ayurvedic products. These brands kept demonising chemicals, which, to me, felt completely puzzling because this is absolutely incorrect and not rooted in science,” Shamika claims.
She adds that chemicals are everywhere – including in the air you breathe, the water you drink, as well as on your skin and body. Thus, Shamika was puzzled why brands were resorting to fear-mongering and scaring the consumers into thinking that “chemicals were bad”. In a report by Scientific American, Dr Effie Sauer attests to the same thing.
She started working on d’you in March 2019. After doing consumer research for two months, she conceptualised d’you’s first offering – Hustle, a skin nourishment product.
To develop the product, Shamika knew they needed to use advanced technology as the formulation was complex. She tried to work with manufacturers in India, however, the results were not up to the mark. So, she went to Seoul, South Korea.
Going the Korean way
Shamika was new to the country – she didn’t speak the language, nor did she have any contact in the country. All she had was a business plan and a unique product concept.
“Armed with this, I began my South Korean sojourn and slowly, things started falling in place. I spent over a month there meeting various R&D centres and labs, trying to vet them and convince them of the vision for this product. They were used to working with large manufacturers, but once I got the foot in the door, they showed interest,” says Shamika.
She vetted each lab to know how they would work in the terms of brand workings.
“Some labs were not able to adhere to our formulation guidelines, whereas others found that this product concept was too tough to achieve. Thus, we slowly but surely progressed towards finding the right lab,” says Shamika.
Hustling out Hustle
This led to the launch of their first product, Hustle, last year. The focus was to solve the consumer confusion around skincare ingredients as Shamika realised that the market was already flooded with many new skincare active ingredients
“Brands were coming out with single ingredient formulations such as – hyaluronic acid serum, vitamin c serum, niacinamide serum, peptides serum etc. Consumers would hear of all these amazing ingredients, but just get thoroughly confused as to how exactly can they use all these active ingredients together,” says Shamika.
Thus, Hustle focused on combining over 11 skincare active ingredients – including all the skin’s essential vitamins and nutrients – in one bottle. Explaining how they developed Hustle, Shamika says,
“It's like a complete skincare regimen in one bottle. It protects, nourishes, repairs, and brightens the skin. Getting this formulation right took us almost 16 months. It wasn’t easy to get these many active ingredients to stabilise in one bottle. It had never been done before. A lot of formulation expertise and advanced technology was used to preserve the integrity of each active ingredient, and stabilise the whole formulation at a skin-friendly pH. But after many iterations, and numerous testing, we nailed the formulation. We also used Airless Pump Technology packaging to preserve this formulation from degrading, so no air and light can interact with this formulation and disintegrate it.”
Managing the marketing
Once the product was finalised, the next step was the launch. During the weeks leading upto the launch, Shamika says most digital agencies were concerned that d’you just had one product to sell.
“All of them advised me that you need multiple SKUs to up-sell and cross-sell to an ecommerce audience. While the brand had plans to launch other products in due time, the aim was always to launch one product at a time. This was consciously decided to encourage mindful beauty consumption in an already saturated market,” she adds.
She explains they were clear that they didn’t want to launch products for the sake of business, was wanted d’you to focus on being consumer-oriented.
While Shamika was advised to spend on influencer marketing, she had full faith in her product and instead, decided to wait to get real, genuine customer feedback. Within three weeks of the launch, the team had started receiving positive customer feedback.
Within a month, the product also won the Best Serum in India award at the Micro Beauty Awards (panelled by beauty industry veterans like Vasudha Rai, Komal Basith, and Aishwarya Subramaniyam).
“Many influencers themselves purchased our product, and with the positive reviews, we began to get a good word of mouth. Within three months of our launch, we became cash flow positive, and in six months, we reached our break-even point. And this was done without spending any money on influencer marketing for the first six months. To date, we have done only two paid influencer promotions,” says Shamika.
Market and future
An Avendus report says that the country’s D2C business is going to be worth $100 billion in five years. India has as many as 600 D2C brands – a number that will significantly grow in the next five years — and more than 16 brands with an annual turnover of more than $60 million. Some of the startups are — Pilgrim, Nykaa, Plum, Mamaearth, Sugar, Bellora, etc.
Hustle is in the premium segment and is priced at Rs 3,200. The next product launch is due in July, and the team is looking to launch new products within a few months.
Advising women entrepreneurs, Shamika says,
“When starting a new venture, you might find yourself overwhelmed, not knowing where to start from and which direction to go in. But just remember to put one step in front of the other, and keep at it. Slowly and steadily, all the steps and efforts line up, and your vision will take off.”