Why this former Fireside Ventures associate decided to start D2C brand Hera in the femtech space
After finishing her education in Singapore, Vaishnavi Raju worked for different investment funds like FireSide Ventures and L Catterton. It was during these stints that Vaishnavi came in close contact with several consumer brands. With her first job at L Catterton, she had the opportunity to work with luxe brands like Louis Vuitton Group. She later went on to work on brands like Fab India, PVR Cinemas and many others.
“At Fireside Ventures, I had seen several consumer D2C brands being born and grow. There was a consumer brand bug. It was then I knew that I had to start up on my own,” says Vaishnavi.
Marrying her passion for women’s health and entrepreneurial dreams, Vaishnavi launchedin December 2020. The Hyderabad-based startup’s goal is to make women’s healthcare more approachable and accessible through a friendly conversation.
The idea for the startup did not emerge overnight, as Vaishnavi had started her research on the segment back in October 2019. “There are many things that happen to a woman’s body - from menstruation, and pregnancy, to menopause. But there was little innovation in the femtech space. There is so much more to do, but little was being done,” adds Vaishnavi.
The initial research
After going through various studies, Vaishnavi realised that close to 50 percent of women in India are between 18 to 35 years. “And all these women are looking to navigate their sexual health and lives. There are several processes they will go through, and there was no platform helping them with this,” says Vaishnavi.
There were product companies making menstrual pads, or content companies for motherhood and parenthood. “I wanted to build something for the modern women for sexual intimacy, motherhood, and menstruation. There is hardly any content, there is just focus on the woman. That is how Hera was born,” adds Vaishnavi.
The idea was to build a platform for women to navigate their journeys through sexual health, fertility, menstruation and other factors.
Hera runs on the content community model. It has two wings - Hera Now, the ecommerce platform that sells products and services in women's health and wellness, and Herapedia, a content platform that is focussed on relevant conversations.
What does the platform do?
“Even within Hera Now, we have an inclusive approach. Here, we look at the different pain points that a woman will be undergoing in her life, talk to a doctor or consult a physician, and then get the right product or care to help them get on track for their health,” says Vaishnavi.
The platform first started out with nutraceuticals, but the plan is to include personal care products, tests, medications and more.
According to Vaishnavi, the products are all made by Hera, with the company’s R&D team of PhD scientists being the brain behind the formulation. Depending on market demand, the team looks at the pain point, and addresses the gaps accordingly. She cites pre-natal care as an example, where there is a need for different types of nutrition.
“The team first researches on the subject, consults with doctors, and understands what they recommend to patients and depending on what’s specific to India, we come up with the formulations. We own the formulation and then we get it manufactured through contract manufacturing,” says Vaishnavi.
She adds that the team focusses on ensuring quality products as the category itself is very sensitive.
Pricing and market
“The right ingredients, correct dosages, and also ensuring high quality is important. We spoke to different manufacturers and went through their lists of procedures, going into details like facilities, certifications etc. In the process, we realised that manufacturers who supply outside India tend to adhere to stricter guidelines," she says.
"The ingredients used had to have research material published by a National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) or others, and dosages had to be the right guidelines by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). In terms of ingredients, it was important to use US grade, as the quality is really important,” says Vaishnavi.
Touted as a premium category, the prices of an average Hera product hover between Rs 750 and Rs 1000, whereas more specialised products like Inosital and COQ10 are priced Rs 1500. The team is also in the process of formulating consumable powders, which will be priced at Rs 1500.
In September this year, the startup raised $1 million in a seed round led by angel investors.
Healthcare as a sector is growing rapidly. Some of the healthcare companies doing well include, , and , to name a few, and there is also , that is focussed on women’s wellness. Startups like make plant-based supplements. However, Hera follows a content commerce model.
According to Vaishnavi, Hera has witnessed 1.5X growth in one year, despite the pandemic. In the long run, Hera aims to have a versatile product portfolio, dedicated to women, covering everything from menstruation to menopause.
Edited by Anju Narayanan