After heading South East Asia’s Zalora, why this woman entrepreneur decided to start a natural D2C brand in India
When Meenakshi Ganesh was heading the beauty category for Zalora, one of South East Asia’s largest online shopping platforms across Singapore, Hongkong, Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan, she got the opportunity to interact and work alongside CEOs of leading beauty multinationals.
She learnt what made a successful brand tick and the immense focus that brands put on the quality of formulations.
“When I returned to India, I could not find a single brand that met my skincare needs. The brands available were either too expensive or compromised on the quality of the formulation to be price competitive, and therefore did not deliver any concrete benefits,” Meenakshi says.
This gap led her to start, a D2C beauty startup. The startup offers a Smart Skincare regime, which uses superfoods and natural ingredients as actives to deliver results, without using toxins or harsh chemicals.
Starting at the beginning
Meenakshi started Light Up with her mother, Janaki Ganesh. The duo spent close to nine months on formulation and they came up with a simple skincare regime with six products that focus on natural brighteners, antioxidants and hydrators.
Their staunch belief in the fact that what’s good for your body is good for your skin led them to incorporate superfoods such as matcha, avocado, chia seed, blackcurrant, beetroot, kakadu plum, and more, in every formulation.
Light Up aims to achieve a naturally brightened and even-toned complexion, and strives to promote a healthy glow, without being heavy on the wallet.
She explains the team goes through multiple rounds of formulations before finalising the final product. Close attention is paid to synergy as the founders want to ensure that the natural ingredients work together to deliver the results they promise to achieve. Each formulation is also PH balanced.
“We follow a 10 Clean Commandments policy with respect to our formulations and aim to deliver toxin and chemical-free products to our consumers. None of our products contain parabens, sulphates, harsh lighteners, urea, talc, mineral oil, or alcohol, which severely damage the skin,” Meenakshi explains.
She adds that they want users to flaunt their natural complexion instead of having to hide it behind layers of makeup or resort to filters.
“Our USP also lies in the type of ingredients we have chosen to work with after careful research and multiple rounds of the formulation. This includes THD Ascorbate, the gold standard of Vitamin C, which works 3X faster than traditional Vitamin C to penetrate the deepest layer of your skin, thereby delivering results.”
Meenakshi says other brands work with water-soluble variants of Vitamin C and these creams and serums bounce off, delivering no real benefits as the skin repels water.
“We use certain international ingredients such as THD Ascorbate, the three-million-year old New Zealand Glacial Clay, bio-retinol and milk peptides, but all our products are locally manufactured, filled, and packed in India itself,” Meenakshi says.
The founders believe that for a skincare brand, the formulation is key. “No matter how amazing a product may look, feel, or smell, and no matter how well it is marketed, it is a complete failure if it does not deliver what it promises.”
Every formulation is dermatologically tested and certified safe before it is launched and marketed.
“We never test our products on animals and make sure that every formulation is allergen-free. Each and every formulation is licensed under the FDA before it is launched in the market.”
Apart from strong, core formulations that actually work, the founders also know the importance of “look and feel”.
“Our packaging is bright, colourful, and international in quality, and resonates with our mission to deliver world-class skincare at an affordable price. Wherever possible, we use recyclable packaging like our aluminium pump bottles for Green Juice Superfood Brightening Face Cleanse,” Meenakshi says.
Airless vacuum pump packaging is used for the Vitamin C range to ensure hygiene and zero wastage.
The launch and response
The bootstrapped startup began with an initial investment of Rs 25 lakh from the personal savings of the founders. These were used for formulation, product development and testing, packaging, and initial marketing.
“Launching the startup amid COVID was challenging, given the volatile state of the market and lack of awareness surrounding the brand. But we worked hard to educate customers about the uniqueness of ingredients that have gone into the formulation, and orders started picking up slowly,” Meenakshi says.
Light Up launched shortly before 2021 on Amazon and claims to have served more than 3,000 customers in the first year of operations.
Meenakshi says two of every five customers are repeat buyers. The average spending price is Rs 900 and the average basket value is Rs 1,200.
“We would like to think of ourselves as a bridge to premium brands, serving educated and informed customers who know what they are looking for. Our aim is to deliver world-class formulations at affordable prices to the target customers. Sales are already 65 percent higher than year 1 of operations and we are aggressively looking to expand our product range this year to offer a wider selection to our customer base,” she says.
Light Up is now a team of 5 people and aims to expand as the product offerings grow.
Revenue and the future
An Avendus report says India’s D2C business will 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 beauty startups include , , , and others
“Though we are currently selling only via our official brand store on Amazon, we will be listing on more platforms in 2022 and will make our very own site transactional as well,” Meenakshi says.
In 2022, the brand also aims to educate customers on the “how” and “why” of its formulations and “be 100 percent transparent with them as to what goes into each product to make it do what it promises to do”.
“We want to educate customers to read the label and make informed choices. They can then understand each and every ingredient, and how to balance products in their skincare regime to achieve even-toned smooth skin.”
Light Up also has plans to launch a range of four products focused on intense hydration and a fuss-free stepwise skincare regimen.
“We do not believe in launching multiple products senselessly. Each product is carefully thought through, backed by market research and unique in terms of its formulation and what it is designed to deliver. We also focus on synergy as we want our products to work in tandem to create better results,” says Meenakshi, adding that the brand will also grow its digital presence via collaborations with relevant partners.
Edited by Teja Lele Desai