[Sustainability Agenda] This eco-friendly Chennai startup sells over 1 lakh bamboo toothbrushes in a quarter

After noticing the sheer amount of plastic toothbrushes in domestic wastes, Karthick Solai KS, Arjun T, and Harrish Kandan founded Terra to sell their bamboo alternatives.
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Karthick Solai KS, Arjun T, and Harrish Kandan — alumni of Loyola College, Chennai — had dreams of making big money. They then wanted to start a business together that could help them earn millions of dollars in the future.

However, during the tragic Chennai floods in 2015, things changed for the friends. People lost their homes, and many were completely flooded.

They were among many who were on the ground helping others. While helping clean the city, they saw a whole load of waste — single-use plastic bags, plastic bottles and cups, and most importantly, toothbrushes.

“If the population of India continues to use the plastic brushes, think about the amount of waste generated every month. By looking at the sheer number of these toothbrushes, we wanted to do something about it,” Karthick, CEO of Terra, tells SocialStory.

The friends decided to tackle this problem through their venture Terrabrush, which they started in 2018. To begin with, they started selling bamboo toothbrushes.

Terrabrush, now called Terra, is an eco-friendly startup that showcases and sells a range of sustainable products, which can be reused and recycled. The Chennai-headquartered startup has 24 employees in its team.

Oral care to grooming

“We started with Bamboo toothbrushes, but with time, we moved into tongue cleaners, tooth powder, toothpaste, and others, like combs, bags, copper bottles, etc.,” says Harrish, COO of Terra.

He adds the startup uses purely paper packaging and does not include even a bit of plastic to deliver its products. Meanwhile, it ships products like toothpaste and tooth powder in glass jars.

Most of the oral care products cost about Rs 299 each. Combo products — a pack of four toothbrushes, activated charcoal powder, copper tongue cleaner, or herbal toothpaste, and others come at discounted rates.

Under the personal and home care categories, Terra sells products, including combs, copper bottles, loofahs, wooden cotton swabs, reusable metal straws, cotton bags, aprons, etc.

The toothbrushes are sold through the website and over 300 retail stores in Bengaluru and ecommerce platform Amazon. Arjun shares that the revenue obtained on the website and through Amazon account for the majority of the sales compared to the offline sales.

Some of Terra's products

Terra sources its toothbrushes through three different domestic suppliers based in north India. These products also undergo a quality check and auditing before they are sold.

“We sell around one to two lakhs brushes every quarter. So the revenue for each quarter comes up to about Rs 50 lakh,” Terra CFO Arjun shares.

In terms of investment, the startup is completely bootstrapped with the amount the trio’s parents had saved for their higher education. It plans to raise a seed round by the end of 2021.

They were able to pitch about Rs 50 lakh to start the venture, which now sees revenue of about the same amount.

Challenges

However, the team faced a lot of challenges in procuring funding for the startup’s operations.

“Being three students fresh out of college, nobody was ready to back us up. We found it difficult to convince people of the cause and the bigger impact it would have,” says Harrish.

Moreover, they were unable to target the right people with the ads that they were paying for through social media, which made customer acquisition a daunting task for the three friends.

The road ahead

While several brands have taken the sustainability route, only a few have successfully made good profits.

Interestingly, Karthick says they want Terra to have a successful journey, with a million dollars in turnover every quarter.

While Terra has been selling lakhs of toothbrushes, several other competitors, including The Sustainery, Bare Necessities, etc. — are also working towards reducing plastic wastes by replacing them with bamboo.

Meanwhile, instead of using bamboo, Vasshin Composites is making use of pine needles for the same.


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Edited by Suman Singh

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