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Bombay Shaving Company: Redefining the male grooming experience in India
and how it became a leading category creator in a market with legacy players in 6 years
Shantanu Deshpande has been around entrepreneurship throughout his life. His father, who was an executive at Tech Mahindra, left the giant to start a venture in the network security space. At McKinsey, he saw many of his peers take senior positions at startups that looked like they could change India in the next 4-5 years - like Flipkart and Myntra. He saw a lot of exciting things happening outside where he was, and he wanted to get a taste of the action.
A chance conversation with a friend from Wharton who worked at the Dollar Shave Club led to the realization that shaving is not considered the premium male grooming experience in India that it can and should be. Men are increasingly growing conscious of how they look, which is why they’re multiple times more likely to change their photos on social and dating apps than ever before. Shaving should ideally have the same sort of routine that, say, applying lipstick on a woman does. Would guys not want to look great before a date?
Through multiple conversations, Shantanu built a conviction and decided to leave McKinsey to create a personal care brand in facial hair for men.
“Bombay evokes a sense of Modern India and has a certain spirit and coolness factor attached to it, which all the co-founders had experienced and grown to like in the years we spent in the city."
With 3 co-founders and 23 angel investors, Shantanu Deshpande entered the most competitive space head on
Shantanu was seeded by 23 partners from his past employer and roped in 3 co-founders (who were friends from IIM Lucknow): Raunak Munot, Deepu Panicker, and Rohit Jaiswal. He saw two ways to enter male grooming: a) enter a cluttered, very competitive space, or b) build a new category.
Razors and cartridges are low-engagement products: users don’t think twice about buying the dominant product on the shelf, which was Gillette. For this reason, Shantanu wanted to avoid the first, so he decided not to play the razor-and-cartridge game. He focused on creating a 6-part shaving kit, complete with pre-shave and aftershave wash, with a 100-gram single-blade razor on which one could have their name engraved.
The company sold only this kit for the first 6 months of their operation, pricing it at Rs 3000. The engraving and careful packaging added to the premium feel of the kit, which also led to customers creating unboxing videos for the kit. The first 500 customers came purely through word of mouth: most purchases were made by women for the men in their life.
The founding team was able to validate their hypothesis: that there was indeed a market where men would be willing to pay for a premium DIY shaving experience. They used this as motivation for feverish product development.
“The harshest customers help build the best products”.
BSC continued to build on top of this loyal customer base by creating products in singular categories: beard wash, hair removal, aftershave, hair oils, blades, etc.
It wanted to position itself as a premium, yet affordable brand. It would launch different flavors of shaving foam at different prices. For context, a 264g bottle of BSC shaving foam costs Rs 245, while a 418g bottle by Gillette costs Rs 225
As for the flavors: BSC realized that Indians loved using traditional ingredients like turmeric and aloe vera, and other superfoods like charcoal and coffee, for their hair and face. They integrated these components into their products: like the coffee shaving foam.
Word of mouth was essential in its initial operations. BSC stayed away from hiring a brand ambassador in order to avoid high customer acquisition costs.
Building a Brand based on the idea of gifting and luxury, Bombay Shaving Company created its own space in the market
However, BSC also realized that the product alone wouldn’t suffice. They required targeted marketing to expand beyond tier-1 markets. How could they increase retention and engagement for a low-engagement product like shaving goods? It employed mainly 3 strategies
Gifting: Early on, BSC realized that its products were popular as gifts, which is not something Gillette could boast. This was evident from the fact that the engraved razor was a popular gift item. They decided to have multiple initiatives around the same, beginning with a B2B corporate gifting scheme. They also did Valentine’s Day campaign with ads for famous couples. The ads were geared towards a non-metropolitan audience, and they did 80M impressions. With every gift-centric festival (like Raksha Bandhan, and Father’s day), BSC came up with a campaign centered around the same.
Constant social listening with data: According to search trends on Google, people often forget Fathers’ Day. BSC created a campaign around the day to celebrate fatherhood.
Smart, self-aware branding: BSC is careful not to brand itself as a machismo brand that is only for the most masculine of men. It chose to go down the road of being gender-neutral, and this also helped when it launched its line of women’s hair removal products. They also flipped conventional ideas around masculinity to create great content.
Their choice of brand ambassadors has been unconventional which makes the brand stand out and difficult to forget. They got legendary actor and chest hair god Shakti Kapoor for a hair removal ad, which would ensure that it reached both the young and the old. The ad is funny, well-written, and delivers the right message.
By Dec 2020, Bombay Shaving Company was making around 9 crores a month
The Colgate and RB investments were made with the idea that it increases BSC’s presence offline. The supply chains of both companies extend far and wide in India, all the way to tier-2 and tier-3 cities and towns. The packaging capabilities of the companies would also make BSC’s product launches much smoother. Both brands have made billions through building expertise in product positioning and supply chains.
Early on, BSC realized that with the advent of cheap data like Jio, e-commerce would become huge in India. It would be a huge opportunity missed if they didn’t list themselves on Amazon and Flipkart. Shaving products being low engagement in nature meant that BSC had to be everywhere. They adopted an omnichannel presence, selling across e-commerce marketplaces, mom-and-pop stores, and their own website. Currently, 55% of their sales come from third-party e-commerce, while 30% comes from offline stores.
The pandemic didn’t seem to stop their hypergrowth. They realized that even though it forced people to be locked down inside, that was a blessing in disguise. For video conferences and interviews via Zoom, people were obsessed with looking good. This propelled a large rise in the company’s e-commerce orders that year.
Moreover, women couldn’t go to the salon during the lockdown and were more hesitant to go once conditions relaxed, for fear of contracting the virus. So BSC launched a razor for women, getting into the foray of women’s hair removal products with unique features solving the pain points that were existing in the market then. Post Sep-Dec 2020, Bombay Shaving Company was making a little more than 9 crores a month.
What’s the future for Bombay Shaving Company?
In January this year, it raised around $20M from Malabar Investments. They want to reach an annual revenue figure of Rs 500 crores by 2024. And they have plans for international expansion:
“We are already present in Nepal, Bangladesh, etc. and now plan to launch in US, Europe, GCC, and Australia, as the brand sees demand, especially from the Indian diaspora.”
Bombay Shaving Company wants to be a category leader when it comes to its non-razor/blade products. They knew they couldn’t beat the legacy players at a game they played for a long while, so they changed the game altogether. It also believes it can do the same for women’s hair removal products. These are two things that they believe will make them a 1000 crore company in 5 years.
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