Interview of Vikas Bagaria: Founder of PeeSafe

Vikas Bagaria: Founder of PeeSafe

He is the Founder of PeeSafe, a well-funded personal hygiene and wellness brand. He is a serial entrepreneur and a businessman with over 2 decades of experience. He founded Safety Kart, India’s 1 online safety products portal in 2007. He has also mentored and funded several businesses including WittyFeed, Innov8, EdgeFX, Asadel Tech, and Coutloot. When his journey began, there was no such thing as a ‘start-up’. As India entered the e-commerce and start-up revolution, his mind was fixated on designing a business with a larger, more compelling purpose. He started out on his own right after getting an MCA degree in Electronics from Jadavpur University. He hails from a business-oriented family and therefore, was able to hone his innate entrepreneurial and team-building skills.

What inspired you to start this company?

Pee Safe was commercially launched under SafetyKart in 2013. Its inception was the outcome of a personal experience when during a road trip, my wife Srijana fell sick and had to be admitted into a hospital. She was diagnosed with acute Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) after having used a public restroom. This gave us the idea of making a product that could be sprayed on a toilet seat, kill germs and reduce the chances of UTI for women. Our flagship product called Pee Safe toilet seat sanitizer spray was launched after an initial testing phase among family and friends. It is a dermatologically tested product, that promises to kill 99.9% of harmful microorganisms present on unhygienic toilet seats within 10 seconds, besides being travel-friendly. Till now we have sold more than 1,00,000 units of this product. Over the years, we have also gained a significant market share for other women’s hygiene products including eco-friendly sanitary pads, organic tampons, menstrual cups, panty liners, and breast pads. Apart from this, we also have intimate hygiene products for both men and women including a wash and wipes. Pee Safe has also entered other sub-personal hygiene segments through products like Palm Safe and Moskito Safe apart from anti-pollution masks.

What is the problem solved by your start-up?

Millions of women in India face the ordeal of having to use unclean public washrooms every day. While many do not have access to toilets, for others, the experience of using a public toilet is nothing less than a nightmare. Though there is some awareness, the need of the hour is for products and solutions that help women maintain good intimate hygiene and remain free of infections. Women’s hygiene issues have long been considered as a taboo and public debate around these topics has been highly censored. This has had a negative impact on women’s health. About 88% of women in India still use unsanitized cloth, sawdust, and other materials, instead of sanitary napkins. There was thus a need for sustainable, healthy and environment-friendly products and I saw this as an opportunity to contribute both at a societal level as well as on the personal front. This is how the idea for Pee Safe came about and we launched our flagship product, India’s first toilet seat sanitizer spray. This went on to become a bestseller and today, Pee Safe’s products are a preferred choice amongst our customer base. We then went on to launch another range of products including biodegradable sanitary pads, menstrual cups, intimate hygiene care for men, and anti-pollution masks among others. The biodegradable sanitary pads and menstrual cups help eliminate the use of products that are not environmentally sustainable. They also prevent infections since they are safe for the body. From women’s intimate hygiene products, we have evolved to a brand dedicated to the goal of bringing about personal hygiene and wellness solutions to people in India – products that are healthy and sustainable in the long run.

What obstacles have you faced trying to reach your goals and what steps have you taken to overcome them?

I think the biggest challenge we faced was a mindset change. Since we happened to offer alternatives to traditional products in the personal hygiene category, we needed to educate the target audiences. However, we continuously focused on spreading awareness about the brand and the problem it solves. From our bestselling product, the Toilet Seat Sanitizer Spray, we have diversified into other categories such as eco-friendly and biodegradable sanitary pads, menstrual cups, panty liners, etc., intimate hygiene products for men, and anti-pollution masks, among others. Our solutions are aimed at ensuring overall personal hygiene for people while at the same time keeping sustainability and the environment-friendly aspect intact. We did face some initial hiccups, however, thanks to large-scale awareness, women and men alike are open to trying out products that are sustainable and eco-friendly in nature. Our efforts are supported by our digital marketing initiatives. So far, 6,000 influencers have talked about our products on Instagram during the last three years, and about 80% of those have been organic influencers. They are also the end-users of our products. Our TG is in the age group of 18 to 35 years, and we have spent extensively on digital marketing, our preferred marketing medium. Our brand ambassador is popular TV actress Anita Hassanandani who is a well-known name among Indian households and personally relates to our brand vision. We recently undertook a video campaign with her focusing on Pee Safe’s Toilet Seat Sanitizer Spray. It talks about how some resolutions are not meant to be broken, one of them is using a toilet seat sanitizer spray regularly to ward off infections. We have also launched various popular campaigns such as the Pee Room Conversations, which reached out to over 2.5 million Indian women across the country and digital promos including #HerPwr and #TakeCareMaa. We aim to make Pee Safe a renowned brand using an impactful micro-influencer strategy and effective cause-leadership.

What according to you drive sales to a company?

I think a combination of innovation, awareness generation, and marketing is what drives sales to a company. If I take the example of Pee Safe, at the outset, it was important for us to understand the TG and direct the marketing efforts accordingly. This was more important given that we were bringing up something that people are generally ashamed of talking about. The effort was around reconditioning their thinking, talk openly about periods, ask them what they hate or love about their body, etc. People today also want products that are not harsh on the environment and we cater to that aspect too. On the other hand, given that we are a startup, we have done everything from designing and packaging the products to creating a marketing campaign. We were able to launch the product within a span of two weeks successfully and it was extremely well-received by our customers, thus driving up sales.

Who do you look to as a role model?

I would say my wife Srijana is my role model since she inspired me to start Pee Safe and address an issue faced by millions of women around India. Srijana is an entrepreneur and a woman of substance and it was she who encouraged me to address something that has for long been a taboo in India.

How to be a leader according to you?

A leader is someone who sets an example and finds opportunities to innovate and resolve an existing issue in the best way possible. My motto to become a successful leader is timely action along with hard work and perseverance. Some of the innate qualities of a leader include passion for your work, the ability to take risks, patience to wait for the right opportunity to strike and an insatiable hunger to do more than what you did yesterday. As a leader, you need to constantly innovate and change and be an example for others to follow.

How do you respond to constructive criticism?

I have always taken constructive criticism in my stride and believe that it is key to personal and professional growth. Receiving feedback without becoming defensive is a skill that can help a person immensely. I try to not react immediately, analyze the feedback given, and use it as a trigger for change. One instance I can immediately cite here is, when I started Pee Safe, there was a lot of feedback on how a man may not be fit to address concerns related to women. However, I took it positively and made them understand that it is possible – and here we are with a brand that is now a leading entity in the personal hygiene and wellness space.

Any suggestions that you want to give to aspiring startups for raising funds?

My advice to aspiring startups has always been to Celebrate exit and not funding. I believe in cherishing the values that your business stands for. In an era where startups are springing up by the minute, it is important to make a difference and leave behind an everlasting trail that others would be inspired to follow. A business should stand for a social/ environmental cause. The need of the hour is to make a powerful positive impact on the society. And when I have achieved that with a firm, I move to other meaningful opportunities. Funding is but an enabler for your vision and not the endpoint. I would like to tell the youth of today that while it is not always necessary to take the entrepreneurial route, every person must have some basic values and principles in life that they live by. Most importantly, an honest person who sees everyone else with the same lens is the mark of a good human being.

What do you think are the most important elements of successful business relationships?

Successful business relationships are based on the pillars of honesty, integrity, ethics, and transparency.

Share your experience of fundraising and how difficult was it? How would you like to utilize the funds?

Funding is a pre-requisite for any start-up that aims to scale up. However, getting private funding is not easy as it requires three months of legal and financial due diligence. It is imperative to have a good track record for commercial performance, collaterals, and other documents in place before you pitch the idea to investors. At Pee Safe, when we applied for private funding, we had our corporate compliances in place which made sure that the entire funding cycle was faster. We also had a team of lawyers and financial consultants for the activity. When we started Pee Safe, a majority of the first few rounds of investment came from extended friends and family. There were also a few external investors who identified with our vision and we go support from them, in bridge rounds. For Series A funding, we reached out to selected consumer and healthcare funds, of which Alkemi was the most active. We aligned with their fund’s investment theory which helped us bag the INR 31.2 crore Series A funding. The funding helped us scale the business and our turnover (year-wise) was as follows: INR 225 lakh in 2017/18; and INR 670 lakh in 2018/19. We expect the business to grow to INR 1400 lakh in 2019/20.

What’s your opinion about StartupLanes?

At the outset, I congratulate the founders of StartupLanes for having come up with a platform that connects the startup ecosystem in a seamless manner. It is an enabler for budding entrepreneurs given the kind of services that are offered. I wish the founders the best for all future endeavors.