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In this episode of Power Conversations @ RBL Bank, catch Ghazal’s journey, from being a caring mother to being a co-founder of the fastest growing consumer brand, Mamaearth. Ghazal speaks to us about, how she built a brand for the parents by the parents, how customer conversations are key in building innovative products, how the pandemic accelerated their growth, how purpose driven brands are close to millennial’s heart, this and more.


Transcript:

Devika Garg

In today’s edition of Leading Ladies, a women Special Edition series I’m delighted to welcome Ghazal Alagh, Co -founder and chief mom at Mamaearth. Mamaearth, as you would know is India’s leading direct to consumer brand that is engaged in the manufacture and sale of toxin free natural ingredient, personal care and baby products. Ghazal. prior to being prior to founding mama has also founded another startup and has been a corporate trainer at NIIT and is also an artist. Welcome Ghazal.

Ghazal Alagah

Thank you, David. Thank you. It’s a pleasure being here.

Devika Garg

Ghazal, Mamaearth today is one of the most popular brands and a few of us know how it was conceptualized and launched. But it’s a very interesting story. So we would like to hear from you what is it that you was solving for? And how has your journey been?

Ghazal Alagah

Sure. So, Mamaearth actually came up from a personal struggle of not being able to find toxin free products for my son, Aagastya right. While I was in New York for my art education is where I realized that you know, there was a toxin free movement which was going on where certain products were being being you know, lifted off shelves, and that’s where my education around ingredients some of the ingredients being harmful, sort of started and since then I have been you know, reading labels. Now when my son was born, I was very particular about putting on his skin. He also had a skin allergy which sort of needed to be taken care of. And while doing so I realized that most of the baby products that were available in India actually contain those harmful ingredients like sulfates, parabens, silicones which are which are not ideal for for the delicate skin of a baby. And while outside of India there was you know a list of ingredients which were banned to be used India did not have any such regulation at that point of time. So that is when I started importing products from outside of India which was actually a pain because, you know, tracking everybody figuring stocking them out and by the time you were to use them half the products used to you know, expire. So, so that was a challenge which I was facing and you know, realizing that this was a gap in the Indian market is when we started having conversations that somebody needs to do something about this you know, babies don’t deserve to you know, have such harmful chemicals laden in their products. Which is where we came up with the idea of Mama earth we said you know, rather than waiting for somebody to do it let’s, let’s figure if we can do it. And after after researching for about eight to 10 months, you know figuring out ingredients checking their sources, if they were available in India or not talking to vendors, you know, practically looking at if things were possible. And all of that sort of paid off we realized that at a at a you know decent price which was affordable to a larger set of audience we could actually launch you know a baby care brand with the right kind of ingredients and natural ingredients which will further help them and this is how we came up with Mummaearth in December of 2016. We launched ourselves with six products at that time we were very clear that we wanted to enter baby as a category but I think within a span of six months and getting a lot of customer you know push that why just babies even moms deserve it even adults you know it does deserve to use toxin free products. You No, that is how we entered into adult care and and as of today we are we are into Baby Care haircare skincare and body care as a category with over 120 products in our portfolio.

Devika Garg

That’s superb. And I’m one of your customers. So I can verify and do absolutely reiterate that they are fantastic products.

Ghazal Alagah

And you I’m so glad to know that.

Devika Garg

You’re also Asia’s only made safe certified brand for baby products. And that’s amazing, because that’s a pretty prestigious us certification that you’ve got there. And like you mentioned, you’ve now moved into personal care with hair care, body care skincare. So, you know, could you share with us? What are the emerging trends that you see in these segments? What are your areas of focus? Because going from six brands to 120 brands? How are you looking? About the way ahead? And also a little about your customer base? What is the set and the mix of customers that you have currently? And what are you focusing on?

Ghazal Alagah

Sure, sure. Devika. that’s a lot of questions like just pick it, you know, one by one, we were Asia’s first brand to get Made Safe certification, you know, and that that was that was a problem that we thought would come You know, there have been Baby Care brands which were there in India for centuries and people have been using them generations over generations. You know, one of the one of the key challenges that that we thought would come Is that why would a new mother trust a new brand just as coming out and saying that you know, we are toxin free and natural and you should use us why should the mother trust you, which is where we brought this you know not for profit US based organization which is made safe to you know, certify us that said since our launch, there are a couple of more brands which have been following suit. And we are very happy to know that that we have brought that sense of consciousness into the Indian market with a proposition of toxin free.

But, yeah, now, further, you’re coming to your next question on you know, expanding to over 120 products and identifying what consumers need I think when we start since we started right, we have been very close to our customers. I was talking to a few mothers month on month, you know just to understand take feedback on the product understand their problem, because that is what we wanted to be we wanted to be you know a purpose based brand who understands the consumer so well that we we try and solve problems that they are facing. You know, for example, for a very brief period of time kids suffer from this baby suffer from this problem of colic, right. colic is this excruciating pain you know, stomach pain, which happens and the only solution which was available in the Indian market was a medicine that they have to take. Now newborn kids right your advice to give them only mother’s milk Why would you give them medicines if that can be sold topically which is where we came up with 100% hing roll-on which is actually a DIY that you know, that is a nanny’s used to use problems like these is what we’ve been trying to understand beat any category that we have entered, you know, mother’s experience a lot of hair fall post, giving birth. So solving that right, adults looking for easy to use options. Our TG is millennials right? We want to cater to them with the best proposition with something that they’re looking forward to end today’s millennial audience, you know, values the age old nuskahs that dadimaas and nanimaas used to give, that said they don’t have the time to sort of do all of it at home and and create those recipes. So we understand those problems and we innovate basis that.

Devika Garg

And worked how Ghazal! You have grown from 16 crores in top line two years ago to crossing 100 crows last year in 2020 March and you will be crossing 500 crores this year that is unimaginable and absolutely awe inspiring. And I know, we are aware that the pandemic has been a has been able to give a boost to a lot of digitally led brands. But even so, this is exponential growth. So what have been your key success factors for this growth?

Ghazal Alagah

So Devika as unfortunate as this pandemic was for all of us around there was you know a certain trend which favored ecommerce, right? People were at home they wanted, the needs did not end for that matter, they increased during your review, we’re staying at home, he was spending time with the family that people started ordering. And for that matter, we saw a lot of spike in tier two tier three cities as well where, you know, people wanted to experience and and that said, probably they did not have any other option because large part of the shops were closed. I think that is something which worked to our favor in the last one year.

That said, when the entire country went into lockdown, right? The one thing which gave us sort of sleepless nights was business continuity, right? How do we ensure that the business continues, and I think we, you know, my husband Varun spent days together at police station trying to get, you know, the license to start operating, because while we are into, you know, personal care, I think the baby segment also lies in essentials, and it was important for the people who, you know, get those products, because why would you use something else, just because the services are closed, and you wouldn’t said that is something that we were really focused on, I think we were the first ones in terms of fmcg brands to get the license to start operating again. Even after that, you know, marketing was something which people suddenly stopped focusing on everywhere, they were like, you know, people are not buying shops are closed. That said, what we observed was that, since nobody was taking, you know, doing media per se, the costs had significantly come down. And that is what we focused at, we said, okay, rather than, you know, following suit of not doing anything, let’s go aggressive. And we took advantage of the low cpms there, then which is which again, favored, you know, you know, the kind of growth that we could get, because of the low marketing spend. Innovation, like I said, we did not stop innovating for that matter, we launched 58 products last year. You know, there was a lot of supply chain issues, you could not get your packaging material from China figuring out, you know, how can you do that same thing within India, identifying new vendors, creating new capabilities, taking care of supply chain? I think it was a roller coaster ride for us, but we will just not okay saying that, you know, this is a problem which we cannot solve for now. We just approached everything that yes, there are a lot of problems, you know, we might have solved one now, how do you solve the rest of the 99 problems of that is that is the attitude, which, you know, not just from us as founders, but even from the team came out during during the lockdown phase where each function grew and contributed to the success that that’s showing today.

Devika Garg

Well said, does well, in fact, I also think that two other things that I noticed in your growth story was this vitamin C, product line that you launched, which I think just was huge. During the pandemic, specially, also you kind of also focused on building your offline, again, a presence. And I have a question to that, because most of the digital first platforms I see or brands that are online, right, over a period of time to pivot into an omni channel platform. And I see your growth focus there, too. And this is a question we asked Adwaita at Nykaa. And we would like to put the same question to you that, in India is it very important to have the offline presence? And what are Mamaearth’s plans towards this?

Ghazal Alagah

Sure. So Devika when it comes to mama Earth, or for that matter, I think Honasa, we are we are a digital first brand. And we will, you know, sort of continue to be digital. First. That’s a during the now even the offline presence that we are we are sort of, you know, building and taking forward is not a mass distribution play. But it’s more of identifying the right kind of stores which consumers want to see us in, right. Just to get an understanding of what the product looks like what the product feels like. We have testers that people can actually use to experience products in these offline stores. It’s just to be reachable to a large amount of audience. against which might not be, you know, comfortable buying something which they haven’t touched or seen. And that is where we are we are we are now, you know, going offline. Yes, there is an aggressive play because there’s, there’s opportunity there to grow. But from a brand’s vision point of view, we are still going to be digital first. And we are here sort of building that, you know, forward. In the lockdown period, again, you know, like I said, everybody was shutting stores, there were no conversations they were around, around opening up, or, you know, when we see things getting better, we used that time to have a few of these conversations with, with people that we couldn’t otherwise have reached out to, you know, these were people who give preference to bigger brands, larger distribution channels, etc. And just using that as an opportunity to connect, I think is something which works to our favor where a lot of these, you know, guys suddenly got interested that yes, somebody is talking about business continuity, and it makes sense to have conversations and take things, you know, forward. And guess this year, there is there is a very aggressive plan of, you know, going offline and being present in all the relevant kind of stores. I hope it goes well, which is keeping our fingers crossed.

Devika Garg

Ghazal, the D to C space requires a very strong brand, right? and building a strong brand is not an easy task. The constant fight for being a getting top of the mind recall for driving brand affinity is a is a ongoing endeavor, in this space. Mamaearth has done one thing very well is the whole influencer space that you’re very, very strong. And then you have Shilpa Shetty as your brand ambassador. And I believe also as an investor, right. And recently, you moved into mainstream media, you mentioned that you took advantage of this low CPM, you kind of sponsored the Big Boss this year. How has your brand building journey been and how has it evolved?

Ghazal Alagah

So Devika, coming to our parent company Honasa, right? The vision that we have for Honasa is to be a house of brands, which you know, caters to the needs of millennials. Mamaearth is one such brand that we have launched. Last year, we also launched another brand, which is called The Derma Co. which is basically you know, hard working single ingredient products, which solves problems like acne, pigmentation, dark spots, etc, right. But using scientific ingredients, which are clinically proven in the right kind of percentages, right. So long term vision for Honasa, I think is to be a house of brands, we will keep coming up with new brands, wherever we feel that there is you know space to connect with millennials and give them something that they are looking forward. They’re looking for searching for as well when Honasa comes in. We are we are very sure that we want to build purpose braised brands, which does not only offer products but also connects with our consumers in in more ways, right. Just to talk about Mamaearth, we have a very strong purpose, which is goodness inside, right. And we have recently and we’ve sort of taken up this initiative, which is called plant initiative, where every order that you place with Mamaearth, there is a tree that gets linked to it, which you can track, we will give you its geo location, we will give you what species of the tree we have planted. And you can actually track the growth of the tree as well. You can physically visit that place to see the tree that we have planted on your behalf. Right. So I think these are the little things which are which really talk to the consumer, which is where brand building comes into play, right? If I say I have a range of ubtan, and I’m just selling products, there will be newer brands which will come You know, in the coming times, you might want to experiment with something else. But when you know that you’re when I invest in this brand, I’m actually contributing a little amount towards taking care of the environment, planting the tree, etc. There is a stronger sense of you know, belonging that no, this is something that I want to do this is something which makes me better. And and that is the insight that we have sort of, you know, very closely held and we’ll continue to do things like these in the future as well. You know, for that matter, have a vision of planting 1 million trees over the next you know Two years and having a Mamaearth forest which consumers can call their own. We are, you know, looking forward to that, and we are working really hard to achieve that.

Devika Garg

I look forward to the mama forest needs to invite me into it. You know, hopefully that will happen soon. Your journey is pretty, very inspiring. I mean, I can just do to grow to conceptualize from, you know, looking after your baby and giving him the best products to now developing this, one of India’s leading if not the biggest, b2c brands, amazing. And then a very short period of time. huge success. Lots of accolades, but I’m sure along the journey, you would have seen a lot many lows as well, you know, they could be professional, they could be personal. What were the challenges you faced? And what are your key learnings?

Ghazal Alagah

When we started out, you know, building products, for example, taking care of ingredients, putting them together, working with Made Safe, there was a lot of pushback on a few ingredients, you had to go back to the lab, you had to formulate again, right, getting the right vendor on board was was one of the biggest challenges that we faced really early on, you know, one vendors is generally a male dominated, you know, play the pay, I mean, going to factories, getting into, you know, packaging, talking to packaging vendors, right, all of these, and you were not a brand right there, right? You were just someone who is trying to make its way and why would these guys spend their time and energy on, you know, developing something which they have not developed before and putting in so much effort to get the product, right. A lot of these vendors just did not understand what we were trying to do. You know, then finally, we got this one person who said that, okay, I’ll give you access to my lab, I will give you one hour, tell me what needs to be done. And let’s see where this goes. Right. And that was the first vendor and even, you know, today is one of our largest vendors that we work with who showed promise. So I think that was one of the biggest challenges, right? How do you start? Where do you start? Who are the right people who can come on board with you to, to sort of, you know, just take that one step forward? was a big challenge then, like I said, before, you know, why should a consumer trust you know, what are you doing, which is different, even if it’s different, you’re you’re so new and everybody says that, you know, I am good. But when somebody else says that no, this is good is when the consumers trust where we brought in made safe I think that was another challenge that we faced that I was a new mother. My son was just two years old managing mother hood with entrepreneurship both of them were like babies who needed equal amount of attention and could not go neglected even for a single hour was was another challenge. How do you manage time? How do you take care of family plus k plus work was something that I was not very comfortable with. That said over time, that is something which is helped me be the person that I am today. You know, it just taught me how to manage time and also made me realize that I was the only one who could help myself figure that out. Right. I started waking up at 4am in the morning, I started giving 4 to 6:30 which was a me time I started this club which was the 4am Club on Instagram as well where a lot of folks join me to do the same in and I think that is something which I have which I still do the date I wake up anywhere between four and five to give those two extra hours which just help me set the flow for the entire day right what I want to do what I we want to achieve and I don’t have to give up on.

Devika Garg

Gazhal, that’s actually a very kosher work schedule that you outline, and very, very positive attitude and completely agree that I also while you were speaking I was wondering who has been your inspiration in this in this journey. I mean, what inspires you who inspires you?

Ghazal Alagah

Devika, I think, the two most inspirational people in my journey of starting up well, my mother, both my mother’s right my mother and my mother in law. My mother has always taken care of the family while giving due importance to her passions, be it reading, be it writing, you know, she always used to ensure that I don’t give up on something that’s important to her. My mother in law has been working for almost 40 years. Last year, she got retired. I mean, she got retired. And immediately the country went into lockdown is how we talk about it at home. Bringing what these two women have done day on day, I think really inspires me. It really pushes me to do best, you know, raising kids working, taking care of your passions. I mean, if I’ve been, I am in the process of sort of taking care of these three things together, I still need their help a lot of times. But yeah, whenever whenever I think that I wouldn’t be able to do it, I just, you know, think about how they’ve done it, which was 40 years back, and you know, it will be unfair, if I say I can’t do it.

Devika Garg

I also now want to talk a little about what is next for Mamaearth? Where do you see yourself, as you mentioned that there is The Derma company that you’ve launched, there will be more products that you launch? But if you were to look at the next three, four years, what are the plans that you’re making for Honasa, I mean, I would not just say Mamaearth, because you mentioned that you have a bouquet of brands that you want to build under the parent company. So what plans ?

Ghazal Alagah

I think we have we’ve reached this first mark of 500 crores, we’re looking forward to now with Mamaearth we are we are we want to be 1000 crore brand for that matter fastest of 1000 crores probably over the next, you know, two to three years. And that is what we and the entire team is gearing for. As far as Honasa is concerned, you know, like I said, houses brand is the strategy that we want to go. That said, we want to showcase that, you know, we’ve built a playbook with Mamaearth. Now that playbook in itself should be replicable to all the other brands that we come up with, and you know, make them grow even faster, faster than what we were able to achieve in my Mamaearth. For example, if I had to just give an example, what we achieved in Mamaearth in about, you know, 24 months, we have achieved that in 12 months with The Derma co. And that’s the kind of narrative that we want to have for Honasa going forward. There we are, we are housing brands, we have playbooks through which we can scale up any brand that you know, connects with the millennials or we come up with.

Devika Garg

We wish you luck on that Ghazal. But before we go, we want to touch base with you on your love for painting. I believe you love abstract painting, you have graduated, you’ve done your certification from the New York School of Art, you’re also exhibiting in New York, how amongst all of this starting at 4am. And you know, having such a rigorous work schedule, do you manage to pursue your love for arts.

Ghazal Alagah

So Devika, I was very, very actively painting exhibiting and selling my works before I started Mamaearth, there was there was something which which I connected with, and I was very sure that for the rest of my life, you know, this is something that I want to do. But then for a larger purpose, which was more personal Mamaearth came in. I think first eight months, I was not able to paint at all because I was just not able to figure out time. And that’s where you know that inspiration from my mother came in saying she never gave up on her passions while doing everything at the same time. So why are you right, which is where I started the 4am Club, I picked up my passion for painting, I’m not very, very actively painting I used to create about eight to 10 works a month, which is now gone down to probably two to three. But I take that extra effort of being at it and just just you know, wanting myself that if you give up what will happen to you because this is meditation. For me this is something which keeps me alive, keeps me happy keeps me going. Now 4 a.ms are the times, but when 4 a.ms don’t work, say in a couple of weeks, I have more things to take care of like the current week. Then I pull out some time from the weekends where I bring my son down. Both of us are painting at the same time with a little music going on in the background just making it fun and you know involving the family into it is also a way to keep up.

Devika Garg

We wish you a great success and you know very happy momentum going forward. Hope to see more from you.

Ghazal Alagah

Thank you so much for the for those kind words and I look forward to meeting you.

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