Abid Hussain Barlaskar

“Want to be present in busy public toilets”: Vikas Bagaria, Pee Safe

Pee Safe, co-founded by husband-wife duo Vikas and Srijana Bagaria, aims to solve a potential health risk — UTI (urinary tract infections). And they've just secured ₹30 crore in funding. The brand is on the look out for a media buying agency with an expertise of working with startups.

‘Clean is not sanitised’, in the gap between the two words lies the proposition of Pee Safe, a brand cum line of products in the personal hygiene space. Pee Safe is primarily a brand of toilet seat sanitisers, eliminating harmful bacteria such as E. coli, reducing chances of catching UTIs (urinary tract infections). The brand arose from a necessity in 2013 when co-founder Vikas Bagaria’s wife contracted the disease despite using the best of amenities while travelling from Delhi to Gujarat. The brand sold one lakh Pee Safe bottles from 2013-16 and 17 lakh bottles have been sold since 2017.

“Want to be present in busy public toilets”: Vikas Bagaria, Pee Safe

Bagaria had already tasted success when he started his own businesses in material handling equipments/warehousing (1999), and in in-transit damage prevention (2002).

Pee Safe was launched in 2013 as a subsidiary of Safetykart.com (2012) Bagaria’s e-commerce platform in the personal safety area. It was separated in 2017 to create a new company, Radcliffe Hygiene. Pee Safe raised its pre-series funding of ₹6.4 crore in June 2017. About a month ago, the brand raised ₹30 crore in Series A funding led by Alkemi Growth Capital, a health and wellness-focussed VC.

The brand started out with a single product — Pee Safe toilet sanitiser spray for women — and has since diversified into 15 different products (such as organic sanitary pads, menstrual cups, intimate wash, cramp relief roll, and anti-pollution mask) shaping itself as a personal hygiene brand. It has a 90-member-strong team. Half of which handles sales and marketing and the rest is divided across, design, product, admin, etc. The new funds will be used for expanding distribution, product R&D, and hiring talent.

“Want to be present in busy public toilets”: Vikas Bagaria, Pee Safe

“We set out defining a public washroom. Any washroom, outside your personal bedroom is a public toilet. Even at home, when there is a joint family or say a house party, the washroom becomes a public washroom. There was no product that categorised itself as a toilet seat sanitiser spray,” says Bagaria.

The founder’s sales pitch projects the product as a strong precautionary measure, at a pocket-friendly price. And, the market looks promising with at least half of the female population facing a UTI in their lifetime (WHO data).

The brand was named by Srijana Bagaria, co-founder and Vikas’ (Bagaria) wife. “People were like, 'Pee! No one’s gonna buy'. We said that’s exactly why people will buy,” Bagaria says.

“Want to be present in busy public toilets”: Vikas Bagaria, Pee Safe

But is the name an asset or a liability?

“We’ve never been in a situation where people or retailers expressed discomfort over the name. But I’ve read reviews online about our other products such as sanitary napkins, which said that it’s a wrong brand name. We’ve had to clarify that it is a brand name not the product name,” he says. The larger plan is to build a strong online and offline presence for the Pee Safe name. “We have created a brand and are building trust among our customers. Just as a classical CPG (consumer packaged goods) such as shaving cream, we have a high repeat rate. Apart from online, we are present in over 5000 stores in 50 cities,” he adds.

While it was a part of Safetykart.com, Pee Safe was only one vertical among others. The founders realised that e-commerce wasn’t a proposition investors were interested in given the saturation in the space. Around December 2016, they were on the verge of selling the whole project including Pee Safe. “I was getting pennies for Safetykart and only ₹50 lakh was offered for the Pee Safe brand. I decided against selling it since I started it with my wife,” Bagaria says.

In the longer run, Bagaria’s aspirations are to turn Pee Safe into something like a Dettol, a brand synonymous with the category. “We will probably reach there (Dettol’s stature) in 15 years. There has been little change in the personal hygiene area in a last couple of decades with only one product becoming popular, the hand sanitiser. That came about post the SARS outbreak (mid-2000) in China,” he says.

Pee Safe travel kit
Pee Safe travel kit

It’s not just the metros…

Smaller cities such as Dehradun, Bhubaneshwar, Gangtok and Cochin perform better than metros. Bagaria says, that the smaller tri-cities, Dehradun, Haridwar and Hrishikesh sell more products than Mumbai. He explains that the phenomenon has its roots in visibility of products. A key strategy is also to be present at places frequented by metro dwellers.

It is easier for Pee Safe to increase footprint in smaller cities vs metros. Bagaria reveals, “Metro markets are organised and governed by system (internal processes of organised retail outlets). You have to get your product approved, pay heavy listing charges. Say, the cost of real-estate (product display space) in Mumbai is high and big pharma companies have already occupied the space. Versus smaller cities, that have smaller stores, the owners of which are in a way entrepreneurs themselves. They are looking to introduce newer products. They take pride in saying, ‘I launched this product in my city’. We use that to our benefit.

“The tri-cities also attract a lot of travellers from metros. So, post exposure to touch-points such as social media, airports, etc, the chances of buying it at the destination increases. The focus for now is equally on metros and smaller cities,” he explains.

The brand is also looking at building a strong B2B presence and has already partnered with 10 malls. “We want to be present in high footfall public toilets such as in malls, airports, hospitals, movie halls, schools, colleges and offices,” Bagaria says.

Pee Safe trends
Pee Safe trends

The challenge now is to get as many repeat users. “Of 100 users who bought it because of impulse, 70 will buy it for the second time, 60 will buy out of habit and then there will be a fall out. It is important to retain the fall out,” he adds.

We are yet to see big or popular players entering the ‘toilet seat sanitiser’ space. “It’s because the category is small and would require some mass before it attracts interest of large pharma or FMCG players. I am bored sitting alone. You need competition and more players to grow a category. But people will come in. The bigger issue is of awareness, and personal hygiene probably scores 0 out of 10,” Bagaria explains.

The 'mens' shift.

The brand recently jolted its ‘women-centric’ product followers with the launch of its men’s intimate wash. It connects back to an industry statistic that suggest that close to 80 per cent of men’s underwear (an intimate item) are bought by women. “Since the personal wash was also an intimate purchase, we thought of giving our TG an option for their men too. Not so surprisingly, 80 per cent of buyers are women. It became more obvious when we launched combo packs,” Bagaria explains.

“Want to be present in busy public toilets”: Vikas Bagaria, Pee Safe

The brand has also initiated a subscription for its organic sanitary pads. The quarterly subscription model provides 140 pads for 14 cycles at ₹2,200 for a year.

“Want to be present in busy public toilets”: Vikas Bagaria, Pee Safe

Pee Safe’s marketing team is putting its muscle behind building word-of-mouth and organic Instagram reach. “Fifty per cent of Instagram mentions are organic. At times we request users to use hashtags generated by us in posts. The strategy is to create and utilise users as influencers instead of celebrity ambassadors,” he says.

All the design work and advertising is currently taken care of by the brand’s in-house team. However, the brand is on the look out for a media buying agency with an expertise of working with startups.

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