From helping women use public toilets to providing menstrual care, profitable Sirona Hygiene is breaking taboos
For a long time, women have avoided using public toilets. The ability to relieve oneself while travelling or on a road trip is a challenge women have always faced.
But it was something Deep Bajaj noticed in 2013 while on a road trip when he saw how much his wife and her friends had to struggle to find a clean toilet.
Their major concern was a possible contact with infection-causing germs on the toilet seat – something that usually men don’t have to face because they can stand when they have to urinate.
The Sirona team
“One of them then mentioned a urination device available in Europe that solves this problem for women. It was then that the idea of innovatively solving this daily toilet struggle for women dawned on me. After a lot of research and design trials, we came up with India’s first disposable female urination device that has since been enabling women to stand and pee and avoid touching dirty toilet,” Deep tells HerStory.
It led to the birth ofin 2015 that Deep founded along with his friends – Mohit Bajaj and Rahul Anand (no longer in the company), who were on the same trip with him. Focused on feminine hygiene, the first product they developed was PeeBuddy, a seemingly simple and portable paper funnel that helped women to pee safely. Till date, Sirona has sold over two million units of .
A profitable company
Today, Sirona Hygiene is a rare startup – it has raised investment and is also profitable.
The company has been growing at a CAGR of 140 percent for the last three years and has been profitable since 2019. According to the company filings with the Registrar of Companies (RoC), in FY20, it made a profit of over Rs 26.8 lakh, and in FY19, it had a profit of more than Rs 19.4 lakh.
In April this year, the startup also raised $3 million in Series A round from NB Ventures and IAN Fund. The fresh funds will be used to expand the business and keep the focus on R&D as the company says innovation remains at the forefront of Sirona.
“In terms of growth, we have given the country at least 10 India-first products that are solving problems that were unaddressed till now. Our customers have been very actively adopting all of these, which implies the void that existed in the industry before Sirona came into the picture,” says Deep. He believes this is the core reason for the company’s growth and profits.
Before the inception of PeeBuddy funnel, the female urination device, using public toilets was extremely troublesome for women. He adds Sirona’s herbal period pain relief patches also solved the problem of women needing hot water bottles and pain killers, and the product did really well.
“Now Sirona’s products, such as menstrual cups – which are now used by over five lakh Indian women, natural rash cream, or face razors or talc-free hair removal cream – all have challenged the status quo, required a change in habit, but customers have embraced them,” says Deep.
Today, Sirona Hygiene has gone beyond PeeBuddy. It now has:
- Sirona Feminine Pain Relief Patches - herbal pain patches for menstrual cramps
- Sirona Oxo-Degradable Disposal Bags – sanitary disposal bags for clean and hygienic disposal of sanitary products
- Sirona Anti-Chafing Rash Cream – natural anti-chafing cream for inner thigh rashes
- PeeBuddy PregRX - An HCG integrated FUD funnel for testing pregnancy at home
- Sirona Ultra-Thin and Natural Black Sanitary Pads – India's first natural coloured pads
Today, the team ships over 100,000 orders every month. The products are priced from Rs 250 to Rs 500.
What women want
Deep explains it is more important to listen to the customers and solve for their needs than think about scale or opportunity size.
“If our customers need a solution, we go after the problem and come up with unique and relevant solutions. At the development stage, we conduct multiple tests and trials to ensure that the product is good for her (ingredients), for the customers, and the environment,” he adds.
He adds that the team believes in using innovation that is sustainable and efficient in solving intimate and menstrual hygiene problems. Women in urban India comprise the company’s primary target audience. Yet, Sirona is also equally committed to the hygiene of women in rural India.
“We offer them solutions when it comes to chafing due to pads or thighs. As of now, 50 percent of our sales comes from Tier-I cities and 50 percent from Tier-II and III cities. For the underprivileged or those in the rural areas, we are trying to bridge the gap of period poverty through Sirona Foundation. We conduct Sirona Menstrual Cup project where we educate women on sustainable menstrual hygiene products with the help of our NGO partners,” says Deep.
Operating in a ‘taboo’ space
The main challenge in operating in the feminine intimate and menstrual hygiene space is challenging the taboo and fighting for recognition of the problem. Since their inception in 2014, the team has been working on spreading awareness and building dialogue around intimate and menstrual hygiene, so that more women can use new solutions unhesitantly.
“Even when they were willing, the ways to reach out to them were limited when we started. We faced a lot of resistance from the retailers against our first product – PeeBuddy. It did not have a place in the offline market, simply because of the word ‘pee’ on it. But ecommerce is more dynamic, welcomed us with open arms. The online channel brought us closer to our target audience. Since then, women with countless dreadful toilet experiences have been more than happy in adopting PeeBuddy,” says Deep.
Today, Peebuddy is available at leading stores like Mahindra Babyoye, Dabur NewU, Religare, 24x7, Guardian, Health & Glow, Apollo, Medplus, Le Marche, and online portals like Flipkart, Snapdeal, Amazon, Ebay, etc.
On the other products, from the development stages itself, the team focuses on ensuring that the products are safe – both for the individual and the environment, by using safe, and natural ingredients.
“Another thing that sets us apart is our commitment to those who can’t afford to buy our products but need them. Our pay-it-forward programmes for the underprivileged are funded by our product sale,” says Deep.
The pandemic push
Now, however, the pandemic has reset people’s focus on hygiene and sanitation. To meet their needs, Sirona has also scaled up its production operations and expanded the product portfolio under BodyGuard, the startup’s family wellness and protection range.
Some of these are multi-purpose chlorine tablets, sanitising wipes, multi-use disinfectant spray, face masks, etc.
“Yet, our main area of concern continues to be menstrual hygiene – be it the seamless distribution via online and offline channels, or ensuring free access to solutions for underprivileged women,” adds Deep.
Sirona identifies them as the hardest hit lot, as their menstrual concerns have been pushed further, behind “more immediate monetary concerns” by the pandemic-induced crisis. Thus, Sirona has been conducting free pad distribution drives. In collaboration with local NGOs, Sirona has also conducted menstrual cup distribution campaigns for frontline female workers like doctors and police personnel to help them adopt cups.
Deep explains before the onset of the pandemic, Sirona has been empowering underprivileged women with the right knowledge and period solutions, while emphasising on the importance of menstrual hygiene via its pay-it-forward campaigns.
The team, along with its healthcare experts and local NGOs, has conducted period awareness campaigns and distributed free menstrual cups to women in rural areas across India, Nepal, and Malawi. Today, they have educated over 10,000 women on menstrual hygiene, have 24,000,000 pads and tampons save, and have provided monetary aid to 169,250,000 women.
The market and future
Padmaja Ruparel, Founding Partner, IAN Fund, during the recent fundraise, said, "Sirona is focused on the market for women-oriented products, a large and rapidly-growing category. And then, post-pandemic, by adding a hygiene-focused product portfolio, Sirona has created a huge opportunity for itself. But the bet for us are the entrepreneurs of the company, and the belief in Deep, his vision to create a category-leader, and his passion and ability to scale the company to become a market leader.”
According to the global newswire, the Indian feminine hygiene products market was valued at Rs 32.6 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 16.87 percent to Rs 70.20 billion by 2025. There are companies like - The Woman Company, Plush, Carmesi, and HeyDay in the same space.
Sirona envisions breaking the stigma around menstrual hygiene and redefining femininity for modern times. Since its inception, Sirona Hygiene has stressed the importance of hygiene and thus, offer products for women’s toilet hygiene concerns (PeeBuddy), intimate and menstrual hygiene concerns (Sirona), and family wellness (BodyGuard).
“Since last year, we have been working extra hard to expand preventive hygiene range tailored as per people’s unique needs and will continue to work on it. In the future we are aiming to scale our operation and expand our team,” says Deep.