When you brushed your teeth this morning, did you think about the brand of toothbrush and toothpaste you were using?
Most of us only think about oral care when we visit the dentist. Nonetheless, oral care products are an integral part of our daily routines and account for a $1.82 billion market in India.
Jatan Bawa and Tushar Khurana launched Perfora to try and disrupt this mature yet low-involvement industry, long dominated by FMCG giants and mega brands like Colgate, Pepsodent and Oral-B.
Launched in 2021, Perfora has raised $3.99 million in funding so far, been featured on Season 2 of Shark Tank India, and attracted investors like Peyush Bansal, CEO of Lenskart, and Vineeta Singh, co-founder of Sugar Cosmetics. According to Bawa, Perfora had an FY 22-23 revenue of ₹15.3 crores and is on track to achieve the ambitious target of ₹100 crores Annual Recurring Revenue by the end of FY 23-24. Today, Perfora sells on all major marketplaces, which account for 40% of its revenue, and the brand has also reached 300 offline stores, which accounts for the remaining 5% of revenue.
Choosing a Category
Instead of the popular ‘scratch-a-personal-itch’ startup method, Bawa and Khurana went about identifying a business opportunity in a methodical way. Here is the list of criteria that made them decide on oral care, (after briefly considering skincare nutraceuticals).
- Has products that are used every day
- Hasn’t seen product innovation in a long time
- Does not have new brands that speak to young consumers
- Has a broken experience
Brushing Teeth Can Be Cool
Bawa and Khurana conducted 400+ consumer interviews and surveys. This is how they responded to the insights they gathered.
#1. Most people in India do not brush twice a day. When they do brush, they are half asleep and do not follow the proper technique.
Perfora’s first launch was an electric toothbrush. These are proven to be more effective than ordinary toothbrushes, but are hardly used by Indians. Consumer interviews revealed that people viewed electric toothbrushes as bulky, hard to carry and annoying to charge.
Perfora’s answer was a sleek, battery-operated design created in collaboration with freelance designer Devapriya Sen, which used the smaller AAA batteries.
The toothbrush also used a ‘quad tech’ system that prompts users to switch mouth quadrants every 30 seconds. It also automatically stops after two minutes, encouraging disciplined brushing.
#2. Toothbrushes have looked the same – and offered the same experience – forever
Perfora uses a slider box to present the electric toothbrush in two parts, asking users to assemble the brush handle and head themselves.
This made unboxing an interesting experience and encouraged users to be more involved with a product they pay little attention to. Perfora also experimented with bold colours like ocean blue, spicy coral and avocado green, instead of the traditional primary colours used by well known brands.
The brand identity and packaging has been designed by Stratedgy, who also came up the name Perfora, as against the original, placeholder name of ‘Resper,’ which stood for ‘Responsible Person.’
“We wanted to establish oral care as an extension of skincare instead of a mundane routine, a refreshing perspective that sets Perfora apart in a category dominated by legacy brands. Perfora’s type-based identity and packaging break away from the conventional and monotonous packaging prevalent in the oral care industry. They make a statement, that oral care can be as engaging and aesthetically pleasing as skincare.”Kruti Berawala, Co-founder, Stratedgy
#3. For an intensely personal product, there was little or no involvement
How do you create more ownership for a toothbrush? Perfora‘s killer feature has proven to be personalisation. The team discovered that consumers were willing to pay an extra ₹49 to add their names, inspirational quotes, or even names of celebrities like ‘Elon Musk’ or movie characters.
I couldn’t resist ordering one with the message below.
#4. Toothpastes, despite their many variants, are also boring
Perfora has launched the concept of AM-PM toothpastes, to mix things up. The morning toothpaste, called ‘Awake’ uses a lemon-mint flavour, and the ‘Unwind’ toothpaste for night brushing comes with a soothing, lavender-rose flavour. The idea, Bawa says, is to make users look forward to brushing, morning and night.
When Ugly Ads Work Better
Cut to four months after launch.
Perfora was gaining some traction, but did not have the transaction volumes the team felt were possible. Instagram and Facebook ads were not working well with an audience that was seeing too many product videos, user-generated content and influencer promotions.
The team decided the issue wasn’t having poor ads, but that everyone had great ads and photography, and users would scroll past them without engaging, even if they admired them.
One day, Bawa opened Canva and composed a 4-slide post in the first person, a simple text format narrating who they are and why they are doing this. It concluded with a caricature sketch of himself. The post was a hit, garnering high click-through rates at a low cost and leading to purchases from the website. Encouraged, the team experimented with ₹500-2000 budgets on similar ads, investing more after seeing something work.
Oral Care Can Have a Content Strategy
Perfora now has 70,000 Instagram followers and uses the channel both to drive sales and introduce oral care as a topic of conversation.
They have also adopted an unconventional long-form content strategy via a Sunday newsletter.
Who would want to read a newsletter by a toothbrush brand, I ask.
Bawa told me he believes people read long-form content more than we think, but no one wants to read 200 mails about “the latest discounts or coupons on Father’s Day.” Rather than focusing on promotions, Perfora gives customers an inside view of how the brand is being built. The stories range from the struggles of the founders, to the fact that the dual-tone colour of a new toothbrush was inspired by Bawa’s father’s contrasting turban-shirt combinations.
Perfora does send promotional emails during the week, but never in the newsletter. According to Bawa, the newsletter sees an average open rate of over 30% and each email drives ₹2.5 lakhs to ₹4 lakhs of click-through revenue.
Perfora has recently launched an Instagram series called “Unfiltered with Perfora” featuring creators who talk about their thoughts when they wake up and brush.
Bawa believes that Perfora’s future growth will stem from making oral care a social topic. Unlike other categories that have made strides in customer education, oral care is still at the stage where customers first need to understand its importance, he says.
“Everyone starts thinking about their day with a brush in hand, whether planning a vacation or contemplating tasks for the day. We want to tap into that feeling”Jatan Bawa, Co-founder and CEO, Perfora
Parting Advice from Jatan Bawa
Customers have many alternatives in every category and they will choose you only if you show that you can solve their problem better
Get ready for a decades-long journey of learning and experimentation. Young brands don’t have access to Nielsen or Euromonitor reports to do surveys and research. You have to keep trying with different products, channels and tactics and learn from how each one succeeds or fails.
Don’t worry about your experience in a category. To build a successful product, you need to understand consumer psychology, not necessarily have technical product development capabilities. You can always find people to do that, if you understand the customer’s needs and what narrative to frame for them.
The purpose of most of our case studies is to help the brand building community get better at what they do. Perfora’s story is a timely reminder that a thoughtful process for identifying customer problems – and their solutions – can work for you, even if there are well-entrenched companies in that space.