Saturday, May 21, 2022

Be persistent. Good things take time

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Sabine Elsässer
Sabine Elsässer is founder and chief editor of the StartupValleyNews Magazine. She started her career at several international direct sale companys. Since 2007 she works main time as a journalist. While that time she learned more about the Startup Scene, what made her start her own Startup Magazine the StartupValleyNews.

mCaffeine caffeinated personal care made in India

Please introduce yourself and your startup mCaffeine to our readers!

At the start of my career, I was heading Business at Box8; one of the largest food delivery chains in India with 60 outlets in Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore. I also got a chance to root myself in tech during my tenure at Mphasis, a sister concern of HP. My profile in various fields was a learning experience and helped me in understanding the nuances of the business. I have been behind the Setup and scaling up the entire business from scratch over 2 years.

Brand mCaffeine is India’s first caffeinated personal care brand, launched in 2016, co-founded by me and my four partners Vikas, Vaishali, Mohit and Saurabh. Though we started with very few products, within a short span we are present in 3 major categories- Body Care, Hair Care and Face Care and 40 SKUs in the portfolio. In just about 4 years we have served more than 3 million customers, and have sold more than 6.5 million products. In India, Mcaffeine is one of fastest growing d2c brands and in 3 years mCaffeine should cross the 100 million dollar revenue. 

Almost half of mCaffeine products are best sellers in the categories they operate across marketplaces. Brand’s conscious innovation, millennial ethos, and key principles have made it rank as India’s one of the best D2C brands with a strong emphasis on ethical and environmentally sustainable practices. mCaffeine entered the market when millennial India craved for products it could identify with. Thus began the brand’s steady upward climb in the personal care industry. Today, we have sold coffee equivalent to 2o million mid-size cups of Starbucks in just 4 years.

How did you get the idea of mCaffeine?

It’s an interesting story, way back in 2015 a minor accident caused my left eye to swell up so one of my room-mates suggested that I put a teabag over it to reduce the inflammation, unknowingly sparking my incurably curious appetite. No doubt, a Eureka moment that led to the caffeine idea. I started reading up on the benefits of caffeine and realized that most global brands use it in their skincare products. At this moment, me and my four closest friends – Vikas Lachhwani, Vaishali Gupta, Saurabh Singhal and Mohit Jain – were playing serious chess with their own careers.

As we have known each other much before the inception of mCaffeine so when we decided to jump on the roller coaster ride of entrepreneurship. It was an easy decision for us to come together and build. Each of us have very unique & complementary strengths which we bring on table, and have respected each other for our skill set. Vikas bringing the power in product, Vaishali being the brain behind the brand with Mohit building the muscle of marketplaces clubbed with Saurabh bringing the strength in supply chain and me being the connector of pieces. 

Also, around 2015 Indian consumer markets were going through a watershed moment. The 2 most critical aspects of building a consumer brand are Discovery & Distribution. Social Media & Influencer led Discovery along with Amazon, Nykaa, Flipkart led Distribution was making it easy for challenger brands to reach out to their target audience. Along with these infrastructural movements, India was also witnessing the rise of a new type of consumer that is – millennials. Hence was born mCaffeine, a millennial-centric online only personal care brand. 

Why did you decide to start with mCaffeine?

Armed with the philosophy of “research trumps regret”, we began our extensive research into why caffeine has such a gripping effect on its audience, and why is it often considered the elixir capable of divine inspiration (in some cases), and as a bond of modern kinship (amongst so many some others). We met scientists whose clinical trials had found that Caffeine present in Coffee, Green Tea, and Chocolate has magical properties on hair and skin. And thus finalized the idea to create a digital-first, gender neutral caffeinated personal care with a clear focus on the millennial audience in India. 

What is the vision behind mCaffeine?

Confidence over colour, this simple thought guided the development of mCaffeine as a personal care brand. Inner beauty trumps everything else was an idea that me and Vikas were absolutely convinced about. While conceiving the identity and character of the brand, we also laid out strict boundaries for it.

How difficult was the start and which challenges you had to overcome?

Back in 2016, D2C was a very young segment, there were no presidents of building sizable D2C brands in India. So when we started mCaffeine, we had to learn everything on our own. At the same time, the ecosystem was also growing fast with the internet and smartphone penetration in India. At the same time e-commerce companies like Amazon, Flipkart & Nykaa were also growing at a tremendous pace. Given all these ecosystem changes mCaffeine was at the forefront of growing itself as one of the fastest-growing D2C brands having said that there were a lot of challenges that we had to overcome. Right from building the playbooks of product development at scale to making sure that the product reaches the right people in the country in the most capital-efficient way.

When we started, one of the biggest challenges was that there was no caffeinated personal care brand in our country and we were the first ones to do it. We made sure that in the first half of the journey we only inspected the idea of caffeine being the superfood for your skin and hair and as we started reaching out to the consumers with the idea with caffeine-based products. We realized that there were some native changes in the brand positioning consumer wanted from the brand and after hearing the feedback from 1000s of customers we realised that we need to revamp the brand positioning and in 2018 we did the entire brand positioning revamp of mCaffeine.

Since then we have grown more than 35% in 3 years and the brand has grown really aggressively as compared to 2018. 

In October 2016, mCaffeine was launched online, with only a couple of products in its portfolio and now we have 40 SKUs in our portfolio across body care, face care, and haircare, with face care accounting for the lion’s share of revenue. mCaffeine has always been focused on R&D. Building an R&D ecosystem for product development is something we spent a lot of time on. Thanks to that effort, we are able to create differentiated products that are effective. We continue to explore ways to enhance our R&D capability. 

Who is your target audience? 

mCaffeine is a millennial brand and it targets today’s young millennials – Bold, Young and Confident youth, the core TG is between 18-30. The brand is focused on the millennial lifestyle with mass premium offerings. We are also a gender-neutral brand, 70% of the consumption happens by women and the rest 30% is by men. In terms of geography, mCaffeine has penetrated right from top tier towns to the very small towns of the country population of 30000. So across tiers and across segmentation of this consumer cohort, mCaffeine has penetrated and it is because we focus on the millennial lifestyle. 

What is the USP of your start-up?

What makes the brand a sure-shot crowd favourite is its gender-neutral positioning that not only reflects the lifestyle but also personifies the values of today’s Youngsters.  At its very core, mCaffeine is built to trump societal norms of beauty and wellbeing. It truly believes that skincare, haircare and, most importantly, self-care has no colour or gender and should be for everyone, hence its lifelong promise to NEVER sell fairness creams. The brand embodies the millennial ethos with key principles of: clean label, no animal testing and confidence over color. All the products are FDA-approved, dermatologically tested and officially certified by Peta as 100% Vegan & Cruelty-free. mCaffeine is ‘Addicted’ to bring all the Good caffeine can do to you, to nature & the planet and we’re ‘Addicted’ to sharing it with you. One Good Addiction shall lead to another Good Addiction is what the brand believes in.

Can you describe your typical workday?

Being a fast-growing brand, the goal is to make sure that the entire system of the company is well resourced and has clarity of what we want to do. So a lot of time goes into hustling the problem statements out but at the same time, a part of the day goes with the partners in strategizing on how mCaffeine would look 12 months down the line. being a very fast-growing brand in a very hyper volatile environment of digital ecosystem every 12 months things changes drastically so we plan for the next 12 months and we continue to make sure that we execute it as a team and a very small part of the days goes in making sure that the team has right humor cautioned across the day because if you are not having fun, it is not worth it. 

Where do you see yourself and your start-up mCaffeine in five years?

mCaffeine because of the proposition and kind of persona she has, we have a very high aspiration of becoming a globally recognized iconic masstige brand from India. We believe in the next five years 5 mCaffeine should be present in more than 50 countries apart from India and serving the global consumer who loves their caffeine with really innovative and efficacious products from mCaffeine that where the brand would be in the next 5 years. I would see myself doing the day job making sure that we reach there over 5 years. 

Going forward, we will continue to grow aggressively in the online ecosystem, maintaining the awareness & relevance of the brand to the consumers. We should be an INR 700 cr brand by FY 25. We have been growing aggressively in the past two financial years. In the last two years, we have grown twelve times with respect to the revenue & this year too we expect to grow three times more from the last financial year. And with launches ahead in the year, we will continue to delve deeper into the existing channels of distribution. To do so, we will also try and experiment with new upcoming internet-only models for distribution. Having said that, we would like to maintain our idea of growth that has been very exciting over the years. Overall, the idea is to grow distribution, brand awareness & understand what our consumers really want from us. 

What 3 tips would you give to founders?

Be persistent. Good things take time.

Be humble, the world was much larger before you were born and it continues to be very large outside you. So humility should be the best trait of founders

Build a rock-solid team who is always 10x better than you because you alone won’t be able to cut it out.

Thank you Tarun Sharma for the Interview

Statements of the author and the interviewee do not necessarily represent the editors and the publisher opinion again.

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