Startup Mantra: Promoting menstrual health and hygiene - Hindustan Times
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Startup Mantra: Promoting menstrual health and hygiene

BySalil Urunkar
Feb 11, 2023 04:01 PM IST

‘Mild Cares’ aspires to create awareness, help women switch to menstrual cups instead of regular sanitary pads

A normal dialogue with a gynaecologist and further study of the menstrual hygiene market in India, led Rachna Vyas and her husband Sandeep, to launch a ‘Made in India for the World’ sustainable solution for female hygiene issues. The duo founded their startup ‘Mild Cares’ to educate, create awareness and help women switch to menstrual cups instead of sanitary pads, which provide rashes and urinary tract infections (UTI) related issues, thereby making periods healthy. The startup is offering a range of products in menstrual hygiene, pregnancy care, and intimate and toilet hygiene and is now looking to expand internationally.

Founders of healthcare startup Mild Cares, Sandeep Vyas and his wife Rachana. (HT PHOTO)
Founders of healthcare startup Mild Cares, Sandeep Vyas and his wife Rachana. (HT PHOTO)

The conversation…

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Sandeep and Rachna were a ‘normal’ couple working a 9-5 job before exploring their entrepreneurial journey. An MBA in eCommerce from IMS Indore, Sandeep first decided to step out of the job and started his first venture in 2015. Rachna also joined him and handled operations within the organisation. However, five years into the business, the duo realised that they were unable to scale their business and the technology would soon be obsolete.

Says Sandeep, “We winded up the earlier business in December 2019, just before Covid-19 pandemic came knocking at our doors. We both were keen to pursue our interest in a product-based business. While we were looking for opportunities, my wife developed a urinary tract infection (UTI) and so we went to her gynaecologist. While discussing the problem and trying to understand the root cause behind such infections, the gynaecologist told us that this could be because of sanitary pads too. We were surprised and decided to learn more about it. Primary research on this topic revealed a lot of things. Around 60 per cent of women face UTI-related infection problems and sub-standard quality of sanitary pads was also a major contributor in these issues.”

“Since cotton is used in sanitary pads, it is inherently embedded with fungus and when it comes in touch with the skin, infections and redness occurs. We were taken aback by this information and during our further dialogue with the gynaecologist, we came to know about menstrual cups. That is how our journey into menstrual hygiene awareness and education started,” said Sandeep.

Game changer

While doing the market research, Sandeep and Rachna sourced a few products. Although the brand names were Indian, the country-of-origin stamp on the products was of China. Also, they were wary about the authenticity of the material used and the specifications mentioned about the products.

Rachna said, “While studying the market opportunity, we came to know that the third largest barrier to women empowerment globally is period poverty (menstrual hygiene). Menstrual cups are not a new innovation but their penetration and adoption are very less in developed as well as developing countries. In developed countries like the US, it would have a 5 to 6 per cent market share, while in India it would be just 0.3 per cent of the market. After going through various research reports, we were convinced that menstrual cups would be the game changer as the product is sustainable as well as 98 per cent cost-effective than sanitary pads.”

While Rachna found a product sourced from Switzerland of good quality and personally used it, her UTI infection problem was sorted out. She realised the comfort and freedom she got while performing daily chores and working at the office and finally decided to recommend the use of menstrual cups for other women in her family, relatives and friends groups.

“A sanitary pad can be used a maximum of four hours from a hygiene perspective, but a menstrual cup could be used for 12 hours and then re-used after sterilising. With this personal experience, we thought why not go for a menstrual cup product-based business which can be further scaled up? Sandeep also supported the idea and we began to search for alternatives to source the material required for production,” stated Rachna.

Sourcing

Menstrual cups were initially made of later and rubber but now with technological upgradation, those are made of 100 per cent medical grade silicone, informed Sandeep.

“We were trying to source the material required to manufacture menstrual cups. We tried to connect with a lot of companies who could set up a production line for us. Unfortunately, there were none but one from Mumbai agreed to a contract manufacturing with us. We signed an MoU with the company and started our operations. The company had German-technology injection moulding-based machines which could work with liquid silicone material which helped us with good-quality production. We are proud that our product is Made in India for the world,” says Sandeep.

Rachna is now involved in research and development, product design and customer feedback handling work. She is also active in countering myths about menstrual hygiene and planning the strategy and content related to it.

She said, “We have also launched a women expert helpline to resolve customer queries. It was noticed during our initial sales that more than 50 per cent of customers were not using the product despite purchasing it. With our helpline support that number has drastically gone down with more than 90 per cent adoption of the product. We now have a full-fledged team of ten persons for sales, marketing, operations, finance, etc.”

Go to market

Sandeep and Rachna dream of making India a sanitary pad-free country which will opt for sustainable solutions like menstrual cups. “We want to be social entrepreneurs and make sure that women no longer feel menstruation as a curse. We are witnessing the rising adoption of menstrual cups amongst educated women, especially in states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu,” says Rachna.

Sandeep stated that literacy levels in the southern states are playing an important role in the adoption of sustainable menstrual solutions. But still, awareness about sanitary pads and menstrual cups needs to be created in society.

“We have created such awareness-related content in English, Hindi and regional languages which are helping us overcome the barrier in our product adoption in the interior regions of India. This content is being propagated through our website and social media. We also want to increase our offline presence and we are looking for a channel partner. We understand that e-commerce has only a five per cent penetration in the overall Indian market and if we want to scale up then we will have to go for offline mode too. We are at break-even but not profitable yet,” Sandeep added.

Customer feedback

Sharing some business insights Sandeep said, “We have seen a trend that women of age group 20 to 35 years are buying our products online. These are mostly students and working professionals who are ready to switch to new alternatives and have purchasing parity. Tier 1 customers, who were using sanitary pads, are also upgrading to menstrual cups due to the ease of wearing it. More than 95 per cent of such users do not return to sanitary pad use. Social taboos like not using kitchen utensils to boil water for sterilisation of menstrual cups are one of the barriers to adoption. We are overcoming it by providing steriliser products along with the menstrual cup kit.”

“We want those women who still use cloth to transition directly to menstrual cups. They need a little bit of motivation, education, awareness, and follow-ups for the adoption to increase. Our target is tier 4 and 5 geographies to create a big impact,” he added.

International expansion

Revealing their international expansion plans, Sandeep said, “We have a good product market with customers, penetration, and market visibility. We have started exporting our products to US and Canadian markets. Myanmar, Indonesia and other Asian countries have similar problems pertaining to menstruation hygiene as India. The menstrual hygiene market is still decentralised because accessibility and availability of good quality sustainable materials and products are not seen in the market. Even the big organised players have been able to penetrate only 40 per cent of the market that too within the tier 1 and 2 cities. Considering this huge opportunity, we are planning to expand domestically as well as internationally.”

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