Starting a company together was always on the cards for the college bench mates turned entrepreneurs Ketan Munoth and Prince Kapoor. “We started our first venture in online gifting back while we were studying BBA at Loyola College,” he recalls with a chuckle.
The friends parted ways after their undergraduate degree—Prince became an investment banker at Spark Capital while Ketan did an MBA and moved to Delhi to work at Hindustan Times. What brought them back together again was a random trip to their neighborhood Nilgris supermarket back in Chennai, where they grew up.
Aisle after aisle they playfully began analyzing products and brands. A trip down the women’s hygiene aisle came as a shock to Ketan and Prince. While every product had a plethora of brand options to choose from, the period care space seemed to be monopolized by two brands.
“That was the trigger that set us down a long path of R&D that paved the way for Plush,” Ketan narrates. The young entrepreneurs began their market research by starting conversations about period care products with the women in their family and friends circles.
They spoke to around five hundred women who helped them understand that there was a widely unspoken problem of rashes that were being caused by the menstrual pads that were available in the market. A zoomed out view of the product ecosystem made them realize that there was a bigger problem at hand—the large amount of plastic waste that was being generated by this industry.
“Every layer of packaging of the product is made of low-quality polyethylene besides the product itself,” he reveals, “Besides, plastic is not the most comfortable material for intimate areas. There’s a reason why we don’t wear plastic shirts,” he shrugs.
Now that the gap had been identified, the next task at hand for Ketan and Prince was to develop the most comfortable menstrual pad. It was only during the development stage that all of the challenges started pouring in. “For starters, we weren’t the target audience for the product so we would have women test our product as we kept iterating on it,” he proceeds. Women seldom prefer experimenting with menstrual hygiene products. Coupled with that, the average testing period was highly dependent on the menstrual cycle, giving the duo an average of a 45-day gap to develop on the product between cycles. Five iterations later, with the help of a product team consisting entirely of women and the inputs and feedback of around forty women, the most comfortable menstrual pad was designed with hundred percent US cotton in partnership with third-party manufacturers.
Plush was a registered brand by August 2019 and was introduced to the public through a small launch on social media. “We told our customers that Plush guaranteed comfort,” reveals the co-founder about how seriously they took their value proposition, “Otherwise they would get their money back!” Flash forward two and half years, the brand has grown beyond its own website to popular e-commerce platforms like Big Basket, Amazon, Flipkart and around four hundred physical stores across Chennai and Bangalore.
As a part of outreach, Plush also takes an empathetic stance by personifying itself as an ‘older sister who you can talk to about anything’. That was the idea behind ‘Blood Sisters’— a community where women could get vocal about all things female hygiene. Besides this, there is a helpline number and a chat feature that women could use to enquire about the products and how to use them.
The brand has also partnered with organizations to support causes like breast cancer and to support transgender communities that bleed. These initiatives involved public activities in the airport, donating pads to women affected by the floods in Kashmir and even limited edition packaging to educate people about transgender communities.
The month-on-month growth of its consumer base led the duo to expand into more products along the femme care sector. Early last year, the brand began to sell menstrual cups, panty liners and even hair removal products. “The goal is to become a one-stop-shop for all women’s hygiene needs,” he says.
Though Plush was started by two men, the twenty-women team behind the product development, communications and marketing has been key to creating an empathetic brand that is comfortable and eco-friendly. One of the products to look forward to from Plush in the near future is an innovation on the pregnancy testing kit that will be developed bearing in mind hygiene, ease of use and the state of mind of the woman using it. “Pregnancy testing kits are not only for women who are trying to get pregnant,” he explains with the instance of PCOS that is prevalent amongst many women today, “It is important to think about the mental state of the women who want to test negative as well,” explains Ketan about the potential new product in development.
Right before the pandemic, the Chennai office expanded to a team of twenty-two and a marketing office had just been opened in Bangalore. However, once the lockdown rules were implemented, the sales from physical stores reduced from thirty percent to five percent. The obvious path based on the inference was to focus more on the online sales of the products.
The founders are working tirlessly on creating a large market for Plush within India so that in the next five years they can introduce the brand to an international market. “We’ve had requests to sell the product in Dubai already,” he adds, “Besides, the brand was designed to have universal appeal from the very beginning.”
Plush has received two rounds of funding from marquee investors in India along with a few private equity investments which have enabled the brand to educate audiences and market the product while also contributing to the working capital. “Although Chennai is not the place where you would find the most investors, the digital ecosystem now makes the company’s location irrelevant,” reveals Ketan, “The Chennai startup ecosystem is filled with SAAS companies. The startups from the other sectors are only now slowly picking up and finding its place in the ecosystem.” He strongly reaffirms, however, that as a brand looking for investment, it is of utmost importance to reach out to the world as there is always someone waiting to invest in an innovative idea or a unique product.