In India, personal and public hygiene is usually a luxury. There is still a lot to be done to ensure a satisfactory standard of hygiene. For those with privileged access to good quality cleaning products and facilities, the sight of poor public and personal hygiene can be distressing.
But how many of them take action and decide to make cleaning products affordable and accessible? Manisha Agarwal (44), Founder and Director, Kolan, is one of them. When she travelled across India over the years, she constantly saw high levels of pollution, and felt compelled to do something about it.
“As a mother, I worried that my children and generations after that would not be able to enjoy the beauty of India as I was privileged to do,” she says. “For millennia, our culture has been advocating that cleanliness is next to godliness but the standard of hygiene has been far from satisfactory.”
Agarwal saw this was because of the unaffordability of products as well as general apathy. She wanted to tackle this by bridging the gap and making it easier for people to get their hands on affordable and high quality cleaning products.
“Since personal hygiene seemed to be a common thread running through a lot of issues, I decided to research an affordable, waterless cleansing system that had zero impact on the environment,” she continues.
Taking the first step
Agarwal comes from a family of entrepreneurs, and with the support of her husband Rahul Agarwal, decided to launch Kolan in 2017. This is her first professional stint as she has was not working prior to the company’s launch.
“The family has a history of investing in new ideas over the years, and we have been able to do so with savings of our own as well as raising capital from our networks,” she says. “It’s a 100 percent indigenous investment venture, with no strings attached.”
Based in Delhi, Kolan manufactures and sells personal and household cleaning and hygiene products. In the short time since inception, Kolan has sold thousands of products worth around Rs 32 lakh. On an average, it sells one every minute, according to Agarwal.
“Some of the credit can be attributed to our entrepreneurial family backgrounds and the presence of an ecosystem that nurtures such business models,” she says. “Being partners in social life, the transition to business life as founders came relatively easy to us. We share a lot of commonalities and this has really helped a lot in shaping up business ideas for the company and executing them.”
For her, the aim is to manufacture products that are value for money as well as eco-friendly. “Right from manufacture to usage and disposal, every product comes at a minimal cost to nature and we are committed to keep it that way,” she says.
“Given the state of environmental degradation, it makes no sense to invest in products that come at a heavy cost to ecology. Our primary goal was to balance affordability and eco-friendliness,” she adds. “There is a clear gap in the Indian market for green products. We are just here to fill that gap.”
Kolan’s bath, pet and baby wipes seem to have filled the gap as thousands of units have been sold in a short span of time. Selling and marketing through digital media has helped Kolan amplify its reach.
“In the last few years, most of the market audience has reached the internet, thanks to a spurt in smartphones and cheap data packs. As a company with a tech-savvy target audience, the digital medium plays a central role in our marketing,” Agarwal explains.
“We have been using it not just to publicise our products but also to make it much easier for our customers to reach back to us. In our 18-month long journey, the digital medium has been indispensable in zeroing in on people’s preferences and marketing the products accordingly,” she says.
Acing digital marketing is a major milestone for most FMCG businesses, but Agarwal believes that Kolan has much more left to achieve. “We are still toddlers and there is much more to look at. However, we have reached some milestones already,” she says. “Some of them were identifying the brand logo, executing the concept of enzymatic chemical-free cleaning, receiving good customer feedback and achieving significant growth.”
The market for personal and household hygiene is huge and Kolan is on track to take a larger piece of the pie. “The market is as big as there are people. Every single man and woman is a potential client. Some estimates have valued the size of the market at Rs 1000 crore,” she explains. “We have our niche audience, make products that are affordable, and ensure we maintain our production and environmental standards.”
In a crowded market, entering the mindspace of consumers is no easy task, especially for a new brand. “People are spoilt for choice. The most important cog in the wheel is to identify the audience, place the products in front of them, take feedback constructively, and make the necessary modifications. I think if one can do this, no challenge is too steep to overcome,” Agarwal says.
According to her, one must be passionate and aware of changing market realities.
“First, you have to identify the gap in the market, create or find a product which bridges that gap, and then be patient. If your product is up to the mark, then sooner or later, success will come. It always does.”
Under Agarwal’s leadership, the company now plans to consolidate its market share in various verticals of personal and household hygiene products. It will then look at diversifying into other sectors. “We are very excited for the future. The prospects look very good. With our new range of enzymatic organic household cleaners, we feel that we can get to a turnover of Rs 10 crore by 2020,” she says.